“Together, we thrive” — 2020 Diploma Awarding Ceremony

A global health crisis. Civil unrest. And renewed demand for equality and justice. These themes were the backdrop for the end of the Class of 2020’s senior year, and were highlighted in the speeches, delivered virtually, by Valedictorian C.J. Nkenchor and Salutatorians Julianne Cuevo and Simon Van Der Weide on July 28.

In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement regained national and international attention as millions took to the streets to protest police brutality. With the complicated history of race in America under ongoing scrutiny, Nkenchor, who will attend Harvard University, passionately shared that members of this Class of 2020 are uniquely positioned to bring about critical change. “At the center of this unprecedented storm, we have been chosen as its necessary calm. Class of 2020, we have been chosen for such a time as this … I find it fateful, not coincidental that both the [discomfort] of this pandemic and protests have been sent to us as a package. I believe this is a test. We are to provide the care to this package … This time we are in evokes a profound allusion to Martin Luther King Jr.'s words that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.’ And with sincere belief, I add that a threat to injustice anywhere is hope for justice everywhere.”

Cuevo, who will attend Vassar College, cited examples of the activism led among members of the Senior Class within our halls. “Just like the oft-invoked ‘real world,’ Flint Hill struggles with issues of injustice. Members of this class not only recognized it but took a stand. We analyzed and called out systems of inequality in a place that has traditionally been a bastion of privilege. Senior girls led a large-scale demonstration against misogyny, and I think there were more conversations about systemic racism in [Upper School English Teacher] Ms. Peterson’s classroom this year than many people have in their entire lifetimes. There is still so much work to do. It is my greatest hope that both this class and those who come after us may fight ever more tirelessly for a future where all are free.”

Van Der Weide, who will attend Yale University, shared his classmates’ sentiments about the impact their class can have in the future, emphasizing the importance of celebrating our differences. “... as Maya Angelou writes in her poem, ‘Human Family,’ we are more alike than we are unalike. While we may speak different languages, have differences on the surface, or hold different beliefs, we are all one species. Together, we thrive; together, we will accomplish the impossible, never-before-dreamed things of tomorrow.”

On July 29, beneath a cloudless sky, members of the Senior Class participated in our first-ever outdoor Diploma Awarding Ceremony. With social distancing measures in place — including seniors arriving and participating in “mini-ceremonies” by advisory — families parked drive-in movie style to watch their graduates collect their diplomas from Headmaster John Thomas and Director of the Upper School Rico Reed. After this extraordinary year, we can’t wait to see what they do next.