Norfolk Academy's Class of 2023 began Upper School amid the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic and closed senior year mourning the loss of a classmate and dear friend.
Through those difficult times, the students bonded together rather than let sadness pull them apart. That closeness, that bond was celebrated during Graduation ceremonies for the Class on May 22 at Wynne-Darden Stadium.
“Our Class of 2023 is, in my unbiased opinion, the best Class at NA," said Jennifer Yuan '23, who won the High Honors Award and gave one of the two valedictory speeches. “We have faced adversity after adversity and have always come out stronger."
Covid-19 hit at the end of the students' ninth grade year, Yuan explained, and when they came back from online learning, they returned to a completely changed Upper School and world. Still, they persevered. While wearing masks, they used eyebrow raises to greet each other in the halls. They found moments to laugh during lunches and Covid tests and made the most of our year.
“Together," Yuan emphasized.
The Class bonded even closer as seniors, when classmate Daniel Cheng '23 sadly passed away from an extremely rare congenital heart defect.
“Daniel’s passing was a great shock and a loss to our community," Yuan said. “And even though it was an unimaginable tragedy, I am proud of how our Class united to support each other, and most importantly, honor Daniel. He will always be a part of the Class of 2023, and part of our hearts, forever."
Micah Baum '23, a Bible Award winner and the ceremony's second valedictory speaker, noted that while senior year can be wistful with its long series of lasts, it also brought joy for the Class of 2023. The lasts brought fond memories and the Class also enjoyed a long series of firsts.
“Our first day of school, when we all showed up with kiddie backpacks, our new privilege washing over us as we parked in the senior lot for the first time this year; our first day of senior donuts; our first time being dismissed out of chapel first," Baum said. “And of course, our first visit to our first-grade buddies. Watching them as they jumped and ran and cajoled us into playing tag, we could see that a first is a chance for a new beginning, a new opportunity to grow, and a cause for joy."
Like Yuan, Baum harkened on Covid and the loss of Daniel Cheng, emphasizing how the Class came together during times of sadness. That bond will make the group stronger as the students spread apart to 60 different colleges and universities.
“I can confidently say that this is one of the strongest classes to come through NA, in every sense of the word, and I know our strong sense of community will not flag," Baum said. “As we go off into the world and cherish our first moments as alumni, we always know where we came from, whom we came from, and how to come back. Now is our chance to show the world what we’re truly made of, so let’s leave a good first impression. Be kind, be courageous, be thoughtful, be there for each other, for together we will always be the NA Class of 2023."
In a display of kindness and thoughtfulness emblematic of this Class, Baum took time to thank the often overlooked members of the Academy family. While giving credit to parents, teachers, and Headmaster Dennis Manning, who led his final Graduation as he retires in June, Baum also thanked the NA staff. “To the people working in the kitchen, to the custodians, to the bus drivers, to the grounds staff. You are the backbone of this school," he said.
After diplomas were handed out, Mr. Manning gave the final benediction, praising the Class and all its achievements, both past and future.
“All in attendance today, please take a look at these marvelous young men and women on display, fix this image in your mind's eye once more, the Class of 2023. And in so doing, would you not agree with me that the future of this country is made brighter by them," Mr. Manning said. “Our hopes soar, our sense of optimism and a better future for our nation rightly ascends."
Mr. Manning then closed by continuing a running joke at the school, which was founded in 1728.
“We rightly and securely place our confidence in each of you, we love you, we thank you for being you and for being the greatest class in the history of Norfolk Academy. May Godspeed to the Class of 2023."