WEST HARTFORD — After hours of planning and overcoming logistical challenges that would have created headaches for most skilled military generals, Kingswood Oxford held a historic socially-distanced 108th Commencement for its 93 graduates on Sunday, June 7, according to the school. Originally set for June 6, even the weather failed to cooperate as heavy thunderstorms predicted (and surprisingly punctual) for Saturday afternoon pushed the celebrated day to the following one.
School administrations were impelled to uphold as many of the KO traditions that make the day so special to legions of Wyverns while abiding by health recommendations from the state. Normally, Commencement occurs with seniors and their families assembling on the Senior Green. However, due to social distancing guidelines, the event moved to the softball field which accommodated one car per family, heavily festooned with red and black balloons, photos, congratulatory messages, and even one with wyvern wings and tail, to surround a stage.
Each senior sat in front of the family car that was marked off with a poster of the graduates, and families remained in their cars. As each student’s name was called, the student took a lengthy walk to the stage where Head of School Tom Dillow conferred a diploma to each graduate. Instead of polite applause as each student received their diploma, Dillow encouraged the attendees to honk their horns which they did with enthusiasm.
Prior to the graduation, students and their families scheduled time on the Senior Green to receive their customary red rose bouquet and boutonnieres and have a quick photo shoot. The soon-to-be graduates and their families waited in the Trout Brook parking lot to begin the procession in their cars through the campus, to the wyvern-guarded front gates with a congratulatory banner and onto the softball field. Two bagpipers opened the ceremony followed by a smaller orchestra and chorus playing “Hail, Kingswood Oxford.”
History teacher Ted Levine led the Invocation, followed by Remy McCoy’s ’20 introduction of the graduation speaker Upper School English teacher David Hild ’80. Hild reflected on the school’s core values of integrity and involvement and expanded upon their true meaning to lead a purposeful life.
“1. These people don’t overthink their decision to choose to live this way. They didn’t weigh the costs and benefits or give in to fear.
2. They had a mentor, someone who planted an ideal in their mind’s eye. Somebody set a high example for them of what a good life looks like.
3. They have a “this is what I do” mentality. They do what they do because it is what they love… As one of my favorite barstool philosophers, Norm Peterson, once told his friend, Sam: “It doesn’t matter what you love… (...) as long as you love it totally, completely, and without judgment.”
4. They ignore material rewards. Their identity is not based on a title or a paycheck. We see them serving others and it looks like self-sacrifice, but it doesn’t feel that way to them. They’re just being true to themselves.
5. They constantly expand their goals. They are to moral life what lifelong learners are to intellectual life.
6. They have friends... lots of them. There’s usually a team of peers around them sharing core tasks and carrying them when they can’t carry themselves.
7. They expand their ambitions in the face of hardship. They’re willing to be uncomfortable, physically and emotionally. Think about what we’ve been through this spring... what we’re going through right now. This is a REALLY hard time in this country, so perhaps we should heed the advice of writer James Baldwin: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’
8. They are relentlessly positive, possessing a crazy level of optimism. They learn from and are undaunted by setbacks.
9. The direction of their lives moves from fragmentation to integration. Their efforts are generally built around reconciling differences, bringing the unlike together, moving to wholeness. They are community builders.
10. They are profoundly happy. They are never ‘at work.’ Life is wing day with a banana split on the side. And they never take themselves too seriously for they laugh long and heartily, even at themselves.”
Upper School history teacher Rob Kyff read the Farewell to the Class:
“Kingswood Oxford Class of 2020: In times of great hardship, we find out who we truly are. During the past three months, as our nation has experienced the tragedies of deadly disease, economic privation, and racial injustice, each of you has discovered your own inner courage, fortitude, and resilience. Sustained by this powerful core of character, may you now go forth, not only to master the world, but also to heal it. Godspeed!”
Of the 93 graduates of the Class of 2020, 53 received honors, and 18 will play sports at the collegiate level.
As the students recessed in their cars, they traveled back to the Trout Brook parking lot, lined with faculty members shouting the graduates’ names, fist-pumping, cheering, and waving red and black pom poms. Although the warm hugs and handshakes among faculty and students that traditionally mark the end of the graduation ceremony were missed, there were countless blowing of kisses suspended in the air and several tears shed.