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Head of School Reflection — May 2021

Kelly Slonaker

Commencement Ceremony

May 28, 2021

Good morning, and welcome to Canterbury’s one-hundred-fourth Commencement Exercises. We are so grateful to be here, finally together, and eager to celebrate with members of the extended Canterbury family joining us on Sheehan Field this morning: our faculty and staff, parents and guardians, Fr. Mark Connell, and, especially, the class of 2021—42 of whom are diehards.

As the 2020-2021 school year comes to a close, today marks the beginning of what comes next for all of you seniors—and for all of us, as well. In celebration of that fact, I have decided to NOT use any of the following eight words and phrases in my opening remarks this morning:

  • Fluid medical landscape
  • COVID-19
  • Close contact
  • Unprecedented
  • Quarantine
  • Zoom
  • Pods
  • Pivot

(You’re welcome!)

Instead, let’s spend a few minutes talking about the Class of 2021, and what you will carry forward with you in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Of course, you will carry moments, memories, success stories, relationships, and Saints Pride with you. The Third Form Retreat. The Sixth Form Retreat. Victories over the Frederick Gunn School. The first time you stepped on the ice, court, stage, altar, or turf.  Your first Steers Center smoothie or fries. The day you met a Canterbury student…  who is now a best friend forever. A favorite cereal night, pep rally, carnival, international affair, late-night dorm conversation, or advisor meeting story. And perhaps tears you shed over being homesick, or discouraged, or just a little lost… and the friend or faculty member who helped carry YOU forward. 

Likewise, what you will leave behind as a legacy are these very moments as well, but I believe what will stick most about the Class of 2021 is the gratitude you have all shared. Here’s why:

Last May, we ended the year with a virtual school meeting. Rising-senior Sacristan, Max, began with a prayer, and your Sixth Form Council was introduced. I reassured students that we would do everything in our power to be back on campus in person in the fall, and then we opened the floor to gratitude—as we do each May, but as we had never done remotely. I admit I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would happen next.  

And then, more than 60 students offered a thank-you.

Na’Sah shouted out Hickory Hearth and Camila, South House. Jenna thanked Mr. Richardson; Sydney, Ms. Ritter; and Giselle, Ms. Ruderman. Yurou offered gratitude for her AP teachers, Nikhil for Coach Matthewson, Kennison for the lacrosse team, and Sam for Coach Niu. I believe Sean said a thank you to everyone! After two disappointing months of learning from home, you chose gratitude.

Twelve months later, the pattern continues. I had the privilege of meeting with several seniors for Sixth Form Exit Interviews, an opportunity for you to share any and all feedback about your experiences here. I once again listened to gratitude—for Mrs. Roffe’s and Mr. Logan’s class discussions, which provided a global perspective; for faculty on permanent standby to offer help in calculus, physics, or Spanish; for advisors who have checked in with you—just to check in; and for your teammates, dormmates, and classmates who kept you grounded, made you laugh, and showed up with and for you, every day.

And of course, last Friday, the Class of 2021 gathered in Maguire for one final school meeting led by the Sixth Form Council, a moment reminding us that sometimes gratitude is a choice, and sometimes it simply bubbles up inside and pours out… wonderfully, uncontrollably, honestly.  We saw this spirited, spontaneous version of gratitude when Lily spoke about Ms. EJ, Autumn and Lucy thanked one another, Katherine highlighted Women of Canterbury, and Oscar shouted out Mr. Omana from across the world.

And so, my final message to you this morning is a simple one: when you remember your Sixth Form year on this hilltop, remember the gratitude. Carry forward with you the decisions you made to choose gratitude over disappointment or frustration. And be on the lookout for the magical, emotional, visceral moments when you want to shout and share your gratitude with anyone who will listen.

Congratulations, and welcome to your new role within the Canterbury family—as alumni. May your Canterbury diploma serve as an enduring reminder of all that you have accomplished on our hilltop, individually and as the Class of 2021. We are very, very proud of you!

Rachel E. Stone P ’23, ’24
Head of School