Praised for its courage, resilience and caring, the Class of 2014 at The Derryfield School celebrated commencement on Saturday with humor, humility and grace.
Graduates laughed with delight as a favorite teacher challenged them to "find 20 seconds of insane courage, embarrassing bravery" - and then did just that by lip-synching to snippets of "I Think You're Crazy," "Remember the Name" and "We Weren't Born to Follow."
And graduates and guests alike rose to their feet after Zheyang "Jerry" Xiong delivered the farewell address, relaying his personal journey of growth since his arrival in the United States nearly three years ago from his native China.
"When life changes, it is like being given a blank piece of paper," Xiong said.
"We are young people, energetic and unstoppable. We are able to do things that other people can only dream of doing, and with such ability, we are able to overcome the hardships that accompany changes."
In her welcome address, Leah Holden said she realized this past spring that she had gotten "too comfortable" and didn't feel ready to graduate.
So she bought a ukulele, joined the lacrosse team - "even though I run like a moose" - and got to share in her team's state championship.
"In the next couple of months, we are going to go out into the world and each one of us is going to be challenged to try new things," Holden said. "Don't fight it. Embrace the new every day."
Chosen by the class to give the faculty address, science teacher Robert Bradley told the graduates they're about to have more freedom and control over their own lives than ever. He urged them to risk new experiences and resist the lure of boredom.
"Try to never - or not regularly - be the smartest person in the room," he said. "And if you are, find smarter people or go to a different room."
Valedictorian Bennett Doherty reminded his classmates that they have been blessed with good fortune and now have a responsibility to "discover a cause worth fighting for."
"Growing up, there have always been other people with the ability to make changes, the people in charge," he said. "But now we are the ones who can, and must, be the difference-makers."
Mary Halpin Carter, head of school, urged the class to "be both heroic and humble" in the years to come: "to be heroic in your vision of your life's meaning and to be humble in your approach to your life's work."
As the graduates gathered before the ceremony, they tied purple ribbons on their wrists in honor of two classmates' parents who had died during the students' time at Derryfield, Cory Greer's father and Simon Levenson's mother.
Jennifer Melkonian, associate head of school, reminded the graduates that for their parents, this was the proudest day since the day of their births. "Don't forget to take an opportunity at some point during the day to thank them," she said.
Jennifer LoChiatto rushed in with her grandmother's cameo, a last-minute gift for her daughter Olivia that her own mother had just given her for the occasion. "I'm going to cry," she said, as she pinned it to her daughter's white graduation dress. And then she did.
In his farewell, Xiong said he often thinks about what he'll answer when people ask him where he's from. His "skin and appearance" would indicate the answer is China, he said.
But in his deepest consciousness, he said, "I want to say: I am from Derryfield School, in New Hampshire."
Some of his teachers beamed proudly as they wiped away tears. And the standing ovation was sustained and heartfelt.