Under overcast skies and a mild breeze, Brewster’s 2022 Commencement ceremony went off with nary a hitch on May 28. With sweeping lake views from Brown Field, graduates and their families gathered, along with special guests, speakers, faculty, and staff, for the moment the Class of 2022 had been preparing for.
With a last-minute shift in start time to 9 a.m. (to avoid storms that were predicted but never materialized), the ceremony began with the sounds of a bagpiper leading the student processional onto the field. Class Marshalls Chase Marshall and Ezra Colcord guided their classmates to their rows in front of the stage as parents and other proud family members sitting behind the class craned to spot their graduate and snap the first photos of the day.
Rev. Donna Muise from the First Congregational Church, Brewster’s good campus neighbor, shared an Invocation, asking for a blessing as the gathered group “celebrated the discoveries revealed, the challenges overcome, the shadows encountered, and the accomplishments realized among these young adults and their families.”
Head of School Kristy Kerin began her opening remarks reminding everyone: “At our first All-School meeting of the year, we gathered here on Brown Field at sunset. As the sun cast an orange glow and we came together after a summer apart and a year of COVID distancing, it was one of those evenings that felt impossibly perfect. Serene and electric at the same time.” At that time, Kerin encouraged the students to be curious—Brewster’s theme of the 2021-22 school year—and practice gratitude to invite joy into their lives. She repeated this request on Commencement Day, “Because no matter what may be going on in the broader world or in our lives, we are all here, on this day, at this incredible school, in this amazing location, so I know we all have reasons to be grateful as we celebrate with the Class of 2022.”
Kerin then showed her own gratitude by thanking her family and others who have supported her in her first year as Brewster’s Head of School, as well as Brewster’s Trustees. She then gave impassioned thanks to Trustee Emeritus Dan Mudge (trustee emeritus), Mike Cooper (Brewster’s 11th Head of School), and David Smith (Brewster’s 10th and longest-serving Head of School). Kerin said that Cooper provided her a”frontline view of what thoughtful, empathetic, determined leadership looks like” and that Smith “exemplifies what it means to be part of something larger than the self.” Incredibly, David and his wife, Sheila, have attended every Commencement since 1970! She also thanked her predecessor Craig Gemmell, now President of Brewster & BA International, who “taught me that a leader’s primary goals should be twofold: to develop leadership in others—and to allow those you work with the opportunity to dream about what’s possible.”
“I’d also like to recognize our faculty and staff. They’ve dedicated their lives to living and working with kids—and they give themselves fully to the task,” she continued before turning the program to the stars of the hour: The Class of 2022.
Speaking first of their public accomplishments in the classroom and in athletics, Kerin then spoke about the accomplishments that can’t be captured on a scoreboard or grade report: “Ever-ready for a dance party, a penguin plunge, or kickball game, this class enriched our community with a special brand of persistence, curiosity, and joy. I’d like to share three stories that I believe speak to the spirit and qualities of the Class of ’22 as a whole.”
During the first week of school, Kerin shared solemnly, Hiba Al-Nabhani, a senior from Oman, was hit by a truck while riding her bike. The accident shocked our community, and became an example of how Brewster students show up for each other. Kerin told the tale: “Hiba was airlifted to Maine Medical Center, had surgery, and spent weeks recovering from her injuries. The night of her accident, Hiba’s friends helped me gather her belongings to bring to the hospital. They then made it clear that they were determined to travel with me to be by her side. I explained that COVID regulations were in full force at the hospital—only a school nurse could get in. But that didn’t stop them from nearly blockading my car, insisting that I take them along. It’s hard to describe how proud I was of those students in that moment as they held their ground and told me, “‘You don’t understand, we are her family here in the U.S.’ When she returned to campus, friends, teachers and nurses continued to show up over and over again to help in every way possible.” Many heads turned toward Hiba, who sat smiling among her friends awaiting her moment to walk across the stage and receive her diploma.
Kerin continued telling Hiba’s story, noting that is also showed her our students’ resilience and humor: “I’ll never forget sitting with Hiba and her parents at the rehab center while she showed me the bicycle helmet she was wearing during the accident. It was badly scratched and covered with scuff marks. Her mom and I locked eyes, both of us teary with gratitude that she had been wearing it, trying not to imagine what might have happened if she had not. Hiba looked up at us, grinned, and said, ‘I’m going to write a really good review for this helmet on Amazon!’”
Kerin then turned to another important moment for the community. This fall, we unexpectedly lost a recent graduate, Tyler Balint ’21. “As students and adults were mourning this unimaginable tragedy, senior class president, Katie Carey, asked if she could address the school,” Kerin explained. “These students seek out opportunities to lead. Katie said: ‘We don’t know what tomorrow brings, or the next day—and sometimes life reminds us of this in the hardest and worst ways. We have an amazing gift that a lot of people don’t get to have...a community where every day, we get the opportunity to create friendships…that we will carry with us for a very long time after high school’.” Kerin went on to say that Brewster students have remarkable perspective and wisdom, as Katie showed when she issued this challenge to her mourning schoolmates: “Every single day we wake up with a new opportunity to do something great. Something kind…I’m going to live for the smiles I can put on my friends' faces, and for the time I get to spend doing things I love with the people I love, while I still can. And I challenge every single one of you to do the same.”
Finally, Kerin explained how this class leaned on one another through the many COVID twists and turns of their high school years, as events and activities were disrupted, when they were forced to isolate and adapt to online learning, and as the best laid plans “unraveled spectacularly, they just found ways to get the job done. These students learned to focus amid distraction.” She noted that they have also processed complex national and global events, mourned tragedies, and used their voices to champion issues that mattered to them – equity, justice, sustainability. “They embraced a community of people from wildly different backgrounds, with a full spectrum of views and perspectives,” she said. “That wasn’t always easy. These students have developed and tested their values.”
Kerin then asked the Class of 2022 to recognize the power and importance of the lessons they’ve learned during their time at our school on the beautiful lake. “This world needs leaders like you. Those who are curious. Those who will not wait. Those who will reach out, build bridges and bring their light, the same light you’ve shown here, to those places of darkness that need it most.”
Next, Kerin continued a tradition started by Craig Gemmell—she invited the students to stand and recognize the people all around them who had a part in their formation and bringing them to this happy day. The moment of gratitude brought out a few tissues as the graduates applauded those who helped them grow.
INTRODUCTION OF THE VALEDICTORIAN
The Class of 2022’s Valedictorian, Levi Brekke, is a Brewster Lifer and Curvey Scholar who has not only excelled academically in his four years at Brewster, but has also been a leader and key contributor to our community.
Kerin described Brekke as an exemplary, collaborative, thoughtful and proactive student, with a positive attitude and notable care for the wellbeing of others. “We wish him well as he heads on to Villanova University, having earned the James C. Curvey Endowed Scholarship, an award that bridges our two institutions,” she said before inviting Brekke to the podium to speak.
Acknowledging that Brewster has become a home away from home and that saying goodbye to his special Bobcat family is going to be difficult, Brekke then thanked his family and teachers for their support. After a special shout out to his best friend, Michael Yang, Brekke spoke of his arrival in Wolfeboro as a freshman. “Like most people, when you first step onto Brewster’s campus, Lake Winnipesauke’s beauty grabs hold and doesn’t let you go. Then it gets even better…you attend a class and meet teachers who love what they teach, but they love you, their students, even more. They take time to talk with you and ensure you’re learning. They challenge you academically and support you emotionally.”
The crowd chuckled as Brekke described fond memories, including sleeping through an alarm and sprinting wildly to class, meals in Estabrook, and sunny days at Brewster Beach—all part of the bonds that Bobcats build on campus.
“But then fast forward to 2020 when COVID rocked our world. Due to limited travel, my sister and I spent multiple trimesters in Saudi Arabia with our family and attended school online,” he explained. “Although we cherished the unexpected time at home, we missed our Brewster family terribly. If anything positive has come out of the worldwide pandemic, it’s that it has forced us to take a deeper look at ourselves and ask, what’s really important? My answer is this: Human connections. The deep bond formed between people when they are seen, heard, valued, and understood.”
Brekke closed by quoting poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” adding, “so graduates, whatever the future may hold for you, whether you head to college, a trade school, the military, junior hockey, or decide to take a year off. I encourage you to connect. Take a moment to unplug. Be present. Listen. And keep making meaningful connections because, ultimately, the people you meet are what matters the very most.”
RECOGNITION OF AWARD WINNERS
At Commencement awards voted on by faculty are given to graduates for their academic achievements or contributions to the character of our community. Those award winners were
Chase Marshall: The Ronald “Buzzy” Dore Memorial Award for the graduate who exemplifies the qualities of our alumnus and friend, showing outstanding leadership in the areas of academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities, and who is a friend to all.
Henry Hoffman: The Faculty Growth Achievement Award for the graduate who has shown the greatest improvement in general record during their junior and senior years at Brewster.
Khelsi Petigny: The Jill Carlson Memorial Award for the female graduate who exhibits outstanding athletic abilities, determination, drive, and dedication, and displays an inquiring curiosity to learn about and experience life.
Levi Brekke: The Mabel Cate Tarr Award for the graduate whose record is one of outstanding contribution to scholarship and citizenship.
Blake Flather: The David Sirchis School Service Award for the student who, in terms of spirit, dedication, and contributions of service, has done the most for the Brewster community.
Megan Ward and George Rumsey: The two Arthur J. Mason Foundation Awards for graduates displaying good sportsmanship on the playing fields, in the halls, in the classrooms, and among students, faculty, and others.
Katie Carey: The Burtis F. Vaughan Award for the graduate who has most successfully combined scholastic and athletic excellence with the personal qualities of sympathy, sincerity, appreciation, and awareness in all his or her associations.
Libby Harris: The Faculty Service Award for the student who provides the strongest example and makes the greatest commitment to community service, who considers such service not as a responsibility or an obligation but rather as something that comes from a driving inner motivation to be of value to others.
Lila Glanville: The Arthur M. Hurlin Award for the graduate who has done the most for the welfare, good name, and progress of Brewster.
Tim Cushing of the College Counseling Office took the stage to acknowledge Axel Keller, who has received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. “I would like to congratulate Axel V. Keller on his appointment to attend the United States Air Force Academy as a member of the Class of 2026,” he said. “Axel has earned a rare opportunity to participate in one of the country’s finest officer training programs. This appointment is awarded to roughly 1,200 of our 9,700 applicants, and is the equivalent of a four-year, full-ride scholarship to a top-tier University, evaluated at just shy of $400,000. This speaks to his previous accomplishments, which also indicate his potential to meet the demands and challenges that the Academy has in store for him.”
Former Head of School and current President of Brewster Academy Craig Gemmell then took the mic to introduce the keynote speaker of the morning, noted author Aminatta Forna. “Ms. Forna’s life has surely been extraordinary fodder for fiction and non-fiction alike!” Gemmell said. “Her books have been translated into 22 languages—and her essays have appeared in Freeman’s, The Guardian, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and Vogue. If I were to list all of our speaker’s literary awards, we may never get her to the podium! But I must mention she is the recipient of a Windham Campbell Award from Yale University, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award, and a Hurston Wright Legacy Award. She has been a finalist for the Neustadt Prize for Literature as well as the Orange Prize for Fiction.”
Currently, Ms. Forna is the Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University and a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in England. She is also part of the 200 Women international photography exhibition that was on display at Brewster in Lord House, as well as the Wolfeboro Public Library and the Wolfeboro Town Hall throughout May.
Aminatta Forna moved to the podium, and with her first words in her somewhat Scottish, somewhat English accent, the audience was rapt. “You must be so happy right now to be graduating from this bastion of excellence, set on these beautiful acres. My parents sent me to boarding school in England. I was lucky because, though we all took time to settle in, I grew to love it. Not everything, that would be odd. But what I loved about those years was the space it gave me to try out my thoughts, explore different subjects and activities, and try on who I wanted to be for size. You'll get that chance again at college. But then life, with all the obligation it will surely bring, can easily pull the shutters down around you. I'm here to tell you not to let it.”
The masterful storyteller then spun a tale of her solo campervan excursion while in Perth, Australia for a literary festival. “I wanted to explore and I had an idea that this would be an exciting way to do things—just me and the open road. I'd stop wherever I pleased and spend time in nature. It didn't quite work out as I had imagined.” She regaled her audience with the missteps and close scrapes of her adventure, landing in a scene where she shared a bit of the ocean with a dolphin that she had initially feared might be a shark. “I cast around. There was a lone figure on the beach that I could see was a woman. She was not waving or yelling. She was watching me and, in fact, had waded up to her shins in the water. I could tell she was Australian by the amount of sun protection in the form of clothing and a hat she wore. It's okay, I thought. She would warn me if I was in danger. She'd be yelling: ‘Shark!’”
Forna wove the tale deeper into the concept of curiosity. A biologist friend heard about her dolphin encounter and assured her the creature was simply curious. “Dolphins are naturally curious, a trait that continues into adulthood and which they share with bonobos, a kind of ape and humankind's nearest relative. Humans, on the other hand, lose their curiosity gradually over time. As children we are curious about all sorts of things, but by the time we grow older most of us begin to lose our curiosity about the world that surrounds us.”
She asked the graduates to imagine a world without curiosity. “Everyone would just sit around. Maybe hunger would get them off their backsides, but even then they'd have to think, 'I wonder what those spherical objects growing from that tree are, and whether they taste good?' Eve tried the apple and that's where curiosity started to get its bad name. Goldilocks got into trouble, too. And the less we say about the cat the better. But it shouldn't be that way. Curiosity is what starts every enquiry into the unknown. It is the foundation stone of knowledge. Through our curiosity, our species has come to know things that were unimaginable, even a century ago, let alone millennia before that. It is one of the basic drives that has led to the development of science, philosophy, technology, and the arts. Curiosity, after all, is the name NASA scientists gave to the rover exploring Mars, even as I speak, in search of life.”
She described that her writing process always begins with a question that was bothering her, and a need to satisfy that curiosity…and explained why being a writer is the perfect fit for her and her need to find answers. As someone who is “endlessly curious” about other people, Forna shared more charming anecdotes, seemingly sealing the audience’s crush on her, and then turned back to the graduates: “The challenge to you is to find something you are curious enough about to spend ten thousand hours doing. Try to find the one thing that keeps you asking questions. That could be anything. People say, find the thing you love and make it your job, and then you'll always be happy. I'd say discover what makes you curious, because life is about more than what you do for a living or even just being happy. It's about living a good life, a decent life. It's about what you do with your time, who you spend it with, which books you choose to read, whether you learn new languages or skills, whether you become the kind of person who chooses an all inclusive resort, or ventures out on their own—whether you get to touch a wild dolphin on the nose.”
She then closed her address with the story of that dolphin. “I waded out of the water towards the woman standing up to her thighs in the water, her hat drawn down over her eyes and her face slathered in sun cream. As I passed her I smiled and, full of joy at my encounter, I said: ‘That was amazing! you are so lucky. I guess that happens to you all the time living here, but for me that was extraordinary!' And she looked at me and replied: '’I've lived here 35 years, and I have never, in all my blimming life, seen anything like it!'”
AWARDING OF DIPLOMAS
The ceremony paused for a musical moment from Jaila Richards and Morgan Johnson, both Class of 2022, performing the song “How Far I’ll Go,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, before Kerin began the awarding of diplomas. Two honored guests helped read the names of our graduates as they took the stage and received their diplomas: this year’s Yearbook Dedication Honoree, Kate Turner, and Khun Korn Thepnorarat, Guidance Officer, Office of Educational Affairs, Royal Thai Embassy.
And so it began, each row of graduates striding to the stage, grinning as they waited for their name to be called, and finally taking the stage for the moment they had worked so hard for.
With a final congratulations from their Head of School, and a nod from their Class Marshalls to move their tassels, the Class of 2022 tossed their mortarboards to the sky and let out a final cheer of joy!
“I would like to close by asking you to carry with you the lessons and values you learned here at Brewster,” Kerin said. “Seek to find ways to be part of something larger than yourself. Be persistent about the things you care most about. Stay curious and keep growing and learning, always. And stay connected. We look forward to seeing you back here at Brewster as often as you are able.”
Following the Benediction from Rev. Muise, the graduates recessed to the Smith Center. The melee of hugs, flowers, and smiles followed as families moved to the tent in front of the Grayson Student Center for a buffet lunch before heading home.
With another Commencement in the books, the team of staff and faculty who made the day possible (especially new Special Events and Programs Planner Caitlin Ward and the entire Facilities and Dining teams) took an easy breath—and began preparations for the following weekend’s big Alumni Reunion!
Leave a Comment Below