Blair Academy’s 172nd commencement ceremony was a tradition- and joy-filled celebration of the class of 2020, as well as the first graduation in School history to take place online. Families and friends from around the world came together virtually on May 21—appropriately a beautiful, sunny day in Blairstown—to listen to words of wisdom, honor the achievements of students and faculty members, and celebrate a truly outstanding senior class. (To watch the ceremony in full, click "play" below.)
The Rev. Lisa Durkee, Blair’s chaplain and chair of the religion and philosophy department, opened the ceremony with a benediction, before Head of School Chris Fortunato and Senior Class Council members Aidan Riano ’20 and Robert Donnelly ’20 welcomed seniors and their families to the event. Mr. Fortunato, speaking from Sharpe House lawn, expressed his wish that everyone could have been with him that day at the traditional site of graduation.
“I welcome us all back together in this moment to celebrate the achievements, character and spirit of the Class of 2020,” he said. “You have arrived at this long-awaited and momentous day at a time when the world is in pain and the path ahead is filled with both endless possibilities and significant uncertainties. I honor the strange place in which we and you as graduates find ourselves, but I refuse to begin today with sadness and, instead, choose to look up in hope. Seniors, the joy you have brought us will forever eclipse the sadness I feel in missing you today and over these past two months. Your talents and courage will carry us forward to a bright future for all.”
Mr. Fortunato recognized Blair’s two longest-serving faculty members, math and theatre teacher Wayne Rasmussen and history teacher Martin Miller, PhD., both of whom were participating in their final commencement ceremony. He thanked them for their combined 80-plus years of service to Blair as they prepare to retire in June. The ceremony continued with presentations of awards to several faculty members in recognition of their dedication to Blair students and their profession.
Likewise, several seniors were honored for their accomplishments throughout their course of study at Blair, and three recipients accepted their appointments to U.S. service academies (see below for full list of awards given at graduation). Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni presented the day’s final award, the George P. Jenkins ’32 Prize, to class speaker Seo Yeong (Shauna) Kwag ’20, who addressed her classmates in an uplifting and personal speech.
Shauna touched upon her deep fascination with mathematical patterns, as well as her appreciation of the patterns and routines of everyday life at Blair. These routines, including the expectation of a fun-filled, culminating “senior spring,” were ripped away by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite what was lost, however, something has also been gained: a newfound perspective of the beauty that goes unnoticed in routine.
“As we all move into each of our uncertain futures, I want to challenge you all to try to discern the patterns that dictate your daily lives,” she said as she concluded her remarks. “And once you find that pattern, I hope you can all stop to notice the beauty of it, of its masterful and sophisticated design, of how you’re forming it, and how it’s forming you. All patterns—let them be in nature or more in our human lives—are beautiful and worthy of appreciation. Especially since, unlike an infinitely repeating decimal, our lives are not infinite; they, and each moment that makes them up, are finite.”
Congratulating her classmates on their graduation, Shauna added, “We are all so lucky to have something we can miss so much, to have been shaped by the pattern of our daily lives at Blair, which will always be with us no matter where we are. So to you all: thank you, stay well, and take comfort that we will meet again.”
The moment the members of the class of 2020 had been waiting for finally arrived: the conferring of diplomas. Faculty advisors read the names of each of their senior advisees, acknowledgment of the special relationships that had been forged during students’ Blair years, while images of each graduate scrolled across the screen.
Mr. Fortunato then addressed the newly minted alumni, reminding them that the many memories they had created over the course of their years at Blair—imbued with joy and, at times, pain—would keep them connected far more powerfully than anything that might separate them, including a global pandemic.
“It is appropriate that the class of 2020 should so sharply bring into focus what it truly means to be a Blair student—and a Blair graduate—and what it means to live the Blair way,” he said. “Since I first addressed you as freshmen at Convocation in 2016, you have been the class that, no matter what the world has thrown your way, continues to look up, chooses to build relationships, bridges and paths forward even when the shadows of cynicism threaten to darken our hopes, and remains kind to others, even in moments of hardship.”
He urged them to raise their eyes to the Blair star about which he had spoken at that long-ago Convocation whenever they need a reminder of their connection to their alma mater. “Always remember, it is there for you and that Blair is always there for you.”
Senior Class Council member Lula Mantegna ’20 had the honor of closing the ceremony, but the festivities for the class of 2020 continued during the afternoon as classmates who lived within driving distance converged on the hilltop for a drive-through celebration. Graduates and their families had been invited to drive the campus loop road, which was lined the entire way with cheering faculty and staff members—all at appropriate social distance, of course. Honking horns and shouts of gladness filled the air as Blair family members shared their joy on this momentous occasion.
Congratulations to the class of 2020!
Faculty awards presented at graduation:
Apgar Award for Teaching Excellence: computer science teacher Michael Garrant
Riether Residential Life Award: English teacher David Mamukelashvili
John C. and Eve S. Bogle Teaching Prize: English teacher Sarah O’Neil
Headmaster’s Faculty Prize: Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni
Tedlow Teaching Prize: history teacher Andrew Sykes
Student awards presented at graduation:
Selena & James Howard Prize: Dylan Robert Benson ’20 & Camille Aleksandra Williams ’20
Harold F. Walker Memorial Prize: Corey Stephen Downey ’20 & Robert Frederico Rucki ’20
Lee Rose Memorial Trophy: Kathleen S. Devlin ’20
Headmaster’s Prize: Aidan Gilmore Riano ‘20
Blair Academy Trophy: Alexandra Leigh Kirby ’20
George P. Jenkins ’32 Prize: Seo Yeong (Shauna) Kwag ’20
Appointments to U.S. service academies:
U.S. Naval Academy: Sarah Elizabeth Richardson ’20 & Peter McBride Montgomery ’20
U.S. Military Academy at West Point: Damon Myles Washington ’20