Each year at Graduation, Headmaster Dennis Manning gives a running joke, a quick quip that that year's class is the greatest in the school's almost 300-year-old history.
As the Class of 2022 enjoyed its Finals ceremony on May 23, Mr. Manning again told the joke, drawing chuckles from the large crowd of family and friends at Wynne-Darden Stadium. However, the headmaster quickly gave an addendum this time. He noted that, because of the resiliency the 116 seniors showed as the Covid-19 pandemic impacted all three of their Upper School years, “this class maybe has the strongest claim to that special standing and honor."
“We have much to celebrate in these miraculous young people," Mr. Manning added.
Both valedictory speeches provided context to those words. They spoke of how the seniors came together in their final year, bonding in the challenge of being leaders on campus during a time that continued to be unusual because of the pandemic.
Toria Kauffman '22 said her classmates provided her a second family, one she loved spending time with on campus. She harkened back to Ninth Grade Leadership Lab, when she made friends and learned the true meaning of community. "The essence of what it means to be a Bulldog," she said.
These Bulldogs continued to show kindness every day, Toria said. They cheered each other on at fine arts performances and athletics contests, as well as in the classroom and club activities. By doing little things like smiling and waving hello and goodbye, they lifted her up. “You have an incredible ability to act as someone's anchor," she said.
Toria, who will attend Harvard University, urged her classmates to continue showing that kindness as they embark on the next stages of their lives. If they do, “I know there's nothing we won't be able to do," she said.
David Smythe '22 acknowledged in his valedictory speech that he teared up looking through the comments his classmates wrote this spring in Horizons, the school yearbook. But his tears were not from sadness but rather happiness in recollecting all they accomplished as Bulldogs.
The class achieved brilliance on stage in concerts, plays, and Winter Musicals. They won countless titles on the athletic fields, where they forged bonds that will last a lifetime. And they have given back to the community in clubs like Happy Club and Special Olympics. Smythe focused particularly on the uplifting and laughter-filled experience with Special Olympics athletes, and the way the collaborative effort illuminated the nurturing nature of the Academy community.
“I'm not crying because it's over, I'm crying because it happened," David said.
Mr. Manning opened Graduation with Sir Francis Drake's prayer, with lines that offered a challenge to the graduates: "Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, Where storms will show your mastery; Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars." He closed the ceremony with a different and equally provocative challenge, reminding them that Norfolk Academy places its highest value on their innate humanity, moral integrity, and selflessness.
"As bold a claim as it may seem, the future of the nation depends on those qualities and attributes," he said. "These are the young men and women who embody the optimism and excellence we need to face economic trials and a complex and shifting locus of world order and power."