As she and 88 other Madeira School seniors prepared to receive their diplomas May 21, student speaker Salimah Hagmagid revealed how teachers in every field at the school had helped prepare the graduates for life.
Math teachers stressed that problems have patterns that make them solvable; those teaching science underscored that the world always has been complex; and foreign-language teachers emphasized that the students are global citizens, she said.
Hagmagid, who will study fashion and creative writing at Howard University, added that Madeira’s history teachers showed how much the past influences the present. Art teachers stressed the importance of creativity and expression, while those teaching English emphasized that “words are the monuments of our lives,” she said.
In her four years at Madeira, Hagmagid said she had learned to “speak up for what I believe in, need and am curious about.”
Unlike in previous years, when Madeira held commencements at its outdoor amphitheater in the woods, pandemic concerns led administrators to hold this year’s graduation under a massive, white, open-sided tent near the school’s soccer field. (One benefit: fewer Brood X cicadas to pester those present.)
The graduates followed Madeira’s long tradition of carrying 13 red roses to symbolize the 13 students who were part of the school’s first graduating class. Class members also wore white attire – most donned dresses, but at least one wore a suit.
The Class of 2021’s graduates selected 60 different places for college, said Head of School Gretchen Warner, who took over the leadership post last year from the retiring Pilar Cabeza de Vaca.
Six of the graduates will study arts; six communications; six social sciences; seven liberal arts such as English, history and philosophy; 10 business; 15 political science or international relations; 24 STEM fields, medicine or public health; and four will play athletics at the collegiate level, Warner said.
The past year has taught the need for resilience, which the graduates can build by calming their minds, being in the moment, getting involved and connecting with people through compassion, Warner said. Her final advice: “Be wise, take care of yourself and be true to your roots.”
Board of Trustees president Gaither Smoot Deaton (Class of 1988) recalled Madeira’s long-standing traditions, including an alumni senior dinner, class rings and a bunch called the “Bush Patrol,” who would use squirt guns to flush out couples in bushes during mixers.
In her keynote address, Rear Adm. Estella Jones of the U.S. Public Health Service told of growing up poor in Columbus, Ohio, and attending an overcrowded school that seemed to destine her for failure. But one teacher saw her potential, forced her to be more serious about her studies and had her tutor children in math and science.
Jones told the graduates to trust their instincts; don’t be too hard on themselves; take time to discover who they are and what they want; don’t succumb to societal or peer pressure; respect the bodies they live in; and understand that self-care is not selfish.
Life is full of heartbreak and beauty, despair and hope, victories and crushing defeats, she said.
“Setbacks set the stage for comebacks,” Jones said. “The present is where you lay the foundation for the future. Be fearless.”
Imam Mohamed Magid gave the ceremony’s invocation and benediction. He asked class members to continue to pray for the healing of the nation and the world and expressed the hope that they would make their way through life with patience, wisdom, compassion and courage.
The graduates approached the stage one row of socially distanced folding chairs at a time and received their diplomas. Most accepted diplomas from Warner, but some received them from their mothers if they were Madeira alumnae. Several class members who attended classes from foreign countries sent videos of their accepting diplomas, which drew cheers from the crowd.
Following the slow recessional out of the tent, graduates made a beeline for refreshment tables set out on the lawn about 100 yards away. Instead of the usual lavish spread of fresh fruit, hors d’oeuvres and lemonade, the spread consisted of bottled drinks and boxed food items.
The graduates took the most pleasure, however, in hugging and posing for pictures with friends, family members and classmates.