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Personal Reflections, Words of Wisdom Send Off Class of 2019

The Class of 2019’s commencement ceremony and reception took place in the A.E. Finley Activity Center on Friday, May 31, with school leadership, the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, family and friends, and the soon-to-be graduates gathered together for a final celebration of this class’s time at Ravenscroft.

The threat of severe thunderstorms had necessitated moving the ceremony from the campus green inside to the Main Arena of Finley Center, and as graduates and guests alike enjoyed the air-conditioned respite from the intensely hot temperatures of the week, the storms arrived with thunder, wind and pounding rain that could be heard inside the building. It was fitting, perhaps, that the class whose Junior Mountain Trip was rained out — as Head of School Doreen Kelly noted in her opening remarks — should graduate to the sounds of a terrific thunderstorm just outside the door.

The speakers who shared the dais with Kelly, Head of Upper School Peter Bogue and Board Chair Kevin Anderson ’82 shared thoughtful words and deeply personal insights with those gathered in Finley Center.

Commencement speaker Rye Barcott — a social entrepreneur and Marine Corps veteran who co-founded Carolina for Kibera, which fights poverty and violence in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, and currently serves as co-founder and CEO of With Honor, a movement to elect cross-partisan veterans — led with a speech that urged the Class of 2019 to “work your fear”: “I can’t promise much to you. We all live different lives with different hopes, dreams and, yes, fears. But I can promise you this without a shadow of a doubt. If you work your fear, you will live a more fulfilling life. You will be happier. You'll make a bigger impact,” he said.

Barcott shared three stories from his own life that showed the rewards of pushing through barriers such as self-doubt, poverty, illness and pain, and even (as he experienced as a Marine in Fallujah) the risk of death, focusing instead on making a difference in the world.

“Fear is a natural reaction,” he said. “Sometimes you need to feel more of it. Sometimes working your fear means upping it, and making it a friend, or a ‘frienemy.’ Work your fear, graduates, by helping others. ‘Because you can,’” he closed, quoting a young woman he met in Kibera who had done just that.

Class valedictorian Erin Pugh ’19 spoke next, opening with a curious communique shared with CIA employees in 1963 about the proper use of paper clips. “At this point you probably feel somewhat confused and indignant,” she said of the banal memo. “You joined the CIA to ensure international security, not to be lectured at about staples.” She then said: 

Being a teenager is a bit like being that CIA employee. I say that because the world — all of it — on such vastly different scales — from the hyperlocal to galactic — feels present in our lives. All the time, we’re told how much power we have to make a difference. That we will change the world. Yet we’re also told exactly how to live our lives ... We have the world at our fingertips, yet frustratingly so little agency over our lives.

Erin spoke about her father’s death earlier in the year, saying, “I made my own rules about how to deal with everything, and now I’m standing here today. Honestly, it doesn’t make things any better, but it keeps me from feeling worse, which is the most I could ask for.” She then made a connection between that experience and the future she and her classmates are on the cusp of:

… We will have power over what jobs we take, where we spend our summers, what kind of individuals we want to be. But another part of adulthood is experiencing those big things — love, loss, legacy — for which there aren’t any guidelines. … Now more than ever we should reflect upon what these people and this place has taught us.

Erin was followed by class president Michael Sisson ’19, who announced the senior class gift would support Teens Cancer America.

Next was Isaac Lamb ’19, who had been selected as speaker by the senior class. Isaac brought both honesty and levity to his speech, recalling an experience common to many adolescents when he said, “A lot of my most prominent memories of school had to do with a handful of people being, ahem, not so nice to me. … But that makes for a kind of crappy speech, right?” He then went on to say, “At the end of the 13-year ride, it doesn’t really matter. As we get up and move on from high school, we step away from the past and stride into the future.”

Making references to long-running television and movie franchises, he added:

College is the next great series. … We’ll never all be in the same place at the same time again, but there’s gonna be a little bit of all of us all over the world. Every lesson we’ve learned from each other, every joke or reference we parrot from our friends years ago — we’re gonna carry them with us through every series we film for the rest of our lives.

Following the conferring of diplomas, Upper School social studies teacher Phil Kantaros gave a benediction, and graduates and their guests moved over to a reception in the auxiliary gym, which had been transformed by lighting and decorations into a lovely space for celebration. Thank you to those faculty, staff and parents who devoted time and efforts into making the event so enjoyable.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019! Check out more photos here