The day was made even more poignant by the fact that it was the last Andover commencement to be presided over by retiring Head of School Barbara Chase, who is stepping down this month after 18 years as the school’s leader.
In keeping with tradition, the school’s 234th Commencement kicked off in dramatic style to the sounds of bagpipes and drums as the Clan MacPherson Pipes and Drums of Lawrence led a procession of faculty and students around the school’s Great Lawn. As onlookers clapped and cheered, the procession made its way up the campus’s center walkway to the lawn in front of Samuel Phillips Hall where the first half of the ceremony took place. Boys wore blue suit coats and ties and girls wore white dresses and carried red roses.
Chase, who referred to herself as an honorary member of the class of 2012, talked nostalgically to the graduates of their time together at Andover, saying, “I do believe we have all shared a common experience that will live with us as a kind of poetry, and that is the poetry of this campus. Each of us has walked it day to day, as if sailing on a sea of beauty. And, my fellow graduates, I can absolutely predict one thing: Through 18 years of conversations with alumni, I’ve learned that when we return, the campus will excite strong emotions ... and remind us of the lessons we learned in our time here.”
The campus’s landmarks, she said, such as the Memorial Bell Tower, the stonewall surrounding the Great Lawn, and the 300-year-old Great Elm, can be viewed as tangible symbols of the ideals and values that characterize Andover.
Phillips Academy, she said, “is a close community, but never closed. Here, young people from across the country and around the world and from many different backgrounds learn and live together. Constantly brushing up against difference—considering it, challenging it, building bridges to span it, learning from it—provides the chance for learning the most important lessons for the 21st century.”
“Take from these walls,” she counseled, “the lesson that community thrives on closeness and diversity; that being open to the world, while being rooted in one’s own culture, is a rare thing and a thing you can take with you as a model wherever you go.”
School president Uday Singh ’12 of Dubai, United Arab Emirates also spoke to his classmates about the values instilled by Andover, identifying the charge to “be good” as the most important value of all.
“Be good,” he said, were the last words his mother said to him before dropping him off at Andover as a 9th grader, and they were the same two words Chase used when he asked her recently to define the nature of a true Andover student.
“Goodness is what makes Andover special,” he said. “Not being good at something. Just goodness. In my time here…I have learned that it is the only measure of a person.”
Singh also spoke about the importance of not being so focused on a goal as to be unprepared for the unpredictability of life, and he spoke of the special bond that his classmates had developed for one another and for their teachers during their time at Andover.
“Your friends here are more than companions or acquaintances, they’re family,” he said. “From Mrs. Chase, the mother of the Academy, to everyone in blazers and white dresses, this is a family that will always be there for you.”
In closing, Singh thanked Chase for 18 years of service to Andover, noting that “her contributions are endless, from need-blind admission to revolutionizing the Andover brand. However, nothing compares to the crusade she has led to develop the character of each and every student who has attended this institution.”
As part of the commencement ceremony, Chase presented five major prizes to the following recipients:
Ryan Ramos of Jackson Heights, New York, received the Non Sibi Award, given to the student who has honored Phillips Academy’s non sibi (not-for-self) tradition through efforts on behalf of others.
Jamie Shenk of San Francisco, received the Yale Bowl, given to the member of the senior class who has attained the highest proficiency in scholarship and athletics.
Fengning “David” Ding of Albany, California, received the Faculty Prize for outstanding scholarship during the senior year.
Ceylon Auguste-Nelson of New York, New York, received the Madame Sarah Abbot Award, given to a young woman for strong character, leadership and outstanding scholarship.
Andrew Schlager of Weston, Massachusetts, received the Aurelian Honor Society Award for sterling character, high scholarship and forceful leadership.
Following the speeches by Singh and Chase, the members of the class of 2012 arose and followed the pipes and drums corp to the Great Lawn, where the graduates formed a giant circle for the traditional passing of the diplomas, a ceremonial tradition begun in 1952.
This year’s graduating class includes 38 students from the town of Andover, as well as students from such other local towns as Boxford, Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Middleton, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, and Salem, NH. Other U.S. cities represented by the students include Chicago, New York, Miami, and Salt Lake City. International students hail from Brazil, Canada, China, England, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Qatar, Switzerland, and Thailand, among other countries.
The Phillips Academy class of 2012 will matriculate at 106 different colleges and universities in the fall. Top choices, accounting for nearly 39 percent of the class, include Columbia and Yale, 13 each; Wesleyan, 11; UPenn and NYU, 10 each; Cornell and Stanford, 9 each; UChicago, Duke, Harvard, and Washington University in St. Louis, 8 each; Georgetown and Tufts, 7 each.