WILLIAMSBURG – Walsingham Academy’s 69th graduating class of 37 is a varied collection of higher education-seeking graduates, perhaps as diverse as the citations in Christine McBeath’s salutatorian address that managed to marry carpe diem and #YOLO before invoking Mother Teresa and John Mayer.
McBeath imparted to her classmates, dressed in white tuxedos and dresses, the translation of the Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” The St. John’s University soccer recruit had heard it during countless car rides to and from practice and matches with her dad. There was a certain parallel, she noticed, between it and the popular millennial motto often condensed for social media, “You only live once.”
“The only time we have total control over is the present,” McBeath told those gathered Saturday morning in the school gymnasium. “The past is over and done with. The future is out of reach. So let us make the most out of every fleeting moment. Ultimately, what we choose to do in the present will determine our future.”
Jacob Wilcox’ future is at Virginia Tech, and in the sky.
Wilcox aims to get his pilot’s license and has been learning how to fly a Cessna out of the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport since he was a sophomore. Also an amateur blacksmith, Wilcox said he took to flying after receiving multiple concussions while playing lacrosse. He was looking for something a little safer, he said.
For Wilcox, a lifelong Walsingham student, graduation was the culmination of more than just a four-year journey, and he said many of the seniors knew each other many years before high school.
Classmate Courtney Diaz arrived only three years ago after living in Ghana with her parents, who were working for the U.S. Department of State.
Diaz, who will attend The Ohio State University, will enter the pre-nursing program, inspired by the effects of the E. coli outbreak in her former West African home.
“I’ve noticed that our class is very different than some other Walsingham classes because we have people going to so many different places,” Diaz said. “We have people going from somewhere as close to William and Mary all the way to Melbourne, Australia.
“If there is one (common thing about my class), it might be that we’re just a pretty funny class. Everyone has a great sense of humor.”
Richard Washington, a 6-foot-5 basketball standout headed to Wake Forest University, exemplified that when he propped his hand on the head of a much shorter Sister Mary Jeanne Oesterle upon receiving his diploma.
Co-valedictorian Declan Lawlor is the senior headed to the Southern Hemisphere that Diaz alluded to.
In his address, Lawlor spoke about Walsingham rallying around his family when his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. With his parents busy, the Walsingham community volunteered to cook dinners for Declan and his brother, for several months.
“Probably the most amazing thing about this was the amount of people who decided to cook us lasagna,” Lawlor said, as the crowd rumbled with laughter. “I was expecting one or two lasagnas, but nine or 10 lasagnas?”
Lawlor’s co-valedictorian, Samuel Wilson, followed by urging his classmates not to be afraid to fail.
He had done so, in an infamously botched attempt at reading the morning announcements over the school intercom.
“I like this story for two reasons,” Wilson said. “One, I hope it lowers your expectation for my speech… But two, it serves as a reminder that it is OK to fail as long as you learn from it.”
Wilson then passed it off to McBeath, recalling how he had refused to share his blocks with her in kindergarten.
McBeath closed her address with another pop culture-nod. “I don’t mean to offend any John Mayer fans here, but we aren’t 'Waiting on the World to Change,'” she said, “because the Class of 2016 is the change.”