Themes of virtue and hope characterized the Portsmouth Christian Academy Class of 2020 commencement ceremony on Friday evening June 12, 2020. When the community gathered—limited in numbers, separated by 6-feet, wearing masks, and viewing from cars in the school parking lot—it was abundantly clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Class of 2020 in significant ways. Despite those impacts, much of the discussion during Friday’s commencement focused not on the trials of the pandemic, but rather on the character of the class of 2020 and the hope they offer for impacting the world for good.
Class of 2020 Valedictorian Erik Diehl articulated this in his address to the class, saying, “The wonderful thing about today is that we are not here to mourn the loss of what is a fraction of our time at PCA, but rather to celebrate the four-to-fifteen years of continued determination and perseverance demonstrated by each of us to stand here now. We have already struggled with COVID; it is time to move forward, motivated by what we faced. We are filled with pride in our accomplishments and excitement, not fear, for the future.”
Most of the 34 members of the Class of 2020 watched from their family vehicles as teachers, classmates, and the commencement speaker, Dr. David Rogers, addressed the community. International students who returned to their overseas homes amidst the pandemic, participated, via a livestream, which was made available to family, friends, and members of the community.
After a brief introduction and welcome, the honors began with the presentation of the Golden Eagle Award, an award presented annually to a qualified member of the senior class based on academic, spiritual, and school citizenship criteria. Dr. Raymond Gamble, History Department Head, presented the award to this year’s recipient, Griffin Hotz, who was recognized for academic achievements, leadership, community service, extra-curricular involvement, and his heart for serving others. In a speech following the presentation of the award, Hotz urged his fellow classmates to approach life with the humility to ask for help and to exhibit child-like faith and wonder in response to life’s challenges.
Next, Salutatorian Caroline Brown reflected on many of her fond memories at PCA, and encouraged the class not to take the little things in life for granted and to remember to cherish the small and special moments from their time together at PCA. Valedictorian Erik Diehl encouraged his classmates to approach life through the lens that their teachers have modeled for them during their time at PCA, challenging them to be strong in faith and to see adversity as opportunity.
Beverly Shevenell, Science Department Head and Senior Class Advisor, gave a short address to the class in which she highlighted their diverse passions and talents, charging them to make time for the things they love as they head off to college and beyond.
Dr. David Rogers was the commencement speaker. Dr. Rogers leads government relations for DEKA, a medical device company in Manchester, NH. He also serves as the Chief Development Officer for the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, and is the founder of Allogy, a software company that develops training and medical applications.
Dr. Rogers challenged the class of 2020 to focus not on power or selfish ambition, but rather on personal virtues. He shared his personal story of climbing the career ladder at the expense of family and other virtues, and his eventual realization that living a virtuous life would have a more positive impact on the world than any worldly success.
“Congratulations to the Class of 2020,” Dr. Rogers said in closing, “Much depends on your ability to discern virtue from its substitutes.”
After Dr. Rogers’ address, the Class of 2020 received their diplomas. After being called to the platform, the class walked along the pathway in front of the Upper School buildings where their teachers lined the pathway to offer congratulations and encouragement. This moment allowed the teachers and graduates to share a final moment together. For many, it was the first time they were able to connect with their teachers in-person since March.
Upper School Principal Steve Foley says of the Class of 2020, “It can be easy to be hyperbolic about graduating classes, but this year’s was a special bunch. In my charge to them at baccalaureate, I highlighted empathy as their defining feature and challenged them to remain compassionate, empathetic people as they go their separate ways. I am proud to have worked with such fine young men and women.”
In addition to being a class characterized by empathy and compassion, the Class of 2020 contains Portsmouth Christian Academy’s first legacy graduate, Hannah Pellerin, whose mother is also a PCA graduate.
“Hannah’s achievement marks a milestone for her family, as well as PCA as a school and institution looking forward, as more families continue this path of providing excellent Christian education for their kids, as they received their own,” says Mike Runey, Head of School.
“I am so very proud of PCA for arranging a class act graduation in the Covid era,” one parent said. “Thank you, PCA, for a fantastic event in honor of our son and his class.”
“Seeing the graduates engage with their families and faculty was really a highlight for me,” Mike Runey says. “PCA is about relationships, and that culminates in the opportunity to bless our graduates as they prepare for the next step of the life and faith journeys.”
Portsmouth Christian Academy has been inspiring students on the seacoast to maximize their potential for forty years. PCA provides a nurturing educational environment that emphasizes Christ-centered community, outstanding academics, differentiated learning, and exceptional character. Located just minutes northwest of Portsmouth, NH on a beautiful 50-acre riverfront campus, PCA is a dually accredited, independent, college-preparatory, day school where young people from Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire in preschool through Grade 12 are challenged to thrive academically and grow as servant-leaders prepared to impact the world for good. For more information, visit pcaschool.org.