Grad Interrupted

The Class of 2020 returns to campus for an emotional tribute and joyous celebration.

“Welcome home, Friends,” Head of School Bryan Garman said earlier this week at the Class of 2020 Alumni & Parents Celebration. Part graduation ceremony, part prom, part reunion, the class that had missed out on so much due to the pandemic was back at Sidwell Friends—the first alumni event held on campus since March 2020.

“No group had to deal with so many existential crises,” Garman said. Surrounded by the warm woods and crisp whites of the Robert L. Smith Meeting Room, the design of which was indirectly inspired by the Quaker artist James Turrell, Garman noted that Turrell “invites us to deconstruct reality,” and to find beauty in its most basic components. It was a notion that was tested as “COVID altered perceptions and blurred boundaries” at a foundational level. And yet, Garman noted of the class before him, “You did not just find your light; you shined it on others.”

Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye spoke to the class about their impact on him personally. “After 30 years at Sidwell Friends School,” he said, “this class of 2020 will be a huge chapter.” Along with Assistant Upper School Principal Michael Woods, Crystal Matthews, and Brittany Chase (the caravan of joy), Guèye recalled delivering diplomas by car to each student’s house during the height of lockdown and missing the special sense of closure a proper graduation ceremony infuses in everyone. “In tremendous loss, we must find meaning,” he said. “We cannot get stuck in the past. We must live for the future.” And, so Guèye looked forward, giving the Class of 2020 some parting advice: “If you are a person at peace, you can make peace with your surroundings.”

During an emotional Meeting for Worship, students shared their deep well of gratitude for their Sidwell Friends relationships, one read a poem, and several parents thanked school for instilling a culture of service in their children.

Then the evening turned to one of pure celebration, with a DJ and dancing on the plaza outside the Arts Center, food and drinks in every corner, professional photos on the stairs behind Zartman House, a photo booth for more casual shots, and a food truck dedicated solely to dessert treats.

The sense of joy was palpable, recalling a moment earlier in the evening when Garman asked a Class of 2020 alum what he was feeling. “Happiness,” the alum said. And the room erupted in applause.

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