BUA Hosts ‘Double-Header’ Commencements at Nickerson Field; Student Speaker Delivers Address in the Style of Amanda Gorman
BUA hosted back-to-back Commencement ceremonies on the morning of Saturday, June 5 at BU's Nickerson Field. The 52 graduates of the Class of 2021 walked across stage to receive their diplomas from Head of School Chris Kolovos. Immediately following, 38 members of the Class of 2020 returned to campus for the graduation ceremony that they never had; their original commencement in May of 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. Nearly 500 guests in total joined for the masked and physically-distanced outdoor events.
Boston University Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore gave the Keynote Address for the Class of 2021 ceremony. In his address, Dean Elmore, paraphrasing Dr. Walter Fluker (who himself delivered the Keynote Address at BUA Commencement in 2018), remarked:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go ahead and do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Dr. Fluker says this is a 'calling of character' that comes from us, from the past, and also the future. It's the remembering of our stories and imagining the possibility inherent in our lives and in our own stories. What makes us come alive nudges us from both dimensions. Imagining grants us permission to come alive, and in this sense the question of calling or purpose is related to who we are, our identities. To know oneself -- to know one's uniqueness with respect to one's gifts, talents, and skills -- is to have a clue as to who you are and to what your purpose is in the world."
Phevos Paschalides '21 and Benista Owusu-Amo '21 gave the student addresses; Aditi Deokar '21 and Lily Sensen '21 recited the Classics orations in Latin and Greek, respectively.
Owuso-Amo delivered her remarks in the style of Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb," which she performed at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. The video of the 2021 Commencement ceremony is available at this link. Owuso-Amo's Commencement Poem begins at the 23:10 minute mark, and is reprinted in its entirety below.
Boston University Academy’s Class of 2021,
After we receive our diplomas today,
Who will we be?
The obvious answers: alumni, college freshmen, adults...
But who will we be,
of the three
or four years we spent here?
To answer this question, it helps to go back to the start.
For many of us, the beginning of BUA was an introduction to high school in the city,
to new classmates,
to immense opportunity,
to new expectations,
and to foreign concepts like MLA and Chicago citations.
By sophomore year, we integrated into a community,
the workload increased,
but we carried on.
We braved the storms of adolescence together like steady rocks,
taking on deadlines, and memorizing
History dates, all by A block.
As juniors, we felt ourselves nearing the final stretch,
we strengthened our friendships,
formed new ones,
supported one another,
entered the college process,
took advanced classes,
as Amanda Gorman said so passionately,
we learned that what “just is” in this country
is not always just-ice.
In the midst of a world filled with uncertainty,
this class remained faithful to its character.
We continued to educate ourselves.
We implemented changes in our personal lives.
And we brought them into parts of our school’s culture,
serving as role models for the younger classes as we transitioned to a virtual world.
And the drive of this grade goes beyond leadership.
We are also fueled by our interests in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and athletics.
For some of us, our interests are a little bit more poetic,
delving into the realms of music, drama, literature, and for some, fashion aesthetics.
And for the rest of us, our interests are a mix of any and everything.
If there is one trait the class of ‘21 possesses, it’s passion.
You can see it in the stairwells and hallways,
Where your eyes will be blessed
by the pencil and paint strokes of
our talented multimedia artists.
You can hear it in classrooms,
where we discuss ancient texts and theorems
as well as exchange memes and jokes.
Some of us have already figured out what field leaves our hearts and minds ignited,
and some of us are venturing into the world, completely undecided.
And that’s okay.
But now we’re back to the original question:
who will we be after today?
Think of a branch on a 27-year-old great oak tree.
A branch that is an individual,
one who will absorb sunlight,
sprout its own leaves,
and bear its own fruit.
A branch that stems from a sturdy trunk connecting us,
and connecting the memories we have made over these monumental years.
And this trunk is upheld by thick buttress roots,
entrenched in the gems of knowledge we have acquired here.
And I mean more than just derivatives, balancing equations,
Formatting papers, and analyzing historical documents.
These gems were created for us.
We molded them by forming study groups and helping our peers with material.
We molded them by encouraging each other to strive to be our best selves.
We molded them by cheering for our classmates as they made baskets,
acted on stages,
protected the environment,
and uplifted the powerful voice of our generation.
These are our gems:
perseverance, community, compassion, inclusivity, kindness, and so many more.
So who are we?
This is the best way I can describe it.
We are branches that are connected by the experiences and jems we acquired at BUA.
We are branches nourished by the water that is our supportive families and our own determination.
We are all part of a giant tree with the sun shining right above us,
and the only direction we can go is up,
up towards that warmth,
towards new friendships,
towards new experiences,
towards new gems.
That’s where we’ll go.
And that’s who we’ll be.
But the roots of our tree will stay with BUA.
I have loved my time at BUA and I can tell you that this class is truly one of a kind.
Thank you so much for listening to me,
I wish my peers all the best in their future endeavors,
and I want to end by saying that I know that when faced with challenges in the future,
Boston University Academy’s Class of 2021 will never ever ever run.
Because if there’s one thing we all know,
It’s that nihil doctis arduum.
Friedrich was also one of the 15 Massachusetts’ semifinalists chosen to represent Massachusetts for the US Presidential Scholar’s Program. From nearly 3.6 million graduating high school seniors from across the country, over 6,500 students were identified as candidates in this program, and 625 semifinalists were selected. These semi-finalists form the pool from which the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be chosen in Mid-May.
The Presidential Scholar’s Program recognizes and honors some of our Nation’s most distinguished graduating seniors.
Congratulations, Friedrich, on these impressive accomplishments!
Seniors in May sometimes share with us that their parents start behaving particularly oddly. They tear up for no obvious reason, unearth baby pictures, tell stories about their senior’s elementary school years, or try to renew old family traditions like board game nights! Seniors are also processing the same looming transition. Some cling to home and comfort, watch movies from their childhood, and nest with their families. Others go in the other direction, developing what may feel to parents like an allergy to being at home. “I’m going to IHOP with my friends -- don’t wait up. Can I borrow the car?” They are investing in those relationships and friend groups that will never be quite the same after this summer.
There’s also a deeper question many seniors are wrestling with in May: “What was this all for?” They are realizing, some for the first time, that high school cannot have simply been about getting into the right college. With that process largely in the rear-view mirror, they are beginning to see that there will always be another goal -- an internship, graduate school, a first job, a promotion, a second career. There must be more to it: something more meaningful, some reason behind all the time and energy they put into the past four years.
We do young people a great disservice when we ignore the fact that they, like adults, are searching for meaning. Viktor Frankel, in his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, famously explored this idea and inspired the next generation of researchers. I recommend William Damon’s The Path to Purpose for those interested in an evidence-based study of the central role purpose plays in the lives of young people.
My headmaster when I was a boy often shared a story about conversations he -- as a person of the cloth -- had with people nearing the end of their lives. When asked what they were proudest of, very few spoke about their careers, wealth, or status. Nearly all talked about the loving relationships they had fostered and the ways in which they had improved the lives of others.
For seniors who are asking what all this was for, look first to your relationships. You have met teachers who will be life-long mentors. You have made friends who will be in your weddings years from now. You have found ways to move your school forward through your advocacy and example. And in small, quiet moments, you have supported one another with kindness and empathy. That is your legacy.
What will school look like next year?
Will things go back to normal?
What will be the new normal?
I am proud of the way this community has managed the pandemic. Our commitment to maximizing in-person learning has been based on a fundamental belief that kids learn and grow best when they are able to build relationships with one another and their teachers. While you can try to do that through a screen, there is no substitute for human contact. These students and teachers have willingly, and often joyfully, accepted the restrictions this year has demanded. The fact that we’ve nearly finished the year having missed no days of school to COVID is a testament to them.
And I have met nobody who wants to do it again.
Our hope and intent for next year is to return to normal, with five days of in-person learning, seminar-style classroom setups, large community moments, robust performing arts, and interscholastic athletics. All of that, of course, depends on vaccination rates, vaccine availability for our students, efficacy of the vaccine with the coming of new variants, public health guidance, and a host of other factors we can’t predict. But, if we stay on this trajectory, we should be headed back to normal in the fall.
Returning to normal, though, cannot mean ignoring the lessons we’ve learned this year. There has been more innovation in teaching and learning in the past fifteen months than in the past fifteen years. What can we take from this experience that will make school better for students and families?
In these early days, a few lessons seem clear.
Traditional school schedules don’t work for kids. This year, we had a chance to experiment with late starts and fewer classes per day (with fewer homework preps per night), and longer class periods. I am proud that we have already incorporated those features into next year’s schedule. This is our chance, as a school and as a society, to finally act on what research has been telling us for decades: students learn best when they are well rested, when they have a manageable number of assignments per night, and when they have more time in classes for deep, hands-on inquiry.
We have learned that that new tools and approaches can engage quieter, more introverted students. For years, I have sympathized with parents who are tired of reading the same comment on semester reports: “We wish that Billy would speak up more in class.” Being quiet does not mean being disengaged; Susan Cain’s wonderful book, Quiet, is a fascinating and important exploration of the power of introverts. Look at what happens in an English class when you activate the chat feature in Zoom or ask students to free-write in a Google doc before beginning a conversation. We hear student voices that are otherwise silent. It is not hard to imagine incorporating those tools into an in-person experience. Here at BUA, we already have.
We have found much more equitable ways to engage with parents and guardians in our community, too. In-person parent-teacher conferences on a weekday afternoon, 10am meetings with college and guidance counselors, evening community events — they all disadvantage single-parent households and families with two working parents. They impose a sort of school-engagement tax, which is paid by all and unequally levied. This is not a case for Zoom-only parent and community engagement. But it is worth asking how we can use technology to connect with families in ways that are not only more convenient, but more equitable.
Schools need to return to normal. And they should never be the same.
On Monday afternoon, the BUA community gathered -- some in the black box theater and many others on Zoom -- for one of this school’s great traditions. Twelve students from across the grades stood up in front of their peers to deliver Latin and Greek declamations, channeling Homer, Solon, Sophocles, Cicero, Catulus, Livy, Virgil, Ovid, and even Queen Elizabeth I (berating the Polish ambassador in 1597!). They spoke with poise, passion, skill, and more than a little bravery. The reaction of the audience impressed me nearly as much -- from the thunderous applause in the room for a student who fought through a passage that tried hard to evade her memory to the dozens of loving chat messages offering encouragement, praise, and heart emojis. And then, when the panel of judges stepped away to deliberate and choose the prize winners, another tradition reemerged to fill the time. Some juniors in the audience -- with big smiles -- recited the prologue of The Canterbury Tales, drawing on a long-standing sophomore rite of passage. That opened the door to more impromptu recitations: 51(!) digits of pi, the preamble to the Constitution, and snippets of classical declamations past.
From its first days, BUA has been an unapologetically intellectual place -- a place where curiosity is king, where the cerebral is celebrated. In the words of our mission, it is where students who love learning come to find challenge. And you’ll notice that we almost never speak about curiosity without mentioning its cousin: kindness. What we care about most is what kind of person a student is and how each of us contributes to this caring community.
Traditions remind us of who we are. This week’s declamations were a beautiful reminder of our twin commitments to joyful intellectual curiosity and to a community built on kindness, respect, and love for one another.
On April 29, over 200 BUA students, alumni/ae, current and past parents, faculty, and staff logged on to celebrate BUA's Retiring Great Teachers: Gordon Harvey, Liz Cellucci, and Rich Horn. It was an evening full of emotion and community feeling, as generations of BUAers came together to share memories and honor these three teachers, and to wish them well in their next adventures. In case you missed it -- or if you want to watch again! -- the complete recording of the event is available here.
Over the past several weeks, our seniors have shared their Senior Thesis presentations — a beautiful showcase of their year-long efforts conducting research and writing an original piece of scholarship in an area of passion. Students work on those projects in partnership with a BUA faculty mentor and an outside expert: very often a BU professor, but sometimes another researcher or scholar in the field.
The range of topics this year reflects the breadth of our students’ interests. Many dive deep into an area of scientific inquiry, often conducting research in labs around the area, and sometimes publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals. I heard presentations on using machine learning to improve genetic data analysis and health outcomes; applying lessons from tuna fins to increase maneuverability of large ships; and programming satellites to detect micro-plastic ocean pollution. I heard from students who explored topics in the humanities and social sciences: analyzing the influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan; comparing Milton Friedman’s theoretical case for school vouchers with international case studies where vouchers systems have been implemented; predicting the future of telehealth using the lens of economic sociology. And these are only six of the 52 research projects our students engaged in this year.
One moment struck me in particular during this year’s presentations. During a senior-thesis Q&A, a student shared that while he loved math, it was when he applied differential equations to his engineering design project that the math really came to life. He saw the beauty and the purpose of that knowledge — and that he could use it to make a difference.
The tradition of writing an original piece of scholarship and sharing that work goes back to the school’s founding. It is built on the core assumptions that our students are capable of doing extraordinary work and that the deepest learning happens when students, independently but with mentoring, explore that place where their passion and real-world impact intersect. It reminds me of the central lesson of one of my favorite books: William Damon’s The Path to Purpose. One of our jobs — as parents, educators, and mentors — is not just to prepare students for a life of purpose someday, but to create opportunities for them to engage in purposeful work right now. Our seniors have done just that through these projects, and I congratulate them on their extraordinary research.
Abhi Lingareddy '22 presented his research on the urban heat island effect at the Campus Climate Lab Info Session as part of this week's BU Sustainability Earth Week 2021. Abhi is conducting this research for his senior thesis in concert with -- and funded by -- Boston University's Campus Climate Lab under the guidance of Professor Dan Li and Ms. Victoria Perrone. This project will measure how various surfaces in an urban setting impact temperature by using sensors placed around the BU campus, with the goal of analyzing the impact of existing solutions to the urban heat island effect: white roofs, green roofs, and landscaping. The resulting data will determine how effective solutions these are at reducing temperatures, and whether BU should invest time and money into converting existing surfaces into more sustainable ones in order to slow climate change.
We have just wrapped up a historic year in admissions. Our applications were up 30% from last year’s all-time high, which put us in a position to be more selective in our admissions process than ever before. Our yield — the rate at which accepted students enroll at BUA — was also at its highest point in this school’s history. As a result, we have been able to bring together another extraordinarily talented, diverse group of new students who share this community’s commitments to kindness and curiosity. We can’t wait to welcome them in the fall.
We know that the way this school adapted to the pandemic is part of the reason for this year’s admissions results. We have heard from prospective families that, given their experience over the past thirteen months, they were looking for a school that prioritized in-person learning and had the resources and agility to make that possible. We also know that there is more to the story. The reputation of this school continues to grow as a place that offers far more opportunity than schools many times our size, while preserving a family feel and a culture of belonging. And Ms. Hakimi and her team, along with our parent volunteers, student tour guides, alumni interviewers, and faculty panelists — they all form a network of advocates for BUA who both tell our story and make prospective students and families feel at home even before they join us.
I’ve read that roughly 80% of families and students find their way to independent schools through word of mouth, and my conversations with current families and graduates confirms that. One alumna told me that her piano teacher (and past BUA parent) had recommended the school. A current family told me that a neighbor talked up BUA on the sidelines of a soccer game and shared how it had been transformative for her children. Another current parent told me about his experience working with BUA alums in his lab, being impressed, and looking into the school for his own family. Finding the right school is among the most important decisions that families make, and it makes sense that hearing from a trusted source makes all the difference. Our families, students, and alumni are our best ambassadors, and I feel so lucky to be in a community where you all take such an active role in spreading the good word about this special place. Thank you.
Thanks to our amazing and generous alumni community, BUA raised over $85,000 from 254 donors in 24 hours on #BUAGivingDay!
BUA set a new record for participation, with nearly DOUBLE the number of gifts compared to our last Giving Day. We also placed 4th out of all Boston University schools and colleges on the university-wide participation leaderboard.
With 143 parent and grandparent gifts and 120 alumni gifts, we exceeded both our Faculty Appreciation Challenge AND our Alumni Challenge, unlocking a food truck celebration for the BUA faculty/staff and an additional $30,000 for BUA, respectively.
This outpouring of support is a testament to the strength of our community and the warmth, gratitude, and connection so many of us feel towards BUA.
Watch this brief thank you video from Head of School Chris Kolovos: