On Friday, May 28, faculty, friends, and family came together on the senior green to celebrate the Class of 2021 at the 109th Commencement Ceremony, where English teacher Heather Wayne gave the address.
At 10:30 a.m., administrators and faculty members made their way to their seats in front of the stage as the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band began their performance. Then, as the seniors proceeded two-by-two in alphabetical order to their seats, the audience stood in respect for the graduating class. Members from the chorus – accompanied by a quartet of string instrumentalists– sang the school song, “Hail Kingswood Oxford,” written by orchestra Director Richard Chiarappa, which is one of the many beloved Commencement traditions.
Considering the limitations that COVID-19 has placed on many events this year, the KO community felt extremely lucky to be able to safely hold a more-or-less typical Commencement. “We were really excited to be able to do a traditional graduation this year,” Executive Assistant to the Head of School Sherri Malinoski said. “We were on the green, out of cars, and actually there in person.”
While this year’s graduation ceremony was able to include many more of KO’s traditions than last year’s, there were still several changes that had to be made in order to ensure the safety of all those in attendance. This year, seniors were allowed to invite only eight guests each. The rest of the KO community was encouraged to watch the event online via livestream; this was unlike in years past, when the entire student body and a larger number of guests were able to gather together on the senior green.
In addition, the Commencement stage is traditionally set up at the end of the senior green in order to utilize its entire length. This year, however, the stage was located in front of the flagpole, and attendees sat in a semicircle facing away from Roberts Theater. This setup allowed guests to space out a bit more than usual in order to abide by CDC health and safety guidelines.
History teacher Ted Levine initiated the ceremony by delivering the invocation and welcoming all attendees. Senior Mary Ellen Carroll then introduced Dr. Wayne, the 2021 Commencement speaker. Dr. Wayne delivered her inspiring address that also, in a way, served as her goodbye to the KO community, for she will be leaving KO next year to take on a teaching position at Middlesex School in Concord, Mass.
In her address, Dr. Wayne reminisced on her own highschool experience and, more specifically, the day it came to a close: her graduation day. On that day, she also stood on stage before her school community and delivered the valedictorian speech. She highlighted the immense growth and change that she has undergone since her highschool self stood on stage and imparted a valuable, heartfelt message about personal growth to the graduating class. “There are things I held dear in high school that I thought would be with me forever, things that, to my surprise, have fallen away in the years since,” she said. “To be honest, my high-school self probably wouldn’t recognize the grown-up me who is standing before you today.”
She urged the seniors to embrace the inevitable changes that they will face as they grow and learn more about themselves, while also encouraging them to stay true to their values and the strong foundation that they have built during their time at KO. In her address, she included remarks from several Form 6 students themselves about the past year; although many of their remarks were defined by the changes that they have undergone as a result of COVID-19, they also proved that their senior year was a time of great resilience and immense personal growth.
Following Dr. Wayne’s impactful speech, Head of School Tom Dillow gave his charge to the senior classes and, finally, diplomas were presented. Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason read the names of each student and, when receiving their diplomas, the seniors shook the hands of Mr. Dillow and Mr. I. Bradley Hoffman, Class of 1978 and Chair of the Board of Trustees.
To close the ceremony, history teacher Rob Kyff delivered the farewell address, and the graduates proceeded through the faculty receiving line, a long-lasting tradition that was able to return to the Commencement ceremony this year, much to the delight of the graduating class and teachers alike.
This year has certainly been unconventional and has brought with it significant changes and adjustments. However, the Class of 2021 overcame these obstacles head-on and was able to celebrate their accomplishments and KO careers with a largely traditional commencement ceremony that recognized and commended them for their hard work, perseverance, and success during such an unprecedented year.