Pomp and Circumstance: Graduation 2020


The Commencement Exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2020 were unlike any in the independent school’s storied 162-year history.

Faced with an environment altered by COVID-19, the nearly 600 members of the Class of 2020 were honored with a virtual ceremony watched drive-in style in the parking lot at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. While the ceremony may have been different, it did hold many of the time-honored traditions that make Norwich Free Academy so unique.

Following the National Anthem and the Hymn Dundee, a song that has been sung every year since NFA was dedicated in 1856, Head of School David Klein introduced Ivy Orator Henry Vanase and Class Speaker Jillian Watt.

Vanase spoke to his classmates about the unique position this generation is in responding to COVID-19.

“From braving the Great Deparession and the Great War, to storming the beaches of Normandy and rising from the dust after 9/11, America’s youth met the challenges set out before them and came out stronger than ever,” said Vanase. “But today, we have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our Great War is invisible. And we will fight it, and we will win it. We come together by staying apart.”

Vanase also addressed what he referenced as a crucial role for graduates, saying, “You and I must always remember from this that man’s highest calling is to serve one another.”

Watt spoke about the long-lasting impression of this time on her class.

“The class of 2020 is at the center of all of this,” she said. “We are now more resilient, intelligent, caring. We can understand sadness from a completely different perspective. We have now been able to see the world at one of its lowest points. We no longer just hear about these events in history books; we have actually lived through one. We have a story to tell our future children and grandchildren. We are now united in a way never thought possible.”

After Watt’s speech, Klein welcomed Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard, Retired, to speak on behalf of this year’s 50th Reunion Class of 1970.

Papp, who has had a long and proud history in serving our country, spoke about the importance of NFA for him and his classmates.

“As a sailor and professional mariner for most of my career, I learned very early that in order to safely navigate your ship, you rely on trusted landmarks to fix your position and avoid the rocks and shoals that you might encounter along your chosen course,” he said. “Likewise, in our lives, we rely upon trusted landmarks to take us along our chosen paths. Those landmarks might be parents, teachers, coaches and even institutions. Norwich Free Academy was one of my landmarks.”

Papp then told the graduates their future is bright because of their accomplishments at the Academy, saying, “What will guide you? With landmarks like Norwich Free Academy, you’re off to a great start.”

After each member of the class was recognized on screen, the ceremony ended with the singing of the Alma Mater, performed by the NFA Ambassadors. Then, a caravan of cars departed Dodd Stadium with nearly 600 of the newest members of the NFA alumni family.

The celebration in its entirety can be watched here.