Class of 2020 Graduates Receive Diplomas in Pandemic-Delayed Ceremonies


@GreenhillAlumni on Instagram

Greenhill sets up the class of 2020 graduation such that students are able to sit with their families socially distanced from other groups.

Nate Stitt and Khushi Chhaya

As seniors walk across a makeshift stage on Brinkmann Field to celebrate their years at Greenhill and embark on a new journey, extended families and friends excitedly watch—from their couches at home.

Welcome to the Class of 2020 graduation in the age of Covid-19.

The annual event that was scheduled to occur at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in June underwent drastic changes as a result of the ongoing pandemic. After weeks of planning and consultations with Dallas County health officials, graduation finally occurred Monday morning in an outdoor campus ceremony in 90-degree heat.

The ceremony began with Head of School Lee Hark addressing parents, students and faculty to introduce the Class of 2020.

“Parents and friends, this has been one of the most extraordinary, interesting, challenging years in Greenhill’s history,” Hark said. “I say that knowing full well that a potentially extraordinary, interesting and challenging year is around the corner.”

The presentation of diplomas followed, with students grouped by advisory. Head of Upper School Trevor Worcester called students to the stage one at a time to receive their diplomas and take a photo with Hark.

In his remarks, Worcester reassured the graduating class that the Greenhill community is as strong and vibrant as ever, even in the face of the coronavirus disruptions. Worcester celebrated the graduates by quoting civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died of cancer on July 17: “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone, any person or any force dampen, dim, or diminish that light.”

Two seniors—Josh Leffler and Drake Muller—delivered short speeches in which they described their experiences over recent months and offered advice to their peers for the future.

Leffler spoke of his appreciation for the little moments that created bonds between students from all interests and disciplines.

“We have formed a family, one that is very difficult to say goodbye to,” Leffler said.

Muller focused on overcoming hardship and adversity. He highlighted the need to reflect on the past and find moments of joy.

“The good and bad moments have ultimately shaped us into the people we are today,” Muller said. “We can’t forget our past… Let us not forget the road we traveled to get where we are today.”

After the student speeches, senior awards were presented.

Josh Leffler received the award for valedictorian, which honors the graduating senior with the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA).

Atiriya Iyer received the award for salutatorian, the graduating senior with the second highest cumulative GPA.

Leffler also received the Bernard L. Fulton Award, the highest non-academic award, presented to the senior who best embodies the mission and ideals of Greenhill School. It is named for Greenhill’s founder and first head of school.

Michelle Liang received the Estelle Dickens Award, which is presented to the senior who has given the most outstanding service contribution to Greenhill. The award commemorates the over-four decades of service given to Greenhill by beloved teacher and administrator Estelle Dickens.

Veda Velamuri received the Kate Cecil Award, which honors the senior who renders the most outstanding service to the Dallas community. The award is named in honor of a seventeen-year faculty member.

Adam Medhi and Drake Muller received the Phillip G. Foote Award, given to the senior who is considered by faculty to epitomize the qualities of citizenship in the Greenhill community. These qualities are rooted in the school’s core principles of honor, respect, and compassion. The award is named for Greenhill’s second head of school.

Alexandria King received the Board of Trustees Award, which is presented to the senior who has best met challenges at Greenhill with perseverance, courage and humor.

Nine students were presented with the Helen Fulton Award: Griffin Benners, Mohan Desai, Varun Gande, Jeffrey Harberg, Atiriya Iyer, Jack McDonald, Sola Omonije, Caroline Sasso and Amber Syed. The award is named in honor of founding faculty member and wife of Greenhill’s founder. Helen Fulton was a lifelong learner, exemplary citizen and a well-rounded, balanced individual. This award is unique because recipients are nominated by seniors and members of student council and are chosen in a faculty vote.

Kaiti Ness received the Senior Leadership Award, given to the member of the senior class who best demonstrates the qualities of leadership. The honor in the past was known as the D. Harold Byrd and Jennie Stuck awards, which honored male and female leadership.

The ceremonies unfolded under tight guidelines negotiated by Greenhill administrators in discussions with Dallas County health officials. Seniors were allowed only two guests, with those individuals arranged in socially-distanced seating on the field. The graduates also wore masks, although some removed their face coverings as they stepped onto the stage to receive their diplomas or to pose for the photograph with Hark.

With the recent surge in coronavirus cases across Texas, Dallas County last week announced that public and private schools would be limited to remote classes only until Sept. 8. Hark followed the Dallas County directive by announcing last week that Greenhill will open the 2020-2021 school year as planned on Aug. 25, but with remote classes and activities only. The mode of instruction for the remainder of the school year remains contingent on efforts to bring the pandemic under control.

Several states across the nation have experienced similar increases in the number of new Covid-19 cases, with many documenting record highs.