The members of Blair's class of 2017 celebrated their many achievements and looked forward to bright futures ahead at the School's 169th commencement, held on May 25. Rainy weather brought the ceremony under a tent on Marcial Field, where students and their families radiated pride and happiness on the momentous occasion and enjoyed the many traditions that make Blair's graduation special. (To watch a video of the commencement exercises, scroll down and click "play" below).
Head of School Chris Fortunato welcomed the assembled guests, including Trustees, faculty, parents and students, and introduced Senior Class Council members Lucy Pennell '17 and Jacob Saxton '17 who each shared welcoming remarks with attendees.
Attention turned to the faculty next, as senior administrators presented four prestigious awards that recognize the outstanding work of Blair's teachers: The Apgar Award for Teaching Excellence was presented to Spanish teacher Joyce Lang; The Riether Residential Life Award was presented to Day Student Coordinator Lois Stival; The John C. and Eve S. Bogle Teaching Prize was awarded to Chinese and economics teacher David Facciani; and The Tedlow Teaching Prize was awarded to Associate Dean of College Counseling Joe Mantegna.
The program continued with recognition of students who will attend United States service academies. Assistant Athletic Director and head varsity wrestling coach Brian Antonelli '93, a 1997 U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps captain, presented appointments to the United States Naval Academy to Caroline Peppard '17 and Madison Peterson '17.
Mr. Fortunato, Associate Head of School Ryan Pagotto '97 and Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni then presented the School's highest student honors to three outstanding members of the graduating class: Liam Heino '17 received the Headmaster's Prize, given to a senior who has conspicuously displayed loyalty to the School, outstanding leadership, a fine influence in sportsmanship and Blair spirit in athletic competition; Emily Lunger '17 was awarded the Blair Academy Trophy for the highest all-around achievement; and Yinuo Xu '17 received the George P. Jenkins '32 Prize for outstanding scholarship.
As the George P. Jenkins '32 Prize-winner, Yinuo was also the Class Speaker, and she reflected on the many ways she and her classmates had changed during their Blair journeys, encouraging her peers to take the time as they approach their 20s to "pause and think" about those changes. "Slow down and figure out who you truly are and what you truly need," she said. "On our car rides out from Blairstown, say farewell to this campus, but don't say farewell to the changes this campus has brought to you; embrace the new journey, and also embrace a new understanding of who you truly are. Because every bit of change is worth celebration, especially today." (To read the full text of Yinuo's speech, please click here.)
Mr. Fortunato then presented diplomas to the members of the class of 2017, sharing handshakes, hugs and personal congratulations with students as they crossed the podium. He addressed the new graduates—the class that entered Blair the year he began his tenure as Blair's 16th Head of School—one final time before they began their lives as Blair alumni.
"Mrs. Fortunato and I are so proud of all of you, not just for the things you have achieved, nor because you're great (which you are), but because you are good," he said. Returning to the theme with which he opened the school year at Convocation, he reminded the new alumni to look up more than down and "truly see the people before you, so you can know them and, in turn, become known;" to stand firm as builders of friendships, service projects and so much more, while resisting the temptation to become cynics; and, especially, to continue to be kind, even when others are not.
"Most of all, remember that you are loved," he said, urging the class of 2017 to carry the best of Blair with them wherever their life's journeys take them and to share the best of Blair with all whom they encounter.
The commencement ceremony ended when Jeffrey Mohler '67, a member of this year's 50th reunion class, presented the class of 2017 pennant to a Jingyi Chi '17, the class member who was elected to represent the new graduates for the traditional exchange. Pennant flying, Jingyi led her exuberant classmates out of the tent and into the waiting arms of friends and family members to close the celebration.
Congratulations to the class of 2017!