This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 Harker Quarterly.
Like many Harker graduates before them, members of the Class of 2015 walked up the center of the upper school quad on May 21, while family, friends, faculty and staff welcomed them with a standing ovation to their baccalaureate ceremony.
Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, warmly welcomed the audience and introduced Cantilena, which kicked off the ceremony with a rendition of “For Good,” directed by Susan Nace. This was promptly followed by The Harker String Ensemble’s rendition of “Andante Festivo,” directed by Chris Florio.
Baccalaureate services are thought to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432. At that time, each student was required to give a sermon in Latin as well as a musical and/or dramatic performance as part of the academic requirement.
“No doubt the ceremony has evolved since,” said Butch Keller, upper school head, to the graduates. “Our speeches are now spoken in English. And the presence of the juniors is indicative of the send off and their readying to take your place.”
Keller then introduced math teacher Mary Mortlock, who gave the faculty farewell to the students who would be graduating just days later.
“Mary is innovative and always looking for new ways to teach students, many times with food,” Keller quipped.
“This Saturday is a time for your parents; however, today is your day,” Mortlock said to the soon-to-be graduates. “Look at the past but also look to the future.”
She emphasized that the students should make decisions, and keep trying and going up to bat … just because.
“You are now part of the whole world,” Mortlock said. “Whatever you do now is just because.”
Mortlock insisted that students look to the future, make decisions that are out of their comfort zones and above all else, not get hung up on disappointments. She shared that when she was a student, she jumped out of an airplane six times – with a parachute, of course.
“Be grateful, be confident, be nervous and be yourself,” she said. “Dust yourself off and start all over again … just because.”
The true “moment” of the night, however, came when this year’s student baccalaureate speaker, Ethan Ma, stepped up to the podium. “The Native Americans have the Bear Dance to welcome the spring, but here at Harker, we have baccalaureate,” Ma said.
The graduating senior began his speech with an anecdote about coming to Harker in first grade. The young Ma had been proudly sporting a “rat tail” hairstyle, which he said was the “light of his life.” But, according to Harker’s dress code, boys were not allowed to have hair past the shoulders.
At this point, the young Ma looked at his mother and asked if he could be a girl, but was met with a “no.” The two came to a compromise that made sense to both at the time.
“Mama would be cutting my rat tail but, on my 18th birthday, she would put the hair back on my head with her fairy powers, which I believed in at the time,” Ma said, a smile on his face.
He went on to share that indeed, on his 18th birthday, his mother presented him with his beloved lock, but upon inspection, he found it to be a withered version of his memory of it. And, although the two watched it for some time, the rat tail did not reattach itself to Ma’s head.
“We must be stewards of history,” he told the audience. “ We keep the memories alive within us. And through it all, remember to share your joys and sorrows with each other.”