One year after graduating from St. Mark's, the Class of 2020 received their diplomas in a ceremony under the tent on Belmont FIeld on the morning of Saturday, May 29. Nearly 70 members of the Class of 2020 returned to Southborough for the ceremony.
In his remarks to the class, faculty member David Lyons, P '14, '16, '20, '22, of the History Department, said, "I have found it odd during graduation speeches when an older person tells younger people: 'Here is a mess we older folks have made. Now I, a member of the group that helped screw things up in the first place, will tell you how to clean it up.' Instead, note that the St. Mark's mission statement states that you have been 'educated for lives of leadership and service.' It is time to get started."
Co-Head Monitors Ashley Battiata '20 and Alexander Sumner '20 also spoke to the class.
"I'm so happy to be standing here one last time and get to properly finish what we all started," Ashley said. "It makes me even happier seeing all of your faces and being reunited with the people I shared four pivotal years of my life with."
"As the normalcy we all crave seems to get closer and closer, I know we will all be ready to take on the next chapter of our lives," Alexander said. "I'm confident in every single one of us. I hope you all see the capabilities in yourself."
Following the presentation of diplomas, Tarah Breed '00, a member of the St. Mark's Board of Trustees and president of the Alumni Executive Committee, officially welcomed the class to the Alumni Association.
The Rev. Barbara Talcott, head chaplain, gave the benediction before the postlude and procession.
Photo: Jordan Uzochukwu approaches the stage to receive his diploma.
Text of Ashley Battiata's speech:
Good morning everyone,
Welcome, finally, to the long-awaited Class of 2020 graduation ceremony. I'm so happy to be standing here one last time and get to properly finish what we all started. It makes me even happier seeing all of your faces and being reunited with the people I shared four pivotal years of my life with. Thank you parents for not only coming but giving life to my classmates and some of my closest friends, allowing me to share this moment with them. Hello to some of the alumni I see in the crowd, it's very refreshing seeing your faces. And hello to faculty and staff, I know you must be as excited as we are to see us one more time considering that our goodbye was rudely interrupted by a pandemic. There are some teachers that unfortunately couldn't make it today, and I don't know if I'll ever get to properly say goodbye to them, but I hope you're watching this live stream and if you are we miss you and we appreciate everything you have done for us as teachers, dorm parents, and athletic coaches.
Now I am going to be honest, I struggled a little bit writing this speech. It's been a year since we last saw each other, and since our entire class went our separate ways to tackle our college adventures. Some of us went as far as Texas, California, and Colorado, some of us stayed close to home on the east coast, like myself. Others who were impacted by the pandemic, choose to do school remotely at home, even then home means Massachusetts, New York, California, South Korea, China, Ukraine (looking at you Illia), and France ( had to throw that one in for Waps). With the literal distance and the year since I've seen a lot of you, I was left a little speechless. The more I thought about this speech I realized I didn't want to talk about a life goal, the person who influenced me most, or something that changed me at St.Marks. We've all heard those types of speech, and though they're great I am not here to bore you. So instead I will be talking about my first times at St.Marks. Now I know that sounds a little weird, but what I mean is all the times I tried something new at St.Marks or experienced something for the first time. I realized that there were a lot of first for me in college, and I am sure there were many first for you guys. Maybe that was the first time having a roommate for some of you day students, being away from home, or being in a new state. Whatever it was we experienced a lot of firsts. But I am going to take it back to St.Marks and discuss some of my personal first with the hopes of relating it back to you guys.
Now one last little preface before I really begin. Some of these "firsts" after hearing them, you may look at me and be like come on Ashley was that really your first time doing that. How have you never done that before, it's so common? Or pshttt if you hadn't done that then what the heck were you doing before. To be honest not that much. I guess I hadn't really lived before St.Marks, I mean I grew up in Lawrence Massachusetts a small city full of Hispanic people and we do not partake in a lot of those activities. Your normal was not my normal at all, and I'm sure that sentence is relatable for a lot of you guys, especially my people of color. This is why some of these moments were genuine first for me.
Alright, let's kick it back to freshman year, now I'm smiling because my freshman year came with so many firsts and so many wonderful memories. It was my first time having a roommate and simultaneously my first time meeting someone from South Korea. Shoutout to Ms. Amy Kim, the OG who introduced me to K- Pop, spicy ramen, and a couple of other things from Korean culture. Rooming with Amy my first year was so interesting because we were two completely different people, from vastly different cultures, and extremely different parts of the world. I lived in Massachusetts 40 min away from St.Marks, and Amy lived in Seoul Korea. Rooming with Amy showed me what true jetlag was. To all my international classmates, yall are troopers, serious heroes who deserve more recognition and honestly emotional support. They don't deal with a small 2 hours time zone difference or even 6 hours, they're dealing with a 13 hour time difference and that's crazy. Amy sorry if I ever woke you up from one of your midday naps after a break, I truly did not understand the seriousness of the situation. I admire all of you for that and for those who will continue to deal with it in college. (A round of applause please for our international students).
Moving forward to one of my favorite first times. Now I am sure we all remember Brantwood. Ahhh such a good time, and I mean that whole-heartedly not sarcastically at all. I truly loved Brantwood and within that came three firsts. Here we go, 1. First time hiking a mountain (Mount Madnanock if you remember) 2. First time building a fire, and my first time going an entire day without my phone. Now, this is where ya'll are gonna say Ashley you've never been hiking before, or come on didn't you ever go to summer camp and eat smores by the campfire. No and No. I lived vicariously through Disney channel and Nickelodeon movies where the kids were doing this, and I lived, oh did I live through SpongeBob's Campfire song. And if you know what I'm talking about, then your childhood was great, and if you don't know what I'm talking about because maybe your parents didn't allow you to watch sponegebobs- well, good parenting on their part. But yes, this was my first time hiking a mountain and building a fire and I loved it. I remember getting to the top of the mountain, the only thing keeping me going was the fact that I could finally eat and enjoy my ham and cheese sandwich I was starving for - oh, and the view too the view was pretty. In all seriousness, the view did keep me going, though a little foggy at such a high altitude, I've never got to see that part of the world. It felt so liberating- a whole new feeling. And to think my fourteen-year-old technology-wired self spent a week without my phone. To my surprise, it wasn't bad at all. I had bigger things to worry about like the mosquitoes, how my hair looked, the little critters I'd hear at night, the freezing cold water. Yea all these things kept me a little preoccupied, Nonetheless, I loved it. That entire experience was a first for me and I made a ton of friends, bonded with a couple of yall, made some friendship bracelets, cooked together with Tiani, and played some spikeball. All good memories.
You know what speaking of spikeball. That is another first for me. And boy is St. Marks's crazy for spikeball. I've never seen anything like it. If I could describe my sophomore year in five words it would be playing spikeball at West campus. Every single day after our fall and spring sports we would gather on West field right after dinner and right before study hall to play some spikeball. Now I'm going, to be honest, I wasn't really good at it, but that wasn't the point- I mean the guys may think differently because they treated it like an Olympic sport, but to me and a couple of my friends, we played for fun. That was the thing though, there a drastic difference between those who play spikeball just to play, and those who are playing competitively. You see I would never interrupt a game between Grace Gibbons, Alexander Sumner, Noah Robb, or Gordon Walsh, from what I've heard this put their all into this game, and they might kill me if I interrupt their game. Funny enough I don't know why spikeball is so popular at St.Marks like is it just as popular at other boarding schools or other ISL schools? I truly don't know, but I'm glad it was a first for me, and thinking about it brings back so many great memories.
One of my favorite memories is the time I did something I wouldn't have thought I would ever do and this does count as another first for me. So Senior year me, Luma Allen, Nihanika Noel, Elisabeth Morota and Madeleine Wass sang at the winter coffee house. I'm sure you remembered the coffee house it was a place where anybody could showcase their creative talents, whether that was singing, dancing, playing an instrument, or reading poetry. Now I cannot do any of what I just listed, especially sing, Emily Taylor, Paula Hornbostel, and Charlotte Galusza can attest to that, but nonetheless, my friends and I did it anyway. You see this was my thought process, I'm a senior, this is my last year here, so If I embarrass myself I'll leave in a few months and they'll forget about it. Now that really got me going, it sounded pretty good to me, so that night my friends and I impulsively sang Take a Hint by Victorious. And best believed we killed that. Did we sound good, uh that's up for interpretation but did we have fun yes. And that's all that matters. I encourage you all to do silly things like that when you get the chance, it really calls for great memories and fun experiences.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to finish my list of firsts, so I'll just state a couple more really quickly. First time going to an opera, and that first turned out to happen three more times. First time buying a lottery ticket ( a bit of a backstory there, shoutout to my 2020 monitors), first time running 13 miles ( no thank you cross country), and first time drumming ( I'm referring to our Groton night, by the way, Nihanika, Lora, Grace and I KILLED THAT).
So there you have it, a couple of my first times at St.Marks and many more to experience in life. I hope your first semesters at college were full of many firsts, and if they were limited by the pandemic well you got three more years of college ahead and hopefully a long and healthy life ahead of you as well.
We did it guys, we graduated, better late than never right? Again thank you to everyone who helped put this event together, thank you Mr. and Dr. Warren, and thank you parents for coming. To my class of 2020, I love you guys and I wish you nothing but the best in life.
Here's to many firsts.
Now I would like to introduce the person who I always butt heads with but can confide with at the end of the day, please welcome my co-head monitor Alexander Sumner.
Text of Alexander Sumner's speech:
It's been a long time y'all. But let's get into it.
Couple things to start. I go by Alexander now. My dad is Alex... Dad... can everyone say hi to my dad. Let's make him uncomfortable as possible please. Thank you.
I really did not want to mention the big elephant in the room during my speech. I thought about letting the past stay in the past and shoving away all memory of an unprecedented outbreak. How hard could it be to not mention "it." But how could I not. It took up so much of our senior year. Eastern Equine Encephalitis was really tough on our us. I mean, no late practices, so close to having no bonfire for Groton night... those mosquitos man... they can get you.
In all serious however... I need to acknowledge that this is not Prize Day. This ain't right. and we can pretend and wish that the last year didn't happen the way it did, but as funny as it was to tell my friends at college that I was graduating today–– a year after I was supposed to––It's not right. we're missing people in our class, in our families, in our lives. And I want to acknowledge the people who would have been at our Prize Day last year. The people who should have been here; sitting amongst ourselves, or sitting with the rest of our families. In every capacity, they deserve a round of applause, so let's do that.
Now. It's been a long time. I go to UNC @ Chapel Hill. And Like many of us, I didn't get a chance to go to college right away. But in the short time that I did get to spend in a state that I had never been in before. I met a lot of great people and made a lot of great friends. And they said they'd give me $10 if I name dropped them during this speech. So, thanks to Sierra and Griffin, I am now 20 dollars richer.
One thing I wish I learned before going to college in the south is that the phrase "I went to boarding school" immediately needs to be followed by "NO I did not try and murder someone" or "don't worry my parents love me." Yeah, it took me about 12 times to figure out why people were taking a step back when I told them about high school. I'll just say this. If you ever thought St. Mark's is like a prison... from the stories I'VE heard... you're wrong.
It's been a long time. A lot has happened. My wardrobe no longer consists of a 5-step rotation of free St. Mark's Orientation Apparel. I'm driving now... I got my ears pierced... I got my hair braided...
my mom is kicking me out... sorry that wasn't supposed to be in the final draft...
We're college kids! Yup... we actually did it. I know... crazy... but you know, some things haven't changed. Charles Brookby is still my soulmate. My parents' curfew for me is still 5:00 p.m. on the dot, and every time I find myself in Massachusetts, Clockwork Pizza down the street is still very much on the menu.
It's been a long time. I miss y'all. Not because I peaked in high school. I refuse to believe that even though all the evidence suggests otherwise. I miss y'all because I see people around me and I'm reminded constantly of us. I'm reminded of Jenny Tang's sense of style... or Luis Perez and his laugh and way of consistently getting under my skin. Or finding someone new that I can confide in like I can with Ashley Battiata. or watching UNC basketball games when we play against Virginia Tech and hoping Sophie Student is watching in disbelief as her school is down by 20 points. Or hearing someone stumbling for words and thinking "that is so Wapple (Will Appel)"
Can you blame me? I spent some of the best days of my life with you all. I spent some of the best weeks, and months, and years living with you all. And as much as my parents are responsible for who I am as a person, so are all of you. The good, the bad, and the painful invasiveness that St. Mark's has to offer.
These are things we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. There are pieces of this school that will always be a part of us. There are people at this school who will always be a part of us. And one year later, I'm still learning to balance an appreciation of high school, with also being able to move on. It's hard. I'm still navigating that balance. I'm still not sure how to make every right decision. But we're here. We get older, and we learn more things. Yet, somehow, even though I'm now supposed to be older and wiser, I'm learning very quickly that younger people seem to know how to handle things a little bit better than us old folks on the other side.
One of the scariest things that has ever happened to me was when this year's monitors took over school meeting remotely last year, and their present to us in front of the entire student body was a fully published... self-illustrated... beautifully coordinated picture book dedicated to us. It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen.
I was livid.
The talent and hard work this year's monitors put into the school was unmatched. The best thing we had to offer was off-beat paint-drumming during Groton night...although if you ask Ashley, she'll tell you they "killed it." I remember at least four people texting me after that school meeting including some faculty (!) saying, "oh they are gonna blow y'all out of the WATER next year"
But then summer ended and I remember hearing about it in the Fall. Remote learning...No fall Groton Night...School meetings on Zoom all year long. I was shocked. Is this happening? Is this a time in St. Mark's history when our schools' monitors can't have as much fun as possible because of things that are simply out of their control? Are the people I care deeply deeply deeply about not going to experience the St. Mark's I got to experience for 3.5 amazing years? If that's what is happening, then that sucks for everyone there right now.
That was Alexander Sumner, the alumni. Alexander Sumner the Head Monitor, was ecstatic.
I'm like, "so no matter what they do? we're still going to be associated with "normalcy"? the most CRAVED thing on the planet right now? Man, that made me feel good. It made me feel safe. Like my legacy was secure for at least one more year...
But as much as I'd love to say that we would have done just as good of a job if these were our conditions...I'm really glad I don't have to prove it. So, a special thanks to this year's monitors, and entire senior class for keeping this school afloat all year long.
When the Class of 2021 graduates tomorrow, you leave behind so much. But you, just like us, will have taken so much more with you. As the normalcy we all crave seems to get closer and closer, I know we will all be ready to take on the next chapter of our lives. I'm confident in every single one of us. I hope you all see the capabilities in yourself.
It's been a long time. And I'm so glad that we here today and can see this for what it is–– closure...ish. All we lost will never ever come back to us the way it should have. Things will never be right. We lost that opportunity, but within that, we have each other. We have memories. We have this place to thank for who we are. For who we will become. And for what we will cherish every single day. I'm glad I'm here. I always have been. I always will be. Thank you.
Text of David Lyons' speech:
Welcome to all who are here to celebrate the St. Mark's class of 2020. Most importantly, welcome to the members of the class of 2020. It is great to have you back!
However, I have one preliminary matter to address before I get to my talk.
As you know, I coach cross country at St. Mark's. Like lots of coaches, I try to teach my team various lessons, including the importance of punctuality. In fact, I am sure that one of my former captains, Blake Gattuso, who is with us today, can tell you what time is on time.
Five minutes early! That's a good code to live by.
The Class of 2020, I have just one simple question for you: where the heck have you been? You aren't five minutes early to get your diploma. You are, by my calculations, about half a million minutes late! Not a good start to your post-St. Mark's careers.
Nonetheless, as late as you are, it is great to have you back on your campus.
You left St. Mark's on March 6, 2020, expecting a normal spring break. However, soon nothing was normal. You did not return until today.
You must have experienced disappointment not going through the normal high school departure rituals.
If your experience was like mine, you made some of your most meaningful, lifelong friendships in high school. In fact, I married someone who I met in secondary school, so I am well aware of the importance of those relationships.
One of my current advisees reflected on the importance of these relationships when, during our final meeting this year, he noted:
"Next year I hope to stay in touch with my current St. Mark's friends. After my transition from public school to St. Mark's, I lost touch with some friends from middle school as we naturally grew apart. One goal for me in the years ahead is to maintain the impactful relationships that I have fostered at St. Mark's."
Despite the school's best efforts last spring to replicate them online, we missed the rituals of saying goodbye, or, more likely, see you later, to many of our friends.
That is why it is wonderful that so many of you, almost 70 from a graduating class of 83, have returned to school today for some type of normal send-off.
The 15 intervening months between your unexpected departure from St. Mark's and today have been extraordinary and full of lessons for all of us.
Some of these lessons have been a bit mundane.
- For example, before the pandemic, who amongst us fully appreciated the existential importance of ... toilet paper? As the song says, you don't miss a good thing 'til it's gone.
- Before the pandemic, who amongst us knew that Zoom even existed, let alone understood its ability to connect us across thousands of miles ... in a pants-optional world?
- Finally, before the pandemic, who amongst us realized that in the absence of human contact, you could hold many fascinating conversations with a rotund Labrador named Fred or his new frenemy, Bernie.
Of course, some of the pandemic's lessons have been far more substantial.
- For example, we learned of the fragility of good health and life itself as we witnessed at least 170 million people across the globe contract the coronavirus and over 3.5 million people die from this terrible disease.
- We learned, especially after the January 6 attack on our Capitol, that democracy, like life, is a fragile gift that we should not take for granted.
- We also saw the awesome power of human beings to make improvements when disaster hits; most strikingly, the incredibly rapid creation of life-saving vaccines.
- Unfortunately, we also became more aware of our world's inequality, which resulted in some of us having access to these vaccines, while others are still left to the pandemic's terrible toll.
- Finally, we learned yet again about our country's original sin: racism. The past year taught the repeated lesson that we have a long journey ahead to reach this nation's founding promise of equality.
We want to learn from these lessons. We want to make sense of these traumatic events. We want to gain insights about what the future holds. Ironically, the one place we have to look for wisdom about what might happen in the future is the past.
Toward that end, I would like to share a few quotes from a Yale history professor, Frank Snowden (no relation to the other Snowden). Professor Snowden, who has studied the social impacts of past epidemics, was recently asked to reflect on the ways in which epidemics have shaped the modern world.
He responded by saying:
"Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up [a] mirror to human beings as to who we really are. ... They [are also a window into] the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people."
Snowden went on to say:
"We need as human beings to realize that we're all in this together, that what affects one person anywhere affects everyone everywhere, that we are therefore inevitably part of a species and need to think in that way rather than about divisions of race, ethnicity, and economic status."
This call for a renewed emphasis on human equality is much needed. By nearly every economic measurement, our nation has become a less equal society during my lifetime.
To give you one example, between 1979 and 2017, the real wages earned in the United States by someone in the top 0.1 percent grew 343 percent, while wages for those in the bottom 90 percent increased a paltry 22 percent over those 38 years.
The disparities across racial lines are even more stark. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, in our own backyard of Greater Boston, the median household wealth for whites is almost $250,000. For African Americans it is $8.
Think about that.
How do we move forward and promote a more just society? I am not sure that your generation should pose that question to my generation. I have found it odd during graduation speeches when an older person tells younger people: "Here is a mess we older folks have made. Now I, a member of the group that helped screw things up in the first place, will tell you how to clean it up."
Instead, note that the St. Mark's Mission Statement states that you have been "educated for lives of leadership and service."
It is time to get started.
As you move into positions of leadership in the years ahead, however, stay conscious of the fact that we are all, simply because we are part of the St. Mark's community, privileged. Because of that, we may have a tendency to use our costly educations, powerful positions, and other privileges to justify our own good fortune and live comfortably within our elite bubbles. It's easy to convince ourselves that we have earned, and therefore deserve, an increasingly outsized allocation of society's rewards.
However, my advice is to resist this urge. Instead, follow the SM mission statement's call to value "cooperation over self interest." Be the type of leaders who find effective ways to share good fortune.
I will leave you with a story that I think illustrates this point. The author Michael Lewis told this story at Princeton a few years ago. Truth be told, I also used a version of this story at my son Joey's 2016 St. Mark's Baccalaureate ceremony, but I suspect that none of you 2020 graduates were there, so a little recycling can't hurt.
Lewis noted that:
Researchers recently staged an experiment. They placed student volunteers into teams of three. Then they put these teams into a room, arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader, and gave the teams some complicated moral problem to solve.
Exactly 30 minutes into the experiment, the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of delicious cookies.
The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie sitting there.
It should have been awkward, but it was not.
The person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group invariably grabbed the fourth cookie and ate it.
Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners.
This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. Just 30 minutes earlier, he'd been chosen at random.
His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that that extra cookie should be his.
This experiment is relevant to us. It is relevant to me and to you, the newest St. Mark's graduates. In a general sort of way, we have been appointed leaders of the group.
Our appointment may not be entirely arbitrary, but you must sense its arbitrary aspects: we are the lucky few.
Lucky in our parents (you can thank them after this ceremony; ahem, Louis).
Lucky in our country.
Lucky that a place like St. Mark's exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier.
Lucky that we live in one of the richest societies the world has ever seen during a time when few expect us to sacrifice our interests to anything.
All of us will be faced with the extra cookie, possibly many of them. In time we may find it easy to assume that we deserve the extra cookies.
For all I know, you may.
However, we will be happier, and the world will be better off, if we share.