May 16, 2021 — In-person celebrations feel extra special these days, and Northfield Mount Hermon’s 138th Commencement ceremony was no exception.
Today, NMH celebrated 206 exuberant graduates from 19 states and 22 countries under an enormous tent — to allow for social distancing — wrapping up a year like no other. After a virtual graduation last year due to COVID-19, today, NMH pulled off an in-person, outdoor ceremony on campus for a limited number of pre-registered guests of the Class of 2021.
With a few modifications — attendees wore masks, Head of School Brian Hargrove gave graduates elbow bumps instead of hand shakes — it had all the trappings of a “normal” NMH graduation: a procession led by a bagpiper, cheering parents, speeches, the singing of “Jerusalem,” graduates tossing their caps into the air, and perfect weather. While it was not open to the public, graduation was streamed for those who could not attend in person, including the 24 graduates from around the world in the Lab Program, NMH’s remote-learning option.
Commencement speaker Arshay Cooper, a rower and author of the memoir, A Most Beautiful Thing, told graduates, “Do it afraid. Being courageous doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It means you do it anyway.” Cooper joined, and later captained, the nation’s first all-Black rowing team at his high school on the West Side of Chicago. “Act beyond yourself,” he said. “Leave things better than you found them, even if you didn’t create the mess.” Cooper finished with a rowing analogy. “In crew, you move forward by looking back. In life, you can look back, but remember to keep moving forward,” he said.
Senior orator Zari Newman said when she first stepped onto campus as a new NMH student after leaving her “overcrowded high school in the Bronx,” she could not have imagined that she would join the wrestling team, become a peer educator or a resident leader, participate in plays and musicals, or study abroad in Belize. She said, “If there’s one thing I learned during my time at NMH, it’s to trust that I can do the improbable and to surround myself with people who think the same. Amazing teachers, advisors, classmates, friends, and family, who knew my potential, felt the change I was bound to make, and wanted it just as badly as I did.”
Hargrove shared words of gratitude, especially for NMH families. “Thank you. Thank you for entrusting your children with us. There’s no greater gift that a parent can share than their child,” he said.
As is tradition at NMH, graduation closes with a benediction, a giving of good wishes. Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn, NMH's chaplain, said, “Graduates, on this day, and forevermore, may you be blessed with the power of your education, a true privilege that will not cease to call forth your response daily. And as you have remarkably demonstrated to us this year, may you continue to find the resilience and creativity that allows you to be lifelong learners, whatever the circumstances.”
In addition to Commencement, several other special year-end events and celebrations over the past week were livestreamed and the recordings are available here. Additional videos and photos can be found on NMH Flickr.