A cap, a gown, and a beaming smile. The first two are synonymous with graduation, but the third was certainly the most meaningful accessory of the day, as 132 members of the Class of 2021 graduated from The Hun School of Princeton. Because the diverse class hails from twelve nations and ten states, twenty-one members joined Commencement via LiveStream due to pandemic travel restrictions. The assembled participated in a ceremony unlike any other at The Hun School -- graduates seated with their families on Natale Family Field.
In a year that began like no other, with students attending a hybrid schedule of in-person and remote learning from around the world, The Hun School community gathered to honor the seniors’ accomplishments and celebrate the simple pleasure of being together.
Head of School Jonathan Brougham kicked off the School’s 107th Annual Commencement by recognizing, but not dwelling on, the pandemic. His was a message of hope, inspired by Dr. David Fajgenbaum, who recently spoke to The Hun School as part of the Centennial Speakers Series. Dr. Fajgenbaum is a renowned “disease hunter” at the University of Pennsylvania who remained steadfast, positive, and ultimately helped to find a cure for Castelman’s Disease, despite suffering from it personally.
“Remember all that the pandemic has taught us about hope and action, your power to endure and to change. Like the young doctor, take on your problems, and the world’s problems, with the confidence that you can make a difference -- hopefully, patiently, relentlessly, step by step and day by day. You earned your stripes and learned those lessons the hard way, Class of 2021. Now, keep making us proud by never forgetting them.”
Board of Trustees Chair Steve Wills, encouraged the graduates to hone the skill of learning to learn from every relationship and experience. He explained that even spending time with his four-year-old grandson has taught him a new skill: how to live in the moment. He then spoke of the importance of giving back in a way that is sure to leave an impact --- he announced that would give each graduate a $100 bill with each diploma. He underscored that it was a true gift, but that he hoped they would use it to do three things: “First, treat yourself for a job well done. Go down to Hoagie Haven and get a Mac Daddy. Second, give back to the School that has given you so much. Let’s be the first graduating class to have 100 percent participation in the Hun Fund. Third, pay it forward. Do something nice for someone who deserves it. But don’t Venmo or PayPal them. Look them in the eye and make a connection.”
Connection was the unofficial theme of the day, since as little as three months ago it was unclear if an in-person Commencement would be even possible. Salutatorian Junle Chen gave a nod to the Brood X cicadas in his speech, advising his fellow graduates to echo their determination. “Congratulations to the class of 2021. In the future, you might feel helpless and without purpose at times. You might feel isolated and lonely when embarking on unique adventures that no one has set foot on. But be like the cicadas, shout your aspirations to the world, celebrate your passions, allow yourself to be vulnerable despite what others may think, and you will surely find a fulfilling path,” he said. Junle will attend the University of Pennsylvania.
Class speaker and president Devon Pasieka talked about episodic memory and “mental time travel,” or the ability to retrieve a moment and “relive.” She said, “And here we are today. I would argue, as survivors of one of the most challenging years of high school ever. This experience will bond us as a class forever. If I have learned one thing over the past year that I could share with you today, it is to take advantage of every moment and opportunity. Try new foods. Take the trip. Meet as many people as you can. Hug your friends. Fill up your brain with as many new sensory memories as it can hold.” Devon will attend Georgetown University in the fall.
Siqi Wang, who is headed to Brown University, made Hun School history as the first Valedictorian to speak from China during Commencement. Ms. Wang learned remotely this year due to travel restrictions, yet her admiration for her teachers and peers came across loud and clear. “Saying goodbye is not letting go of each other. It is a tribute to our experience, our memories, and our time together. Hun has given us friendships, mentorships, and growth that will live on with us, way beyond just the years of high school. And for that, I am extremely grateful for every wonderful soul I’ve met at Hun. We are all going to do amazing things.”