Sixty-six Abington Friends School seniors walked across a stage built in The Grove of the Meeting House, received their diplomas and joined a line of the School’s alumni that stretches back more than three centuries.
On a picture-perfect day, the Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2017 was a joyous affair, tied to tradition and lifted up by the students’ own happiness at having achieved this milestone and the swelled hearts of parents and other family members, who had made the long journey alongside their children.
The crowd of several hundred people, seated in rows of folding chairs, also included faculty members, recent alums and former teachers and staffers — all witness to the bittersweet moment of the separation from what is familiar and the adventure ahead for the graduates.
Keynote speaker Dr. Erik Talvitie, a member of the AFS Class of 2000, had his own “pinch-me” moment about being chosen as the day’s main speaker. Erik, who received a doctorate from the University of Michigan, is an associate professor of computer science at Franklin & Marshall College.
“When I sat in this very Grove in my very own blue cap and gown, I couldn’t even begin to imagine that I would be back here in this capacity,” he said. “Honestly, I couldn’t, in that moment, imagine most of the journey that would unfold from there.”
He told the students that, as he prepared his remarks and thought about what an AFS graduate brings to the world, he kept returning to the Quaker central principle of “inner light” — that every person has the presence of the Divine within them.
He added that though most of the students, faculty and staff of the School are not members of the Society of Friends, “this principle and practice [are] baked into the very walls of the institution.
“Your teachers see your light. They don’t just teach, they teach you. They know that you have something to contribute that no one else can. They know that they are just as lucky to spend time with you as you are to spend time with them. You are the recipients of a remarkable — and unfortunately rare — gift: You have spent most of your waking hours being told in a million ways, large and small, that you matter, you are important.”
Later in his speech, he acknowledged that the graduates were at a threshold and about to step out into a more complicated world. “Most communities you will join are not built upon the principle of inner light, and most will not be as intimate and connected as this one — this place is truly special.
“But you will carry it with you, a set of tools for shaping your journey, a small voice that lifts you up, an example of how to practice the conviction that everyone matters. … It’s time to take your light into the world and use it to help everyone around you shine all the brighter.”
Graduates Will Durbin and Saria Rosenhaj were selected to give “Senior Reflections” and Nicole Morris presented the class gift, a donation of money that will be used to buy new furniture for the Farmhouse, a favorite spot for students on campus. Noah Rosenfeld introduced the keynote speaker.
At the beginning of the ceremony, members of the junior class formed an aisle made of twin chains of fresh flowers for the graduating seniors and their first grade pages to walk down. Head of School Rich Nourie and Margaret Sayers, Clerk of the School Committee, led the procession into The Grove and joined in handing out the diplomas at the ceremony’s end.
Here is a link to the text of Dr. Erik Talvitie’s commencement speech. You can view two galleries of photos from the graduation ceremony on the AFS Facebook page.
Here is a link to the 2017 AFS Commencement Video.