‘You will always belong here’: Class of 2024 graduates

Family and faculty celebrate graduating seniors and mark conclusion of Exeter’s 243rd school year.

By
Sarah Pruitt '95
June 2, 2024

Parents, family members and friends of the Class of 2024 gathered in force along with Exeter faculty members on a brilliantly sunny Sunday to send off the graduates in grand style.

Accompanied by the elegant strains of a student string quartet, the seniors made their way across Front Street and proceeded up the center of the lawn, followed by faculty members. After Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 kicked off the ceremony, Senior Class President Ayaan Akhtar welcomed family and friends, as well as his fellow seniors.

“Congratulations — we made it,” Akhtar told his classmates. He mentioned challenges they worked through together during their time at Exeter, including beginning their ninth grade fall in September 2020, deep into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We attended our first-ever classes scattered across the globe, staring blankly at a Zoom screen,” Akhtar said. “We lacked the instant physical connection every other prep class made as soon as they stepped foot on campus during orientation, yet we brought passion and an overwhelming desire to learn and love one another.”

Akhtar briefly paused his remarks in honor of classmate Matthew Clemson, who died last year. “Our class is incomplete without his presence,” Akhtar said. “He brought in irreplaceable light.” He also mentioned world events, including the effects of climate change and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan and Gaza, among other regions.

“Transitioning into adulthood brings a rising responsibility to use our education to recognize global adversity and its intersectionality,” he said. “Education truly is an extraordinary gift and an extraordinary luxury we have all been afforded, so it’s on us to use this gift as we become adults in a world full of injustices.”

Akhtar ended with a message of “hope and promise” for himself and his fellow graduates. “Let us continue to imagine, to dream — let us utilize our immense curiosity and ability to envision and create a better world.”

After Akhtar’s remarks, Rawson recognized five retiring faculty members who he said represent a combined 162 years of service to the Academy. Michelle Dionne, instructor in the English Department (appointed in 1996); Mark Hiza, instructor in the Science Department (appointed in 1993); Becky Moore, instructor in the English Department (appointed in 1990); and Russell Weatherspoon, dean of students and instructor in the Religion Department (appointed in 1987), were sitting onstage during graduation. Dana Barbin, former athletic director and longtime varsity boys’ hockey coach who was appointed in 1987, also retired this year.

Principal’s farewell

“You came to Exeter to learn and grow, have fun, make lifelong friends, pursue your passions, and lay the surest foundation for the rest of your lives — the surest foundation for leading purposeful lives,” Rawson said at the outset of his farewell address to the Class of 2024. “You have done all that, and you have done it well.”

Like Akhtar, Rawson spoke of the challenges many members of the class had faced together. “I am proud of all that you have accomplished, but even more proud of how you have contributed to the life of the school, and how you have supported each other,” the principal said.

Rawson also discussed the impact of world events on the school community, and the toll taken by daily news reports of “war, violence, disease, hunger, poverty and injustice.” “You have to decide how you want to respond to these and other challenges that you see in the world every day,” he told the graduates. “You have to decide how you want to make the world, the communities in which you live, and the places where you work, better than you found them — not just for some, but for all.”

Crucial to that effort, he emphasized, would be not surrounding themselves with people of similar opinions and outlooks, but seeking to continue learning “with and from others whose ideas, experiences and perspectives differ from your own.” 

During their time at Exeter, Rawson said, the seniors heard many alumni speak from the Assembly Hall stage and elsewhere about their experiences applying the core values learned at Exeter in work and life. With graduation, they join that community of Exonians seeking to bring the values of goodness and knowledge to bear on some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“It is your turn now to begin writing your own non sibi stories,” Rawson said. In closing, he welcomed the Class of 2024 into the family of Exeter alumni, assuring them that “You will always be Exonians, and you will always belong here.” 

Honors and Special Awards

Before Rawson’s remarks, Dean of Faculty Eimer Page P’22, Akhtar and retiring Trustee Wole Coaxum ’88; P’24 presented this year’s endowed college scholarships, followed by the commencement awards and prizes.

The Faculty Prize for Academic Excellence: Jack Gordon

The Cox Medals: Beeke Fock, Jack Gordon, Daria Ivanova, Emi Levine, Luca Shakoori

The Yale Cup: Byron Grevious

The Ruth and Paul Sadler ’23 Cup: Caroline Shu

The Perry Cup: Nhan (Reggie) Phan

The Williams Cup: Achyuta Rajaram

The Eskie Clark Award: Adora Perry

The Thomas H. Cornell Award: Gretchen (Gigi) Lannon

The Multicultural Leadership Prize: Solu Ajene, Ayaan Akhtar, Stacy Chen, Aliyana Koch-Manzur, Emelia (Emmie) Zarb

Ceremony program

A string quartet consisting of Jaehyun Park ’24, and Ethan Ding ’25 on the violin, Evan Fan ’26 on the viola and Luke Miller ’24 on the cello, played the prelude and processional at the beginning of the ceremony.

After the presentation of honors and special awards, Music Instructor Jerome Walker led a performance of “The Road Home,” composed by Stephen Paulus, by seniors in Exeter’s Concert Choir, including Vera Aimunmondion, Nupur Malhotra, Riya Tyagi, Rodrigo Camara Moreno, Colin Maloney, Ellie Wang, David Goodall, Silja Pope, William Weber, Anna Hanzíková, Christopher Serrao, Corinne Wingate, Ava Lori Hudgins, Aidan Ting and Chengyue Zhang.

Seniors Willa Bazos, Elizabeth Catizone, Nataly Delcid and Nihaal Rana assisted Rawson in handing out the diplomas, while Class Marshals Corinne Blaise, Reid Burke, Lucas Rodriguez and Diego Shetreet escorted their fellow members of the Class of 2024 to their seats before the ceremony.