Amid cheers, applause, and the traditional ringing of the bells, 93 King School seniors concluded their high school careers and received their graduation diplomas. The momentous ceremony celebrated the end of the graduates' King School journey as well as the students' resilience during an unprecedented and challenging year.
The in-person commencement ceremony took place on the King School campus on Friday, June 4, under safety protocols and limited attendance. And, yet, the necessary restrictions and rainy weather did not dampen a palpable sense of joy, accomplishment, and enthusiasm for the future.
The program included opening remarks from Head of Upper School Marnie Sadlowsky, Board Chair Thomas King, and a keynote address by alumnus Ahmed Fattouh '91. The Reverend Mark Lingle from St. Francis Episcopal Church delivered the invocation, which was followed by a powerful and impressive performance by senior Sarah Kadlick '91, who sang the national anthem.
In her charge to the graduates, Upper School Head Marnie Sadlowsky applauded the triumphs and perseverance of the Class of 2021 and, referencing the pillars of a liberal arts education, asked the graduating class to keep asking the fundamental questions, "Who am I?" and "Who are we?"
"Think about how you answer this question right now – as you sit here in front of those who've loved you, supported you, challenged you, even forced you to face this question when you didn't want to," she stated. "The answers will keep coming as you go to college for sure, and some answers will get really important and really central as you make major life choices," Sadlowsky added.
As she closed her remarks, Sadlowsky summarized her own views of the graduates. "You are strong; you are reflective; you have learned so much about yourself in your time at King. As you move on, I wish you the fullest, most powerful time in college possible," and added, "You've got this. This "we" – "us" – have your back. Congratulations, Class of 2021."
Alluding to the challenges of the past year and a half, Board Chair Thomas King P'20, '20, '23 recognized what has been "an unusual year, a hard year, one where we were forced to deal with controversy and hardship." King encouraged students to learn and grow from adversity. Quoting the educational reformer and philosopher John Dewey, King reminded the students, "We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience."
"The pandemic, no doubt, threw us a curveball," said this year's valedictorian, Samuel Hillenmeyer '21. "No, scratch that. It was more like a 95 mph knuckle spitball. But we all learned just how adaptable we are, how much the virtue of perseverance has taken root in us."
As he reflected on his time at King, Samuel underscored the growth that accompanies overcoming barriers. "No doubt, we all have high school memories of achieving what we believed was unattainable. Under the supportive guidance of our teachers, we learned that overcoming our own self-imposed barriers makes these accomplishments all the more fulfilling."
Senior speaker Conor Newman' 21 also looked back at the challenges of the past year and marveled at the optimism and determination of his classmates. "Not only did we finish high school, which is a big accomplishment, but we did so during a pandemic...We made the most of the time together despite the circumstances. We managed to stay positive through a tough year. And now we are sitting here at our high school graduation. This is the time we prepared for our entire lives, and it is because the times are so tough that our potential is so great."
Adding to the significance of the celebration, King School alumnus Ahmed Fattouh '91 delivered a humorous keynote address in which he made self-deprecating jokes about his younger self and referred to the popular culture of the early 90s when he was a student at King Low Heywood Thomas. On a more serious note, Fattouh remembered how during his time at KLHT, the first webpage was launched, and, since then, information became more available than ever before.
"Now more than ever, it is critical to analyze facts and form your own judgments. It is critical to keep learning in school and beyond," said Fattouh. "If I can ask you guys anything, it is to commit to learning with and from each other throughout your lives. Be open to being convinced. Iterate back and forth until you get to the answer. Because that's how you make sense of all the change that is going on; that's how you navigate unexpected events like a school merger or a global pandemic, or the Arab spring or the financial crisis; that's how you discern the fake news from the real."
As the graduates celebrated the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, Ahmed Fattouh encouraged the graduating class to "pursue truth and virtue." "Commencement is a start and not an end. I hope you will celebrate it as the beginning of your lifetime of learning," he said.
Closing the ceremony, Reverend Lingle offered the benediction which started with a recognition of the remarkable efforts, creativity, and courage of the Class of 2021.
"May you draw strength from the adversity you experience; may you develop deeper compassion because of this for all who suffer; and may you give thanks for the myriad blessings that confront you in each moment of each day forever. Blessings on you all as you continue to discover who you are, who we are, and what is true. May you be surprised by joy, challenged to grow and experience the world from a deep and abiding well of love."
The graduates now head to 60 different colleges and universities – a reflection of the broad range of interests of this talented and resilient class. Congratulations, Class of 2021!