Vespers, an evening just for parents and graduating seniors, is a special event at Norfolk Academy: It is held the night before graduation, and the program, especially the name of the person who delivers the Vespers Message is a well-kept secret until the event unfolds.
Given his intensely public role, it was a notable challenge to keep this year’s speaker a secret: The Honorable Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Mayor of Norfolk, spoke to the Class of 2019, which included his son, Kenneth Alexander II.
Mayor Alexander spoke about the importance of two qualities in the pursuit of a life of meaning: heart and perseverance. The heart, he said, was something he had contemplated and studied through his work as a mortician. The mayor, who is the president of Metropolitan Funeral Service, offered the students a lightning quick anatomy lesson: The average heart is 11 ounces, capable of pumping five quarts of blood a minute and 2,000 gallons a day.
However, as astonishing as the heart is in terms of its physical properties, he said, the heart as a symbol is equally powerful. He quoted Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez from Love in the Time of Cholera, “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” and he noted the success of those who “follow their heart” in pursuit of their life’s work.
“Listen to your heart!” he said. “Put your heart into your work.” He concluded his speech with a passionate recitation of “Invictus,” the stirring poem by William Ernest Henley, whose own life story included a struggle with tuberculosis, necessitating the amputation of his leg. The poem concludes with the famous lines: “I am the master of my fate;/I am the captain of my soul.”
Colin Looney ’19, president of the Senior Class, presented the class gift--benches for the courtyard behind the James B. Massey Leadership Center; the gift, he said, is designed to encourage more students to gather in the new space.
Vespers also includes musical performances. This year, the Academy Singers, the Upper School chorus, sang “Amazing” by Pinkzebra and “Here I Am” by Bryan Adams; Solomon Duane ’19 performed Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 48, No. 1 in C minor, a piece which requires tremendous technical and interpretive prowess. Emme Pike ’19, who has sung the National Anthem at many school events and been a featured singer at coffeehouse events and “Be Someone” concerts, sang “For Good” from the hit musical Wicked by Stephen Schwartz.