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Graduation

Jen Yuan '23 and Micah Baum '23 won the Bible Awards as valedictorians this school year. During Graduation on May 22, they gave their addresses to the family and friends at Wynne-Darden Stadium.

Jen Yuan '23 will attend Princeton University. In addition to the Bible Award, she won the High Honors Award; Elizabeth Porter Bennett Award; Robert Stewart Sergeant Memorial Writing Scholarship; and Ann Carroll Breeden Fellowship Award.

Here is Jen's speech: 

Good morning. I want to begin by giving some well-deserved Thank Yous. Thank you to the Board of Trustees, Mr. Manning, the faculty and staff of Norfolk Academy, and of course, to my wonderful peers of the Class of 2023 and their parents. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for all of your hard work and support. And, a huge shout out to my brother Andi — thank you for tutoring me in Physics 1B last year, for always fixing the wifi at home, but most importantly, for always being there for me. Thank you as well to my amazing friends. You all have truly made NA a home for me, and I will cherish our friendships forever. Lastly, thank you to all the teachers, coaches, and mentors who have supported me and taught me so much throughout my years. Thank you, Mrs. Goodson, my advisor; Señora Glascock; Mr. Levine; Mr. Harlan; and Coach Nas.

Now, I don’t have any wise words from philosophers, but these days, wisdom can be found anywhere… such as from Master Oogway of Kung Fu Panda fame — yes him, the old, wise, turtle. In a scene with Po the Panda, Master Oogway tells him: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” Master Oogway here is telling Po (and us) to live in the present and to not worry about the past. But, I disagree with him here — the past is what makes us, us. And with today — today’s present is graduation, so let's take a moment to honor our past — the rich history that we have made together.

Our Class of 2023 is, in my unbiased opinion, the best Class at NA. We have faced adversity after adversity and have always come out stronger. Covid hit at the end of our ninth grade, and when we came back from online learning, we returned to a completely changed Upper School and world. But still, we persevered. With our masks, we mastered the art of the eyebrow raise, a greeting to each other in the halls. We found moments to laugh still during lunches or covid tests and make the most of our year. Together.  

And this year especially, we have grown so much closer. I attribute that partly to our Seniors GroupMe. Where else would we share memes or argue quite passionately over our senior prank, which itself was a gift? But, also in the same GroupMe, we supported each other. We posted our events in the group chat, whether it was a Mack for Livestrong or Megan for the senior backpacks. And time and time again, we showed up for each other. And this newfound closeness reached beyond the group chat too. This year especially, I found myself talking to new people every day and learning more about them. The senior lounge, with its beautiful and unique decorations, was a catalyst for many of these conversations. We became truly, a united Class, and we were there for each other, even in the most difficult times.

I want to take a moment to honor the life of our classmate and friend, Daniel Cheng. Daniel’s passing was a great shock and a loss to our community. 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.

As I look out at this sea of white dresses and tuxes, I can feel the radiating sadness, the excitement, and everything in between. I can also feel a sense of trepidation as one question plagues everyone’s mind: what's next? Right now, we all stand on the cusp of our adult lives. It’s strange to comprehend that after this, our chapter at NA has truly come to a close. And now we look ahead to… what exactly? And it's totally okay to be nervous. I find myself consumed by questions like: what will I study in college, who will my friends be, will I keep running track or try my hand at things like…figure skating? And even beyond these next four years- the bigger question on my mind is: what will I do with my life? I’m sure that everyone here feels like the future is unclear. And, it is exactly as Master Oogway said, that the “future is a mystery,” but — it's going to be a good mystery for each of us. My time with everyone has given me snapshots of your futures, and I can assure you, they’ll be fun mysteries to unravel. Everyone here is more than just amazing, you are all unique individuals — with unmatched humor, empathy, and dedication. Every one of our futures will be different, but I promise you, they are all equally bright.

Now that we have covered the past and the future, let’s return to the present. Graduation, today, is a special day because it is the intersection of who we were, and who we’re going to be. After the ceremony, take today to spend time with those who have been a part of your lives for so many years- students and teachers alike. Reminisce over the big wins or performances with your friends, but also cherish the people who have made up the small moments: the person you sat with when the bus broke down from Richmond, the random people in your favorite teacher’s office during a break, or simply the people you passed time with by playing silly games like Contact or Headbutt, our crazy balloon game. Talk with them about your plans for the future. Share with them your hopes and fears. Take the gift of today to reflect on the past and dream of the future, together. 

But beyond just today, I encourage everyone to always treat each day as a gift. In short, and lest I forget to use Latin, Mr. Wilkens, my simple message is Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Treasure your friends and family, your opportunities, and your life. Make each day your own: be happy and be kind to yourselves and to others. 

And as we live out our last Bulldog Day to its fullest, just remember one last thing: that no matter how many years go by or how far we end up from here, we are all bound by a common thread. That at one point, we were all Bulldogs, that we have laughed, cried, and lived together here at NA. And that we’ll always be Bulldogs. Thank you everyone for everything, and once again, Congratulations to the Class of 2023. We made it!

Micah Baum '23, who will attend Tufts University, also won the John H. Ingram Award; William Wadsworth Dey Jr. Memorial Award; and Arthur A. MacConochie Award.  

Here is Micah's speech:

Good morning. As is always appropriate, I would like to begin with gratitude. Thank you to the Board of Trustees for doing everything in their power to enhance our experience at Norfolk Academy. Thank you to my family for always supporting me every step of the journey and being there for me when I stumble. You are the best family I could ask for. I’d like to extend that thanks to all the parents and family members of the class of 2023. Thank you for making all your efforts to support your children; we would not be here without you. Thank you to all 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. Thank you to the unrivaled faculty of NA. I could have written an entire speech on you, and it would have gone overtime but suffice it to say that you are some of the most caring, intelligent, funny, and hardworking people I will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Thank you especially to Mr. Warsaw, my advisor for three years, and Dr. Call, effectively my other advisor for three years. A very special thank you to Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, Mr. Guy Fridell, and the entire team who kept us safe and learning during COVID. We have been so lucky to have your help, and we cannot thank you enough. A massive thank you to Mr. Manning, who will be missed immensely. I can confidently say I will not forget Sonnet 12 or To Be or Not To Be for a long time. Your impact on the school as a whole and on each of us individually is immeasurable. Finally, thank you to the Class of 2023. For every laugh, every tear, every cram session, every victory, we’ve been there for each other through it all. It’s been a wild twelve years, but I will treasure every second of it. A special shoutout to my friends in Tha Bois Discord group chat. Thanks for everything. That may seem like a lot of thank yous, but each and every one of us has had so much support in getting here today, and everyone who has supported us and loved us deserves all the gratitude we have to give. 

I’ve heard an awful lot recently about lasts. Our last chapel, our last advisee lunch, our last game or performance, our last semi-gladiatorial debate in the senior GroupMe (Yes Bailey, you were right all along about the prank), and lest I forget, Mr. Manning’s last year as headmaster. I’ve been as consumed by the lasts as anyone else. And these lasts are worth savoring. Our last day started with blasting Taylor Swift in the freshly wrapped upper school and cheering so loudly when Mr. Peccie came in that I genuinely lost hearing in my right ear for the first bell of the day. Only at NA could that be followed with a meaningful discussion on the ending of Americanah in Mr. Zito’s class; a chapel about applying the story of Don Quixote to our lives, presented masterfully by Dr. Sr. Bryant; a game of family feud in EDI Fellows; our famous mathematical “proofs” (a special edition of pictionary arbitrated by Mrs. Mann) in Statistics; and what I can only describe as a “Latin party” in Mr. Levine and Mr. Wilkens’ office.  

The class of 2023 has been so profoundly lucky to have experiences like these. I’d like to apply a sentiment I first heard from BBYO songleader Eric Hunker to our individual times at NA: every moment in each of our NA experiences is integral to making it ours. All our times of frustration and joy, stress and laughter, sadness and camaraderie, are unique to us. Even the period of COVID, when we all suffered under the weight of loss and isolation, was undeniably essential to our time here. Without any of the moments that make up our experiences, our time at Norfolk Academy would not be truly ours, but an incomplete picture. No one hangs up an incomplete picture in an art gallery. Only with our full experiences, with all of their ups and downs, are our pictures worth looking at. These imperfect and rough but genuine unique experiences are perhaps why we are all so conscious of leaving, why we resort to looking for lasts, and why we will hold onto them forever. 

But, as I learned while cramming for my AP physics electricity and magnetism exam, a last is a lot like a magnet, in that it only exists as a dipole. A magnetic north pole cannot physically exist without a south pole; similarly, a last cannot logically exist without a first. We’ve had a lot of firsts this year too. 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. 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.  

So while we savor our lasts, I encourage us to look forward to our firsts: our first college friends, our first roommates, our first classes, even our first slow mornings and disappointing grades. NA has given us a desire to explore and to understand, and we have so far to go with those gifts. And when things feel like they are going wrong, we all know we can always come here, come home, and find the strength to keep going on. 

I want to take a moment to remember our classmate and friend, Daniel Cheng. I will always remember Daniel playing piano in the school band and bringing joy to so many faces, telling the Discord server to get on League of Legends, and helping me walk to the trainer after I sprained my ankle on the tennis court. Daniel was fiercely loyal and a deep thinker. I’ve talked a lot about lasts in this speech, but I truly believe there will never be a last time when we as a community remember him and honor his memory, as he will never be forgotten. We miss you Daniel, but we know you will always be in our hearts. 

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. 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. Congratulations. 

Jen Yuan '23 gave one of the valedictory speeches at Graduation on May 22, 2023.

Jen Yuan '23 gave one of the valedictory speeches at Graduation on May 22, 2023.

Micah Baum '23 gave the other valedictory speech on May 22, 2023.

Micah Baum '23 gave the other valedictory speech on May 22, 2023.

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