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Celebrating the Class of 2023 at Commencement

Celebrating the Class of 2023 at Commencement
Jim Norman

The weather was spectacular and the setting picture-perfect as Canterbury School celebrated its 106th Commencement Exercises for 91 Saints in the Class of 2023—42 of whom are diehard four-year members—on Friday, May 26. The ceremony, held on Sheehan Lawn with faculty, staff, family, alumni, and friends in attendance, was particularly poignant for Head of School Rachel Stone P ’23, ’24, whose son Cullen Stone was among the graduates.

In addressing the class, Rachel spoke of how this had been an especially emotional time for her. “It is true that a sense of nostalgia for me and for the seniors has been building over the course of the year since your first Sixth Form Dinner in September,” she said. That nostalgia led Rachel to reconnect with the music she listened to during her senior year in high school and realize that those song lyrics might be just the thing to help her through this year’s commencement remarks. She cited Coldplay’s ballad, “Us Against the World,” and shared how she had misheard her favorite line from the song as “In my heart she left a home” when the actual lyric was “she left a hole.”

“What? A hole is not a home,” Rachel said. “How have I been singing the wrong lyrics for 10 years? And, more importantly, how do I make sense of this mutually exclusive contradiction? And there it is: your Graduation Day message.”

She continued: “All of you see empty spaces as opportunities to create something new. You consistently and enthusiastically fill those spaces with conversation, purpose, relationships, joy, and commitment, which of course makes those spaces home. You can be sure, Sixth Form, that you will leave both a hole and a home in my heart—not so much of a contradiction after all.”

Rachel then expressed appreciation to Nurse Linda Labet, who was retiring after “playing an integral role in taking care of our students for 25 years.” Also, English Teacher Robert Potter was granted an honorary diploma for his 30 years of exceptional teaching and service to the School. “Bob's tenure here is certainly a result of how much the School values his work as an English Teacher and beloved Coach and mentor to the Golf Team,” Associate Head of School for Academics Suzanne Roberts P ’24, ’27 said in presenting the diploma. “Few are those who graduated in the last three decades who have not been impacted in ways large and small by his influence and dedication to teaching.”

Mathematics Department Chair Christopher Roberts P ’24, ’27 received the J.P. Mandler Teaching Award, named for the former faculty member who served Canterbury for 46 years as English Department Chair, Director of Studies, Dean of Faculty, Director of Technology, Dean of the School, and Senior Master. The award is presented each year to that faculty member who reflects the fundamental commitment to excellence in classroom teaching. In making the presentation, Rachel said, “I am often asked how it is that we know excellence in teaching when we see it. This morning’s recipient exemplifies one answer to that question: great teachers plan and prepare thoughtfully and thoroughly, and students rave about their courses even when the work is demanding and when they are asked to think more deeply, contemplate strategies and solutions more broadly, and explain outcomes more convincingly than they ever have before. We honor a teacher today who asks this of his students and who, in return, has earned their enthusiasm and gratitude for how he teaches and—just as importantly—what they learn along the way.”

Class valedictorian Xinyi “Lisa” Weng delivered the student keynote address, congratulating her classmates for their achievements and recalling many fond memories of her time at Canterbury. “I remember my first day of school freshman year. I was a nervous little girl who could not even remember what the main buildings were on campus,” she said. “And yet, today, I have the honor of standing here speaking to all of you.”

Lisa went on to express gratitude to the many people who helped her along the way—especially teachers Prescott Hagen and Podge Lawlor. She concluded by lauding her parents and classmates for their encouragement. “Shoutout to Mom and Dad for always being my biggest fans and supporting my decision to come to America,” she said. “And last but not least, shoutout to you guys. You have seen both my worst and best in these past four years—tolerating my flaws, offering an ear on a bad day, and sharing joy on a good day. Go get ’em, Saints! I wish you the best in the journey ahead.”

A number of Commencement Awards were also handed out to members of the graduating class. John Bagg and Jake Kloss received the Robert M. Steele ’72 Boys’ Scholar-Athlete Trophy in memory of Robert M. Steele, a model scholar and athlete, for academic and athletic achievements. Lily LaVigne and Avery Trach were awarded the Charles R. Huntington Girls’ Scholar-Athlete Trophy for academic and athletic achievement in memory of Mr. Huntington, a teacher, coach, and Athletic Director from 1969–1999. Anne Melich was presented with the Elizabeth (Betty) Burke Award for the Sixth Form student whose time at Canterbury has been marked by cheerful determination to serve God and others. Lily LaVigne returned to the stage as the Class of 1987 Citizenship Award recipient for her role as the Sixth Former who, in the judgment of her peers, has best fulfilled obligations to the School, fellow students, and self.

The Richard L. and Mary Catharine Farrelly Award was presented to Cameron Folli for his quiet but thorough leadership. Five students received the Philip H. Brodie Award for exceptional achievement and all-around service to the School: John Bagg, Erin Flaherty, Hannah Nash, Bryce Stone, and Avery Trach.

The presentation of awards concluded with the naming of the Dr. Nelson Hume Award recipient. Lily LaVigne earned the esteemed award as the Sixth Form student whose leadership, character, and achievements have been of the highest order and whose performance embodies the ideals of the founding headmaster.

The week leading up to Commencement was filled with special events and activities for the graduating class, including final concerts; the end-of-year carnival; Prom; the Diehard Hike at Lover’s Leap State Park for four-year students; Class of 2023 commemorative tree-planting; the Sixth Form Retreat, where students read notes they wrote to themselves at the beginning of the year; the Sixth Form Awards Assembly and Dinner with faculty; and the Baccalaureate Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady.

Following a busy week and the Commencement ceremony, Sixth Form students and their families enjoyed final on-campus moments with friends and faculty before departing as newly anointed members of Canterbury’s Society of Alumni.