Wellington’s 32nd commencement on Friday, June 5 was a beautiful outdoor celebration of the Class of 2020, their remarkable accomplishments, and the extraordinary poise and agility they have shown during an unprecedented moment in history. Faced with a global pandemic during their last weeks as seniors and then witness to worldwide anti-racist protest, this impressive group of graduates distinguished themselves as the leaders, thinkers, and problem-solvers who will one day shape the world.
Lining the driveway to the morning ceremony were signs emblazoned with the words Strong, Resilient, Ambitious, and Kind; all words apropos of a senior class called upon, seemingly overnight to navigate an uncharted course. In March, when the threat of COVID-19 called for social distancing and Learning from Home was first introduced to the school community, these student leaders never seemed to miss a beat. From conducting inspiring morning meetings over Zoom to pulling together stunning fine and performing arts displays on the web, as well as maintaining sports training sessions, this talented group found creative and unique ways to remain together in spite of being apart.
Early on, when most traditions and rites of passage were moved to the virtual realm or cancelled entirely, Welington administrators were focused on planning a graduation that adhered to current health and safety guidelines but also recognized the irreplaceable value of coming together in person to honor the outstanding work of the 66 members, including 22 Lifers, of the Class of 2020. The answer, they found, was to move beyond the walls of the school building and transform an outdoor area on campus in which graduates and their families could maintain adequate social distancing while also sharing with each other the excitement of this momentous milestone.
The ceremony began with Claire O'Shaughnessy ’20 singing the national anthem before Head of School Dr. Jeff Terwin delivered his address. Pointing out that often graduation speeches reference the challenges that students will one day face after leaving school, he assured the Class of 2020 they had already been tested and passed with flying colors.
They are poised to do big things, he said of the seniors, building on the vast and exemplary work they had already accomplished at Wellington. He named several areas in which the class had demonstrated excellence and where that early success would take them next. Several of the best artists in the class will attend top arts academies in the country, while many student athletes will take their state championship titles to college and university sports programs. He also pointed out the top science student in the state, Adriane Thompson ’20, was sitting in attendance along with classmates who also had made noteworthy advances in the fields of entrepreneurship, robotics, chess, and political science, to name just a few.
Social distancing limitations had given us a new perspective, Terwin shared, on the value of people and relationships; the seemingly inconsequential moments of passing someone in the hallway and exchanging a quick word or smile have a far greater significance now when thinking back on our lives before COVID-19. The deeply meaningful connections these new graduates made as Wellington students will impact the rest of their lives.
“I fully expect to see many of these students in positions of leadership in the years to come,” Terwin said. “With the recent protests and national urgency to confront systemic racism, I am confident that the students sitting in front of me will make significant and meaningful contributions to improve our world...As you leave this place, know that Wellington is wherever you are. It is in you and it keeps you connected to one another. I will miss you so much. You’ve taught us a lot about how to be yourself, while being able to also be a part of something bigger.”
Terwin then announced that a plaque, with the names of the members of the Class of 2020, would be mounted in the school with the inscription, “They stayed together, even while apart.”
Music award winners Ian Gleissner ’20, on string bass, and Grant Wheeler ’20, on saxophone, performed an uplifting “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder, arranged by Gleissner.
Class speaker Zeke Lloyd ’20 reflected back on the many successes of his peers during their time in upper school. With four state championship athletic teams, in addition to the basketball and tennis teams who had to end their winning seasons early, record-high participation in Ohio Youth in Government and Model UN, senior members of the Blue Notes jazz ensemble, and showstopping productions of “Legally Blonde” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the Class of 2020 left an undeniably large paw print for future Jaguars to fill.
“We have excelled in so many ways,” Lloyd said, “but that’s not really even close to all of our history. Because all of those achievements are made of moments from a caring class. They say good friends know your best stories, but your best friends have lived them with you. And we’ve lived through it all together, even those moments outside of the record books.”
Head of Upper School Rishi Raghunathan P ’27 ’30 brought universal wisdom from a galaxy far, far away when he invoked Star Wars lore during his address. Giving students eight essential truths to carry through life, Raghunathan stressed the importance of belief in self, courage, and never giving up. “I teach because I believe in your infinite potential. I believe that you can create a better world than the one we live in today. You are the keepers of our future, and I expect you to keep hope alive.”
Video messages from yearbook co-editors D’Nisa Oocuma ’20 and Megan Leino ’20 as well as Alumni Association Board Chair Lyle Brown ’89 P ’27 ’29 were shared with the Wellington community following the ceremony. Oocuma announced the theme for the 35th edition of The Duke was Limitless. “Our Wellington community has proven learning has no bounds,” she said. “Teachers, students, and parents have worked harder than ever to embrace the challenge this pandemic has created. These unexpected challenges of 2020 have only helped to affirm our theme for this year’s book.”
Leino revealed the yearbook would be dedicated to Maria Baker P ’00 ’08, Wellington Upper School French teacher of 30 years. “Madame Baker embodies our yearbook theme for 2020,” Leino said. “Her passion and her dedication to her students and community is truly limitless.”
Brown officially welcomed the Class of 2020 into the Wellington Alumni Association with the reassurance that wherever they may go in life, they should always remember they have a home in Wellington.
For this exceptional group of athletes, musicians, artists, scientists, and advocates, they also should always remember the advice Dr. Terwin gave them at the beginning of the school year, and would continually remind them during times of uncertainty, just keep swimming...in a mask, of course.
For full graduation coverage, including the live stream recording and photos, visit https://www.wellington.org/class-2020-graduation-coverage.