Commencement 2020: Celebrating a Resilient and Outstanding Class

Cheers of joy filled SummerStage at Central Park as family, friends and faculty members gathered to celebrate the Class of 2020 at the 123rd Commencement Exercises of the Spence School – a ceremony made even more special given the 13-month wait to come together in person. Throughout the ceremony, members of the Class 2020 were undeterred by the occasional bursts of rain, staying true to their resilient determination to celebrate each other and their Spence milestone. Nothing could cloud this day.   

“This graduation is a graduation like none before it,” Head of School Bodie Brizendine said in her welcoming remarks. “This is the graduation that actually came after the graduation of the class behind it. This is the graduation for our remarkable 2020 scholars who have technically already graduated. And this is a graduation unlike any other because you are a class unlike any other.”

In a poignant and spirited senior speech, Catherine Borthwick echoed Brizendine’s sentiments about the 2020 Commencement ceremony. “Commencement represents a threshold between education and the greater world, but today it has taken on a different meaning,” said Catherine. “It is an emblem of reunion, gratitude for the years of learning that we shared and a celebration of the people that we have and will continue to become.”

“After a year away, the due dates and grading scales have faded, but our treasured memories and friendships have not,” said Catherine. Reminiscing about the “countless formative and unabashedly joyful moments” she and her classmates shared at Spence, Catherine highlighted the Class of 2020’s “ability to seek joy through resilience.” She cheerfully recalled the highlights of their collective journey – from encountering rats on their eleventh grade retreat, competing in Spirit Week and braving long hikes on an Advanced Biology field trip, to cramming for exams and completing college applications.

“Each of these stories describe the laughter and cheer we have always been able to find when facing adversity,” said Catherine, “but we have also been able to seek purpose.” “As the world shut down, our collective consciousness of social injustice became heightened. Spence taught us to live deliberately...At Spence, we engaged deeply in our studies and pursued our passions with determination in order to evolve into the people we have become, facing life and all it has to offer with strength, curiosity and open minds.”

Julie Levey paid tribute to Brizendine, who spoke on behalf of the class. Applauding Brizendine’s legacy of great leadership, care and kindness, she shared: “Throughout our years at Spence, the lessons Ms. Brizendine has taught us have helped to shape our class into the students and young adults we are today. From the way she decorates her workspace––placing student artwork, notably Lola’s fantastic fox sculpture, alongside her cherished ladybug figurines––and her efforts to always show up...Ms. Brizendine exemplifies her deep, genuine care for the student body and demonstrates what it means to place building and caring for a community at the center of one’s focus.” 

“This celebration makes all the language of graduations, all the pomp and circumstance, all the richer, all the more meaningful,” said Brizendine. “You have been living those many words of farewell and promise with which we send graduates off. You already own these words, and you already live them.”

Summoning the School’s motto, Brizendine shared: “But it is with this deeper perspective, that we can claim this moment with even more power behind it, and holler out ‘Not for school, but for life we learn,’ because…well… you’re beyond School and you have already been learning for life.”  

Noting that members of the Class of 2020 have lived and understand “those many words of farewell and promise with which we send graduates off,” Brizendine shared “two pieces of advice for you that can always bear repetition, that can always deserve a revisit.” “Each of you have specific gifts belonging to you, and you alone. You probably know your gifts, and maybe you keep them deep within, perhaps some days not even believing in them yourself...don’t doubt your gifts and do share them widely.”

Reflecting on the words of poet Wistawa Szymborsha’s Nobel Prize speech, “Believe in your merits…and let them do good. If you keep them hidden, how can they do their magic? Let them out. Put them to work.”

The ceremony marked the return of Michèle Krauthamer, who retired as Head of Upper School last year, to join Brizendine in the presentation of diplomas to the Class of 2020. The graduation ceremony also featured a host of live musical performances, including a Select Choir rendition of “And So it Goes” by Billy Joel, the Trumpet Voluntary performed by Director of Instrumental Music Matt Holman and a beautiful performance of the Spence School Song by Carrie Lewis, Head of the Performing Arts Department, joined by the members of Select Choir.

“Class of 2020, we will be ever proud of you, ever grateful,” Brizendine said in her farewell remarks. “We send you off again with our deep and abiding respect and with love and admiration. Godspeed, again, Class of 2020 and bravo, bravo, bravo!” 

Read Bodie Brizendine’s full remarks here
Read Catherine Borthwick’s full remarks here