June 6, 2022 — Graced with bluebird skies and near perfect late-spring temperatures, the Class of 2020 returned to Northfield Mount Hermon to celebrate its graduation — on campus and in person — at a long-awaited special ceremony, complete with all the trappings of a traditional commencement.
About half of the just over 200 graduates of the Class of 2020 returned for the festivities at NMH — many for the first time since the global pandemic disrupted their senior year, closed their campus, and sent them home to finish out the year remotely. Their year ended with NMH’s first ever virtual commencement on May 24, 2020.
On June 5, 2022, the jubilant group finally donned their black caps and gowns. Led by performing arts faculty member Steve Bathory-Peeler on bagpipes, they processed from the Gilder Center through the heart of campus and along the flag-lined Class of 2020 Walkway — named in their honor in May of 2020 — to Memorial Chapel, where they were cheered by family, friends, and NMH faculty.
Instead of a keynote speaker, the Class of 2020 chose classmate Rafa Capelate de Oliveria, who was a resident leader and global ambassador at NMH, to deliver a reflection during the ceremony. She is from Cotia, São Paulo, Brazil and attends Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she is studying biochemistry and molecular biology.
“This is not like any other graduation because, as we all know, the Class of 2020 is not like any other class,” Capelate de Oliveria said. “Today is more than a graduation. It is a time to revisit our relationships with one another, with our teachers, with this place that we called home, and the connections we made on this hill. It is about openly acknowledging our loss and then celebrating our future.”
In welcoming remarks, Head of School Brian Hargrove reminded the graduates they were finally celebrating in person “two years and two weeks since we celebrated your graduation online. Welcome home. We have missed you.” He likened their experience to those of young people during other challenging times in history, including the 1942 alum he met during NMH Reunion who graduated in the midst of World War II. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, Hargrove said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” And he left the Class of 2020 with this reminder: “Let’s stand by those who are most marginalized in our community, here and at home. That’s what we do here at NMH.”
Members of the NMH community stepped in to help complete the details of the ceremony. Former NMH Registrar Jay Ward, who is now retired, served as the mace bearer. Jacob Smith and Eliza Voorheis from the Class of 2021 were flag bearers. Class advisors Cris Ramirez and Kim Shearer read the names of each graduate as they stepped forward to be recognized and have their photo taken.
The night before the ceremony, members of the Class of 2020 were treated to the Chateau Dance they missed during their senior year. In the morning, they climbed the chapel tower with NMH Archivist Peter Weis and enjoyed doughnuts delivered by Associate Head of School Charlie Tierney. The graduates and their families were also joined by their former teachers, mentors, and coaches at brunch hosted by Hargrove and NMH Dining Services.
After their ceremony, they had the chance to take part in other campus life traditions — performing arts students each signed a brick on the wall of Chiles Theater, NMH singers gathered in Heffernon Hall to visit with recently retired Music and Choral Programs Director Sheila Heffernon, and dorm residents of “Tron” stopped in to sign their wall.
Ronnella Walker called the celebration “a beautiful experience” for her son Shameek Hargrave ’20. “We’re really happy to be here today,” she said. “We love NMH. NMH has been an amazing, life-changing, transformational experience for Shameek and for our family.” Hargrave has just completed his sophomore year at Princeton, and Walker said that NMH was a great launching pad for him.
Harrison Kerber ’20 said that the special celebration for his class was “the ending we didn’t know we needed. It was an incredible experience and a very emotional one, too. I am so grateful for all who made it possible, because it really feels like I can move on from that chapter of my life.”
And at the end of the ceremony in Memorial Chapel, the Class of 2020 finally had the chance to take part in some of the most treasured traditions — tossing their mortarboards into the air and performing a spirited singing of the NMH school song, “Jerusalem.”