On a beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine, the Class of 2021 graduated from Western Reserve Academy and officially began the next chapter of their academic story. It was a new experience for the WRA community, and we turned tradition a little on its head, still holding ceremonies outdoors but on the vast green stretch of the Morgan Hall Fields, a place with rich memories of soccer matches won and fireworks set off — indeed, a perfect place for celebration.
After receiving their white rose boutonnieres and bouquets, the Class of 2021 gathered on Chapel Street, chattering excitedly and huddling together for last-minute selfies before the formal procession, steered by the Akron and District Pipe Band, WRA Trustees and faculty.
The Class of 2021's Student Body Co-President Hunter Amos was this year's selected student speaker. If she was at all nervous to address her peers and the school community on the Commencement stage, it didn't show, and the Harvard-bound graduate shared poignant, passionate remarks, reflecting on her and her peers' time at Reserve.
"I say this in my own experience, don't live on a predetermined track formed by the expectations of your family, friends or society around you," said Amos. "The first step in believing in yourself is just to look inside and recognize that you are unique, you are pensive, you get frustrated, you barely passed chemistry, you are an asset. And that feeling should lead you to belong. All those in the audience outfitted in green in white will receive their diplomas today not only as a sign that you managed to pass the JWE and finesse your way through calc, but also because you have committed yourself to an idea and made a successful push to get there."
Again, we broke tradition but with gusto and great pleasure by bringing in a WRA faculty member as the featured Commencement speaker. H. Arthur Bellow Jr. '56 Chair and History Department faculty member Diccon Ong '81 has, in fact, spoken at Commencement before at his own graduation in 1981 as the selected student speaker. A few decades later, he made the walk again and took to the podium to address the school community with great care.
"Life is a gift," said Ong. "You have just one, as far as we know, so make the most of it. And remember you and you alone can be the only true judge of whether or not the life you have been gifted has been well-spent... Speaking of gifts, your education at WRA has certainly been one of those. It was only made possible through the generosity of countless people... There is an important liability balancing out the assets you have acquired from your time at Reserve. The time will no doubt come when you will encounter others, whether they be family, friends, colleagues, neighbors or mere strangers, who you will perceive are in need of some kind of help or assistance. If you are in a position to lend them a hand, it would be an affront to all those who have ever played a role in helping you on your journey through life for you to withhold that support. If nothing else I've said here today remains in your memory... I hope you will remember this."
The awarding of the diplomas was a moving sight made all the brighter in the moments when fellow family graduates took the stage to personally hand over the diploma and embrace their newly graduated Pioneer with pride and joy.
At the closing of the ceremony, Buck once again took to the podium,
"Today is a most joyous occasion," she said. "And as you might know, I believe in the transcendent power of joy. Contrary to what you might think, joy is not the antithesis of adversity, it is instead a compliment to or a by-product of such a force. Sometimes it is within the difficult sojourn that we learn what matters to us most. At such times of challenge we are required to work with greater determination, endure more than we thought possible, and gather the resolve to embrace a new day... Joy is a fire lit by emotion and experience. It is illuminated through gratitude and magnified when shared. Recognize, create and honor joy. Allow for joy to be an expression of your truth and a beacon of your light."
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, WRA faculty and staff, Buck commended each and every one of the members of the Class of 2021 for their tenacity, good will and the excellence with which they conducted themselves in this unconventional year.
"The members of the Class of 2021 hold a special place in my heart," said Buck. "We survived this year together, and you are the first class I have officially graduated from Reserve. This is most meaningful to me. I appreciate all that you are and do. I look forward to hearing of your success in all that it is to come. And I can't wait to welcome you back to campus as alumni. Know that Reserve will always be here as your second home. In addition, Mr. Buck and I extend an open invitation to you to spend time with us at Pierce House. You are forever part of our WRA family."
The ceremony closed as it always does, with the singing of the alma mater, affection clear in the raised voices as they closed the song with "Dear Old Reserve" before breaking into all of the loud applause and cheers well earned after a four year journey through these brick paths. A packed lunch prepared by Chef Eddie Mundy and his team was waiting for pick up and picnics sprouted up all around campus as our Class of 2021 basked in their first official hours as WRA alumni members.
We will dearly miss this spirited and ever-surprising class, but we know in our hearts that like all of our beloved graduates, they will come home to Reserve again. We look forward to staying in touch to hear about all of their achievements, ventures and feats and to seeing them at all of their future Reunion Weekends. Congratulations to our graduates. You did it!
The Class of 2021 gained acceptances to more than 230 schools across 20 states, Washington D.C., Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom and Australia. Notably, 66% of the class received acceptance to a Top 50 College or University, and we are proud to share this class includes two Jack Kent Cooke Scholars, three Quest Bridge Finalists, one Morehead-Cain finalist and two four-year, full tuition John B. Ervin Scholarship recipients. Nine student-athletes have committed to playing in college, two are National Merit Finalists and eight are Commended Students.
But the accomplishments of the Class of 2021 cannot be measured purely by quantity and stats, and we honor the compassion and character they demonstrated each day. We are proud of every Pioneer and applaud the variety of paths this class will take. Here are just a few special highlights:
- Student-athlete Markus Ilver committed to play at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the Badgers' 9th ranked team in college basketball.
- Accomplished birder Helena Souffrant is spreading her wings at Bowdoin College in Maine.
- Environmentalist and activist Elizabeth Krapf will continue her path of curiosity at American University in Washington D.C.
- Mariah Davis and William Brannon both plan to attend Howard University — a historically Black university.
- This year there are a growing number of students pursuing passions they nourished at Reserve, such as Cancer Immunology student Carl Zhang, who heads to Stanford in the fall to pursue Biomedical Engineering.
- Others will continue pursuing independent passions found through their WRA Compass Projects, like Chuan Shuo Chen who is chasing his dream of studying Avionics at Washington University in St. Louis.