Please note: links to videos and photos are at the bottom of this article.
Two-time Olympic medalist Gabby Thomas, a member of the Williston Northampton School class of 2015, delivered the keynote during the school’s 181st Commencement ceremony on May 28, 2022. One hundred thirty-two students graduated and 12 students were inducted into the Cum Laude Society. Several students received awards, either at the Academic Awards Ceremony on the previous day (more here), at an Athletic Assembly earlier in the week (more here), or during Commencement. A special ceremony for seniors and their families, Baccalaureate, was held the night before.
To the strains of bagpipes, processions entered the tent, first faculty, then students in grades nine through eleven, and then soon-to-be graduates. Head of School Robert W. Hill III welcomed the audience and reflected on the significance of gathering in person (read his full address), before introducing track star Gabby Thomas. Thomas spoke about the “sixty seconds of eternity” before a big race, and how mental preparation is key (read the full text of her speech). Everyone has thoughts such as “Am I good enough? Will I win? Can I win?” Thomas said.
During one of these moments, she looked to her left and there was Allyson Felix, the most decorated female athlete of all time (11 Olympic medals). To the other side were other “world-class competitors, all there with one goal: To beat you, to beat everyone, to win.” We now know how that race ended up. It was the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, and Thomas came up with the second fastest 200-meter time in history, just behind Florence Griffith Joyner. “You almost caught Flo-Jo. Oh my god, you almost caught Flo-Jo,” she recalled saying to herself in the giddy aftermath.
However, there was also her first NCAA Indoor Championships, a race where not only did the former Harvard sprinter not win, she came in dead last.
Both of those races flitted through her mind in those sixty seconds of eternity during the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. “And then I thought: At the end of the day, all I can do is run my race. Keep moving. Get off the blocks, and take the next stride,” she said. She ended up winning bronze and silver at those games.
“You’ll never know that you need to work harder until you lose,” she continued. “And you’ll never know the heights you can reach until you take on the very things, people, challenges, and failures that you’re afraid of and beat them to the finish line.”
After a standing ovation, 12 seniors were inducted into the Cum Laude Society, an honor society modeled after Phi Beta Kappa. The inductees were Qingyun Pan, Minami Ogino, Zachary Walker, Julia Borden, Annika von Schoeler-Ames, Maeve Reynolds, Lily Grace Dardano, Olivia Lawry, Aaron Gonzalez Sobrino, Anna Jofre, Emeline Bruce, Yijune Hong. Thirteen other students were inducted into the society at a ceremony earlier this year.
Other academic awards were given out at Commencement (see the complete round up of awards here). The Archibald V. Galbraith Prize, awarded to the senior who in academics, athletics, and citizenship is exemplary, representing that which is best in the school, went to Benning Johnson.
The Sarah B. Whitaker Prize, also known as the White Blazer Award, is given to a senior who has made the greatest contributions to the academic, athletic, and community life of the school while exhibiting exemplary leadership and integrity. It went to Natalie Stott, who later gave the senior speech.
The Valedictory prize is awarded to the first scholar of the class, which honors the student who, by record of performance during the senior year, is judged by the faculty to be pre-eminent in academic achievement. Sage Friedman earned the prize.
On the athletic front, the George Denman Bowl (for boys), and the Alumnae Bowl (for girls) are “awarded to seniors whose contribution to the athletic program has been characterized by exceptional achievement, faithful participation, and loyal devotion to the best interests of the school.” This year The George Denman Award was given to Jack Haddad and the Alumnae Bowl Award was shared by Natalie Stott and Abigail Touhey.
The Athletic Leadership Awards are presented to seniors who have distinguished themselves in terms of the quality of the leadership they have demonstrated as student athletes. Awardees were Jerry Landman, Praghya Athavan Raja, and Emma Merrill.
Senior speaker Natalie Stott arrived on stage with advice from her idol, Taylor Swift. “Losing things doesn’t mean just losing,” Stott quoted Swift as saying. “A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things too.” She continued: “Every single person under this tent has lost something, or someone, but it doesn’t just mean losing. And for all of us members of the class of 2022, we have shared a loss: a huge chunk of our high school years. But we have come out even stronger. Our class as a whole has made the most of our time here at Williston.” This loss led to an appreciation of the little things, she noted: “a brunch in the dining hall, or a walk to and from Galbraith for practice, or spending time with the people I love whether it’s on the quad, in the dorm, at a weekend activity.” (Read the full text of Stott’s speech.)
Following her speech, and the presentation of diplomas, John Hazen White Jr. ’76, the Chair of the Williston Board of Trustees, officially conferred upon the 132 seniors the title of “graduates.”
Closing the ceremony, all assembled sang the alma mater, “O Williston.” Graduates proceeded to say good-bye to faculty and friends on the traditional receiving line, flanking the driveway.
Congratulations, class of 2022!
A round-up of Commencement links:
Entire Commencement ceremony
Commencement speaker Gabby Thomas ’15
Senior speaker Natalie Stott