Westminster School celebrated the graduation of 102 students in the Class of 2020 May 23 in a video tribute that included messages from Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., Head of School Bill Philip, Sixth Form Dean Grant Gritzmacher and Head Prefect Megan Rittenhouse.
The class includes students from 12 countries, 16 states and 24 Connecticut cities and towns. Ninety-three percent of the members of the class were admitted to colleges ranked in the “most” or “highly” selective categories in Barron’s Profiles of Colleges and Universities.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school’s traditional commencement ceremony could not take place on campus in Simsbury, so the celebration took the form of a video program that was shared with members of the class and the school community at the time commencement was to have taken place.
Head of School Philip delivered his message on campus outside Keyes House, telling members of the class, “Your place in Westminster School history is truly indelible.” He talked about how their leadership led the way across a wide range of school activities and how, as the school moved through the winter term, a “bell” began to ring and that bell was the spread worldwide of the coronavirus. “Finally, that bell was clanging so loudly in our midst that school closed for the spring term, a devastating development for all of us, all of you, Class of 2020, faculty, other students, families, anyone who cares about Westminster School,” he said. “At that moment, you responded with incredible grit and grace.” He added that while the disappointment was surprising, members of the class reacted with grace — an awareness that they were not alone and that others were disappointed and some suffering far worse than they, adding, “an awareness that you could still extend your leadership to the school community even from a distance.” He concluded by saying, “On behalf of our entire school community, thank you, especially for all that you have done this spring for Westminster School and all those who care about our school community.”
Chief Justice Roberts, who is a parent of a 2020 Westminster School graduate, prepared a video message for the celebration that was filmed at the Supreme Court extending congratulations to the class. “I wish we were gathered at Westminster on a perfect day in May rather than connected by one-way video,” he said. “Graduates, do not let the extraordinary events of the past few months obscure your genuine accomplishments or cause you to overlook how fortunate you have been. You have enjoyed a special opportunity to learn, to develop talents and skills, and to grow as a member of a caring community.” He spoke about how the pandemic has or will affect practically everyone in the world in one way or another.
“Members of the Class of 2020, this graduation season is not what you anticipated,” he continued. “I am not talking about missed ceremonies or parties. I am talking about the level of uncertainty you face at this important time of transition. I think the pandemic is the world’s way of saying to mankind, ‘You are not in charge.’” He added, “The pandemic has pierced our illusion of certainty and control.”
He told the graduates they will be tested, as will their counterparts in the Classes of 2020 from around the country, and that pundits and commentators will look back in 25 years at how the lives of this year’s graduates were affected. “These concerns may seem considerably down the road, but the effects of the pandemic will almost certainly follow you as you grow,” he said. “Your class is probably one of a handful of the most challenged high school graduating classes since the Class of 1942, whose members went from graduation to war or to harsh work in the factories. Today, we call those graduates part of the Greatest Generation. What are they going to call you? Your challenge is not as great but it is big and it is yours.”
In closing, he told the graduates there are three things they might want to focus on to meet that challenge: a grounded sense of humility, compassion and courage. “Not the boundless courage of the heroic health care workers but enough courage to live free in an uncertain world, recognizing that, pandemic or no, this is your moment, your time to begin leaving your mark on the world,” he said. “With a little humility, a little compassion and a little courage, I think you will do just fine.”
Sixth Form Dean Grant Gritzmacher delivered his remarks from the school’s Sixth Form Lawn. “Although the rug was pulled from beneath you this spring and you were deprived of so many traditions, performances and events to which we attach such meaning, you persevered,” he told the class after citing its many accomplishments over the past four years. “In the future, you will face many challenges, some perhaps even greater than this, hard as that may be to imagine. May you always respond with the same patience, dignity, empathy and purpose that you have shown here. Know that the relationships you forged here will last a lifetime, come what may, and that Westminster will always welcome you back with open arms. You will see yourselves, as I do, in these buildings, on these fields, and in the faces of Westminster students who carry your torch down through the generations.”
Head Prefect Megan Rittenhouse ’20 delivered her message from home in Tampa, Fla. While mentioning how difficult it was to accept not being able to experience final high school traditions, she said, “It makes this year and our class unlike any other and shows our strength and all of the amazing things that we have gained from our time together.” She also shared how it caused her to reflect on the things about school life she and others might have taken for granted. “I couldn’t stop replaying different scenarios in my head and thinking if only I had appreciated that more while I had it,” she recounted. “But as I write this and really think about it, we had to reflect on those things to be able to also realize all that this experience has done for us. We had to learn the hard way that you don’t always realize what you have until it is gone, and we never expected to lose that time together so soon.”
She ended by thanking her classmates and saying: “Even though we aren’t physically together right now, today is our day, and I still feel like I am with you all in some way. I hope you all cherish the time we had together because I know I always will, and now we can look forward to the time we do get to come together again and how it is going to more special than we ever imagined.”
The video concluded with a slideshow of the graduates and messages of gratitude from members of the class for their time at Westminster School.
The prizes and awards that are traditionally presented at commencement will be announced to the school community June 4.
Here is a link to the video Celebrating the Class of 2020.