On Sunday, May 26, members of the Western Reserve Academy Class of 2019, along with their families and others in attendance, will hear from this year's Commencement Speaker, Head of School Christopher D. Burner '80.
It is a poignant and fitting conclusion to Burner's prolific tenure at Reserve, and a sentimental send off as he prepares to take the helm of the Nichols School in Buffalo, NY, beginning in July.
On Monday, we sat down with Burner to talk to him about his speech and this very special graduation ceremony.
Q. You've held many roles at WRA -- student, teacher, coach, Director of Admission, Dean of Faculty, Head of School and now you'll also be the featured Commencement Speaker. Coming into this academic year, did you know you would take this role?
A. I thought about it at the beginning of the year, and it occurred to me that it might be appropriate. Then I was talking to our Co-Presidents of the Board of Trustees, Timothy R. Warner '69 and Andrew R. Midler '79, and they asked me the same question and all three of us agreed.
Q. Traditionally, how is the featured speaker chosen for graduation?
A. We usually invite college presidents and WRA graduates to speak. We try to find someone who can reflect on education and what the students are embarking on but also think about WRA at the same time. For example, in 2015, Mark Tercek '75 spoke and in 2012, John P. Hewko '75 was the speaker.
Q: Do you remember who the featured speaker was in 1980 at your Commencement?
A: I remember our Baccalaureate speaker. At the time he was the Reverend Alden M. Hathaway '51, but now he is Bishop Alden Hathaway.
Q: What message do you want to share with this year's graduating class?
A. Being in education, I have enjoyed graduation immensely every single year and think we have a beautiful graduation in front of the Chapel. Since I'm a graduate too, I want to reflect on what WRA means to this group of seniors. Along with that, what I really want to get across to them that this is a great moment in time for them. Hopefully they have grown a lot and more importantly, I hope to share that they are embarking on a career in life. They will be constantly learning and changing.
I want them to embrace their ability and deep curiosity to constantly learn, evolve and change. I think that's hopefully what WRA has given these students and hopefully they realize they are ready for more learning.
Successful graduation speeches are about the students. It is a nice capstone for me, and I do believe my comments will reflect on my experiences here and the Class of 2019 will learn from that, but this speech is not a culmination or celebration of me. It is a celebration of them.