Harker bid a heartfelt farewell to the Class of 2017 at today’s graduation ceremony, held at the beautiful Mountain Winery in Saratoga. As attendees filed into their seats, they were treated to music performed by the Harker Chamber Orchestra, directed by Chris Florio. As the ceremony began and the graduating seniors took their seats at the front of the stage, the orchestra launched into “Pomp and Circumstance.” Following the Carl Oser-led 2017 Graduation Chorus’ stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” upper school division head Butch Keller welcomed the late-afternoon audience to the ceremony.
He welcomed this year’s valedictorian, Kai Ang, mentioning not just his academic achievements but also his character, including his work teaching piano to children with special needs. In his speech, Ang compared the journey he and his classmates had made to that of Odysseus, with the caveat that their journey had not lasted as long. Although the seniors’ achievements are remarkable, however, he reminded his classmates that much of their success was due to the support of their parents, teachers and “the tender roasting of our friends.”
“We are indebted to all who have stood behind us,” he said, “seen and unseen.”
After the applause from Ang’s speech subsided, the Graduation Chorus, directed by Susan Nace, sang “New Beginnings.” This year’s graduation keynote speaker was Nvidia co-founder Chris Malachowsky, who reminisced about visiting Harker earlier in the month, remarking about the dedication of the faculty, as well as the curiosity and accomplishments of its students.
Malachowsky offered graduated three points of advice, the first of which was investment. “Not the typical monetary kind of investment,” he cautioned, but investment in themselves. At college, he said, the graduates “should make it a priority to use your time to expand your horizons, both culturally and intellectually,” and take advantage of all the resources available, including special events, clubs and employment opportunities.
The second point was confidence, which would enable them to take chances and achieve more, adding that students should create an environment for themselves in which confidence can grow. “If you haven’t figured it out by now, life is a team sport. So surround yourself with people who will challenge and help you grow,” he said.
The final of Malachowsky’s three points was responsibility. “It’s your life to live, and you should be looking to fully take the reins of it as you move through these next phases of your lives,” he said. He stressed that the graduates had to take it upon themselves to improve the world around them. “If something is wrong, broken, inefficient, take some measure of responsibility and fix and improve it for everyone,” he said.
After Malachowsky congratulated the graduates and wished them success in their future endeavors, Christopher Nikoloff took the podium to address Harker’s senior class for the last time as head of school. Nikoloff, who will assume duties as headmaster of The American School in Switzerland later this year, once again promised to keep his remarks to one page of single-spaced size 12 font while also making no promises about the size of the margins.
In Nikoloff’s signature manner, he opened with some light humor, remarking that he and the Class of 2017 “are in fact graduating together, but I am sure that you are graduating with a higher GPA.”
Nikoloff shared with the audience his favorite quote from the philosopher Voltaire, starting with the first sentence: “Life is a shipwreck.”
“I know, very inspiring,” Nikoloff quipped. But despite the apparent darkness of Voltaire’s opening line, Nikoloff said he didn’t believe Voltaire was being a total pessimist. “In both life and shipwrecks, you both end up in places you had not anticipated,” he said. “For instance, how many of you knew you would be born?”
He then stated Voltaire’s thought in its entirety: “Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
Voltaire, Nikoloff said, was reminding us to “find joy no matter where you are, to pay attention to those in the lifeboat next to you, to see that your circumstances do not necessarily dictate your attitude about those circumstances.”
As Nikoloff finished his remarks, former head of school and board of trustees chair Diana Nichols stepped up to the podium to thank Nikoloff and surprise him with an honorary diploma expressing Harker’s eternal gratitude for his years of service to the school.
The members of the Class of 2017 then walked to the stage one at a time to receive their diplomas from Nikoloff, as their friends and families cheered from the stands. After the final diploma had been handed out, assistant head of school Jennifer Gargano and Nikoloff said one more goodbye to the senior class as doves were released into the air.