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Resilience, knowledge, and growth

June 7, 2021

The early morning fog on June 5 lifted with time to spare before the 227th Cheshire Academy Commencement ceremony, an event that recognized the graduating Class of 2021, imparted meaningful messages, and honored retiring faculty. 

Commencement resulted in a monumental celebration for the graduating class of 106 seniors, all of whom concluded their final year of high school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks became a necessary accessory, social distancing a requirement, and remote classes commonplace. 

The Class of 2021 is now ready for the next chapter of their lives, with many heading off soon to their top-choice colleges and universities. Members of the class were accepted to more than 340 different colleges and universities, ultimately establishing a matriculation list of more than 80 different schools in the United States and abroad. 

Starting the ceremony was class president Alexis Tolentino ’21. She reflected on her classmates’ strength and their adaptability to survive and grow during a pandemic. “Through the course of unfortunate events, we have all developed into knowledgeable, empathetic, and resilient scholars and individuals. I challenge each and every one of you to remember this unusual year, where we had no choice but to be prepared for the unexpected and to continue living with resilience.” 

Jason Curry ’91.

This year’s keynote speaker was Jason Curry ’91, president of Big Apple Basketball. Even though Curry attended Cheshire Academy only for his senior year, he formed a close bond and made a name for himself as co-MVP of the cross-country team and as a key member of the varsity boys’ basketball team that advanced to the NEPSAC Final Four. 

In his address, Curry spoke in part about destiny guiding him to Cheshire Academy. He had failed at other private and public schools leading up to CA yet, when he arrived, he flourished, graduating with mantel honors. In 2019, Curry was inducted into the Kevin D. Slaughter Memorial Athletic Hall of Fame and, to this day, Curry continues to represent Cheshire Academy, even 30 years after his graduation. He implored the Class of 2021 to do the same. 

“As you graduate and you head off into the next phase of your life, be a Cheshire Academy for somebody else who wasn’t able to attend Cheshire Academy,” Curry said. “Some of you understand right now how special Cheshire Academy was for you at this very moment, and some of you may not understand and realize that until years later … and it is your responsibility as your travel throughout life to be a Cheshire Academy for someone else, to be a 10 Main Street for someone else, a Cheshire Academy dot org for another family, to be so inspirational to someone else that they want to send their children to Cheshire Academy just because they’ve encountered you.” 

Valedictorian Ziyuan “Roger” Xu ’21 addressed his peers remotely from China, where he had completed his senior year. In his address, Xu reflected on his affinity for fishing, which he initially acquired after catching a small sardine when he was 8 years old. A time that he will always remember is a 20-minute struggle to catch a fish, a battle that resulted in him losing his hook and the catch. 

“This futileness struck me hard,” reflected Xu. “…As I grew up, I gradually found out that the reason I liked fishing, along with my other interests, is not only the prospect of catching or achieving something, but it is the process of engaging uncertainties and feeling encouraged to always find solutions.” 

Uncertainties have riddled the Class of 2021, Xu continued, but have helped Xu and his peers grow. “Without uncertainty, we may not experience progress, growth, self-challenge, and joyfulness to appreciate the clear sky after removing the clouds. I believe the intellectual and emotional courage cultivated by Cheshire Academy will become the fundamental power for all of us to overcome all uncertainties in the future.” 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Caroline Fishbein ’21 had the opportunity to spend more time with her family, which included watching current and old movies. Disney’s “The Lion King” served as the theme of her salutatory address at Commencement, as she compared Simba’s growth as a cub to lion and his life experiences to her and her classmates’ growth at CA. 

“Cheshire Academy is a melting pot of diversity in a multitude of forms, and has taught us the immense value of surrounding ourselves with people who are different from us so we can be globally minded and make our mark on the world together,” Fishbein said. “…When we leave here today, we are not free from responsibilities to Cheshire Academy. Cheshire Academy is our Pride Rock and always will be a home for all of us. It is our responsibility to go out into the world and make CA proud.” 

In her closing remarks, Head of School Julie Anderson P’19, ’23 urged the graduates to live a great story. By the end of their high school careers, the students have experienced two major global crises. Data and organizations refer to their generation as one that bears scars of a financial crisis, an outdated education system, a climate crisis, and mass violence yet, they have all lived great social and academic lives. They are internationally minded, full of experiences and wisdom to change the world. 

“You are a very unique class, graduating during a once-in-a-hundred-years event,” Anderson said. “You have gifts of insight and understanding past graduates may not have been fortunate to have. You know better. We cannot turn our backs on what we now know, and knowledge is power. You are among the most powerful graduates in decades.” 

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.

Before receiving their diplomas, the students were treated to a surprise video message from Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive officer and chief content officer for Netflix. Sarandos acknowledged his friend and graduating senior in the audience, Abraham Attah ’21. Sarandos praised Attah, who he first met a few years ago at a soccer field in Attah’s village in Ghana. From there, he watched Attah grow while filming “Beast of No Nation,” including learning how to skateboard in the mountains of Telluride, experience the elegance of Venice, Italy, and take over Hollywood in a few months. 

“So much growth, so much adventure, so fearless—that’s what I want for all of you,” Sarandos said. “Take the unique experiences of COVID, the tragedy and the triumph, to build your lives filled with possibility and lives filled and grounded in ‘never say never.’ And when you tell the world someday what you did, in a speech just like this, make sure you can say ‘Ich Dien’—‘I serve.’ There is no richer reward in life than to serve.” 

Integral members of Cheshire Academy’s faculty and alumni community were also honored as part of the Commencement ceremony. In 2020, Col. Paul Ingram ’44 was named recipient of the John Bowden Distinguished Achievement Award. Due to COVID-19, however, Ingram was unable to receive the award until this year. 

Senior Master and Roxbury instructor Karen Smith announced earlier this year her plans to retire after working at CA for 45 years. She was named the 2021 Bowden Award recipient. At the end of the ceremony, Smith passed on the historic wooden staff to Laura Longacre, student support coordinator and language teacher, who will now take up the mantle and serve as senior faculty leader alongside History and Social Sciences teacher Chip Boyd. 

To watch a replay of the 227th Cheshire Academy Commencement ceremony, click here. 

To see more pictures from the day’s event, visit our Flickr gallery here. 

To watch the Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos video remarks, click here.