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Head of School Reflection—Commencement 2022

Jim Norman

Good morning, and welcome to Canterbury’s 105th Commencement Exercises. We are so grateful to be here, finally and fully together, and excited to celebrate with members of the extended Canterbury family joining us on Sheehan Field: our faculty and staff; parents, guardians, and family members; alumni and friends; and, especially, the class of 2022—39 of whom are diehards.

To state the obvious: four years ago, none of us could have imagined nor would have believed what we would soon face as a community, country, and world. Shut down campus and learn via Zoom your sophomore spring? No way. Create a roadmap for athletics, performances, classrooms, meals, and travel, taking into account risks, protocols, emotional health, and both individual and collective safety? Ha! And yet, not only did we come to believe it, we faced these challenges with a steady, steadfast determination to move forward. One day, one step, one decision at a time.

This set of pandemic hurdles is the backdrop of the Class of 2022’s story. But it is not the story itself. And so this morning, I would like to share a few highlights of your Canterbury story before this graduating class turns the page to a new chapter.

I spent opening night of this spring’s musical Cyrano de Burger Shack grinning, humming to familiar songs, and simply enjoying the evening. I can’t fully describe what happened as the show ended, but my laughter shifted without warning to tears. It was a brief but poignant visceral reaction that caught me off guard and started my train of thought for today’s remarks.

Of course, there was emotion tied to seeing Neil, Bella, and Hanyan on stage as seniors—and let’s face it, I do cry publicly every now and then! But when I dug a little deeper, I reflected on this: the Class of 2022 Valedictorian and President of the Physics Club made his theatrical debut that night as Hott Todd. Meanwhile, crowd favorite and carillon aficionado Neil portrayed a French waiter, while Giggle Gang Tri-President Bella served as actor, choreographer, and student costume designer.

It turns out that my emotional response was actually a moment of pride. A moment of recognition that what happened on stage that evening was just one more example of the Class of 2022’s true story. All of you arrived on this hilltop with a handful of interests and talents at your foundation…and then you began to build.

It started with the diehards—the group that begins this story—and the layers you added to yourselves and this community. Ian learned to play squash while Niko learned to get to class on time. Jacob, Sebastian, and Phil were the freshman “core” of the football team. Many of you followed siblings to Canterbury but then started your own journey. Ada’s art legacy began as did Neil’s springboard into theater and Ali’s dominance on the stage and soccer field.

And then each of you just kept building. Jerry and David were integral to pushing forward our DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice) initiatives. Maverick added football to baseball and band. Tori, Ashley, Ali, and Lindsey won a soccer championship as Fourth Formers, while Henry lit up the track as a senior. Jerry took his sketches to the AP level, Gigi and Kaly took Women of Canterbury to a whole new level, and Emily and Patrick set the bar for volunteer service with the ambulance and firefighter corp, respectively.

I could do this all day! Yes, despite the backdrop of disruption and challenge, the Class of 2022 just kept moving forward, testing the waters, seizing new opportunities, and adding so many new layers that what you have built together now leaves an indelible mark on our beloved school.

Which brings me to a related topic. At times, we reference “life at Canterbury before COVID” with a mix of nostalgia and loss. I have done so myself, which led me to looking back through the 2018-2019 yearbook—the Diehards’ Third Form year—as a reminder of life before the pandemic.

Here’s what I learned: what your class has imagined, created, and given to this community is overwhelmingly positive and impactful…and most of that impact took place during COVID.

To illustrate, three years ago, the Social Justice Series was only one week—Social Justice Week—and we did not have a DEIJ Council or a JSA (Jewish Student Association). Affinity spaces for AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American) and GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance) were just beginning to grow roots. There was no Steers Center, Hamilton Stadium, or D’Amour Center, and you certainly couldn’t order fan-favorite food at the Café. A number of athletic teams did not know what was to come—a New England championship for girls’ soccer in 2019, football postseason Bowl appearances in 2019 and 2021, a 2020 championship for the boys’ basketball team, and a 2021 championship for boys’ cross country. And some of the faculty members you love most—like Ms. Cook and Mr. Hamilton!—had not even arrived yet.

What else did not exist three years ago during “life before COVID”? One: the CBA’s Virtual Stock Market Game. Two: the Esports Club. Three: Sunday Sundaes!

This year, as we climbed to the other side of COVID, spring teams traveled to Florida once again. The Saints won the Sheehan Trophy back from Berkshire and the Gunnery Cup back from FGS (Frederick Gunn School). Father Steve—Canterbury class of 2003—inspired you with resonant homilies. The Sixth Form Council brought you a Homecoming Dance while the SEC (Special Events Committee) inspired a winter SnowBall. And let’s not forget the Head’s Holiday disguised as Field Day! Meanwhile Hanyan filmed it all. Indeed, I would say life at Canterbury after COVID is trending in an incredibly positive direction.

When you tell the story of the Class of 2022, I hope you will join me in sharing all that this group of graduating seniors gave to one another rather than what you gave up. Your story is one of stretching, fortifying, loving, and empowering the Saints community. It’s quite remarkable really. And for that we are grateful.

Rachel Stone P ’23, ’24
Head of School