Buckley held a long-awaited, in-person, socially distanced commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 on July 18, about a month after it had initially been scheduled.
Notwithstanding the safety protocols related to the current health crisis, on that beautiful summer day, the Class of 2020 proudly and confidently marched under the tent accompanied by the processional sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” and all the century-old pageantry and stateliness of Buckley graduations. The ceremony was attended by the graduates’ families and was live-streamed on YouTube for the rest of the community to enjoy.
Minister Thurston O’Neal from the Christian Cultural Center in Smithtown opened this year’s ceremony with an invocation. Minister Thurston was welcomed to Buckley’s commencement exercises by graduate Aidan Palmer.
Board Chair Chris Lee presented this year’s Trustees’ Bowl, the School’s most prized academic award, to the student who achieved the highest grade point average.
The Trustees’ Bowl was presented to Ryan Carmody. The Scholarship Medal for the second-highest academic average was awarded to Mario Calvo, while Gavin Kim earned the Certificate of Merit for the third-highest average.
Four faculty awards were presented at graduation:
On behalf of her classmates, Gwenyth Guckert presented the Teacher of the Year Award, selected by the members of the graduating class, to Latin teacher Elizabeth Solosky who, she said, “even during the quarantine, managed to bring smiles to our faces with little gifts and advice to help us in the future.”
The Thomas J. Reid Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes outstanding teaching, demonstrated by concern for each student, quality of instruction, and commitment to Buckley.
The G. Robert Gage Award for Excellence in Teaching, named and given in memory of Mr. Bob Gage’s late father, is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of his/her excellence in teaching. This award is funded every year by the investment income earned on the endowment gift made by the Gage family.
A generous endowment gift from Linda and John Powers made possible the presentation of an additional faculty award at graduation.
The Powers Family Teacher Recognition Award is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of his/her embodiment of the School’s character and spirit, care and nurturing qualities, and excellence in teaching.
“Every year,” Juhel said, “ALL Buckley teachers are much deserving of our deepest gratitude, and it is always difficult to select only three for the awards presented at graduation. This year was particularly difficult, considering the Herculean work teachers had to do to pivot so rapidly and expertly to a new teaching platform, keeping their students engaged in their learning and connected with one another, while taking care of their own families and their own health. What they thought would last just a few weeks, lasted three months. In recognition of our exceptional faculty, this year, I reached out to the Gage and Powers families and asked them if they would consider pooling the funding for these awards and redistributing it equally among all the teachers. I am glad to report that they happily agreed and that therefore the Reid, Gage, and Powers monetary awards this year are going to all the Buckley teachers.”
After Yearbook Co-Editor Vannessa Joa read this year’s dedication to IT Director Sam Oppedisano, Ava Nappi and Matthew Iorio, student council co-presidents, presented the gift of the class of 2020 to Buckley Country Day School: two new workbenches for the school’s woodshop. “Our class wanted to present the school with a gift that would be part of one of Buckley’s oldest and most cherished traditions, a gift that would reside in the room where each student will carve their plaques for generations to come,” they explained.
Fourth-grade teacher Denise Powers was selected by the graduating class to be their faculty speaker. She was introduced by Michael Fiechter.
Fletcher, with characteristic humor, said that, “Mrs. Powers, I don’t know how, got me to like the idea of school… She even got me to read books!” Mrs. Powers started by recognizing what the “unanticipated detours” faced by the senior class this year.
“Life got real for you, real fast,” she said, and added “this year of sweet anticipation – you as our seniors standing on a cushy rug looking toward the reward for all of your hard work … and the rug was yanked right out from under you.” Yet, Mrs. Powers chose to focus on the positive lessons learned from the pandemic and encouraged the graduating class to re-evaluate what they could actually do to empower themselves and others, what to do with an unexpected gift of time, and what is truly important to them.
Brooke Juhel ‘13 was this year’s alumna speaker. Brooke, the second of three Juhel children to graduate from Buckley, was introduced by her youngest sister Kate who confessed that “the silver lining of the pandemic had been having Brooke home.” Brooke, who has been doing research at Mass General Hospital on resiliency in cancer survivors, chose to speak about an important part of that program: gratitude. She encouraged the graduates to be thankful for their parents and families, their teachers who “invest so much in their growth, their happiness, and their success,” their classmates with whom they have such a special bond, and themselves because “you all have something very big to be proud of today.”
The two student speakers selected by their peers were Charlotte Santarpia and Mario Calvo. With much wit and humor, Charlotte and Mario cleverly presented “The Buckley Country Day School Class of 2020 in the Buckley Book of World Records.” “There’s simply too much joy, love, and happiness between all of us for our memories, friendships, and bonds to be forgotten,” Charlotte and Mario concluded nostalgically.
Diplomas were then awarded to the members of the graduating class. Newly-elected Student Council Co-Presidents, Olivia Marrale ‘21 and Alex Caraballo ‘21 displayed the wooden plaques carved by the graduates, as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Simultaneously, eighth-grade advisors read excerpts from comments written by the students’ teachers over the past twelve years and selected by the Headmaster.
It was with pride and joy that the entire community joined in cheering the Class of 2020 and wishing them well.
Victoria Kozikowski introduced this year’s musical offering. The Class of 2020 chose “Seize the Day” from their 8th-grade musical, Newsies. “This song,” Victoria emphasized, “shows that we can get through anything by sticking together. That is what the class of 2020 did: we seized the day!”
Minister O’Neal concluded the ceremony with blessing for the graduates and the school community.