May 24, 2020 — Johns Hopkins did it. The U.S. Naval Academy did it. Even Harvard was doing it. So Northfield Mount Hermon was in excellent company as it hosted a virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 and their families, who joined in on May 24 from computer screens around the world.
It was NMH’s 137th Commencement — and, because of COVID-19, its first virtual Commencement. The ceremony took the form of an hour-long video that aired at 8 pm Eastern Time, to accommodate families who were tuning in from across the U.S. and from Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. Head of School Brian Hargrove said that while the event was unlike anything the school had hosted before, “it was driven by the same devotion that shapes our traditional on-campus Commencement. Our community has come together with full hearts to honor our graduates with all the love and support that defines the student experience at Northfield Mount Hermon.”
The 201 graduates had already been treated to several days of celebratory virtual events that were a combination of pre-recorded videos and live Zoom gatherings. A student-faculty trivia competition, musical performances by student ensembles, speeches by the Class of 2020 valedictorian and co-salutatorians, a viewing of the sunrise from the top of the Memorial Chapel tower — all assembled in the final weeks of a roller-coaster school year. “It’s humbling to see how our students, faculty, and staff pulled this together in such a meaningful way,” Hargrove said. The effort embodied the school’s motto: Education for the head, heart, and hand.
Commencement speaker Ellyn Spragins, an award-winning journalist and author who graduated from NMH in 1972 and whose book What I Know Now: Letters To My Younger Self was a New York Times bestseller, had to pivot, too, and she admitted that delivering an inspirational speech via video was never part of her plan. “What happens,” she wondered, “when the world veers off course and lands a punch to the gut?” Her answer: You bounce back. “Pain, suffering, and unexpected circumstances are catalysts for growth. We change. We learn. We accept that our plans have been upended. That change of your perspective can generate something astonishing: Renewal. Innovation. A great upwelling of our individual and collective imaginations.”
This year’s Class of 2020 Student Oration was delivered by Olisa Tasie-Amadi, who urged his classmates to take their “unfinished ending” of high school in stride. “Pour out your soul and surrender yourself to the uncertainty of life,” he said, in a video speech delivered from his home in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. “Focus on the days, the minutes, the seconds, and live specifically. Life was never meant to be predictable or measured, so live eccentrically. Your life may be broken down and rebuilt many times over, but in the end, it will still be your head, your heart, and your hands.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2020!