This certainly isn’t what we had planned, is it? The class of 2020 was always going to be remembered. However, I think they will be remembered the same as the graduating classes at every school in the country: the pandemic class or the COVID class. In many ways, this is terribly unfair. The class of 2020 should be remembered for its wonderful members, not for an external event that affected the rest of the world. This class is made up of amazing students, scholars, community servants, athletes, and leaders. They are more than just the class that missed a normal prom and graduation. They are more than the class that braved two months of online learning. They are a noteworthy group made up of exceptional and unique individuals. Each one has made their own indelible mark on the class and on the school. I am exceptionally proud to have had the privilege to work with you all over these past three years.
When I first came to The O’Neal School it was with the class of 2020 that I immediately connected. I taught many of you in class and you never shied away from asking the hard question. You took the time to explain to me as a newcomer the way things were, and more importantly, the way they should be. You should continue to do this in the future, wherever you are. Be welcoming and be forward-looking. The class of 2020 has never accepted tradition or routine as a good reason for doing anything. If you have asked for something once you have asked a hundred times with the reasoning of “but why do we do it that way?“. This baseline assumption of challenging what has come before demonstrates intellectual curiosity and an appetite for growth. I would caution you to guard against the dark side of this questioning which could be seen as an entitlement. I believe, however, knowing you all as well as I do, that your questioning of the status quo does not come from a sense of entitlement but rather a sense of reflective improvement and desire for a better way.
This class has achieved much. It has earned scholarships, championships, and accolades. It has lead the Upper School through a period of transition and change. School spirit has grown and more students are involved in student government and life in a meaningful way than ever before. This class has been fearless in its pursuit of excellence. It has been fearless in its pursuit of something better. And the times that it has fallen short, it has owned those mistakes. This fearlessness and this personal responsibility are the two traits that will serve us all well as we face an uncertain future. To say that the current world is volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous would be an understatement. This class has learned that you do not overcome this uncertainty by bemoaning what you have lost. This class has shown that you succeed in this world by challenging assumptions, and asking “what can be done?”
This is a class that takes care of each other and looks out for the future. In my entire career, I have never had a graduating class reach out, concerned for the other members of their class as much as this class has done. The members of this class want to make sure that everyone in the class was cared for.
To be sure, this class has never stepped away from a challenge or from confrontation. Rather, they have run directly toward it. I can think of no better class to face the indefinite future that we are all facing together than the class of 2020. I know that they are going to run towards the challenges and make our community better. I know that they are going to find the solutions of tomorrow because I have seen them find solutions of yesterday at The O’Neal School. I could not be more proud of you.