A Good Run: Liv Ristaino '23

A Good Run: Liv Ristaino '23

Below is the final text used by Liv Ristaino '23 for her 2023 Commencement Senior Speech. You can watch Liv's full talk in our Graduation 2023 video...

Liv Ristaino '23 at Commencement.

Hello everyone, and congratulations to the class of 2023! We did it! My name is Olivia Ristaino, or as most of you probably know me, Liv. First of all, I want to say how tremendously honored I am to be speaking in front of each and every one of you and how genuinely terrified I am, much like how I was on my first day of school. I came to Lawrence Academy as an insecure little freshman who had no clue as to who I wanted to become or even where to begin.

My freshman year, I stayed where I started and barely stepped out of myself and the little bubble I had created. I only talked to the few people I had met at the beginning of the year, I wore practically the same outfit every day and didn’t go to school events or games because I didn’t think I was cool enough to fit in. The year came and went, and I still felt like an outsider trying desperately to fit in.

Sophomore year began, and I was getting frustrated with myself. I was itching for a change and didn’t know where to find it. As I look back now, I realize I was the one holding myself back.

I remember seeing a kid from my grade as I was walking to my advisory one day. He was dressed in head-to-toe pink, even including a pink cowboy hat to finish off the look. It wasn’t a spirit day, just an ordinary Wednesday, and I remember seeing him and thinking to myself, wow, he is so brave to dress so authentically and unapologetically. I wished I had the courage he had to be myself without caring what other people thought.   

During this time, I also decided to switch my afternoon sport to dance on a whim, and while I didn’t know it then, I can say with full certainty that was the best decision of my life.

Dance at LA is truly something extraordinary. Here, dance is an activity where you learn how to move and care for not only for your body but your creative soul as well. You learn how to reach deep down inside of yourself and express your raw emotions through movement. It is taught by one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, who isn’t afraid to be himself even if that means not appeasing everyone, and he encourages others to break the norm as well.

Liv Ristaino '23 with LA dance teacher Brian Feigenbaum.

What was first just a physical experience where I was only focused on making sure I was properly copying movements soon became an internal experience - a journey of self-healing and self-discovery. Over the next three years, the Black Box theater became a safe space for me, a place where I could allow myself to be completely vulnerable with my feelings. I put all my emotions into my dance and moved the way I saw fit. For the first time in a while, I felt free and beautiful, and to paraphrase Brian himself, by beautiful, I don’t mean in the conventional, cosmetic way. By beautiful, I mean powerful. I had finally found a place where I fit in because I was allowed to just be free. I no longer had the desire to hide.

My newfound confidence spread to the other facets of my life. I started painting what I wanted to paint, not what I thought other people wanted to see. I started dressing in the clothes I had always admired but never thought I could pull off. I experimented with colorful makeup because that was what interested me. I started going to school events and sports games because I wanted to become a part of the community, not just a bystander. I started standing up for myself and what I believe in, both in and out of the classroom. And I branched outside of myself, especially this year. I finally grew tired of the constant voice in my head that was telling me I wasn’t enough, and so I opened up to more people, the people I had been too scared to talk to. Genuinely confident people who had always intimidated me yet inspired me, and you know what? They were really nice and weren’t scary in the slightest. So let me tell you, I don’t regret a second of it.

I want to give the biggest thank you to my wonderful, wonderful grade. You all have accepted me and made my time here unforgettable, and I truly cannot thank you enough. It has been an honor to grow alongside of you all and watch as many of you came out of your bubbles and evolved into exceptional people; you all have provided me with examples to look up to. Like how I’ve seen Phoebe Wachira step out of her comfort zone to create and perform some of the most beautiful dances I’ve ever seen, even though she was unsure of herself at times. Or how unafraid Patrick Riley is to wear his colorful outfits on the daily, especially his pink cowboy hat. Your confidence in your style is truly something admirable. How Abby Remis, who is involved in nearly every leadership position imaginable, steps up to every occasion and somehow handles each of her responsibilities with drive and tenacity. Like Mac Ribner, who has grown to have such a positive attitude and has put himself out there to befriend everyone he meets. How CJ Schuster and Auggie Swartwood switched up their winter activities and acted in Mean Girls, and absolutely killed it by the way. And how CC Curtin, who just arrived this year, despite being in a completely new environment, she seamlessly melded into the community and spread her endless positivity and bubbliness. I don’t know how you did it. These are just a few examples of people who have inspired me to continue to push my limits and live freely, despite the fear of judgment.

Now that I’m at the end of my journey here at LA, I can say that I have become a unique and powerful individual ready to take on what’s next without fear of being myself, and I hope that all of you, in your own way, have found your unique path here as well.

And lastly, I have some advice for the students in the back. Talk to that person you’ve always wanted to talk to. Go to the sports game. Wear the skirt; you look great in it! Switch up your lunch table! Dress up for spirit day and go absolutely crazy with it! Dance to that song and just let loose! Try out for One Acts!... [Put on the hat] Wear the pink cowboy hat! Do everything you’ve been too scared to do because, as much as I hate to admit it, my dad was right. It goes by fast, and it’ll be over before you know it. So make sure you leave with no regrets.

Thank you, LA. It’s been a good run!

Liv Ristaino '23 in her pink hat.