The Gunston School honored its class of 2020 with a week-long celebration. It began with seniors and their families arriving individually to campus to partake in the annual tradition of laying a brick engraved with their name and graduation year on the pathway leading up to Gunston’s original building, called Middleton House, followed by a diploma parade, and concluding with a virtual commencement ceremony featuring an Emmy-award winning alumna.
“I want to thank our teachers and faculty for putting together a week of celebration. We didn’t have a traditional end to our senior year but this week was such a memorable experience. I really enjoyed the diploma parade because it was a chance for the entire senior class to be together one last time,” says Student Government President Mason Rudolfs.
On Friday, June 5, the virtual Green & White Awards ceremony announced 26 different awards for students and various recognitions from the greater community, as well as the much-anticipated announcement of the Green & White Cup. Twice each year, Gunston declares a “Green & White field day” as students, faculty and staff divide into two teams and compete in activities that range from canoe races to math competitions, creative writing challenges, and more. The team accumulating the most points from both days wins the Green & White Cup. This spring, the second field day was cancelled due to the pandemic, so students and faculty were able to accumulate points by doing various social media challenges, volunteering, and completing assignments. Click here to see a full list of awards and recipients.
Senior Class President Isabella Santoboni announced the senior class gift to the World Health Organization’s COVID Solidarity Response Fund. “Our donation is a way of giving the class of 2020 a voice: in a situation in which we feel so powerless, this donation is a way for us to be a part of the solution.” In addition, the 2019-2020 school year marked several milestones for faculty, including 35 years of service for Assistant Head of School Christie Grabis, and ten years of service for Head of School John Lewis.
Later in the day on Friday, a procession of vehicles with seniors and their families made its way down the circular drive on Gunston’s campus for a Diploma Parade, waving to faculty and staff lining the road before receiving their diplomas from Lewis. The rest of the Gunston Community was invited to watch the event live via Gunston’s YouTube Channel and interviews by Bruce Grove of Queen Anne’s County Television (QACTV).
“For the class of 2020, the Coronavirus stole their traditional graduation ceremony. However, Gunston did an incredible job of showing their support for the students and their families,” says parent Karen Talbott. “Thank you for what was undoubtedly lots of hard work and countless meetings. This was a graduation experience that we will never forget. Every detail was so well planned, from the pictures and videos that we were able to share with family and friends, to the thoughtfulness of the parting gifts, awards, and diploma parade! We are so proud and honored to be a part of the Gunston community.”
In keeping with tradition, Saturday’s virtual commencement began with Bagpiper Robert Wallace and was followed by several speakers. Highlights include remarks from Senior Class President Isabella Santoboni, Chair of the Board of Gunston’s Trustees Jim Wright, and Middleton Award (Valedictorian) winner William Newberg.
“Will Newberg has been the kind of citizen and human being who has gained the admiration and respect of every member of his class; someone who not only always shows up to work hard, but also wants to support the hard work of others,” says Lewis. “The Middleton Award is an academic award, but Will embodies all of those other qualities in our Responsibilities of the Community—respect, camaraderie, and honesty—that carried him far at Gunston, and will carry him even farther in life.”
Newberg began his speech thanking the entire staff and faculty of Gunston, as well as all of the Gunston parents for their support over the last four years. Newberg reflected on what he began to miss the most during quarantine. “I remember when I first learned that we weren’t going back to campus this semester. My mind went immediately to the big events left in the year—Green and White Day, prom, junior/senior day—it seemed obvious to mourn the big events before all else. But eventually, as daily life in quarantine began to sink in, I realized I wasn’t exactly right and I began to miss all the little things about Gunston.” Newberg described the little things as sitting with his friends in the Atrium and walking through campus on a beautiful spring day on his way to class.
“Not only had I not recognized the small experiences throughout the day that made life better, but I wasn’t taking full advantage of them either. […] I can’t tell you how many times I walked to my classes and didn’t notice how beautiful campus was because I was stressed about something that, in hindsight, wasn’t important. As both a graduate and having lost this last quarter to the Coronavirus, I can say that all of these little moments matter. Take advantage of them while you have the chance.”
Gunston alumna Rita Baghdadi, class of 2003, gave this year’s commencement address. Baghdadi graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Film from Columbia College Chicago before starting her career in international film sales in Los Angeles. In addition to running her own company, Baghdadi is a member of Free The Bid, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Film Fatales and the ICFC : International Collective of Female Cinematographers. When she’s not in the field, Baghdadi is dedicated to empowering girls and women through film training. She is an Advisor for the Sundance Co//ab Documentary Film Course, co-founder and organizer of the group Women in Documentary Filmmaking and an active mentor with GlobalGirl Media. Recently, Rita was hired to produce and direct City Rising. The film earned three Emmy awards including Best Social Issue Film.
“I’ll be honest, when I first sat down to write this, I was conflicted, wondering how am I going to say something inspirational about the future when the future looks so uncertain? And then I sat down and thought about it. Doesn’t the future always look uncertain?” began Baghdadi. “In fact, isn’t that what makes life beautiful, is that we don’t know where it is going to take us.”
She went on to recall her time at Gunston including the time she started a film club and attempted to orchestrate a filming where she threw a dummy out of a third floor window on campus. “Well that wasn’t going to happen so I had to figure out a way to fake it in the edit. I’m sure I drove the staff nuts, so thanks for putting up with me. But really, it was that nurturing environment, the freedom to be myself and try new things, the personal attention. That’s what made Gunston so special.”
Baghdadi also recalled forgetting her lines in a school play and laughing on stage while the audience joined in with laughter, as well as playing field hockey in freezing cold weather with numb fingers, squinting through the sleet.
“I share these experiences, because it’s often the challenging experiences I remember the most and that’s because hardship is the essence of a good story,” she said. “So my advice, which is something I wish someone had said to me a long time ago, is don’t wait for someone to tell you your idea is good. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re good enough. […] These days we are living in a time of great change, […] we have the ability to reimagine what’s possible, to move forward in a different way. The world needs curious minds to fathom better futures. That is exactly what you represent. After graduating, it doesn’t matter what field you go into, […] just remember that your ideas and your decisions matter. They mean something. You’re one person, but you’re part of an entire world and everything you do has a cause and effect. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something. What do you want to master? […] What if you started by mastering the art of listening to your instinct? The art of human connection, of trust, and empathy. What would the world look like if everyone cared as much as you? Be curious, and most importantly, help people, help others along the way.”
The virtual commencement ceremony concluded with artfully crafted senior tributes, featuring a montage of photos for each student from the last four years as Lewis reflected on their individual journey and shared anecdotal stories about each student that he had spent the last four years meticulously collecting especially for this day. In addition, each tribute included remarks from each student’s faculty advisor.
Behind the scenes, Gunston staff and faculty began to plan for the virtual ceremony in late April, after realizing that an in-person celebration would not be possible. Gunston parent Torrey Pocock, owner of Riggo Productions, in Annapolis, MD stepped in to help.
“We jumped at the opportunity to help Gunston create a special moment for students and families using video and live video content. Knowing they would not get to experience the graduation they looked forward to for years, we wanted to help create something special,” says Pocock. “The hours and work were intense over a six week period of time, but pale in comparison to the work the school, administration and faculty put in to make sure each student had an online learning experience needed to meet the demands of the school’s academic standards during the COVID-19 quarantine and physical campus shut down.”
All of the videos were pre-recorded in the month leading up to graduation and streamed live. Filming took place over the course of about 11 days and 175 hours, both on location at Gunston and at Riggo Pro’s studio. Pocock and 11 crew members spent an additional 241 hours of editing to produce 92 individual student tribute and senior quote videos; 30 individual Green & White Award videos; the diploma printing process with Mr. Kaylor; a 1.5 hour live stream with drone footage for the diploma parade; and a 2 hour live stream pre-produced commencement show with six speakers (although that number is seven, if you include the bagpiper).
“Torrey Pocock and his team have done a beautiful job of capturing the deep love and care that our faculty, students, and community have for Gunston’s seniors in these heartfelt productions. Their dedication and artistry shine through in what will be one of the most memorable graduations in Gunston’s 109-year history! Thank you to all who had a part in creating such a meaningful celebration for our 2020 Graduates!” said Mark Wiening, Dean of Students and chair of the Graduation Committee.
Gunston’s 46 graduates include Andrew Amygdalos, Eileen Ashley, Yuntian (Areopl) Bai, Annie Bamford, MacCallum Borghardt, Mark Bourdin, Stephen Brown, Cotter Buckley, Michaela Campbell, Jianna Casiello, Ni (Katherine) Chen, Ruwen (Sona) Chen, Zaria Dalton, Nina De Angelo, Kate Dieterle, Keller Evans, Francesca (Frankie) Fisher, Cedar Foster, Annabelle Gillespie, David (Gabriel) Hightower, Lynsey Hildebrand, Grace Holmes, Wyatt Howell, Nicholas Kellogg, Xingyi (Liz) Li, Zeyu (Sage) Liu, Payton Lord, Hunter Mansfield, William Newberg, Michael Nickerson, John Pettit, Daphne Provance, Erica Reece, Madison Rudder, Mason Rudolfs, Isabella Santoboni, Maximillian (Max) Scott, Peter Sharpless, Abigail (Abby) Silva, Jackson Talbott, Qirui (Allen) Wang, Owen White, Hansheng (Leo) Xiao, Shijie (Daniel) Ye, Jiamin (Jimmy) Zhao, and Yaxuan (Joey) Zhuo.
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