On Tuesday, June 9, 2020, Winsor celebrated the 67 graduates of the Class of 2020. The 126th Commencement was the first in Winsor history to be virtual, and families gathered to celebrate the students, and commemorate what will surely be remembered as a “landmark year.”
The ceremony opened with the members of the senior class joining the call live, from their homes, with their families. Head of School Sarah Pelmas opened the ceremony with remarks on the state of unrest in our nation, standing in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and calling for a moment of silence to honor Geroge Flyod, who was killed by police, and all those who have been victim to racism in this country.
Acknowledging the “very complex and troubled times we are in,” Ms. Pelmas reflected on how events like graduation, when a community comes together to celebrate, are even more important. At times like these, she said, “it’s not only good to celebrate, it’s utterly crucial that we do.”
Allison Kaneb Pellegrino ’89, P’21, ’22, president of the Winsor Corporation, also offered congratulations to the graduates, sharing her own wisdom and reflections. “This is a school that respects girls for what they have to have to say and write and share. This is a place where it’s cool to be smart. When you leave here take that mindset with you.” Encouraging students to go forward, and tackle new challenges head-on, she added, “I say this every year, but don’t forget about us on Pilgrim Road. Come back often and share what you’re doing and learning with all of us. We will miss you!”
Next, Isabel Leonetti ’20 delivered the class reading, selected from the Pantom Tollbooth. And Class VIII president Isabella Sibble ‘20 introduced this year’s special Commencement speaker, Pamela Parks McLaurin ‘71, who will be retiring this spring after 18 years as Winsor’s Director of Admission and Financial Aid.
During a time when social distancing has required virtual interactions to replace in-person connections, Ms. McLaurin gracefully bridged a gap the way only someone with such history with the class could have done. After all, she is the only member of the community who interviewed every member of the class, getting to know them as students and individuals before they started on their Winsor journey. With humor, great warmth, and tremendous clarity, Ms. McLaurin recounted her first interactions with this incredible group, from what they shared about their families, to what they loved about Winsor. “Lulu loved the oldness of the buildings” and “Isabella even stood up to make her point! Doesn’t that sound like Isabella?” In an endearing look back at the young women they once were, when they first set foot on Pilgrim Road as prospective students, she shared what each of them had proposed as the new club they would start if they were students at Winsor. And before closing, in the beautiful voice the Winsor community has come to know so well from her years as a leader of W.I.S.E., she sang an old sang, fitting for the group of seniors who have worked hard, accomplished so much, and are poised to move on to the next chapter in their lives. The song’s refrain, an uplifting “you’ve been too long in one place, and it’s time to go.”
Senior class speaker Asrah Rizvi ‘20 reflected on a year, and a celebration, all the more bittersweet in light of the unexpected end to their time on campus as a class, and the need to say good-bye over zoom. She thanked her classmates for the constant support, allowing her to express herself, and her art. She recalled bonding over painting the homeroom, and the joy when the senior cheer won on Spirit Day.
"There's nothing I can do to resolve the complicated feelings we all have graduating in the middle of a pandemic," she said, but offered a few key things the past few months have made clear. First, she called on her peers to "be grateful for the privliges you hold, and use them as you are able to support others who need it," recognizing the initiative many of her peers have taken to support businesses during the pandemic, and take a stand in the fight to end racism and ensure justice. "It's this kind of leadership our country needs right now, and I could not be more proud of our class."
She also implored,"Take the time for yourself and your people - during the epandemic, and beyond," reminding her peers to remember their roots, and prioritize staying connected with the people in their lives that matter. And finally, of this moment, she shared, "Know that you are worthy and ready and get hyped for what's in store for your future! We have all been waiting for this moment!"
Ms. Pelmas gave the final remarks, sharing reflections on the accomplishments of the Class of 2020, and on the challenges and victories that lie ahead. With a nod to breaking barriers of all kinds, including parallels to space flight, she remarked, “We literally do have to aim for the stars, for other worlds--we have to break barriers and hurl ourselves into the unknown,” adding that after all, “there is no way to fly to the heavens without dreaming big.”
Thanking the class for their courage and leadership, she shared, “We are better because of you. Individually, each one of us has learned something from you and been part of something unique and glorious because of you. Together, you have shown us what leadership, resilience, and commitment look like. And it has not been without struggles, sometimes extremely daunting struggles. Your gifts and your accomplishments are all the more profound and extraordinary because of those struggles.”
Wishing the Class of 2020 a final farewell as they head out from Winsor, she offered these final words of encouragement. “I know that you will launch yourselves into space and you will continue to seek the truth in this world as well. We need you to do both--to ensure that this planet regains its health and that people learn to live in love and respect with one another, and also to strive for the impossible and the unknown, the worlds away from here, the ones we barely even dream of right now. I know you can do this. I know you will make a difference. How do I know this? Because you already do.”
In keeping with the traditions of the ceremony, Jeremiah Hickman-Maynard ’23, Shantel Texeira ’20, and Nazira Calhoun ’20 delivered an inspirational rendition of the traditional commencement song, “Lift Ev’ry Voice.” And the ceremony closed with a beautiful recorded performance by Senior Small of “This is Not Goodbye,” as the seniors waved and reveled in the moment with family and friends.