On May 31, a day of hope and promise, the 97th graduating class of Concord Academy strode down the senior steps and took their places on the Elizabeth B. Hall Chapel lawn. A mixture of solemnity and high spirits marked the occasion from the moment the seniors began their song, as the pure strains of “Dona Nobis Pacem” quickly morphed into Queen’s vigorous “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

In her opening remarks, Fay Lampert Shutzer ’65, president of the Concord Academy Board of Trustees, spoke of the unique psychology of the class of 2019, discerned from their yearbook and from the judgments of faculty and administrators: a “class with heart,” “responsible leaders,” “deeply thoughtful and introspective,” “great listeners,” and “courageous risk-takers” who “forge partnerships to work for change.”

Recalling the life-shaping impact of an introductory psychology course she herself took as a junior at CA, Shutzer advised the class that whether it be right away or after several years, they will realize what, beyond a diploma, they have taken with them from CA. “Maybe it will be in a class next fall, when you realize what a strong writer you actually are, even if you never thought so before,” she said. “Maybe it will be when you follow an interest that developed here and leads to a college major or even a job. Or maybe in an uncertain moment, you will remember something encouraging and advisor or a teacher or staff member told you.”

Head of School Rick Hardy commended the class of 2019 for embodying one of CA’s most important values — a love of learning. He also praised their leadership “in every area of school life, from welcoming new students in our opening weeks to setting a thoughtful, positive tone in their chapel talks; to creating remarkable works of art; to competing with skill and pride on teams; to raising awareness about environmental issues; to engaging in important conversations with adults around issues of inclusion and equity.”

As classmates, he said, “they have not just encouraged but enabled one another to be who they are, not who others might want them to be.”

Both Hardy and Ananya Pani ’19, student head of school, quoted from several seniors’ chapel talks that had brought them together as a community. Pani also recognized faculty and staff who had reached milestone years of service: with 20 years, Robin Comley and Jeff Desjarlais; 25 years, Kirsten Hoyte, Martha Kennedy, Don Kingman, Deborah Levine, and Sue Sauer; and 30 years, Shawn Buckland, Chris Rowe, Jonathan Smith, and Amy Spencer. “Thank you for your passion and dedication to the CA community,” she said. “We are eternally grateful for all that you do and have done.”

Chaney Dalton ’19, senior class president, introduced the Commencement speaker — CA’s own Assistant Head and Academic Dean John Drew, who is soon to depart CA after 21 years to assume a new position as head of the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, N.H. As Dalton said, “This year, the mountains came calling, and just like John Muir, John Drew must go.”

She recognized Drew for the additional roles he has played at CA as science teacher and department head, house faculty, coach, and parent of two alumnae/i, calling him a “jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man, a chameleon if you will.”

And she described her experience in The Literature of the Anthropocene, an interdisciplinary class examining climate change through scientific and literary lenses co-taught this spring by Drew and English teacher Andrew Stevens. Drew, she said, had encouraged students to create their own theories of change, from storytelling to business models. “I cannot imagine leaving a class feeling more inspired and compassionate, and empowered with the courage to share my own theory of change with the world,” she said. “I am humbled to share my graduation day with John’s graduation of sorts from CA.”

Perhaps the most central — certainly the most immediate — advice Drew dispensed he gave early in his talk: “Being awake to your surroundings is essential.”

“Being awake to your surroundings is essential. You and the world both need that attention and connection.”

– John Drew P’15 ’19

“You and the world both need that attention and connection,” Drew said. “Bearing witness to your experience makes it less likely that others will tell your story. Many of the paths that lead from a school like this are routes encouraging movement, a nomadic existence sometimes shaped by the temptation to believe that each landing spot is only temporary, that there is some next step necessary to allow you to arrive at some eventual conclusion that is good and worthy.”

“You don’t have to live that way,” he continued. “It’s not the moving that is necessarily the problem, but the risk of not caring about the places where we land.”

Drew commended the graduating seniors for the remarkable amount of caring they have done for CA, admiring their “sustained devotion” to one another and to the school. “In a time you didn’t choose, with more than enough distraction forced on you by technology and world events,” he said, “you’ve chosen to care enough to want to share what you value.”

He read a selection by conservationist, activist, and author Terry Tempest Williams about how “the gift of an attentive life” enables so much of importance.

There was hardly a dry eye on the Chapel lawn as Drew, feeling the weight of his imminent parting, concluded his speech. “I am so grateful to have found Concord Academy to be a place that nurtures contemplation and inspires action,” he said. “Class of 2019, let’s take these ideas on the road and share them with others. And let’s return to this place that has meant so much to us.”

After diplomas were awarded, at the ceremony’s conclusion the new graduates headed through a faculty/staff receiving line to celebrate with their family and friends, including several young alumnae/i who had returned for the occasion. Indeed, they were ready to join, as Drew said in his speech, “the larger group of CA alums who will welcome [them] into the world.”

 

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