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Graduation Day For The Class Of 2019: Friends Forever Bound To Each Other

The 127 members of the Class of 2019 graduated on Friday afternoon with speeches and uplifting moments that showed how much they appreciated the bonds they had forged on their journey through Norfolk Academy.

This academic year was designed as “The Year of Friendship,” and that theme reverberated in speeches throughout the ceremony.

The graduation ceremony, referred to as “Finals” in the school’s parlance, opened with a soaring contribution from vocalists in the class, who came to the microphone to harmonize for a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. That musical presentation was followed by a pair of valedictory addresses, a tradition rooted in the school’s history; the modern, co-educational Norfolk Academy was created through the 1966 merger with Virginia Beach Country Day School for Girls.

Brammy Rajakumar ’19, a National Merit Scholar who will attend Harvard University this fall, opened her speech by reminding her classmates of signature moments on their journey together, from the first day of first grade, when they shook hands with Headmaster Dennis Manning and patted the bulldog, to more recent ones from Upper School, like organic chemistry labs and the Credo project.

“Though we have different backstories, we all have bonded in a dynamic way as fellow Bulldogs,” she said. “...All through the month of December, as college applications were sent or early acceptances were received, we cheered for each other loudly in the brightly decorated senior lounge. We shared each other’s triumphs without jealousy, and we supported each other through difficulties.”

In his speech, James Hood ’19, who will attend Dartmouth College, crafted his valedictory around the theme of giving thanks to all who had helped the Class of 2019 reach this milestone, leavening his heartfelt message with a light touch that drew laughter from the audience. He wryly noted that “too many of us have mastered the art of arriving to school exactly at 8:14 to avoid detention while squeezing out every last minute of sleep,” and joked that most of the class knew “the quickest way to the refectory from any point on campus to be the first in line for Chef Mike’s legendary soup.”

His speech included shout-outs to several of his most inspirational teachers, as well as their well-known sayings. “We know firsthand the impacts each and every teacher has had on each and every one of us,” he said. “Whether actively or subconsciously, we emulate the role models we have learned from since setting foot on campus. Thanks to this amazing collection of people, no matter what career we may find ourselves in, we will always be part teacher at heart.” Marissa Mejia, who will attend Princeton University, was recognized as the class’s salutatorian.

The graduation always includes the awards for excellence in teaching. Recipients of the Massey award, for teachers who have been at Norfolk Academy for no more than six years, were Phil Call (5th grade, Lower School), Ryan Tucker (Middle School English--he was unable to accept the award in person, as he is chaperoning the Middle School’s new STEAM trip to London), and George Bunn (Upper School Spanish). Waitzer awards, presented to veteran teachers, were given to Dr. Sandra Harrison (Assistant Director of the Lower School and one of two guidance counselors), Patricia Hopkins (Assistant Director of the Middle School), and Dr. Natasha Naujoks (Upper School History and Co-director of the Global Affairs Fellows). Catherine McCallum, who teaches math in the Upper School and serves as assistant coach of the varsity field hockey team, received the award for coaching.

Many graduates received awards for excellence in academics, fine arts, and athletics, as well as overall citizenship and contributions to school life; that list is published in the final issue of The Belfry. Diplomas were awarded by Mr. Timothy Stiffler, president of the Board of Trustees, and Headmaster Manning.

It has become something of a humorous tradition for Mr. Manning to state that each year’s graduating class is the best class in the school’s history, and he did not skip the tradition this year. That traditional paean to the class is supported by more than sentiment: 34 students in the Class of 2019 received merit scholarships, including three appointments to the U.S. Naval Academy.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Manning reminded the Class of 2019 of the school’s Honor Code and the moral principles that had shaped them. He noted that even as they journey in many directions, they will always be Bulldogs at heart. “You leave here forever bound to each other and to the faculty who have poured themselves you,” he said. “We place our hopes for the future in you.”

Best of luck, Class of 2019!

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