On the afternoon of June 11, the Class of 2020 prepared to celebrate the close of their senior year. They donned their caps and gowns and posed for family photos, but they did not set out for a commencement ceremony. Instead, they stayed in their homes, gathered in front of computer screens, and watched as a timer ticked down to the start of a virtual celebration. A first in Packer history.
“This is no ordinary class, this has been no ordinary year, and so this is no ordinary celebration," said Head of School Dr. Jennifer Weyburn at the start of the event. "In fact, it is only Part One of our celebrations. This class is so extraordinary that we will continue celebrating into the Class of 2020’s first year as alumni.”
With a formal commencement ceremony still to come for the Class of 2020, this event saw little of the traditional graduation fanfare. The focus of the day was truly a celebration of the class, filled with student-created tributes, original music, speeches, and photos from their years at Packer. It is a class worthy of such a celebration, and not only because of their extraordinary and numerous academic, artistic, and athletic accomplishments. These seniors are passionate activists, graduating into a world wracked by a pandemic and a national movement for racial justice. As Ali Iberraken, Dean of the Class of 2020, phrased it during the celebration, “... a big part of what keeps me going is knowing that we have 96 incredible individuals who are passionate, active, thoughtful, and who know how to bring about change.”
The difficulties of this year were unprecedented, but one thing was clear during the celebration of Packer’s senior class: the future is bright.
“I know we’ll all carry Packer’s warmth to our new homes, but let us also carry Packer’s fire. Ninety-six candle flames lighting up and changing the world.”
— Samir Walji ’20
Jen Weyburn opened the event, then gave the screen over to Grace Warner-Haakmat ’20, who shared her “love letter to the Senior class". Set to an original song by Grace Enger ’20, titled “We Made This House a Home,” a slideshow of senior portraits, which stood in for the usual graduation processional, began. Each portrait was photographed by Warner-Haakmat and embellished with words that the students felt best described them — words like caring, creative, devoted, and truthful. Remarking on these powerful word choices, Head of Upper School Maria Nunes said, “Your intellectual curiosity, your energy, your kindness, your commitment to community, are always present whether we were in the building or spread out across screens.”
Student speakers Liv Furman ’20 and Samir Walji ’20 then took center screen to share a jointly-written speech. “These past few months,” said Liv, “have proven to us that 170 Joralemon, in all its warmth and coziness, is but a convenient and beautiful space we enjoy gathering in. The connections we made within Packer’s walls are not confined to that space.”
After sharing inside jokes particular to their fellow seniors, they went on to voice a painful truth that carried meaning for everyone watching: the last few months have been easy for no one, and they have been filled with lost moments.
“I should start by addressing the Pelican in the room,” said Samir. “Zoom and Minecraft are cool, sure, but we’d rather be together in the real garden, the same place that once held heated freeze tag games, mischievous first kisses, sunny walks to and from the Garden House, and, more recently, an epic dunk contest. Clearly, this isn’t the e-celebration we’d eagerly anticipated.”
Challenging though it has been, if this historic spring has proven anything, it’s that the Class of 2020 is willing to meet a challenge head-on.
“We’re graduating now,” Samir said in closing. “We’re going out into the world, and we have the ability and voice to make real change. We must hold each other accountable to do just that. I know we’ll all carry Packer’s warmth to our new homes, but let us also carry Packer’s fire. Ninety-six candle flames lighting up and changing the world.”
Equally moving was a tribute video by the senior committee. This, too, was a slideshow filled with photos of the Class of 2020, from their earliest years to present. Interspersed among childhood shots and photos of athletic achievements were video clips of the Seniors, sharing powerful words with their peers. “Some of us have been at Packer since the beginning,” they said, “and some joined us partway through, but our bond as a class couldn’t be stronger. From countless May Days and Winter Sings to Forums and Chapels, we’ve come together and inspired each other.”
“I hope that even as we continue to make changes and better ourselves, and as the younger grades become our student leaders, your voices and your footprints will have a guiding and lasting effect.” — Ali Iberraken, Dean of the Class of 2020
No celebration of a graduating class would be complete without a cap toss, and introducing the moment was Class of 2020 Dean Ali Iberraken. Filled with her usual wit and humor, Ali’s words were also a reminder of the impact that the Class of 2020 has made on Packer. “I hope that even as we continue to make changes and better ourselves,” she said, “and as the younger grades become our student leaders, your voices and your footprints will have a guiding and lasting effect.”
The Class of 2020 has faced difficulties unlike any faced by a Senior Class before them, but on the day of their celebration, you wouldn’t have known it. As the more formal speeches gave way for the students to throw their caps from Zoom breakout rooms, each face beamed with pride. This portion of the celebration was not without its hiccups, but if this past semester has taught us anything, it is how to be flexible. Students handled the stumbles and retakes with qualities that will prove necessary for success in college and their future careers — with patience, joy, and adaptability.
Congratulations, Seniors. The Packer community is immensely proud of you and looks forward to following your many future accomplishments.