While many residents were battening down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Isaias last Saturday morning, Saint Edward’s School celebrated its 47th commencement on the newly renamed Michael J. Mersky field. The joy and pride of the Class of 2020 and their families was evident – even through the students’ special blue facemasks, emblazoned with the school’s crest.
Immediate family members, socially distanced in family groups, watched from under big, white tents as ominous clouds loomed overhead, almost threatening to cancel the event. It would have joined a long list of cancellations and delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jack MacMullan, recently appointed associate head of school and head of upper school, welcomed the Pirates, noting that the previous day’s graduation rehearsal was the first time the Class of 2020 had been together since March.
“The phrase ‘I’m just happy to be here’ certainly applies to me this morning. With what is now a hurricane moving in on us, I was really starting to wonder if the Class of 2020 was ever going to catch a break,” said MacMullan, adding that what he had missed most were the lost hallway conversations.
“The countless little human interactions that form the fabric of a community. We lost a lot of these, but it’s not about ‘woe is us.’
“These seniors have the sense and perspective to realize that many previous generations have faced hard times, and that many communities in our state, our nation and our world have been hit much harder by the pandemic than we have,” he said.
“I’m delighted to set aside all the uncertainty and disappointment of the last five months and just take an hour to enjoy being with the terrific seniors seated behind me. I’m humbled by the opportunity to recognize their talent, their determination, their resilience and their tremendous contributions to the life of this school.”
MacMullan highlighted the impact that recently retired Head of School, Michael Mersky, had upon the school, noting that he would continue to use Mersky’s philosophy as his own position.
“Surround yourself with great people, outwork your competition and do the right thing even when it’s hard. Mike doesn’t just talk about those things; he lives them. In doing so, he has earned himself a place among the transformational leaders of Saint Edward’s,” said MacMullan.
The winds began to pick up, almost as if on cue, as Mersky spoke of what lay before the students in these troubling times.
“Then, I look at the history of this great nation. I know that we were built to overcome these obstacles, for we were forged as a country in this kind of uncertain platform,” he said.
He referenced formative hurdles through the centuries such as the American Revolution, the Civil War and the World Wars, along with the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Our country endured and got stronger and developed in a myriad of ways through all of those adverse conditions. At Saint Edward’s School, one has to look no further than the Class of 2020 to see that spark, that desire to move forward. That grit which overtly states to anyone willing to listen and observe, ‘We are here as a class, and the pandemic, the civil unrest, the uncertainty of our future and indeed, a little hurricane, will not deter us from moving forward, from being leaders, from forging a path for others in this kind of environment.’”
Mersky suggested that what these 56 graduating seniors have experienced in recent months would bode well for them in the future, emboldening them to stretch through obstacles others might not. In parting, he gave three final bits of advice: Show up, don’t be a spectator, and remember that you represent more than just yourself in your actions.
The students selected Bronia Jenkins, a member of the math department and mother of a 2020 graduate, to give the graduation address.
Sharing that they should make the most of their time, she advised, “Time is unpredictable. Time spent wishing or worrying is time ill-spent. Time has to be used now. It can’t be used in the past, and it can’t be used in the future.”
Class Valedictorian Elise Mallon, who will soon head off to Duke University, said that now that the time was upon her, she wasn’t quite ready to go.
“With all of the chaos and uncertainty that began in the middle of March, I feel extremely lost. I hope that a sense of comfort comes over all of us when we realize just how amazingly this school has prepared us for the next phase in life,” said Mallon.
“This school has ingrained in us the importance of public speaking, work ethic, dedication, time management, well-roundedness and, most importantly, community. I do not think that I would be the person I am today without this school, our teachers, our faculty, and the experiences that came with it all.”