This article was originally published in the summer 2012 Harker Quarterly.
Harker bid a heartfelt farewell to the Class of 2012 at the baccalaureate ceremony on May 24. Juniors, graduating seniors and their parents, faculty and staff gathered at the quad on the upper school campus to hear some inspirational words, enjoy performances and welcome the juniors into their new role as leaders in the coming 2012-13 school year.
Following a performance by the upper school string ensemble, directed by Chris Florio, Susan Nace led upper school vocal groups Cantilena and Camerata in a performance of Gweneth Walker’s “To Sing is to Fly.” Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, then welcomed the Class of 2012 to the ceremony and congratulated them on taking this important step in their young lives – they would graduate the following day.
The upper school string ensemble, again directed by Florio, then performed Jean Sibelius’ “Andante Festivo,” which provided the perfect segue for Upper School Head Butch Keller’s introduction of this year’s faculty speaker, Jason Berry, an English teacher elected by the seniors to address them on this day.
At the start of their freshman year, he said, the students found themselves “spinning this way and that, tossed to the side one minute and chastised the next,” but always with the support of friends who were also navigating the sometimes tumultuous life of a high school student.
Upon entering college, he told the soon-to be graduates, “when you drive onto your campus in August or September, make us proud; make your parents proud, but most of all make yourselves proud. Take a class that’s far removed from your comfort zone just because you can. You may learn something that becomes a passion for you.” College, he said, is an opportunity to learn in many ways, be it through classes, social interaction or one’s own personal time. “Be who you want to be, and if that doesn’t agree with you, then find, once again, your center, your inner voice; don’t settle for an imitation of yourself. Bend the rules, but try not to break them.”
After a round of applause for Berry’s speech, Keller introduced salutatorian Michelle Deng, who gave her own farewell speech to her fellow graduates. She started with an observation about the senior photo collages that resided in the main hall on the upper school campus. “Looking at the photos, one might have felt that the members of the Class of 2012 seemed so perfect. The babies were adorable, the teenagers polished and glowing. Lives were filled with friends, joy, youth and love,” she said.
These collages, however, are idealized depictions made from “the best versions of ourselves.” Each student’s entire story paints a much different picture. “In our hearts, we know the whole story; we know how the collages of our beings truly look,” she said.
Reminiscing about her childhood, Deng said that thanks to her teachers and friends, she had become much more than the shy, short-statured 7-year-old she was upon first entering Harker. “I’ve grown into a dedicated scholar, blessed with the honor to speak here today and eager to continue my education,” she said, also crediting her experience in the journalism department with helping her to become a better communicator and leader.
Speaking to the juniors, she cautioned the students to make the most of their remaining time at Harker. “Even though at first your year may seem to drag by as slowly and painfully as nails on a chalkboard, remember that starting early spring, it’ll suddenly begin shooting by you faster than you can ever imagine, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting in our seats,” Deng said.
She then wished the Class of 2013 well on their journey ahead and said to her fellow graduating seniors, “Let’s go shake the world.”