Seventy-eight members of the Form of 2013 tossed their straw boaters into the air on June 2, upholding Groton tradition and signaling the close of the School’s 128th Prize Day ceremony.
It was a day of transition, not only for the graduates, but also for the School. This Prize Day was the last for Headmaster Rick Commons, who finishes ten years at Groton at the end of June. “This is only the seventh Prize Day that has marked the end of a headmaster’s tenure,” said Board of Trustees President James H. Higgins, who lauded the outgoing headmaster as “the leading exemplar” of Groton’s mission and values. Mr. Commons introduced the incoming headmaster, Temba Maqubela, and his wife, Vuyelwa, during Sunday’s ceremony.
During Prize Day, Mr. Commons thanked faculty members who are moving on, including Fred Beams, who is retiring after 29 years at Groton, a career dedicated to boarding schools, and 45 years living in a dorm. The headmaster also announced numerous prizes, including one given to the two senior prefects, the leaders of the class, Alice Stites and Chris King. He called Alice “our primary conscience” and Chris “the classic leader by example.”
Tobias Wolff, a Stanford University professor and the author of books including This Boy’s Life and In Pharaoh’s Army, delivered the keynote address. He began by noting the general tenor of literary references to boarding schools. “Most of the literature about boarding schools I’ve read—and I’ve read quite a bit of it—takes a rather sour view,” he said, noting works by George Orwell, William Trevor, and others. The author himself reported a mixed experience at The Hill School in Pennsylvania, from which he ultimately was expelled. He described “a severe place,” with strict discipline, but also one that prized intellectual argument.
In a speech brimming with literary references, Mr. Wolff talked of the search for self, noting that the process is complicated, with experiences over time contributing to each character, each self. “One of the reasons I think I love literature so much is that it is a theater of self-creation,” he said.
Graduating senior Gideon Lovell Smith, who was chosen by his peers to speak at Prize Day, delivered an honest and humorous account that began with his writer’s block and the headmaster’s advice that he get off campus to collect his thoughts. He described jumping on his bike and traveling a nearby scenic trail, and how his thoughts then began to crystallize. Gideon went on to describe memorable walks to the boathouse, his transformative term at High Mountain Institute, and observations about the School and his form.
“Groton is place of simple joys, simple lessons, simple truths,” he said. “Plain and simple, it’s a place where we’ve grown up.”