Following the standard set by Prize Day two days earlier, this year’s graduation, held this past Saturday morning on the Lank Quadrangle turf, was celebratory, joyful… and surprisingly normal. Once again, as in pre-pandemic days, families gathered without restrictions to watch the faculty and the graduates march in to strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” applaud as each student crossed the stage to receive a diploma, and cheer the newly minted alumni.
That’s not to say that the travails of the past few years went unrecognized. In his opening remarks, Head of School Ned Parsons spoke of the long journey the Class of 2022 had taken to reach this point: “On that journey, you have battled through loss, heartbreak, and disappointment as the normal patterns of life were disrupted, canceled, changed, moved, postponed, distanced, masked, and even disinfected.” But, he went on to say, “You stood tall in the face of all of it. You emerged stronger, kinder, more aware of the importance of things we once took for granted and eager to put that awareness into action.”
Board President Harley Lank also spoke about the challenges faced by the class. He noted that, unpredictable as life may seem, Rivers has prepared the graduates to contend with the unexpected.
Following tradition, the students had elected a faculty speaker. For the second time in three years, math teacher and twelfth grade dean Victoria Mizzi was the pick. She said that when she first began overseeing this class, in the fall of 2020, Covid was still having a powerful impact on the school experience, and in order to connect with the students at a time when social distancing was the norm, she created a weekly “Need to Know” email, with all the pertinent information about the week ahead. On Saturday, her talk took the form of a final “Need to Know” communication, sharing the most salient points for the next phase of the students’ lives.
“The first thing you need to know,” said Mizzi, “is that this past year is likely the last time in your lives when someone will send you a bulleted list of all the things you need to pay attention to.” Acknowledging that leaving the structured world of high school is “both exciting and scary,” she urged them to approach the future with resilience, flexibility, and a sense of adventure. “Take what you know and continue learning,” she concluded. “Make big plans, lean into discomfort, and be honest about what makes you happy. Don’t demand perfection in every aspect of your life, but never settle when it comes to the things that matter most to you. You need to know that I will always be here for you and that it was a blast being your dean. You need to know that I will miss you next year and that I expect updates and a visit. Most of all, you need to know that I am proud of you.”
The student speaker, elected unanimously by the Class of ’22, was Sam Lyons. Lyons spoke movingly about the tradition of senior speeches and how it had provided a window into his classmates interests, passions, and experiences.
“We heard about eye-opening experiences in community service, and we heard about the value in putting down one’s phone and disconnecting to reconnect,” he told the crowd. “We heard about the battles and victories our classmates have won, in both their mental and physical health. We have heard about the strength it takes to stand up to an old family member, and the beauty one sees in finding a new one. We even heard about why giving the senior speech you wrote wasn’t the right path for you, and how an improv speech in stand-up comedy fashion can be as perfect as it is non-traditional.” Grateful as he was for all that Rivers had taught him, he said, he wanted to focus in this moment on what his he’d learned from his peers. “This class has taught me that going against the grain, in speech, or in practice, or in action, makes you stronger and makes you who you are. This class has taught me to never give up on the group and to always bet on yourself.”
The graduates were then called to the stage in alphabetical order to receive their diplomas. As each student stood near the podium, Parsons delivered personal remarks about their time at Rivers, their accomplishments, and their impact on the school.
Afterwards, in his concluding remarks, Parsons spoke of the journey that lies ahead, noting that Rivers had filled the graduates’ metaphorical backpacks with valuable tools for the trip. Those tools, he said, fall into three basic categories: Thinking, feeling, and acting. Each approach depends on the others to reach fruition, and each is necessary to lead a full, productive, meaningful life. Parsons noted that, even with these tools at the ready, the path ahead is not always easy: “Think, feel, act. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not supposed to be. This is how you grow, and when you grow, the world benefits. You don’t know everything you will know or will be yet. But you know this much, and you learned it here: the critical eye, the receptive ear, the resolute hands you bring with you are all the tools you need to complete your journey.”
Finally, he noted, “You’re never alone in your journey. We hope, above all, that you remember that you have allies and supporters here who will be available to you throughout that journey, well into the future. We are proud of all you’ve accomplished and everything you’ve become, and we thank you for your commitment to this place, to our goals for you, and to one another.” And with that, he dismissed the class to its recessional, its traditional cap-toss by the flagpole, and its first steps into the wider world.