In the final days of May this past spring, as the pandemic turned life upside down, Harpeth Hall's Director of the Upper School, Armistead Lemon, met with the Class of 2021 over Zoom.
Ms. Lemon spoke to the students about leadership.
No one could know what awaited them in the months to come, she said. But if school traditions had to be altered or plans changed, Harpeth Hall's class of incoming seniors would be prepared to take it on with bravery and resiliency.
"No one is better poised than your class," she said. "You are the most lovable, fun-loving, sincere, creative and kind group of girls. You are the ones, Class of 2021. You are going to go down in history. ... This will be your leadership moment."
Four months later, on Sept. 11, 2020, the Class of 2021 officially assumed its leadership role at Harpeth Hall. In the annual Senior Recognition Assembly, the young women of this year's senior class gathered on Souby Lawn and made a promise to transmit Harpeth Hall "greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to them."
It's a tradition that dates back decades to Ward-Belmont College, where Harpeth Hall formed its roots. At Ward-Belmont, the seniors revealed their class song, their class colors, and their "beanies" at a special assembly each year. They marked the event with the senior pledge.
Today, Harpeth Hall seniors create a theme for the year. They also take the same pledge as the generations before them. It's a tradition that both grounds our students and pushes the school community forward.
"This year has taught us how important it is to embrace change," said Senior Class President Lela Hooper, who joined her classmates in selecting the theme Riding Into the Sun in 2-0-2-1. "We are paving the way and making this year our own. We are the leaders during a time that will go down in history."
'Strengthening the Harpeth Hall community'
This year's assembly began by marking another moment in history — the Sept. 11 attacks. With a moment of silence, students and faculty remembered those who lost their lives and recognized the heroism and bravery that came from tragedy. Those gathered on Souby Lawn wore red, white and blue ribbons and the seniors wore bands of the same colors around their wrists.
As Ms. Lemon stepped up to the podium to recognize the seniors, she reflected on her own experience on Sept. 11, 2001. She lived and worked in Manhattan the day the Twin Towers fell and attacks against the United States led to the deaths of more than 3,000 men and women. It was a moment that defined her generation.
Head of School Jess Hill also acknowledged the pain of the tragic day.
"The aftermath of 9/11 left many of us numb," Mrs.Hill said. "The only thing that began to give us hope and energy were the many inspirational stories of the firefighters and citizens and policemen and policewomen who were the leaders during that time.
"Those leaders quickly became our heroes. They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things — leading people to safety. carrying those who couldn't walk, and staying calm in the midst of chaos."
The pandemic has called upon new heroes, she said, and has required more extraordinary acts from all of us. The mantle of leadership placed on this year's senior class entreats them to set an example and help keep the community safe.
Ms. Lemon recognized the ways in which this senior class has already stepped forward.
"Whether you are spearheading a mask-making service event in Bullard Gym, supporting the Nashville Food Project, moving forward with your club plans, learning remotely and learning on campus — you are doing the brave thing, demonstrating resiliency, and strengthening the Harpeth Hall community in the toughest of times," Ms. Lemon said.
"This pandemic will shape you, seniors, as it will shape all of us, and as 9/11 shaped me. But it turns out we have some choice in the matter, in how we face challenges. I stand by my prediction last spring. You are the ones, Class of 2021. You are rising to the challenge."