Excitement is growing on campus as students and faculty from Copernicus-Gymnasium began arriving this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic exchange partnership between Norfolk Academy and the school in Löningen, Germany.
Both schools believe this partnership, initiated in 1973, is the longest-running school exchange between the United States and Germany. The first German students arrived at Norfolk Academy in early 1974, with Academy students visiting Germany a few months later. The program began under the aegis of the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Among those scheduled to speak at the celebration are Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander and Virginia Secretary of Health John Littel, a representative from Gov. Glenn Youngkin '85’s administration. School leaders instrumental to the exchange also will speak. In addition, dozens of students from both schools will perform a commemorative concert featuring the premiere of a piece commissioned specifically for this event. The composition for orchestra and chorus, entitled We Hold These Truths, was composed by Stephen Melillo, a world-renowned composer based in Virginia. Melillo is a winner of multiple Gold Global Music Awards and a Hollywood Music in Media Award.
The concert will be held on April 1 at 5 p.m. in the Samuel C. Johnson Theater at Norfolk Academy. The performance will be repeated at Copernicus-Gymnasium on June 16.
The exchange program is built around the homestay. While students tour major sites and cities in each country, they spend about two weeks in one another’s homes. Visits have continued uninterrupted since 1974, except for 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic forced the exchange to continue online. The exchange has survived multiple historical events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. To date, more than 1,500 students have participated, including several second-generation travelers.
This year, the first students and teachers from Copernicus-Gymnasium arrived in Norfolk on March 22, after touring the Washington D.C. area. More students and teachers arrived on March 25, after a long bus ride from Washington.
This year's event involves large delegations from both schools making the transatlantic journey. In addition to the 15 Norfolk Academy students and 15 Copernicus-Gymnasium students who are official exchange participants, Norfolk Academy will be hosting 36 student-musicians from Copernicus-Gymnasium and 18 faculty and administrators. In June, NA will have 23 students in the chorus and about a dozen faculty and administrators traveling to Germany. All participants—students and adults—will experience homestays.
The concert honors the exchange program's founders: Katherine Holmes, the retired Academy German teacher who helped form this partnership in 1973 and served as Chair of the Foreign Language Department, and Jürgen Wiehe, who was the founding faculty member at CGL. Wiehe, who eventually rose through the ranks to serve as the headmaster at Copernicus-Gymnasium, passed away in 2009.
To register to attend the 50th anniversary celebration, please fill out this link.