Graduates Adapt to Change and Make School History

Two valedictorians and two salutatorians in the same graduating class is a first in Flint Hill history. Kyle Frank, Viraj Samant, Lily Min, and Kyle Moxley made that record official at Commencement on June 11. Breaking new ground seemed to go hand in hand with the 136 graduates, whose high school experiences were far from ordinary.

The school year began for the seniors with a new hybrid learning model — a mix of virtual and in person — as precautionary measures were put in place to protect the school community from the COVID-19 virus. Throughout the year, different challenges required the students to adapt. Even on graduation day, rain interrupted the plan to hold the event outdoors, on the grounds of the new Peterson Middle School. The ceremony proceeded indoors and concluded with another first when the Class of 2021 celebrated by tossing their caps in the air in the Upper School gym, instead of the front lawn. Regardless of the location, they embraced the moment enthusiastically.

“We’ve endured everything from a worldwide pandemic, social and political unrest, and yes, even a brood of cicadas,” said Valedictorian Kyle Frank, as he addressed the other graduates directly. “When COVID became our reality, you led clubs virtually, won academic and athletic competitions, and made it through those overwhelming weeks you thought would never end. When we were met with political turmoil and social injustices, we held conversations inside and outside the classroom and took initiatives to remedy issues in our own communities. We haven’t just survived all these problems passively, though there isn’t much we can do about the cicadas; we’ve grown and bettered ourselves because of what we encountered, and in a few minutes, when we’ll no longer be students at Flint Hill, that simple fact will be a testament to not only our resilience but our ability to welcome and respond to change.”

Although this senior class dealt with unusual restrictions in their final Upper School year, they remained open to possibilities. Salutatorian Lily Min spoke of their can-do attitude: “I believe we are so much more than just the class that endured. We are movers and shakers, thinkers and doers; we are everything we dream we can be. Yes, class of 2021, we are the class that couldn’t. But I know we are also the class that can, and the class that will.”

Commencement Speaker Brian Aspinwall ’00, a creative director at HBO Max, is an example of the kind of spirit and determination that the Class of 2021 understands. He shared his story of being at a decision-making crossroads after earning a biology degree from George Washington University and preparing for graduate studies in pharmacology and cancer research. “Something inside me didn't feel right,” he said. “Maybe I never felt passionate about this and instead slipped into what I thought I was supposed to be doing because I was good at it or it was expected of me.” He spoke about starting his career in the entertainment industry by working in the mailroom, and he advised, “Don't be afraid to take chances on yourself, and give yourself the space to dream and to figure it out. And don't waste time going after something you know isn't right — stop, readjust and move in a new direction.”

Undoubtedly, this group of graduates has amassed useful lessons from the past several months that reach far beyond the classroom. “After this year, all of us will be able to use what we’ve learned during our time at Flint Hill to excel in the future,” said Valedictorian Viraj Samant. “As our class now prepares to embark on a new chapter of our journeys, I hope we will all take the time to appreciate the basics … and I encourage you to embrace any adversity that you might face down the road.”

The Class of 2021 has grown in ways they never could have imagined at the start of the year, and while “back to normal” is a place so many long to be, Salutatorian Kyle Moxley articulated a greater hope for all. “This isn’t the senior year that any of us had expected, and while some people thrived in a virtual environment, many others — me included — struggled a lot to stay on track in school this year. But I don’t think that means we should throw this year away. I know it’s easy to get the feeling that it’s all wasted time, but it’s only truly wasted if we don’t learn from our experiences and try to go back to normal, rather than moving forward to positive change. And as people are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, this is the moment that we choose what we want to do. This moment defines which direction we move in. It matters. Because there’s a lot I don’t think we should go back to. Does “going back to normal” mean going back into a world of unchecked misogyny and racism, unprepared and unjust healthcare systems, normalization of police brutality? I hope not. Rather than going back to that, I hope every one of us is ready to fight our way into a better world.”