Nobles Hosts 154th Graduation — and Its First Virtual One
“It is the set of your soul that determines your goal
And not the calm, nor strife.”
― Poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, as cited by Senior Master Nick Nickerson
On May 29, Noble and Greenough School graduated 126 members of the Class of 2020 during its 154th graduation. As School Life Council co-president Madie Majernik said, referring to the pandemic that demanded a virtual celebration: “We did it—and we made history in the process.”
Before the official event began on YouTube Premiere at 10 a.m., members of the class enjoyed a final assembly that included renditions of “American Pie,” Country Roads” and an unforgettable faculty performance of “Lean on Me.”
School Life Council (SLC) co-presidents Majernik and Noah Janfaza addressed their classmates. “Honestly, some of the best memories just come when things go wrong…What a pleasure it has been to grow up with you guys,” Majernik said. “It has truly been a wild ride,” Janfaza said, adding appreciation for the Nobles adults who consistently showed up to every event, on campus or hours away, and showed they cared about students.
“My advice to younger students, and also a charge for younger students: show up,” Janfaza said. “Be there. Be there for your friends, your peers and your school—but most importantly, be there for each other. Because just like that group of faculty who are always there, it’s appreciated more than you know.”
Head of School Dr. Catherine J. Hall told graduating students and their families about a conversation with Fred Gardner, a 1944 Nobles grad. “I knew that Fred had left Nobles after his Class II year in 1943. Since he had turned 18, he could not avoid being drafted into the Army to fight in World War II. I wanted to gain some insights from Fred, to learn from his journey.”
Hall said that Gardner’s storytelling focused on friendship, adventure and joy rather than disappointment. Last fall, Gardner lost his great friend Bobby Lawrence ’44, for whom Lawrence Auditorium is named. The two were friends for more than 70 years.
“I believe that life is not defined by what you miss out on but by what you do instead—by how you choose to approach the new path laid out in front of you,” Hall said.
Before introducing student-elected faculty speaker Nick Nickerson, Hall announced the recipient of the Vernon Greene Award for excellence in teaching: Tilesy Harrington. “Tilesy has epitomized the traits we uphold when we think about excellence in teaching at Nobles. She has modeled ‘relationship before task’ each and every day in her work with the thousands of Nobles students and colleagues.”
At Awards Night the previous evening, many members of the Class of 2020 were also honored. Among them are Madie Majernik and Noah Janfaza, who received the Head of School’s Prize; Nattalie Gualdron and Sebastian Sanchez, who were awarded the Russell B. Stearns Achievement Award; Smita Rajan, who received the Trustees’ Prize for Scholarship; Jackson Phinney, winner of the Bond Prize for Improvement; Finn Crawford, the Miller Medal recipient; and Kevin Chem, who earned the Gleason Award for Academic Excellence.
Nickerson, who is senior master, addressed the Class of 2020. Nickerson shared that, after losing his friend and colleague Bill Kehlenbeck to cancer last year, he lost another friend to cancer in December: Guy Altree, a Nobles grad and Nickerson’s best man. He told students about the loss and was struck by their compassion and kindness in that moment. “You are such a kind and caring class,” he said.
He talked about other life disruptions, including his lost internship during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Instead of that prestigious opportunity, he landed a teaching internship, which changed his life. Nickerson, suggesting that character offers a way through blustery times, recalled lines from a poem that he knows from childhood. “It is the set of your soul that determines your goal/And not the calm, nor strife.”
“Covid-19 may be a highly contagious disease,” Nickerson said, “but it is not nearly as contagious as your hopes and dreams, it is not nearly as powerful as all the knowledge you have gained here at Nobles, and it is not nearly as enduring as your commitment and determination to make this a better world.
Elected by their peers, Saffiyah Coker and Will Moore spoke to their classmates. “If there is one thing that I will take away from my last year at Nobles, it will be that nothing is set in stone,” Coker said.
“No one knew that we would not be sitting together today. I often feel helpless and insignificant when I scroll through my Instagram feed and I see black lives being lost, a virus ravaging communities, poverty and global suffering. We are witnessing the shortcomings of the world with our own eyes. This is the curveball that life has dealt us. Now the question becomes how will we deal with it?”
Moore told of his journey to Nobles in eighth grade from a small town in Vermont. When he attended an interview after a hockey game nearby, his mother explained that things were about to change.
“I was told the real reason that I went to Nobles that day,” he said. “I am paraphrasing here but my mother, in a more loving way said to me, ‘Will, your aunt has cancer, and we are moving to Boston.’ In life, we make sacrifices for those we love.” Moore said that, in time, he came to love his school, including his hockey teammates. Two of them, literally, became his godparents when he was baptized during his time at Nobles.