A graceful rendition of the Trumpet Voluntary echoed in Central Park as Spence community members came together at SummerStage to celebrate the extraordinary Class of 2021 at the 124th Commencement Exercises of the Spence School. There was a palpable joy and excitement among the nearly 500 family, friends and faculty and staff participating in this first in-person School ceremony since March of 2020.
In her remarks, Head of School Bodie Brizendine praised the 61 members of the senior class for their resilience and determination as they navigated a school year like none before. “During this pandemic, you studied, Zoomed, lived in your rooms for days in a row and you built a way out of no way,” said Brizendine. “You not only survived, you thrived, made the most of it, created new ways of being.”
Invoking the wise words of Clara Spence, Brizendine added, “‘Thinking means the adding of something not previously present.’ In ways far beyond Clara’s intention, the something added this year made you think, indeed, and in different and important ways….you found a certain harmony in yourself, in others...and all together.”
Infused with humor and cheer, Chloe Singer’s senior speech echoed Brizendine’s sentiments about the tenacity, ingenuity and perseverance of the senior class. “Even in a pandemic, we have found a way to make our presence felt and leave an impression on others,” said Chloe. “When the world stopped and schooling changed, we continued to be innovative in how we led…. It would have been easier to zone out, distance ourselves from School and skate through senior year. Yet, we all chose to be present and dive head-first into every activity.”
Chloe also commended members of the senior class for their incredible sense of camaraderie and the joy and passion with which they approached all they did, from preparing for the annual Lip Sync Battle to consuming as much spinach as possible for the yearly food audit, in which Upper School grades compete with each other to minimize food waste from lunch. “The Class of 2021 is spirited in every sense of the word,” said Chloe. “I am not sure if it’s our competitive nature, or love for the School, but I know that no other grade has ever worked so hard to win the ultimate title of spirit point champions.”
This can-do attitude, Chloe added, makes her confident that her classmates will become leaders and forces of change. “I truly believe that this class stands–or rather sits––here today more equipped than ever to take charge, dream big and address large problems.”
Senior Jackie Cole introduced this year’s Commencement speaker, “our very own, beloved Ms. Sara Beasley,” Head of the Spence English and World Languages Department. “Beyond her impressive history as a scholar and a teacher of English, Ms. Beasley is a truly special, empathetic and inspiring person,” said Jackie, who took the opportunity to share quotes from her fellow students about Beasley’s impact on them. “Ms. Beasley sees her students fully–she sees all members of her community–under the best of lights, under a lens of thoughtfulness and of graciousness,” said one student. “Ms. Beasley calls on her students to practice introspection…to identify moments of shared humanity in each and every one of our texts.”
Jackie added that Beasley’s presence transcends the walls of her classroom. “Ms. Beasley, it is impossible not to have a connection with you, whether we were your students, advisees or just saw you throughout the halls,” Jackie said. “You are truly a beaming light, and we are honored to have you as our Commencement speaker.”
In an intimate and personal Commencement address, Beasley reflected on the unique attributes of the Class of 2021 and their evolution as people, thinkers and leaders. “When many of you were eighth graders, I taught you for the first time,” shared Beasley. “I remember vividly how you covered for each other, looked out for each other and supported each other.”
“You’ve been graceful and generous, thoughtful and wise in your words and in your actions,” said Beasley. “Especially in these past 14 months of loss and isolation and injustice, you have grown more aware of the fragility of our communities, more self-aware, more inclined to reserve judgment. You’ve been able to think about the whys and the hows of our deepest challenges. Know that your work is just beginning. And know that it is your work that will shape your sense of daily purpose. You will need that.”
And, in true English teacher fashion, Beasley wove literature into her remarks, recalling how members of the Class of 2021 reminded her, during their Grade 8 English course, of an essential message in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “The play teaches us that love is always the answer,” said Beasley, addressing the graduates. “You, in your often loud, always dramatic way, kept reminding me that love makes the world go round and that isolation needs only to find its endpoint.”
Following the presentation of diplomas, Brizendine offered a touching send-off to the Class of 2021 in her closing remarks. Making the case for the importance of empathy, Brizendine referenced writing by poet Le-Young Lee: “The moon from any window is one part of whoever’s looking.” “Seeing the moon, the sun, literature, injustice, history or the world calls for an abiding understanding of different perspectives before you can even have a prayer of a common one,” Brizendine emphasized, encouraging graduates to seek harmony amongst differing viewpoints. “As you leave Spence, the world you have been part of...even when you had to be together while apart, think about paths beyond the literal ones you will travel. And think about watching that moon while knowing that everyone here today will be looking at it, too...but from a different window with a different perspective. Two parallel paths, together: harmony.”
The School’s philosophy of encouraging responsible citizenship in a changing world was also embedded in Brizendine’s final words of advice to the senior class. “You can give back, you can help others, you can make small differences that can add up,” said Brizendine. “May you all seek harmony and love all the days ahead.”
SummerStage offered a spectacular backdrop for a joyous ceremony amplified by beautiful live music, including a Select Choir performance of “And So it Goes” by Billy Joel, the Trumpet Voluntary performed by Director of Instrumental Music Matt Holman and a stunning rendition of the Spence School Song by Carrie Lewis, Head of the Performing Arts Department.
In the words of Commencement Speaker, Sara Beasley, we are “sending you off with a heart full of love,” Class of 2021. Congratulations and welcome to our wonderful community of alumnae.