This article was originally published in the summer 2012 Harker Quarterly.
During their graduation ceremony at the scenic Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Harker’s Class of 2012 sat poised, attentively listening to speeches, ready and eager to take on life after high school, when they were then challenged to turn back the clock and view the world through the eyes of a baby.
“If you see like a baby, you just might see yourself as the miracle you are,” advised Chris Nikoloff, head of school. He delivered his yearly farewell speech to the students after welcoming members of the board of trustees, the administration, faculty and staff, family, friends, alumni and the “true guests of honor” — the graduating Class of 2012.
Speaking of the inspiration for his address — the newest addition to his own family, baby Andreas — and here noting that this was the first graduation speech he’d written on an iPad, Nikoloff turned serious as he advised students to continually walk through life with a sense of wonder. He quoted Albert Einstein who wrote, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Prior to Nikoloff’s address, the graduation ceremony had gotten underway on a beautiful spring morning to the melodious sounds of the Harker Chamber Orchestra, led by Chris Florio. As the graduating class proceeded into the amphitheater, taking their front row seats, the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” filled the air. Once the graduates were seated, Susan Nace led the 2012 Graduation Chorus in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Butch Keller, upper school head, warmly addressed the seniors and their proud families, congratulating students on reaching this important milestone in their educational careers, then introduced this year’s valedictorian, Ramya Rangan.
In her speech, Rangan encouraged her fellow grads to, above all else, pursue their passions and find what makes them happy. Following the speech, the chorus, directed by Catherine Snider and accompanied by Rangan, sang “Leave No Song Unsung.”
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Vandi V. Tompkins, research technologist, mobility and robotic systems, for NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory. Tompkins provided a wonderful role model of someone actively pursuing her dreams. In her captivating address, she passionately discussed her past work in flight operations for the Mars exploration rovers and the development of NASA’s science laboratory flight mission.
After the keynote speech, graduate and outgoing National Honor Society president Nicole Dalal passed the Lamp of Knowledge to rising senior and new NHS president Emily Wang. When it came time to receive their diplomas, one by one seniors were greeted by Keller, Nikoloff and this year’s class dean, Matthew Harley, upper school biology teacher.
Finally, with diplomas in hand, the students turned their attention to Nikoloff and Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, for their closing remarks. All watched as doves were released and the ceremony came to a close.
Graduates then moved their tassels as a symbol of their graduation. Soon after, they flung their caps in the air, watching, with a newborn’s sense of wonder, as the hats went high into the sky.