The Class of 2022 gathered in Johnson Theater on Sunday, May 15, for Vespers, a highlight that falls on their final night as seniors.
Vespers--defined as an evening prayer service--includes a mixture of music and messages from select speakers. Only teachers, seniors, and their parents attend, giving the celebration a more intimate feel than the following morning's graduation.
Directed by Mr. Cheney Doane, the Royster Middle School Chorus performed three songs, to the delight of the audience. The group, including Headmaster Dennis Manning, also got a chuckle when Senior Class President Trey Custodio '22 presented the traditional senior gift.
In consultation with Director of Buildings and Grounds Jason Watson '01, the class decided to plant flowers, which will grow in front of the James B. Massey Jr. Leadership Center. Trey is a young man of many talents - he is a wrestler who has been honored at the state level, a saxophonist in the band, and actor in school plays. However, he acknowledged his knowledge about flowers is limited. So, he took time earlier that day to stop into a garden center for research.
“I took this as a learning opportunity," Trey said. His conclusion: Hydrangeas and geraniums would be the best fit.
Another Vespers tradition is to tap a member of the Norfolk Academy community as the keynote speaker, and to keep the choice a surprise. This year, seniors were treated to words from Dr. L. D. Britt, a school trustee and father of Avery Britt '22. As Mr. Manning said in introducing Dr. Britt, his resume is so lengthy and impressive that providing it in depth could take up much of the evening.
Dr. Britt graduated as valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School in Suffolk, then later graduated from the University of Virginia, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health. He is the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School, which just last month honored him by unveiling a statue of his likeness on its campus.
Among his many accolades, he was the first African American in the country to have an endowed chair in surgery. He was the first EVMS physician to be named to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine and the first Black surgeon to be presented with the ACS’ Lifetime Achievement award. He is also the recipient of the nation’s highest teaching award in medicine, the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teaching Award, and has advocated for initiatives to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in education and health care. He is the author of more than 300 scientific publications, and has been president of the American College of Surgeons and the American Surgical Association.
Dr. Britt began by congratulating the students on their accomplishment of graduating from one of the oldest schools in the United States and one with an utmost academic reputation. “You seniors and your parents have every reason to be proud to have this sort of legacy," he said.
Your challenge, Dr. Britt continued, is to use the skills and lessons you've learned to make the world better. That won't be easy, he said. Your journey will be long and arduous, with times when you're forced to review decisions and reboot. His advice: Be focused and receptive to aid from others.
“The number of helping hands I've had is unbelievable," he said.
Dr. Britt called on the seniors to make the most of what they've learned by giving back. You will be measured by how you improve your community, not by how much wealth you accumulate, he said. Maintain your integrity, work hard, and be charitable.
“The only currency that will be long lasting is public service," he said.
Enjoy your journey, Dr. Britt concluded. But most important, “aim to be a person of value."