111th Commencement Headmaster's Remarks

May 27, 2022
Good morning and welcome to the 2022 Commencement Exercises at St. Christopher’s School, the 111th 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 talented and spirited Class of 2022.
 
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 John Ohmer, 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 Keith Dillard, Karen Glasco, Emily Keith, and Beth Wood. Will you please join me in thanking those individuals and the many others who helped make this day possible?
 
What a gift it is to gather all together, even indoors, for we gather in beloved and fulsome community. We do so, largely unencumbered by restrictions or COVID mitigation measures, for the first time in three years. 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 Trip “Tolliver,” (Taliaferro) who today welcomes 88 new Saints into our alumni brotherhood, bestowing upon them an official St. Christopher’s necktie immediately following receipt of their diploma.
 
I would also like to welcome and honor Board member and President of the Church Schools in the Diocese of VA, Dr. David Charlton who, after 34 years of remarkable leadership of our corporate organization, retires this summer. Will you please join me in recognizing Dr. Charlton and thanking him for his leadership of Church Schools and his longtime support of St. Christopher’s?
 
I am also grateful to our colleagues at St. Catherine’s School, especially to new Head of School Cindy Trask and also to Upper School Head Lara Wulff, who join 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. Cindy, thank you for being such an able and eager partner. Will you all please join me in welcoming Cindy Trask back home to this Saints community?
 
Parents of the Class of 2022: 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 support over these past two-plus years as we all navigated the pandemic together. As difficult as it has been, your boys, all of us, really, have emerged from COVID stronger, more resilient and adaptive, and above all, grateful, grateful for gifts big and small that we all took too easily for granted prior to March 2020.
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. Seniors and parents, if you joined this community in either Junior Kindergarten or Kindergarten will you please stand and be recognized at this time?
 
For our remaining senior families, approximately half of you, thank you for joining this community either later in Lower School or in Middle or Upper School. Thank you for the gifts and perspective that you brought this class and community—we are better for being a collection of dynamic and diverse families from all over the Richmond community. Seniors and parents, if you joined St. Christopher’s in First Grade or later, will you please stand and be recognized at this time?
 
Now, to the Class of 2022. How to capture the essence of this special group of seniors, who have experienced four years of high school unlike any other in the history of our country? In speaking with faculty over these past many days, and as we honored you in Chapel, award ceremonies, and in House recognition services, a theme has emerged that, I believe, captures your essence as a class.
 
I will acknowledge that it is foolhardy to attempt to capture the essence of 88 remarkable young men in several sentences, much less in one word. However, if pressed to choose one word that describes this collection of individuals, I would undoubtedly choose the word, spirit.
 
Spirit, in the sense of School spirit, camaraderie, fellowship, and support, the likes of which we have never before seen at St. Christopher’s. We are fortunate to have several longtime faculty serving here at St. Christopher’s, including men and women who have been with us for 30, 40, even 50 years. Many of those educators have shared with me, independently and unsolicited, that they have never seen School spirit, attendance, crowds, enthusiasm, on our campus, in our hallways, or in the theater and playing fields, as we experienced in the school year 2021-2022.
 
We set records this year for attendance at football and basketball games, dances, concerts, and more. Seniors, you organized an epic and unprecedented outdoor Pep Rally this fall on Knowles Field, and while I am not quite ready to dub it “The Greatest Pep Rally of All Time”—I’m going to offer respect to the Class of 2020 in that regard—I am fully prepared to bestow upon you the title of leaders of the “Greatest Homecoming Dance of All Time,” with a nod to Ms. Sanghvi for planning and organizing that epic event.
 
But it wasn’t just major events when you shined. It was in quiet moments, too, in class discussions and debates, in rehearsals and practices, when the eyes of the community were not upon you, in free periods and club meetings. Most pointedly, it was in Chapel, when many of you—perhaps a record number—volunteered to offer Chapel talks, baring your vulnerabilities, gifts, and aspirations for each other and for all of us. That, gentlemen, is Spirit, personified.
 
You are a talented bunch, too, academically, artistically, and athletically.
 
Among you are a laudable number of AP Scholars and National Merit Scholars—more than twice the national average—and also researchers, writers, poets, artists, and engineers. You fared beautifully in what was likely the most competitive college application season in American history, with approximately half of you matriculating at some of the finest colleges and universities here in the Commonwealth, with the other half matriculating at dozens of outstanding colleges and universities spread among 19 states and the District of Columbia. Gentlemen, know that wherever you have enrolled and whatever college path you select, we are proud of you.
 
Artistically, this is undoubtedly one of our strongest groups of visual, theatrical, musical, and literary artists in memory. When I close my eyes and consider the artistry of this class, I can hear the pure vocals and powerful guitar chords, I can picture dramatic and comedic exploits, I can see drawings, paintings, and photography, and I marvel at the literary accomplishments found in The Pine Needle, Raps and Taps, and the Hieroglyphic. Gentlemen, this was a year in which we needed the arts, both fine and performing, and you all delivered in a major way, in our first full school year of enjoyment of our stunning new Arts Center.
 
Athletically, this class will be remembered as among our most talented and accomplished group of student-athletes of all time. Through their leadership and commitment, I am pleased to share that St. Christopher’s has secured its record sixth consecutive Virginia Prep League Director’s Cup, awarded to the Prep League School with the most comprehensive record of broad-based athletic success in a school year. St. Christopher’s has earned this title six years in a row and in eight of the last 10 school years. In addition, this class helped lead St. Christopher’s to 7 of the possible 12 Prep League Championships this year and three state championships. 24 of you, nearly 30% of this class, will continue your athletic careers in college, second in St. Christopher’s history only to the aforementioned Class of 2020. 
 
This time one year ago, I told the Class of 2021 that I thought they were just the right class at just the right time for St. Christopher’s School. They were adaptive, patient, resilient, and kind, traits that we sorely needed as we endured the slow march of COVID.
 
To the students and families of the Class of 2022, let me again say that you have been precisely the group of leaders and servants that this community needed this year, which I have dubbed the year of the Comeback, of resurgence and resumption of normal and spirited activities on our campus. In my nearly 25 years in schools, I have never seen a class more bought in, more energetic, more grateful, more positive, and more present than you, the Class of 2022. Thank you, gentlemen. This is how we will remember you.
 
And I cannot close my remarks without mentioning the epic, nay, historic victory this past Sunday, when you soundly defeated our beleaguered faculty squad by an unprecedented 21 points. Lest this audience think such a victory is commonplace, I’ll point out that before Sunday’s game, the seniors have emerged victorious only twice in School history, by three points in 2021 and by a one-point buzzer beater in 2016.
 
This service is being recorded this morning and broadcast live around the world. This feels like an appropriate moment for me to look directly into the camera and to point out that Number 1) I was still in New Orleans in 2016 for the first faculty loss; and Number 2) I was injured in both 2021 and 2022 and unable to participate. This could all be coincidence, I suppose.
 
To the Juniors, the Class of 2023, my rehab, and the faculty road to redemption, begins this summer. Also, we have some new faculty hires coming this fall that could have a material impact on next year’s game. More to come over the summer.
 
I digress. Seniors, just as you begin your transition from Under the Pines following this service, so, too, do other invaluable members of our Saints community. I’ll start with Key Randolph who, after 34 years as an Upper School English Teacher, Coach, and Mentor, transitions to Charleston, South Carolina, for his next chapter. Key has been a relational master, a boy whisperer, and a devoted and loyal Saint. Will you all please join me in thanking Key Randolph for his service to this community?
 
Next is Andy Smith, who has served St. Christopher’s in numerous capacities for nearly 50 years. Andy started his career here in the Middle School, as a history teacher and coach, then moved into leadership of the entire Middle School for 20 years, followed by a second act as an Upper School faculty member, History Department Chair, and Faculty Dean. Andy, thank you for your numerous gifts, contributions, for your intellect, and most of all, for your sense of humor and love of all things boys and St. Christopher’s. Godspeed, Andy, and thank you.
 
And, finally, while he is not retiring from St. Christopher’s, this Commencement marks the final ritual, the final public moment of Upper School leadership for Tony Szymendera, who joined this community as an English teacher and coach in 1986 and was tapped as our first Head of the Upper School just six years later. Tony is synonymous with St. Christopher’s, with our Upper School, with our baseball program, and with concepts such as hard work, loyalty, innovation, growth, and determination.
 
In Tony’s final Chapel yesterday, we presented him with a St. Christopher’s chair for his new office as Director of Strategic Priorities. In just a few minutes, Tripp Taliaferro will be presenting our seniors with official Class of 2022 neckties. I thought it appropriate that Tony Szymendera receive the first Class of 2022 necktie, as an inaugural and honorary graduate of this class, and as a treasured Saint. Thank you, Tony.   
 
Seniors, thank you again for the gifts you have so freely shared with all of us. May God bless the Class of 2022 and all of the St. Christopher’s Community.
 
It is my pleasure now to introduce the Class of 2022 Salutatorian, Alexander Lim.  Thank you.
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