Every year during fall, thousands of schools around the world welcome new and returning students for a fresh academic year. Keystone Academy has marked the season differently this year, sending its third graduating cohort off to their next journey amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The graduation ceremony for Keystone’s Class of 2020 finally happened in August after being postponed twice. It was originally planned for May, and then rescheduled in June but was delayed anew due to an outbreak in southwest Beijing. In the words of Head of School Malcolm McKenzie, the graduation was “worth the wait”.
Mr. McKenzie asked the new Keystone graduates to “continue to be patient” as they headed into an uncertain beginning of their college years.
Cady Feng, who spoke on behalf of the class, likened their graduation to an “opening ceremony” and “the first of many hellos”. Many in her cohort had not seen each other personally since they had come back to Keystone for one day on Wednesday, April 29. It was then that they delivered their presentations on “Character and Community”, an essential part of the award of the Keystone Diploma which they all received last Saturday. During this period, the entire class kept going and weathered the storm of the pandemic.
“When COVID-19 came, it came unexpectedly, as most storms do; it is devastating, like most storms are; and it made us feel hopeless and powerless, like most storms can,” Cady said. “In times of uncertainty, amid a storm, we look for anchors. And we, Keystone’s Class of 2020, are incredibly fortunate to have an anchor in the years we shared here.”
Pursuing a More Equitable World
The graduation ceremony, which was previously held at the Keystone Archway, took place in the Keystone Performing Arts Center so attendees could observe physical distancing. The lead-up Archway Ceremony, in which the outgoing class and the incoming seniors congregate at the archway as a rite of passage, was moved to the Visual Arts Gallery. There, sixty-eight members of the Class of 2020 formally passed on a white rose to the new seniors to express a solemn transfer of leadership.
In her graduation address, guest speaker and Keystone Board of Trustees member Frances Yang commended the Keystone graduates for overcoming the challenges of academic life while persistently helping communities affected by the pandemic.
Ms. Yang, who was in Wuhan at the height of the spread of the coronavirus in China, witnessed how people embodied kindness and generosity, and love for and loyalty to parents and the country through various acts of charity and courage. She noted how different the situation was in some other parts of the world, as an “infodemic” broke out and revealed what she described as “the lack of self-awareness” in many people.
“As the pandemic happens, everyone is strengthening their ‘immunity,’” she told the graduates. “But ‘immunity’ does not only refer to our physical resistance but also our spiritual tolerance. ‘Mutual trust’ is our most potent defense against the virus, whether it is between doctors and patients, family and friends, or different countries and ethnic groups. Closing our minds limits our thoughts. Fear and prejudice intensify the impact of the pandemic.”
Mr. McKenzie asserted that “it is unhelpful to think of this pandemic as ‘unprecedented,’” considering this generation has powerful resources and breakthroughs to deal with such events. For him, viewing this health crisis as utterly new “reinforces our blindness to, or disregard for” the stark reality of millions of people who are “surrounded and infected by deadly diseases, and without schooling”, these afflictions being “a dismal part of their daily lives.”
In her virtual speech, Grade 12 Leader Trisha Power reminded the graduates that their opportunity to study at Keystone was “a result of privilege”. She called on them to use this privilege to “pursue a more equitable world”.
“Privilege was not created through actions of your own but by those who came before you and by systems that stand firmly in place to equate money with power, education with opportunity, and access for only the chosen few,” Ms. Power emphasized.
“But these same societal constructs that will open doors, smooth obstacles, and realize dreams for you will shut doors, impose obstacles, and destroy the dreams of others. So, I challenge you: go with humility, be kind, acknowledge your privilege, and harness it to make a difference in this world.”
A Global Cohort with an Uncommon Privilege
Mr. McKenzie told the new Keystone graduates that they are members of a uniquely global cohort and that they should be regarded as “the COVID-20 – the Class Of Vitality, Independence, and Determination.”
“In years to come, when you meet others who graduated in 2020, from the north or from the south, in June or in December, anywhere and everywhere, you will know without any need for comment what you have in common,” Mr. McKenzie added. “That is an uncommon privilege, one that will become a lasting joy.”
Ms. Yang, meanwhile, recalled her experiences just after graduating from high school, telling her audience that “the passionate young people” during her time are “the passionate middle-aged people of this era”. She urged them to believe in themselves and live by the five shared values as they go on to newer journeys.
“Your life is right in front of you, so bravely embrace your best self,” Ms. Yang added. “We will wait for you to come back to Keystone and share your experiences and excitement with us”.
Before closing her address, Cady reflected on how the unfortunate circumstances that they went through as a class “are often the most vivid in our minds”. She declared that their last year at Keystone would be an unforgettable experience.
“Because of the years we spent here, we know to trust in solidarity, kindness, and growth,” Cady shared, “[And] all these experiences, the faith we built in ourselves and each other during our time at Keystone will be a powerful anchor.”
“If the sun takes a little longer to shine through the storm clouds hovering above us right now, there is no need to fear the bad weather. Keystone gave us an anchor. We have this anchor to keep us safe, keep us strong,” she said.