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The Class of 2023 'strives to create a better community'

The Class of 2023 'strives to create a better community'
The Class of 2023 'strives to create a better community'

Over the years, the big moments were many — convocations and honor assemblies, class retreats and Winterim trips, spirit days and Bear Gates. Honor Day. Step Singing. Graduation.

But, for Hallie Graham ‘23, the ordinary days are the ones that will leave the most profound impression on her heart. A knowing smile in the hallway. A lingering flash of insight after a classroom discussion. The gentle jingle of the class bell. The comforting sound of her classmates’ voices intermingled with casual laughter at lunch.

These experiences are when Hallie felt most grateful to be a Harpeth Hall girl.

And, “being a Harpeth Hall girl,” Hallie said, “is a transcendent experience.”

The Class of 2023 soaked in that feeling on Monday as they attended the 72nd commencement to be held on the Harpeth Hall campus, descending the hill on Souby Lawn dressed in white and then crossing the steps of the Ann Scott Carell Library as graduates and new alumnae.

“I’ve had the immense privilege of walking beside each of you as we transformed from little girls with tangled hair and toothy grins into poised, intelligent, and articulate young women,” said Hallie, who was selected by her classmates as this year’s graduation speaker. “I want your lives to be rich and full of challenge.”

In their time at Harpeth Hall, the Class of 2023 showed how they could embrace and navigate a challenge well. From the first day at this year’s opening convocation, they set their theme as “Brave the Sea in 2023,” but, in truth, they already were sea-worthy. Over half of their high school years were marked by a global pandemic, and in this — their first year beyond it — unfathomable violence occurred one mile from the quadrangle at The Covenant School.

“You have been forced to develop your muscles of resilience,” Head of School Jess Hill told the class. “... No one requested these realities and lessons for you, and still, they came.

“These things have not defined you. You have absorbed them, been moved by them, been changed by them in some ways — yet you remained true to the best of who you are. Instead of anger, you chose gratitude. Instead of fear, leadership. Not comparison, but celebration of others’ successes. Not contempt, only respect.”

The newest alumnae, with their passions, skills, and talents, will pursue their ambitions at 67 academic institutions across the country and in Europe, including flagship universities, private liberal arts colleges, military academies, and arts conservatory programs.

“The Class of 2023 is full of honor, humility, and passion. We are a group that strives to create a better community, both locally and globally,” Caroline Ford ‘23 said as she took the podium at graduation. “This class is more than special.”

Though fully prepared for what comes next, it was hard to prepare for leaving Harpeth Hall behind. A few weeks before graduation, Hallie’s grandparents, Pa and Dedo, came to the house for dinner. Her Pa asked if she was excited to graduate. The experience, she told him, felt bittersweet.

“To graduate would be leaving everything I’d ever known,” Hallie reflected, “but to stay would be giving up everything I could discover — everything I could be.”

There is much the Class of 2023 can and will be. As Ms. Hill said: “In my praise of each of you — your accomplishments, your leadership, your heart — I am letting you know that I believe you are ready.” But, like every good educator, Ms. Hill was not ready to let the class go without a few more words of advice.

She reminded them to remain curious, to practice gratitude, to admit and own their mistakes. She encouraged them to take walks in the woods, to read prose and poetry, to vote, and to remember to call home. She smiled as she mentioned the importance of good grammar and using the words “I, me, and myself” correctly.

“If all else fails, change the subject and talk about someone else so that you don’t have to use those words at all,” Ms. Hill joked.

Then, as she chuckled, she reminded the girls to “laugh at yourself at least once a day.” Finally, Ms. Hill concluded: “Always be for something and not just against something.”

And then, as the ceremony came to a close and the “ordinary days” as a student on Harpeth Hall’s campus neared the end, the Class of 2023 was reminded that the transcendent feeling of belonging at ‘O place beloved’ is something that would always remain.

“We’ll be Harpeth Hall girls forever,” Hallie told her classmates. “These years — your years spent here — will follow you wherever you may go. You’ll always have a seat at Harpeth Hall’s crowded table.”