Commencement 2020: A Grade of Firsts
Diane Rosenberg, head of school 2001–2020


Diane Rosenberg Head of School

Seniors, parents, family, and colleagues, welcome to a day we weren’t sure we would be able to have together. We are so very grateful to be gathered here at our own drive-in movie theater.

As the world collapsed around us this spring, we faced a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a reckoning of longstanding, grave human rights violations. We are in the midst of what feels like a collective consciousness stirring. There is determination to right the wrongs and conviction to find solutions to injustices. Our hope comes from you, Class of 2020—for who you are, the actions you will take, and the light you will bring into the world. Today is the day to focus on who you are.

In 2009, trustees and parents envisioned not only the addition of an upper school to a well-established PreK–8 school, but an upper school that sought to reinvent the high school years, creating an education that would be half high school and half college. This would simply have remained a good idea if not for our visionary board, who declared that going forward was a moral imperative; trustees and parents who generously supported this vision, throwing themselves into task forces, helping to shape a PreK–12 experience; talented, entrepreneurial students who said yes to opportunity and adventure; and an equally talented, dedicated faculty who sought to create meaningful, distinctive educational experiences. We are here today because you’re our believers, our keepers and shapers of culture, our fourth pioneering class, our mighty 92, embodying the spirit of those three classes before you — “Let’s just see what happens.”

You are a remarkable group and, from the first, you have done, again and again, what Ray Bradbury recommends: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.” 

Before you take this next, thrilling step, let me take a moment and look back at what you have already created. Whether you entered Nueva as a junior or 14 years ago as a PreK student, each of you has proven to be a master builder. But it is what you have created together that is most extraordinary and transformative.

You have always been a grade of makers and doers, entrepreneurs and designers, performers and researchers, sophisticated problem solvers and natural philosophers. From your earliest days, you have been described as intellectually fearless, genuinely kind, funny, exuding a passion for learning and living. As Hillary reminded me recently, we knew from the first time you came together that you would be a very special class. During that July meet and greet, a few of you went up the hill behind the bowling alley to watch the sun set over the Pacific. We realized then that you were a collection of unique individuals and we hoped that you would come together in harmony—and you have.

Over the years, you traveled vast intellectual distances, seeking new understanding, from studying architecture and construction in PreK to understanding recombinant DNA in tenth, from performing Much Ado about Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra in seventh to studying Shakespeare again this spring with a range of ambitious culminations. Minecraft? Puzzles? Multi-media extravaganzas? The Bard would have loved your creative interpretations.

You have so often been a grade of firsts — the first to create 100-word eighth-grade speeches; the first to create Upper School award-winning publications; the first to research and write biographies of mathematicians with Karen and Lee; the first to go on the Peru trip by interest groups; the first and only ninth grade to create a multi-round ping-pong tournament during your portfolio defenses; the first to hold sports rallies at the Upper School and the first to use taco trucks to attract crowds. You were also the first to create the 20-second talents, which included donning swimming caps, spinning yarn, and featuring your teachers in a variety of costumes and interviews. You may be the only ninth-grade class to take spam calls during the day. Some of you tucked yourselves into little nooks and crannies, talking to scammers in various languages for so long that the scammers finally had to give in and give up. Well done.

You were also the class to develop opportunities for the grades to follow: you started the girls soccer, tennis, and beach volleyball teams and formed the boys volleyball team; you went to the states in cross-country, basketball, and volleyball and to the nationals in debate; you expanded the music program and founded coffeehouses; you performed a steel drum concert for 3,000 educators at last year’s national conference; you started the sweet tradition of welcoming freshmen at sunrise with donuts and signs.

You brought back the GSA when you were in fifth grade, established the Diversity Club as middle schoolers, led a powerful showing of the documentary 13th, and took Alison and Alegria’s inaugural Engaged Citizenship class, participating in ever-deeper conversations and taking specific actions to improve the world around you. You are fearless, and you recognize civic engagement is essential to fulfilling our society’s promise to every member.

Each new person who entered your grade became an integral part of your community. Your trips brought you even closer and created memories and stories for a lifetime. You capsized canoes on advisory camping trips, climbed the mountains of Peru, and bushwhacked your way through Costa Rica. Your American Studies trips created awareness of historical, environmental, and social justice issues, taking environmental action in Alaska and political action in Washington, DC.

We know you will accomplish great things over the next several years—in college and beyond. But for all that, we want you to know that what we will hold dear is who you are, not what you achieve, how many awards you receive, or what professions you finally enter. What matters to your classmates, parents, and teachers is your strength of character and your personal happiness.

The poet Jane Hirschfield ends her poem The Weighing with

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

Class of 2020, what you have given to Nueva and will give to the larger world—is your best. The beauty of giving your best is that you always gain more than you give.

You have changed all of us who have been part of your lives, and we are eager to see where your lives take you. You have proven over and over that you have the tools you need to build your wings on the way down. You are ready to soar.

We will miss you. You are our beloved Mavericks, the final class of our founding four. 

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My connection with my Latino heritage is very meaningful to me; however, this connection was one that I had to work to find. My grandparents did not always involve my parents in aspects of our Latino culture because it was often looked down upon in schools and in the world. With my parents being left out of many traditions, it made it harder for them to share this aspect of our identity with my sister and me. Part of this disconnect feels inevitable, as being third or fourth generation Americans means we associate more with our American history.

Diane Rosenberg Head of School

We are in the midst of what feels like a collective consciousness stirring. Our hope comes from you, Class of 2020—for who you are, the actions you will take, and the light you will bring into the world. Today is the day to focus on who you are.

Every. Single. Day.

How do those in power positions who have not wrestled with and understand the African American plight feel the need, have the desire, or become motivated to make changes for justice’s sake.