Senior Commencement



A Group with Grit, Determination and Resilience, #DAClassof2020

“What a journey you’ve had. … The adults you seniors are becoming are undoubtedly more resilient, more creative and more compassionate than those who might have sailed blissfully through an uneventful senior spring. The fire of this crisis is forging extraordinary traits in you. You and your generation — the global Class of 2020 — will solve problems, create beauty and build relationships like no generation before you.”

Michael Ulku-Steiner, Head of School


“Together, we have faced challenges and victories, loss and moments of joyous celebration. We have witnessed the reshaping of the campus, the end of old traditions and the start of new ones. And you ended your Durham Academy career at home, without all the trappings and fare that should have been yours. … But it cannot diminish your accomplishments. This final chapter has not unfolded as we had imagined, but the journey was full of meaningful moments that will define your high school experience more than any ceremony. Moments of grief, moments of joy, moments of friendship, moments of loss, moments of learning and moments of growth. You have arrived here today with an education in life’s unpredictability and the tools to face the challenges that await you.”

Lanis Wilson, Upper School Director



“Keep the (Cavalier) family close.

Over your time at Durham Academy, you have built amazing relationships with so many different types of people. I know first hand because I was a student there and some of those amazing people are still there today. They’re the teachers, the faculty, the staff members who taught you each and every day, who guided you on your academic journey and who maybe helped you with some life things along the way, too. But you also met some incredible, incredible peers who you’re going to be working with even beyond just your time at Durham Academy. … And in my experience, there’s been no better family than my Cavalier family.

Keep your mission first.

You’re about to embark on an exciting phase of life, I can promise you that. You’re going to be afforded so many unique and exciting opportunities, and you should take advantage of those! You should sign up for anything that sounds of interest to you. You should explore and reevaluate your hobbies often. It’s the only way that you can continue growing and finding out what skills you might be really good at and some things that you might want to shy away from. … What I will caution you about is not letting other noise get into your space. As you have grown during your time at Durham Academy, you’ve already discovered the things that really excite you and that you’re passionate about. For me, those were activities like the Nicaragua Club, that was tutoring on Sundays in Ms. Simón’s classroom with local youth. For me, those moments made not just my school experience special, they impacted my life. And it taught me that I wanted to live a life of service. So every opportunity that comes my way now, because I am a smart and capable Durham Academy graduate, I have to evaluate with a lens about my own mission. And my mission is to be of service to others, and I let that guide and steer every decision that I make.

Say thank you.

Expressing a little gratitude can go a long way. And I mean that for you personally. The truth of the matter is, gratitude yields happiness. And the key to life is not a job, or it’s not how much money you might be able to make or what you’ve done, it’s how grateful you are that things worked out such that you could be the best version of yourself.

Derek Rhodes ’11, Commencement Speaker, Director, Business Strategy at Miami HEAT


“I’ve realized that the most important thing for the Class of 2020 and all of us to learn is that we shouldn’t depend on the ‘supposed to’s.’ Yes, it sounds like a cliché, but it also couldn’t be more true than it is today. We shouldn’t expect to get another day, another chance, because nothing is given. And we shouldn’t wait for something wonderful to be over and then appreciate it. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the message of our classmate, friend and teammate Jack Linger, who passed away in August. Jack’s message completely fits with our situation right now. He urged us to think as though we had a gold coin to use each day, which represented our ability to take advantage of our opportunities. I think Jack’s message just applies perfectly to our situation right now — that we need to live in the moment and engage with our community, our surroundings, our opportunities and be grateful for it all, because we never know when it will be taken away. … We are the class that survived online learning, we are the class of Jack Linger, we are the class that broke in and broke parts of the new STEM building, we are the class of COVID-19, we are the class of a new decade, we are the Class of 2020.”

Claire Middleton ’20, Senior Speaker



Watch the commencement exercises at