St. Mark's School's 155th Prize Day graduation ceremony took place on the morning of Saturday, July 6, via an online platform. Eighty-three VI Formers officially graduated from the School. An in-person ceremony will take place on campus next June.
An alumnus, a longtime trustee, and a St. Mark's grandparent, the Right Reverend J. Clark Grew '58 (and grandparent of three St. Markers), retired Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, delivered the keynote address, while Jack Griffin '20 was the valedictorian.
The service opened with a musical introit—the first movement of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4, played by Ryder Henry '20 on the French horn.Click here to listen to Ryder's performance.
Mr. Warren congratulated the VI Form: "I know that each and every one of you will lead a life of consequence, in whatever way fits your abilities and your needs." He also mentioned that this was a graduating class of firsts: first with the Global Diploma, first with four years (sort of) of Lion Term, and the first (and hopefully the only) to experience a virtual spring term. Addressing recent events, he praised the class for "embracing global citizenship principles and community and equity principles," declaring to the Class of 2020 his belief that "you will contribute positively to a world that very much needs what you have to offer."
Mr. Warren went on to thank all those from the School community who helped make this unique virtual Prize Day week possible.
Mr. Warren then presented the first of three Class Recognition sections of the program: a brief but compelling tribute to each member of the graduating class while a series of slides displayed the image of each VI Former. (Please see below for a link to the individual Class Recognition Tributes).
Alys Reynders Scott '85 (also the parent of a rising VI Former and a rising IV Former) congratulated the graduating class of 2020 and then introduced Bishop Grew.
As Prize Day speaker, Bishop Grew said: "Sixth Formers, you are graduating. You are moving on. You are headed into a confused and hurting world, and we need you. We need your courage, and we need your vision, and we need your compassion. It is Prize Day."
Please see the entire text of Bishop Grew's speech below.
The second of the three Class Recognition presentations followed. Then it was time for the valedictorian. (Please see below for a link to the individual Class Recognition Tributes).
Unlike most schools, where the Valedictorian is the senior with the highest academic standing, at St. Mark's the VI Formers elect one of their classmates to give the Valedictory address. This has been the custom at St. Mark's since its earliest days, recognizing the original definition: one who delivers the closing or farewell address at a ceremony (a "valedictory" – from the Latin vale dicere, "to say farewell"), with no reference to specific academic standing requirements.
Jack Griffin '20 delivered a valedictory address that was at once insightful, funny, powerful, and pointed. "Pessimism is not realism," he began, calling himself "an active optimist." He asserted that the importance of a St. Mark's education was clear: "We learn how to lead in this community so we can go out in the world and help others."
The final portion of the Class Recognition presentation continued the program. (Please see below for a link to the individual Class Recognition Tributes).
While all the other major end-of-year prizes were presented on Thursday evening, the School's highest honor, the Founder's Medal, was presented at this event.
THE FOUNDER'S MEDAL, which honors the School's Founder, Joseph Burnett, and is endowed in memory of Brigadier General Richard Townsend Henshaw, Jr., of the Class of 1930, is awarded to the member of the graduating class with the highest academic standing over the last three years of his or her St. Mark's career.
Board president Alys Scott '85 virtually presented this year's Founder's Medal to Lanruo (Lora) Xie '20.
Mr. Warren then declared the Class of 2020 to be officially graduated and Ms. Scott welcomed 83 new members into the St. Mark's Alumni Association and a St. Mark's alumni community of more than 4000 individual graduates around the world.
After a final congratulations and reflection. Mr. Warren announced a special remote opportunity for members of the Class of 2020 and their parents to connect virtually following the ceremony.
Rev. Talcott delivered a benediction from the St. Mark's Chapel prayer book, copies of which will be given to all graduates.
The ceremony concluded with a beautifully harmonious virtual rendition of "Lean on Me" by the School's female a capella group—The Royal Blues.
At this 2020 Prize Day, 58 students graduated with Distinction. Eight were recipients of Classics Diplomas, exemplifying an in-depth study of Latin, Greek, and the Classical world. Eight students also received the inaugural Global Diploma, recognizing dedicated and insightful work as part of the School's Global Citizenship program. Impressively, two students—Illia Rebechar and Becca Porter—received both a Global and a Classics diploma. Four students received three of the honors listed above: Rebechar (Distinction along with his global and Classical honors), and three recognized for Distinction, Classics, and Cum Laude: Julian Yang, valedictorian Jack Griffin, and Founder's Medal recipient Lora Xie.
Congratulations to the St. Mark's Class of 2020!
Prize Day. St. Mark's, June 6, 2020
Keynote Address by The Right Reverend J. Clark Grew '58
Mr. Warren and members of the Faculty and Staff, my Trustee colleagues, families and students, and most importantly, what today is all about: VI Formers. In spirit you remain so for less than an hour.
On a Sunday that seems like a long time ago, in a service streamed from the National Cathedral in Washington, Michael Curry, The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preached a sermon sitting alone in his living room at home and proclaimed "It's Easter.
It doesn't look like Easter," he said." "It doesn't smell like Easter. It doesn't really feel like Easter.
But it's Easter."
And so, it's Prize Day. It doesn't look like Prize Day, it doesn't smell like Prize Day, It doesn't feel like Prize Day, but it's Prize Day . . . . and VI Formers, you are graduating. You are moving on. You are headed into a confused and hurting world, and we need you. We need your courage, and we need your vision, and we need your compassion. It is Prize Day.
The height to which you have all climbed only to now face into an uncertain and precarious future brings back something a professor once told me many years ago: "Life is not continuous like a road; rather it is episodic like a set of stairs." You start as you enter St. Mark's in the third or fourth form, day or boarder, as a tentative, even cautious stranger to become, in time and with accomplishment, step-children, so to speak, of Phoebus Apollo who daily rides his chariot across the heavens and lights the sky; and now you will repeat the process in college where, if memory serves me right, the last two years are far better than the first two.
And because you loved you time in the STEM Building with Kimberly Berndt and Advanced Bio, you gravitate towards becoming a science major and possibly, one day, an epidemiologist; or perhaps the course on the Civil Rights Movement with David Lyons steers you in the direction of U.S. History and an emerging passion for Criminal Justice reform; or perhaps nothing much happened to you academically until you felt in your hand the smoothness of the coffee cup you made in Aggie Belt's studio, a cup you gave to your grandfather last Christmas and which he has used every morning since, and you know for certain that creating something new, working with pottery and ceramics will be a part of your life forever.
The stairs lead on to graduate school in business or education or public policy; or you begin a job, or you find time to play in a string quartet, or you begin the great American novel, or someone might start to think about seminary and the ordained ministry, and in every case, you start again on the lowest rung and pretty much at the bottom. It takes time to get used to each stage. Thoreau thought you had to wear a jacket for ten years before it got comfortable.
It also takes perseverance and stamina to climb the stairs. "Drive" is what one of your classmates calls it. The views from each landing differ, and you have to be patient, but you begin to realize that it's the total experience that counts, and after a while, sometimes a great while, you conclude that although we live in an anxious and political age, the politics will change some day, and the anxiety will hopefully ebb, and you will be left with two certainties. First, what you become and then what you do will be important to your community, and your family, and yourself; and second, the standards you set for yourself will be drawn from your own life, the stairs you have been on, and the examples you have received from others along the way.
But of course, this is an old paradigm, and now, as you graduate from St. Mark's in the spring of 2020, you find that the paradigm has shifted. We are being challenged not just by a virus, but also by a call to live into greater ambiguity at a yet to be discovered cost. What we know is that you will understand post-pandemic life with less precision and more humility than you might have ever imagined; and indeed, you may be the first class that interprets the deep meaning of Age Quod Agis for a new age, for a new reality, for a new normal that will insist that we embrace the complex pastoral, economic, and spiritual challenges that the Coronavirus has wrought.
Whatever happens, in the next few years your lives will open up on a landscape that you do not recognize.
But members of the class of 2020, as you leave St. Mark's and zoom in elsewhere, your time at the school should never be defined by the celebrations and experiences that haven't happened. Sure, you won't be receiving your diploma to thunderous applause and smiling faces. Yes, you missed the prom and the chance to celebrate together. I get that; but it's the total experience that matters.
Part of that St. Mark's experience is the pangs that come with saying goodbye. You share this with the faculty, with the teachers who have devoted themselves to your wellbeing, and the pangs are real. Perhaps you can relate—whether it be a temporary goodbye, for example, what you say at an airport or train station, or a more permanent one, like when you move, or when a child leaves home, or life's circumstances call you elsewhere. You are not alone. Your teachers want to say goodbye to people they care about just as you do.
I expect that you will find ways to say farewell to the people you care about and who care deeply for you just as you will discover the commitment to stay connected to one another, to your advisor, and your coach, and the people in your dorm. All of your goodbyes, when you get to them, should come from a reservoir of gratitude and affection for the last three or four years and what has happened to you in this place; and remember, saying goodbye properly will open the pathway to new life. If it is a life grounded in gratitude and affection, you will change the world.
Your time here will be defined not by what hasn't happened, but by what has happened, and I suspect that, with your graduation, you will be become members of perhaps the closest class in the school's long history because of what you now endure.
A few months ago, in early March, I received an email from one of my St. Mark's classmates. He was checking in from Pacific Palisades, part of LA County, about as far away from Southborough as one can get and still be in the continental U.S.
"Is everyone ok?" was his question, and classmates responded........from New York, from Athens, Greece, from New Orleans, from Madrid, from our class now spread around the world.
The interesting thing was that the check-in email came from someone whom I have seen exactly once in the last 62 years; so I wrote him back and said that his was a wonderful and heart-warming email to receive, but that I was wondering what it was, after these many years, that prompted him to think of his St. Mark's classmates, now scattered in so many directions.
He responded almost immediately. "I think that the impulse to send that message sprang from my sense of the vulnerability our generation shares in the face of this health crisis. It makes our remaining days precious. I was never especially comfortable at the school, a fish out of water in a boarding school, but our 50th reunion changed all that and enabled me to look back on my years in Southborough with appreciation, for those days were precious too, and I realized then that what is true for me is also true for all of us."
And so, the days here have been precious for all of you as well, but you don't have to wait 50 years to know it. You know it now.
In a few minutes, you will be free, as it were, to be who you are and to excel at what you do. You will have to make choices because they will not be made for you, but you will see possibilities and you will set out in particular directions, not with a shout of triumph, but perhaps with an important question. What can I do to help?
I suspect that you will find that the world that awaits you has given way to profound economic and societal shifts. The idea that the world will be as it was before the pandemic and needs only to be restored to its former self is an illusion. It is an illusion that is held just as easily by the people in the government as it is by our citizens; but the world cannot possibly be the same.
Too much has happened; too much has changed.
But remember this: as a dear friend of mine recently said, if there is anything to celebrate in this suffering time, it is the great outpouring of selflessness, another word for which is love, by all sorts of people. Many of them go to work every day caring for others. In a society widely experienced as competitive and self-promoting, these people have answered the question, What Can I Do To Help? for all of us by risking their lives in the service of others.
So, members of the class of 2020, take strength from their high example of what it means to be human and answer the question for yourselves. What can I do to help?
God bless you all and good luck on the journey. Age Quod Agis.