During an in-person ceremony under a tent on the Main Quad, Williston Northampton School hosted a scaled-down Commencement—its 180th—on May 22, 2021. The event, which usually sees the entire student body present, was open to graduates and two of their family members, as well as faculty and members of the administration, because of pandemic protocols. However, fewer attendees made the mood at the celebration no less joyous.
Head of School Robert W. Hill III welcomed the audience, both live and watching via livestream. After delivering a humorous Top-10 list of the COVID expressions we never want to hear again (number one being, “Would you please unmute yourself?”), he expanded on the idea of finding one’s voice: “Unmute yourself when you see injustice,” he told graduates. “Unmute yourself for a noble cause. Unmute yourself for a friend’s performance, to show your love of your family or grief at a funeral. Unmute yourself cheering on the sidelines. Unmute yourself in your future classrooms.”
Hill then segued into an introduction of political commentator Susan Del Percio ’87, who gave the Commencement keynote. She reminded students to listen respectfully to what people have to say—even people they don’t like and don’t agree with.
She also advised graduates to listen to the voice inside them that they may hear when faced with a challenge. “More often than not, when confronted with a challenge, if you listen to that voice, honestly, it can help you, guide you, through a lot.” She described the time when a booking agent called her and asked her to appear on “The Dylan Ratigan Show” on MSNBC. “I had never been on national television before, even though I had done lots of local TV.” She quickly Googled the show and thought to herself, “there is no way I can do this.” She started writing out the pros and cons, and the only con she scribbled down was that she was scared. “And that’s when I heard that voice that said, ‘If fear is the only reason you’re saying no, that is unacceptable.'”
She said “yes,” and after the first few appearances, MSNBC offered her a contract. “From that day forward,” she said, “I have always listened to that voice.”
Del Percio also reminded listeners, “No one achieves great success without failure. It’s the thing that keep us real. It’s what motivates us. It’s what makes us human.”
In closing, she exhorted the class of 2021 to “go out there and be remarkable!”
Speaking of remarkable, 10 seniors were welcomed into the Cum Laude Society during Commencement. These scholars were:
Gabriel P. Davila Bustamante
Thomas A. Motyka
Bach Xuan Nguyen
Mr. Hill then invited senior speaker Mel Baseman to the stage. Baseman told her fellow graduates to “be the most authentic and bold version of yourself” as they move on to college.
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 122 seniors the title of “graduates.”
Closing the ceremony, a video was shown of WNS Choirs singing the song “And Wherever You Are.” Graduates proceeded to say good-bye to faculty and friends on the traditional receiving line, flanking the driveway.
A round-up of Commencement links: