'You will always be Exonians': Class of '23 takes flight

Family, friends and faculty celebrate graduating seniors at Exeter’s 242nd commencement ceremony.

Sarah Pruitt '95
June 4, 2023

Spirits ran high on an unseasonably chilly morning as Exeter held its commencement ceremony for the class of 2023 on the lawn of the Academy Building on Sunday.

The 297 seniors crossed Front Street in a single line to begin the event, with faculty and family members offering congratulations along the way. The processional down the middle of the lawn was a change from prior years, allowing for a more unified entrance.

“Thank you to my wonderful classmates — congratulations on making it here,” said Minseo Kim ’23, president of the senior class, after welcoming parents and expressing gratitude to families as well as Exeter’s faculty and staff.


Kim went on to speak of the various challenges the class of 2023 had weathered together, notably the COVID-19 pandemic and the period of remote instruction that for many began in the spring term of their prep years. She admitted consulting ChatGPT while preparing her commencement speech, asking the artificial intelligence chatbot to give her “the most awe-inspiring motivational grad speech” for the occasion.

“It started off by saying ‘Hello, comrades,’” she recounted, to a laugh from the crowd. “I didn't read any further. But I did ponder over that word more — comrade. Something in there implies the connections that we have created between one another, and that we have overcome challenges together.”

While she and many of her classmates may have come to Exeter with “various assumptions about each other,” Kim said, the experience of encountering diverse perspectives around the Harkness table enabled them to move beyond existing biases. “I found that the people we've met here have given us a chance, taking the values of Harkness into the broader context of our lives beyond this campus,” Kim said.

Near the end of her remarks, Kim spoke of the memorable moments that she and her fellow seniors had been experiencing over the past few weeks. “Everything feels like it went by so fast now that we've reached the end,” she said. “[But] what I've learned from this school is that sometimes it's even better to leave a classroom or a space with more questions than answers, and that there are many more things I'd like to learn and do.” 

Principal’s farewell

In his farewell remarks, Principal William K. Rawson ’71; P’08 welcomed the class of 2023 into a community of Exeter alumni that spans generations, including his own.

“When I think back on my days as a student, my strongest memories are not about individual or group accomplishments,” Rawson said. “I remember a few triumphs pretty vividly, and I remember a few disappointments, yet the sense of what it meant to be part of this community…and the lifelong friendships that came along with it, are what have had the greatest meaning and most enduring impact for me over the years.”

After honoring the “indomitable spirit” and “resilience” of the graduating class, he reflected on the countless individual stories that together comprise Exeter’s rich history. “It has been a great pleasure for me, for your teachers, and for all the adults on campus, to witness your stories unfolding, individually and as a class, and to observe firsthand your growth and your many contributions to the life and spirit of the school,” Rawson said.

Recalling the classic country music song “Don’t Get Above Your Raising,” written by Earl Scruggs, Rawson stressed the importance of remembering your “roots,” and not forgetting where you came from. He spoke of his own roots in the small mill town of Harrisville, Rhode Island, where his father grew up, and where Rawson used to visit his grandmother, aunts and uncles while a student at Exeter. “Phillips Exeter Academy might have seemed worlds apart from my relatives who still lived in Harrisville, but in my mind, they stood for the same things: integrity, hard work and respect,” he said.

Looking ahead, Rawson spoke of the graduates’ readiness to take their place in the world and work to confront its many pressing challenges with the abilities, skills, and combination of knowledge and goodness they developed at Exeter.

“You are ready to follow the examples of Exonians who have come before, and write your own non sibi stories,” he said. “Wherever your lives may take you, you will always be Exonians, and you will always belong to each other.”  

Honors and awards

Rain began to fall intermittently during the ceremony, prompting the emergence of plastic ponchos among the graduates and colorful umbrellas in the crowd. As she rose to announce an array of scholarships, honors and special awards, Dean of Faculty Eimer Page P’22 remarked that she had been preparing for that moment all her life.

“If there’s ever someone who can talk in the rain, it’s an Irishwoman,” Page said.

Page and Trustee Deidre O’Byrne ’84; P’18, P’20, P’23 went on to present various graduating seniors with this year’s endowed college scholarships, as well as a number of special awards and prizes:

The Faculty Prize for Academic Excellence: Aaron Joy

The Cox Medals: Aaron Joy, Cedric Moecklin, Hannah Rubin, Aubrey Zhang, Chloe Zhu

The Yale Cup: Nate Puchalski

The Ruth and Paul Sadler ’23 Cup: Eden Welch

The Perry Cup: Reggie Harris

The Williams Cup: Yasmin Salerno

The Eskie Clark Award: Brandon Wong

The Thomas H. Cornell Award: Nicholas Rose

The Multicultural Leadership Prize: Kodi Lopez

Ceremony program

A string quartet composed of seniors Aruli Pillai and Bai Xue on violin, senior Jade Pierce on viola and upper Indigo Ogiste on cello played before the ceremony and during the processional.

At the outset of the ceremony, Rawson recognized Alison Hobbie of the Science Department, who retired this year after 22 years of service, and Robert Morris of the Health and Human Development Department, who spent 31 years at the Academy.

After the announcement of the prizes, Music Instructor Kristofer Johnson led a performance of “The Road Home,” composed by Stephen Paulus, by the seniors in Exeter’s Concert Choir, including Stellan Aalto, Charles Knight, Christine Staller, Chloe Becker, Haakon Kohler, Polly Vaillant, Maya Cohen, Delaney Miller, Clark Wu, Madeleine Cron, Lara Muyombwe, Angela Zhang, John Henry Holcomb and Oluwagbemiga Salu.

Seniors Andrea Hernandez, Nina Kellogg, Jack Kugler and Holden Quaresma assisted Rawson in handing out diplomas.