Seven Years Later

Quest to Learn, the middle and high school in NYC focused on game-based learning, celebrated its first graduating class this May. The following is valedictorian Rocco Rinaldi-Rose’s valedictory address. We hope that it will inspire you for the new academic year!

“When I first heard about Quest, I had already submitted my applications for middle school. The parent coordinator came into our 5th grade classroom with an announcement about an experimental and exciting new school. As she talked, I could feel the foundation of my previous choice, the science school Salk, crumbling beneath me. I was frustrated with the boring, traditional, monotonous education offered at the other elementary and middle schools. My parents and I attended the first Quest to Learn meeting, where Aaron Schwartz and Katie Salen pitched Quest  to us. Leaving that meeting, I knew that Quest was the right place for me, so I submitted my application. When we got the DOE letter notifying where I’d been accepted, I was crushed. I didn’t get into Quest. This was a problem since Quest was the only place I would agree to attend. I told my dismayed parents that I would not go to school at all if I could not go to Quest to Learn. Months of appealing  later, I was finally given a place in this new school. My instincts would prove correct. I and about 80 other students entered Quest’s first 6th grade in September of 2009. I immediately fell in love with the school, the vision it offered,  and the awesome teachers who taught here. And, despite troubles along the way, I have never fallen out of love with our school.

Seven years later, here we are, the first graduating class of Quest to Learn. I’m sure many of you thought you wouldn’t make it this far, or maybe even that the school wouldn’t. But we did, and we did it with tenacity, hard work and belief.  Many of you have been here since 2009, when you entered Quest as sixth-graders with nothing but a promise of a new kind of education, intuition, and maybe with a little bit of hope. Throughout these ensuing seven years, we have worked nonstop and hard to produce and cultivate a remarkable environment. From Mission Lab to Boss Level, from iLab (raise your hands if you remember that) to the countless missions and quests from a mysterious rat, we have experienced things that most students wouldn’t even know to wish for.  None of this would be possible without the extraordinary talent of the Quest faculty, who were innovative in their efforts to engage students and to help us to think for ourselves. We were not spoon fed information. Rather, we were asked to participate in a learning process that challenged us in ways that we had not been challenged before, to assimilate information from many different places to come to a conclusion that, in many cases, was entirely our own. We were encouraged to pursue learning on our own time, to solve deep problems outside of class in meaningful investigations.

Quest To Learn’s first graduation

This is all due to the work and dedication of our teachers. We have been blessed with some of the best teachers that I, and I’m sure many others, have had the pleasure of interacting with. I know that I would not be nearly the person that I am today if not for the help, advice, and friendship of the teachers and administration over the years. Though some are not here today, I’d like to take a moment to thank them for all their hard work and dedication, on behalf of all the students.

Though our time here is coming to an end, the Quest experience will never leave our minds. There is a reason that this school is ranked among the top in the nation in problem solving and analytical abilities. Though some schools may be better at the rote learning, or they may have more funding, or more AP courses or more students attending Ivy League schools, Quest has taught us how to think.  It has taught us how to work together to solve problems, how to think on our feet and come up with our own solutions. These skills will prove  most important in life. In ten years, nobody will care if you can name the 27th president. They will care if you can take a problem and come up with and test a solution on your own. They will care that you can think. Thank you.”