On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, The New Century School was proud and thrilled to graduate its second class of 8th-graders, a monumental accomplishment in more ways than one. In a year during which the out-of-the-ordinary became the new ordinary, these middle schoolers faced not only the challenges inherent in adolescence and making the huge transition to high school, but wholly new kinds of challenges as well, including embarking on their coming-of-age journeys during a worldwide pandemic and then witnessing the massive and ongoing societal protest against racism in all its many forms.
Through all of this upheaval, TNCS graduates stayed connected to their values and to each other. While the pandemic forced them to stay physically remote from each other, they nevertheless drew closer together. In fact, the same can be said for the TNCS community as a whole, and we should be proud of this, too.
The TNCS Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2020 took place over Zoom. For anyone worrying that the 8th-graders missed out on not being able to walk across a stage, shake hands, throw their caps in the air, and embrace each other, be consoled. This ceremony—though different, to be sure—was beautiful. Although we can’t show the whole recording here to protect TNCS students’ privacy, participants dropped regularly from the Zoom screen to wipe their tears off camera.
The ceremony began with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan’s welcome. “While we cannot be in person as we had hoped,” she began, “we wish to make this celebration as special as we can. We appreciate you being here as a community and as a family.”
Next, came a video of the TNCS String Ensemble playing “Red Wing,” a feat of production pulled off by former TNCS Strings Instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi.
This was followed by some “Words of Wisdom” from several 8th-graders to 5th-graders, who also graduated (from the TNCS Elementary Program) this year and will begin Middle School for the 2020–2021 school year.
“Middle school is a short and fun ride,” began one student, “but you have to make it that way by beginning with a positive attitude. The work will be harder, and the workload bigger, but that’s life. Think of middle school as a stepping stone for high school, college, and the ‘real world.’ It’s important to let work come before recreation so you can reap the rewards later in life. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your elders for guidance. After all, experience is one of life’s greatest teachers.”
“Always do your homework,” warned another. “It will pile up otherwise, and you will fall behind. To handle the workload, make a schedule and do your work with energy.”
Said a third student: “My words of advice are to not always hang out with the same people. You can get to know new people and realize how cool they are. And be yourself.”
“I want you to know that a lot of exciting things are about to happen to you,” said yet a fourth. “It may seem like there are a lot of obstacles in middle school and a lot of work, but use your time wisely, and you’ll persevere. If you’re going to go to a good high school, you’ll need good grades. Something I learned about myself is that I’m strong. There were times when I wanted to give up and times when I lost faith in my myself, but I pushed myself, and look where I’m at.”
“To be the best version of yourself, avoid the drama—just be yourself. Also put 100% in; don’t do things halfway so you can feel proud of your work.”
“Middle school can be a great experience, but it all depends on your mindset. It will be challenging, but if you decide to face difficulties head on, you will succeed. It all pays off in the end. Stay confident and work hard. These years will shape you as a person. Make good use of them because you’re not going to get them back.”
These sage pieces of advice were followed by an “Homage to the Graduates” by the 7th-graders, some of whom have known each other since kindergarten, in TNCS’s very first days. This segment was especially poignant, as most graduates will attend different high schools, and paths will diverge. In their clips, 7th-graders reminisced about how they met their 8th-grade mentors, celebrated their positive attributes, and wished them good luck. Cue the waterworks!
“See you later friend,” said one. “Hopefully we cross paths another time.”
“Without [my friend], I wouldn’t be the person I am today, taking me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to be my best,” said another. “Good friends are like stars,” she quoted. “You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”
“I look up to [my friend]. She is full of bright ideas, and I admire this. She is an amazing leader and has an adventurous and caring spirit.”
“[My friend] showed me a lot of things that I couldn’t have gotten from anyone else. He showed me my now favorite instrument, the bass guitar. He’s such a caring person. Something I like about him is his plentiful amount of determination. He could always make it work. We’re all rooting for you.”
“[My friend] always stands up for what she believes in. She is a natural leader. Although it is sad to say goodbye, I know we will never forget each other.”
“My favorite thing about [my friend] is his sense of humor, which matches mine. I also admire his smartness. Thank you for being such a great friend to me. Hopefully, we can stay in contact.”
Remarks by one of the six graduating 8th-graders came next. He was challenged more than he thought possible in the last year, he recounted, and was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the creative writing assignments Mrs. Hope gave him.
He feels his creativity, open-mindedness, and intuitiveness have all benefited. He went on to explain what he feels sets TNCS apart.
TNCS prides itself on four core values: Compassion, courage, respect, and service. These are great traits for any student to have, and the teachers and staff put a lot of effort into emphasizing their importance. Perhaps the most impressive feature of TNCS is that it has plenty of both Mandarin and Spanish teachers. The ability to speak the three most spoken languages in the world will be fundamental to ur success. I know this skill set will open many doors for us. Finally, as a parting gift, I’d like to give my fellow graduates a lesson of my own. Until recently, I hadn’t realized the value of hard work. However, I now have purpose and determination to succeed. Congratulations, graduates. I bid you a merry farewell and a great life ahead of you.
Adriana DuPrau spoke next. Although she is now TNCS’s Curriculum Coordinator, she also has the distinction of being one of TNCS’s very first teachers and taught some of these 8th-graders when they were in kindergarten and 1st grade—she taught many of them to read! Mrs. DuPrau remarked that it has been a privilege to watch them learn and grow, and she has been with them the whole way in one capacity or another. It was especially moving to hear her remember them as small children “sitting criss-cross applesauce” on her classroom rug, and then describe them now on the brink of the next big step. “Your journey at TNCS may be ending,” she said, “but the journey of your life is just beginning.” She quoted from “Oh, the Places You Can Go” and closed by saying that it was an honor and pleasure to have watched them “blossom into young scholars, scientists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, mathematicians, and authors. You are articulate and thoughtful, she said, “You have strong voices to express yourself and deep insight to think about the world. You have grown as individuals, too, and what it means to be a kind and caring classmate, friend, and world citizen. You have taught me so much.”
Mrs. DuPrau also thanked parents for entrusting their children’s education to TNCS as well as TNCS teachers for “having great expectations and loving these kids each and every day.”
Surprise guests spoke next, as former TNCS teachers, recent friends, and a Class of 2019 graduate shared their well wishes with the graduates.
“Yours was the very first class I ever taught. In my time at TNCS with you, I knew I met some students who are going to change the world.” –Lindsay Duprey, former TNCS Teacher
“I’m so excited for you guys to be moving onto high school. I absolutely loved being your art teacher and to see you grow as artists over the years. Together, we learned about taking chances and sharing ideas. My wish for you is to keep on dreaming and drawing to make this a more just and beautiful world.” –Jenny Miller, former TNCS Art Teacher
“I wish you good luck your whole life!” —Sr. Ronnie, driver Costa Rica capstone trip
“Hola todos! I am very proud of you, and I wish you the best. I’m so happy I had the chance to see you again when you came to Costa Rica!” –Raquel Álvarez, former TNCS Teacher
“You’re about to face a huge turning point in your life—be ready for it!” Zaila, TNCS Class of 2019
“I’m extremely proud of all of you, and I’m looking for you to do amazing things in the future.” –Martellies Warren, former TNCS Music Teacher
Thank you for making that happen, Mrs. DuPrau!
At this point in the ceremony, Sra. Duncan gave her Commencement Speech.
This year began like so many others, getting back into the routine of going to school. You met Mrs. Hope and rose to that occasion; there was a flurry of activity, such as Hispanic Heritage Night, preparing for high school, and the Winter Concert that made the fall just fly by. We then added two new community celebrations to the winter calendar with Lunar New Year and Black History Month.
It seems especially poignant to me that both of these events occurred not long before we had to close the campus and move to virtual learning. My last memories of all of us together were celebrations of what makes TNCS a wonderful place. The richness of our cultural diversity, the incredible dedication of our teachers and students, and the way we come together as a community. This has served us well during this time when we are most separated.
I have listened to your teachers talk with admiration about how you have adapted to the virtual learning environment. You have supported each other, taken time to read to primary students, and have looked beyond yourselves to talk about your place in the fight for social justice. Members of the Class of 2020, you embody the spirit of our Core Values, Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service, through leading school drives or service initiatives that you chose, having thoughtful and profound conversation with Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Danyali during social-emotional learning lessons, and acting as ambassadors for admissions tours and open houses.
Throughout the planning of this ceremony, it was mentioned repeatedly how much we will all miss you. Your thoughtfulness, your ability to speak up, your care for your school community and the world around you are just a tiny portion of what makes you special. My hope for you is that, as you depart TNCS, you will continue to be the outstanding individuals that you have grown to be, that you heed your own advice that you gave to 5th-graders as you move on to high school—be individuals have a plan for your work, avoid the drama, and cherish the time you have. Please remember TNCS, come back to visit us often, and make your indelible mark on this world that you were destined to make.
The TNCS gate is open; it’s time for you to go. It’s your time.
After her moving and heartfelt words, Sra. Duncan thanked everyone who made this event, and the 2019–2020 school year, possible. Just when the audience thought it couldn’t get any better, the final segment of the ceremony brought the house down.
Tribute to the 8th grade was produced by a TNCS 8th-grader, who is also a TNCS original, having been at the school since its inception.
And with that, goodbye 2019–2020 school year—it’s been not just out of the ordinary . . . it has been extraordinary.
Take pride in how far you have come; have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
–Nameeta Sharma, quoting Michael Josephson
“There’s a reason I’ve never taught 8th-grade—I have such a hard time saying goodbye to my students after just one year, and I’m definitely realizing it today as I’m saying goodbye to you. You are such an incredible group of students and humans, and I’m privileged to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow academically and socially and emotionally. . . I can’t wait to see how you transform the world and what kind of mark you leave on it.”