On June 9, 128 seniors stepped from the grounds of Sidwell Friends School into what life held next.
As students arrived in the dining hall to pick up their bouquets and boutonnieres, white dresses mingled with dark suits as students hugged, took selfies, and tried to take in the fact that they had made it to their commencement. Then the sprint was on to get the traditional pictures taken before the threatening skies opened up, including the senior class photo on the Upper School turf field.
Gathering in the Robert L. Smith Meeting Room for their last Meeting for Worship as Sidwell Friends students, they spoke and shared their heartfelt thoughts, leading to the powerful moment when the realization swept over the students that this would be the last time they turned and shook hands with fellow students.
With proud friends, family, teachers, and staff standing and applauding, the class of 2019 walked into the David P. Pearson ’52 Athletic Center and took their seats. Head of School Bryan Garman welcomed all those present; then Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye read “Remember” by poet Joy Harjo, an excerpt of which says:
Remember you are all people and all people are you.
Remember you are this universe and this universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Sheila Johnson, founder of BET and of the Salamander Hotel & Resorts—and a member of
the Sidwell Friends faculty from 1972-75 and of the Board of Trustees from 1992-96—was the featured speaker. She emphasized the importance of passion and tenacity as the students moved forward in their lives. “Continue to seek knowledge and pursue wisdom,” she exhorted. Sheila also emphasized the need to carry the Sidwell Friends values of community and love as the students moved into this new phase of their lives, particularly in these divided times. “Life has never been about you or about me. Life, and all that matters within it, has always been about us,” she said. “Love will always triumph over hate, but only if enough people are brave enough to join the fray.”
“Love will always triumph over hate, but only if enough people are brave enough to join the fray.” — Sheila Johnson
As Mamadou read each student’s name, they crossed the stage, pausing for a handshake and a photo as Bryan presented them with their diploma. Then—in a moment that was both a long time coming and over too quickly—the class of 2019 became the School’s newest alumni. As they left, giving high-fives and hugs as they recessed down the aisles, they must have remembered the final words of Sheila’s speech, reminding them that although their classes are behind them, their work in living out the lessons they had learned at Sidwell Friends was just beginning.
"You have been gifted a lifetime of homework," Sheila said. "Class dismissed."