Almost 100 seniors at Concord Academy received their diplomas on Friday after a poignant address by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University.
Headmaster Richard Hardy said the diploma “connects you to the past and the future” to sustained applause from the audience of faculty and parents seated under a tent on the verdant campus. See a video here.
“This is your day,” alumna Amy McCarthy of the Board of Trustees told the students. “I am living proof that there is nothing final about today.”
Hardy handed an award to Pakpoom Buabthong of Thailand for being the Thai Scholar for the Class of 2011. Senior Danielle Girdwood cited the teachers who are leaving the campus and class President Andrejs Zarins introduced Gates, a CA parent.
Gates said he wanted his daughter, Maggie, a 1973 grad, to attend a school that educated and fostered the role of women in society and government. He cited Queen Noor of Jordan and Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard, as graduates who came from the independent Main Street boarding and day school.
“CA represents the best of the liberal arts tradition,” said Gates, who intertwined civil rights history and reverence for the First Amendment with his message of making the world a better place, citing the election of Barack Obama as a watershed moment.
He interjected some humor as well.
“On my way down the driveway, someone put a note in my hand that reads, ‘the only thing standing between me and my high school diploma is your speech,’” said Gates, promising to keep it short.
Gates exhorted the graduates to look beyond race, sexual orientation and economic status to build a free society from “a grand mixture of humanity.”
“Let your lives be beacons of light, however you define that,” he said.
He praised Oprah Winfrey for overcoming weighty odds: born poor in rural Mississippi in the 1950s, pregnant at 14, abused as a young child, yet rising to worldwide fame and fortune. He said Winfrey’s family focused on education as the way out of poverty.
“CA has endowed you with an education and a public spirit,” said Gates. “Have the courage to be comfortable with yourself. We all have the power to reinvent ourselves.”
One by one, the students took their diploma from Hardy, and when the last name was announced, and the school song sung, a robust cheer erupted from the chairs. The new graduates began their adult lives.