GROTON -- It was a bright and cheerful day when students at the Groton School rose Sunday morning to find the sun shining and crowds beginning to gather for the school's 129th prize day ceremony.
At midmorning, the 84 graduates of the class of 2014 paraded onto the campus green to the whoops and cheers of thousands of appreciative family, friends and underclassmen.
Guest speaker Stephen Higginson, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sitting in New Orleans, and the father of graduate Christopher Higginson, gave the event's keynote speech, advising students to reason rather than to promote confrontation when facing difficulties away from the "bubble" of Groton School.
"Let people be different," said Higginson in between snippets of poetry. "Be egalitarian."
Higginson told graduates that outside the Groton School, the kind of people who are needed are those who could reconcile opposites in an increasingly polarized world.
At the same time, the judge warned graduates not to hold an over-inflated opinion of themselves simply for having attended the Groton School.
"Don't let your preparedness lead even fractionally to arrogance toward others," Higginson said.
Sounding a similar note of reconciliation over confrontation, the school's new headmaster, Temba Maqubela, told graduates that "life is a school" that teaches many lessons, including the need for inclusion that could be developed in any endeavor.
"In teaching, there is inclusion," he said. "In peace, there is inclusion. In justice, there is inclusion. In forgiveness, there is inclusion. "In the book of inclusion, there are many chapters."
Taking over from former Headmaster Richard Commons last year, Maqubela himself faced the task of inclusion when he stepped in to take over the reins of the private school. It proved to be a smooth transition with members of the graduating class giving him high grades for caring and thoughtfulness.
"We were the first class under the new headmaster, and that turned out to be a really cool experience for us," said senior prefect Genevieve Corman. "We were the first students to kind of hang out with him, and he was really comfortable being with us. He's really good at what he's been doing."
Added fellow prefect Charlie Oberrender, "Having a new headmaster was a big change for us, but I think he ended up learning as much from us as we did from him. He was always willing to listen. It turned out to be quite a surprising relationship."
"He was real friendly as were all of our teachers, whom we got to know on a personal level," added Groton resident Daniel McDonald. "But Groton School and our class being such a tight little community was awesome. It was that small size that appealed to me about the school."
Of the travails graduates suffered over the years, sixth-form speaker John Colloredo-Mansfeld wondered in his speech whether the school could be characterized as a modeling agency or the Marine Corps before deciding the rigors of a leatherneck's life more closely resembled some of the trials he and others had to endure before taking part in the June 1 commencement exercises.
"We learned from each other," said Oberrender of the challenges. "We were all from different places and became tighter as a group in spite of that. It turned out to be something pretty incredible for our form."
Of the 84 graduates, except for a few who intend to take a few years off, all are expected to go on to college or university.
GROTON SCHOOL CLASS OF 2014
Acton: Manjari Ganti.
Ayer: Leah Mozzer.
Boxboro: Violet Papathanasiou.
Concord: William MacEachern.
Groton: Henry Barker, Hannah Conner, Joseph Gentile, Daniel MacDonald, Bijan Oviedo.
Lowell: Yowana Wamala.
Pepperell: Christian Fogarty, Diana Sayegh.
Westford: Courtney Britko, Andrew Popp.
Windham, N.H.: Genevieve Corman.
Also, Mary Adeline, Chelsea Alexander, Henry Bator, Robert Beshere, Matthew Borghi, Lucy Brainard, Axel Brown, Liam Cashel, Yoonyoung Choi, Alexis Ciambotti, Carter Cockrell, Schuyler Colloredo-Mansfeld, Ross Coneybeer, Hayes Cooper, Melissa Cusanello, Teresa Despres, Ycar Devis, Alexandra Dick, James Dickson, Ellie Dolan, Lauren Dorsey, Jessie Ewald, Cynthia Fang, Meredith Fiertz, Samuel Folts, James Forse, Hannah Gain, Cayley Geffen, Charlotte Gemes, Rebecca Gracey, William Groves, Christopher Higginson, Natalia Horvath, Nosheen Hotaki, David Howe, Arim Jeon, Paul Johnson, Desiree Jones, Jeong Jun, Shangyan Li, Sofia LLanso, Evan Long, Kevin Maldonado, Atiba McReynolds, Byunghoon Min, Erik Nadeau, Deki Namgyal, Charles Oberrender, David Ogilvie-Thompson, Lucille Oken, Adeiyewunmi Osinubi, Morgan Pagliocco, Emma Paine, Matthew Pompa, Wyatt Prill, Reed Redman, Rachel Reed, Peter Rhinelander, Jean Salisbury, Lucy Soule, Hadley Stack, Austin Stern, Brittani Taylor, Gabrielle Thomas, Olivia Thompson, James Thorndike, Jack Tyler, Ryan Voon and Zhihao Zhang.