Good morning and welcome to the 2021 Commencement Exercises at St. Christopher’s School, the 110th Commencement of our storied institution.
It is my pleasure to welcome all of you this morning, especially the parents, grandparents, family, and friends of our outstanding and resilient Class of 2021.
Before we proceed any further with this morning’s service, let me invite our gentlemen to remove their jackets if they wish and also to invite you to remove your mask, if you wish. We have spaced our family pods and our graduates 6 feet apart so that we may enjoy this service mask-free together.
As you can imagine, an event such as this involves many hands and hearts, and I am particularly grateful for the outstanding work of our Upper School Chaplain Whitney Edwards; for Mark Gentry and our entire maintenance team; for our Development Office, especially Cricket O’Connor; for our partners at Flik Dining; and also for Laura Brown, Emily Keith, Karen Glasco, and Beth Wood. My sincere thanks to everyone who helped us prepare for this special morning and day of celebration.
What a gift it is to gather outdoors in this beautiful setting, some 800 Saints strong, in joyful communion and in celebration of this remarkable class of young men. This day was difficult to imagine in the uncertain days of this summer, fall, and winter, but we have willed it to be, and it is indeed glorious. Thanks be to God for this day, for these young men, and for this remarkable community of Saints.
For the faculty of this school, including Extended Day, Lower, Middle, and Upper School, thank you for the manner in which you have raised these young men, intellectually, yes, but also morally, physically, and spiritually. The fruits of our labors are known and celebrated in short form, today, but they will become fully manifest in the decades to come.
For our Board of Governors, and especially for our Chairman Mr. Thomas Valentine, thank you for your leadership and stewardship of our shared and precious resource and for the thoughtful manner in which you guide this community. A special thanks to our Alumni Association President and Board member Sam Bemiss, who today inaugurates a new tradition at St. Christopher’s—officially welcoming our graduates into the St. Christopher’s alumni community by offering them an official St. Christopher’s necktie immediately following receipt of their diploma.
I am also grateful to our colleagues at St. Catherine’s School, especially to Interim Head of School Lila Lohr, who joins us in partnership this morning, and to the entire St. Catherine’s faculty for all that they do to enrich the experiences of our boys here at St. Christopher’s.
Parents of the Class of 2021: You deserve special recognition this morning. Thank you, first and foremost, for entrusting these young men into our care. It is a sacred trust and one we do not take for granted. Thank you, especially, for your patience and forbearance this year in adapting to the realities of a senior year that was unlike any other in the history of our school. You were gracious, accommodating, supportive, and above, grateful. We will always remember you in that light.
I want to call special attention this morning to our “lifer” families, those who have been with us for 13 or even 14 years—your commitment and loyalty to this school and community is remarkable, and we thank you for that.
Approximately half of you, gentlemen, joined us in either JK or K, which means that the other half have joined our school and community either later in the Lower School, or in the Middle or Upper School years. To those boys and families, thank you for the gifts and perspective that you brought this class and community—we are better for being a composition of dynamic families from all over the Richmond community, with diverse stories, strengths, and perspectives. Thank you.
Now, to the Class of 2021. How to capture the essence of this special group of seniors, who just completed a school year like no other in the history of St. Christopher’s? In speaking with faculty over these past many days, and as we honored you in banquets, award ceremonies, and in House recognition services, a theme has emerged that, I believe, captures your essence as a class.
In my estimation, you were just the right class, at this precise moment in history, for St. Christopher’s School.
To our Upper School faculty, who know these boys so well, I invite you to reflect for a moment on this class and its unique characteristics. What attributes come to mind?
I strongly suspect that words such as adaptive, resilient, flexible, patient, kind, and graceful come to mind. They certainly do for me. Importantly, though, I believe these are words that could have been used to describe this stellar class in 2019, before the words COVID, social distancing, and mask mandates had entered our vernacular.
Gentlemen, you already possessed these laudable characteristics before the pandemic. COVID did not create them in you, it simply shined a bright light on your attributes and accentuated them, causing the adults of this community to reflect and to give thanks that it was you and you alone who led our student body through this tumultuous year.
To our faculty, once again, imagine if an overriding attribute of this class had been a sullen disposition, a sense entitlement, or a cynical or pessimistic outlook on our year together. I suspect we would not have so enjoyed our weekly announcements from Curtis and Mish, our riveting artistic performances outdoors and in our new Recital Hall, or spirited athletic competitions in all three seasons.
Gentlemen, I offer thanks to God that you were here with us this year, in this place, to lead and guide us through this pandemic with positivity and determination. Thank you.
But let us not dwell on all things COVID. Let us do as we have done all year, which is to focus on our assets, not our deficits, on what we have done and not on what we could not do.
For you accomplished so much so well in this most remarkable year. Here are some academic highlights from this school year—Our Science Bowl team finished the season fourth in the state, the School’s second highest finish in 10 years. Our Battle of the Brains team went undefeated in league play for a second consecutive school year—stay tuned for an exciting televised championship match in just two weeks. And our Ethics Bowl team, in just its second year of competition, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a last-place finish last year, won the state championship this year, an incredible accomplishment and a testament to the grit, ingenuity, and raw intelligence in this class.
Pair those accolades with the academic honors we will celebrate this morning and those from yesterday’s Awards Ceremony, along with a remarkable series of college acceptances, and this class clearly possesses academic firepower on par with some of our most stellar classes of the past many years.
And, speaking of colleges and universities, the Class of 2021 earned 238 acceptances to 85 colleges and universities in 27 states, the District of Colombia, and three countries. Blessed with the gift of choice, our graduates will ultimately enroll at 36 different colleges and universities representing 16 states and three countries. Gentleman, wherever you will be this fall, whether near or far, know that we are proud of you, of your individual journey and path, and that you will always have a home here under the Pines and on these Terraces.
I have mentioned the arts already, and what a salve and salvation there were for us this year, but it bears repeating—You were the perfect class to inaugurate our stunning new Arts Center and Ryan Recital Hall. I will not soon forget the Beaux Ties’ crisp sound, Teddy’s inspiring solo performances, Drew’s trumpet at Wednesday’s Veteran’s Memorial Service, or Christian’s award-winning and provocative photography in our new Gallery, and so much more. Thank you, gentlemen, for offering the arts to us this year as a respite and reprieve from the labors of COVID.
And speaking of reprieve, I can recall no happier afternoon this school year for me than the Tuesday before last, when St. Christopher’s—perhaps alone among day schools in the mid-Atlantic—hosted not one, not two, but three state athletic tournament competitions simultaneously, as tennis, baseball, and lacrosse were all victorious that afternoon and advanced to the next round of competition. As we welcomed hundreds of parents, alumni, and community members to our campus on a glorious and sunny afternoon, it all felt right, so normal and healthy. You, gentlemen, provided that normalcy, that respite, and that health. Thank you.
And before I depart the topic of athletics, I will indeed mention the historic and epic upset—yes, an upset—suffered by the faculty, for just the second time in St. Christopher’s history, in the annual seniors vs. faculty basketball game, contested this year on our stunning new Community Courts, with parents, colleagues, and friends in attendance, as well as Jerome and Kona Ice. We will never know for certain what impact a certain mysterious and ill-timed knee injury on the headmaster had on the outcome of the game. My bet is that your margin of victory would have been larger than three had the injury never occurred, but we will never know for certain.
When paired with your landslide victory over the faculty in our annual Battle of the Brains competition this winter, the Class of 2021 did something no prior class has ever done—you defeated the faculty with both your intellectual and physical acumen. Well done, gentlemen.
On a slightly more serious note, it occurs to me that this class, unlike the vast majority of American high school classes over the past half century or more, has faced hardship, deprivation, and challenge that, I suspect, will serve you increasingly well over time.
By that, I mean that American high school classes of the 1930s and 1940s faced first economic depression and unemployment, followed by a global conflict requiring either direct military or civic service. High school classes of the 1950s faced economic prosperity but a cold war with the Soviet Union that could turn hot at any moment and result in World War III. High school classes of the 1960s faced social and racial upheaval unknown until perhaps 2020, followed by the possibility of an involuntary draft into an increasingly unpopular conflict in southeast Asia.
Then, starting in the early 1970s and continuing uninterrupted until likely 9/11, high school classes entered a world more at peace than at war, more prosperous and stable than deprived or conflicted, and generally lacking a seminal and shared generational challenge.
9/11 changed all of that, of course, but that was before any of you were born.
So now, as members of the Class of 2021, you have come of age and become young men amidst a pandemic without precedent in over a century. You have endured hardship and loss, even if perhaps mild when compared to fighting in a world war or combatting communism. You have a shared experience with teenagers and young adults all over this world, one that will undoubtedly shape your worldview and perspective for decades to come.
You have met that challenge head on and not only survived, but you have thrived. I am confident that this challenge will only enable you to face the next challenge, whatever it may be, with confidence and conviction that you can adapt, endure, and overcome. Be grateful, gentlemen, for the deprivations of these past 15 months, for they have forged in you a strength that may not have otherwise emerged.
And it has forged in all of us, the adults in this community, a gratitude and admiration for all of you that we will not soon forget.
It is my pleasure to now introduce the Class of 2021 Co-Valedictorian Edward Alexander Pasco. Thank you.