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Canterbury Celebrates 103rd Commencement Exercises

Kelly Slonaker

Canterbury’s 103rd —  and first virtual — Commencement Exercises were celebrated on Saturday, May 23 to honor the Class of 2020. The week leading up to Commencement was full of activities and opportunities for the graduating class to be together, albeit virtually: Sixth Formers were presented awards for their contributions in academics, athletics, and service; attended seminars with Canterbury alumni to help prepare them for college and life beyond the hilltop; represented their new alma mater on College T-shirt Day; presented their Sixth Form projects; and held a virtual Sixth Form Retreat to reflect on their time at Canterbury and the goals they’ve achieved while here. The tradition of painting the rock outside the turf field even still took place with faculty marking the seniors’ initials. The annual Baccalaureate Mass, presided by Fr. Mark Connell, occurred in the Chapel of Our Lady the evening prior, and was recorded for the class and their family members.

The Commencement Exercises were livestreamed from Maguire Auditorium with the graduating class participating via Zoom to receive their awards and diplomas. The ceremony began with a humorous video of faculty getting ready for the big day before Head of School Rachel Stone addressed the graduating class. She remarked, “To join the Canterbury family is to become a member of a community united by love for this place, this experience, and the countless people with whom we cross paths along the way. If you take a moment to consider that this shared affection for Canterbury is spread across the country and around the globe, the collective and enduring impact our School has made is breathtaking, isn’t it?” 

Rachel imparted some of her favorite moments with the Class of 2020 — in particular of those diehard members with whom she started four years ago — and expressed her gratitude for their shared experience: “Thank you for being my, and Mr. Stone’s, diehard copilot class. For never taking this place for granted. For managing the disappointment and disruption of this spring with grace, humility and resilience. And for loving this school, and one another, so deeply.”

Following Rachel’s address, a photo slideshow of the class was presented, highlighting special moments from this past year and for some students, as far back as their Third Form year. Associate Head of School for Academics Sue Roberts then began the presentation of awards for faculty and students. Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair Kim Tester was awarded an honorary diploma for her 30 years of dedicated teaching and service to the School. “Kim's tenure here is certainly a result of how much the School values her work as an exceptional teacher in the Visual and Performing Arts Department,” Sue noted. “Few are those who graduated in the last three decades who have not been impacted in ways large and small by her influence and dedication to teaching visual art.”

Sue then presented the J.P. Mandler Teaching Award to the entire Canterbury Faculty. The award is given in honor of J.P. Mandler, who served the School for 46 years in the roles of English Department Chair, Director of Studies, Dean of Faculty, Director of Technology, Dean of the School, Senior Master, and Longest-Tenured Faculty Member. It is presented each year to that faculty member who reflects the fundamental commitment to excellence in classroom teaching. “Today I would like to recognize the time and energy put forth by every Faculty member at Canterbury who responded rapidly to the demands of distance learning,” Sue avered. “Our Faculty managed to make this shift — to learn new technologies, redesign courses to humanize digital instruction, and connect and collaborate with colleagues, while also managing their own lives, health and families under Covid-19. The attention, reflection, and care our Faculty brought to both their teaching and their students during this time is nothing short of extraordinary.” This is the first time since the award was established that it has been presented to multiple faculty members.

Several Sixth Formers were then presented with special awards by Assistant Head of School for Student Life Peter LaVigne to commemorate their contributions to the School. The Robert M. Steele ’72 Scholar-Athlete Trophy for academic and athletic achievement was presented to Ryan Greguski. The Charles R. Huntington Scholar-Athlete Trophy for academic and athletic achievement was awarded to Isabella Cotier. The Elizabeth (Betty) Burke Award, given to a Sixth Former whose time at Canterbury has been marked by a cheerful determination to serve God and others, was presented to Grace LaVigne and Justin Schneider. The Class of 1987 Citizenship Award — given to a student who, in the judgment of classmates, has best fulfilled obligations to school, to fellow students, and to self — was presented to Jackson Zavatsky. The Richard L. and Mary Catharine Farrelly Award, presented to the Sixth Former who serves Canterbury quietly, but thoroughly, was given to MaryBridget Horvath. The Philip H. Brodie Award for exceptional achievement and all-around service to the School was given to eight students: Sabrina Capodicci, Jillian Carleton, Brigida Caruso, Gabriel Diamond, Ryan Greguski, Grace LaVigne, Venessa Okoroanyanwu, and Abigail Omaña. The Dr. Nelson Hume Award, given to the Sixth Former whose leadership, character, and achievements have been of the highest order, and whose performance embodies the ideals of the founding Headmaster, was presented to Erin Sudbey.

Following the awarding of prizes, Rachel introduced Michele D’Amour P ’93, ’98, GP ’20, ’22, ’23 via video as this year’s Commencement speaker. Michele’s professional accolades include 50 years in her family business — Big Y Foods, Inc. — most recently as Educational Partnership Administrator, a role responsible for community initiatives such as Kids Counts with Big Y and Homework Helpline. She currently serves as chairperson of the board of Pope Francis Preparatory School, and has served many years as chairperson of the Parent Television Council and as a trustee at Assumption College. Michele and her husband Donald have demonstrated a commitment to faith, health, education and the arts through many philanthropic gifts, including the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, The D’Amour Cancer Center, Assumption College, and Canterbury School. One of Michele’s grandsons is a member of the graduating class.
The Class of 2020's Valedictorian, Sabrina Capodicci, then delivered the student keynote address. Sabrina was presented with the Roderick Clarke ‘46 Distinguished Academic Achievement Award at the Sixth Form prize assembly earlier in the week. “Indeed, we were Mrs. Stone’s first diehard class. When she was installed as Head of School, we were a little band of restless freshmen getting fidgety in our seats, and now look how far we’ve all come,” she reflected. “So let’s take a moment to be grateful, as many of us have in our advisory over the past few months [...] we first and foremost owe our thanks to Canterbury — its teachers, staff, administration, and everyone who lends their time and talents to making our School as wonderful as it is. We know that the adults on campus are not just our instructors — or drill sergeants on the athletic fields — but our mentors, dorm parents, advisors, and, yes — our friends.”

Following Sabrina’s speech was the much anticipated awarding of diplomas for the 104-member class, marking the Sixth Formers’ transition from Canterbury students to alumni. Though students accepted their diplomas from their own homes, the energy and excitement was palpable as their smiles radiated through the screen.

The ceremony closed with a benediction from Fr. Mark Connell, and with a virtual “handshake” and words of congratulations from each faculty member, ending the year as it began for the class back in September.

Congratulations to all our 2020 graduates — we can’t wait to see you again and celebrate in-person!

Livestream Recording of Commencement