Honoring Roxbury Latin’s Class of 2020

With typical year-end events, traditions, and culminating celebrations cancelled for students around the world, Roxbury Latin—like all schools—had to be creative about the ways in which we celebrated our graduating Class of 2020. Closing Exercises typically take place with seniors and their families, faculty members and trustees shoulder-to-shoulder in Rousmaniere Hall. On the morning of June 6, the 375th Closing Exercises of The Roxbury Latin School took place virtually—in a manner that was lacking hugs and handshakes, but not tradition, inspiration, and a robust honoring of what our 52 graduating seniors have accomplished in their years at RL. On Sunday, June 7, seniors and their families were invited to come to campus at designated times throughout the afternoon to receive their diplomas from Headmaster Brennan, as well as to receive some gifts from the school, and to have photographs taken on the Senior Grass.  (Watch a video of some of the afternoon’s highlights.)

This year’s Closing Exercises included readings from Class I President Collin Bergstrom, and Assistant Headmaster Mike Pojman. The event included not only pre-recorded renditions of Jerusalem, Commemoration Hymn, and The Founder’s Song, but also a brilliant and powerful virtual performance of the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Glee Club, as well as a quirky and collaborative arrangement of The Founder’s Song played on the piano by graduating senior Jonathan Weiss and Heshie Liebovitz of Class III.

Headmaster Brennan opened the ceremony by expressing his gratitude that, in the face of great disappointment, this school community—faculty, students, parents—responded “like a family: we together have borne the brunt of this historic spectre and done what we could to make the best of it. For four weeks these seniors finished out their classes remotely and for four weeks they pursued their senior projects; in half of these instances boys had to conceive of different projects from what they had originally dreamed of. That said, they have missed events and celebrations that ought to have marked their concluding days at school.

“I am moved by your collective resilience, by your proportionality, by counting whatever blessings we have, and there are plenty of these. When we send our boys off into the world—even if that means to cozy college campuses—we hope they will be strong, that they will embody values we care most about, that they will be honest and kind and thoughtful and forgiving. Usually we have had to wait to see if our graduates would honor these noble aspirations… Not so for the Class of 2020. Indeed in your good will and understanding and grit and grace and gratitude you have evinced all that we could hope for you.”

Delivering the class’s valedictory address, as voted by his classmates, was Avi Attar. He reminded his classmates of the first time they were called “gentlemen” at Roxbury Latin, in the early days of their Sixie year. “Gentlemen is a term of respect, and it’s certainly a lofty label to bestow upon seventh graders. Yet, for this very reason, being called gentlemen perfectly captures the central, underlying fact of our time at RL: a deal of sorts, one that each of us struck up with the school the second we stepped foot on campus. It goes something like this: for three to six years, RL will satisfy your intellectual curiosities, provide eye-opening, passion-stoking opportunities, and offer love and care. Simply put, RL will treat you like a gentleman, and then some. In exchange, however, RL demands something from you. Emblazoned on the far wall of the Refectory for us to look up at every day are the words: From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

“Certainly, we ought to celebrate all that RL has given us, but I think we’d be remiss not to examine the second half of the deal: what has been expected from us. In my mind, these expectations have been far more influential than anything RL could have handed to us. Doing hard things gets you where you want to go, builds character along the way, and makes reaching the destination all the more fulfilling. There’s something truly sweet about knowing you’ve fought hard, struggled valiantly, and done your best. That pride and satisfaction which stems from success, it comes only after hard work. Furthermore, each of us has grand and noble aspirations: visions we wish to see in the world and ways we hope to help others. Whatever those dreams may be, much hard work must go into realizing them, and there’s no substitute for it.”

The commencement address was delivered by an esteemed alumnus—and parent of graduating senior, Liam—President of the Roxbury Latin Board of Trustees Bob O’Connor ’85. Mr. O’Connor harkened back to a post-law school trip he took to Europe, and a visit to Rome’s Capuchin crypt, where surrounded by “the bones of generations of deceased friars,” he read the inscription on the wall: As you are now, we once were. As we are now, you will be. “I thought then about the finitude of life and its preciousness.” Mr. O’Connor shared stories about the joys, successes, and struggles in the life of his grandfather, Jack Rooney—another RL alumnus, Class of 1913—and some of the joys, successes, and struggles in his own life. “Now, these many years later, I remember those words and think about the great continuity of generations of our human family. The monk who wrote those words did not merely meditate upon them alone in his cell. He wrote them for me to read, generations later. I see this as a loving act. One that celebrates life. We don’t talk about the school motto so much any more. It remains, Mortui Vivos Docent—“the dead teach the living.” This is the loving act to which The Roxbury Latin School has dedicated itself. We believe in you, the next generation. It is the great undertaking of our lives to pass on our knowledge, wisdom, and experiences—and our love—to you. I can think of no one better suited to survive, to find opportunities, and to cause change in this uncertain time than you, the graduates of the Roxbury Latin Class of 2020. You have struggled, you have learned to work hard, to persist, to be flexible and creative, to thrive in a diverse community. You have the love and support of your family and your community.”

Three major senior prizes were also awarded during Closing Ceremonies:
The Richard A. Berenberg Prize, for generosity of spirit and concern for others, was presented to Aidan Cook.

The Class of 1913 Award, for significant contributions to the life of the School, was presented to Jonathan Weiss.

The William Coe Collar Award, for achievements and contributions to the School that are deemed by the faculty as most deserving of recognition, was presented to Avi Attar.