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Hugging is in for Saint James graduates

June 06, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • The commencement ceremony for Saint James graduates begins Sunday morning at the school.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

  • View all of the photos for purchase!

    ST. JAMES -- As each student walked up the portico steps at Saint James School to pick up the piece of paper that represented years of hard work, almost every one of them then proceeded to hug staff members before returning to their fellow graduates.

    The hugging is a tradition, graduate Courtney Peterson said.

    Peterson, of Sharpsburg, was one of 53 students who graduated Sunday from Saint James School, an Episcopal boarding school south of Hagerstown.

    A few hundred people attended the outdoor commencement ceremony. The school has approximately 220 students in grades eight through 12, said Michael L. Straley, school spokesman.

    Of the 53 graduates, 15 were from Washington County and six were from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, according to the commencement program. One was from Frederick, Md.

    The school does not name a valedictorian or salutatorian, Straley said. However, several awards were given out to members of the senior class, or as the school refers to them, the sixth form.

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Receiving the Bishop's Prize, traditionally the school's highest prize and greatest honor, the headmaster said, was Fraser Geer MacPherson of Warrenton, Va. The honor is bestowed upon the senior who contributed the most to the long-range, long-term welfare of the school, either by accomplishment or by personal example, said the Rev. D. Stuart Dunnan, the headmaster.

MacPherson's father, Newsweek foreign correspondent and author Malcolm MacPherson, died in 2009, but was at the ceremony in spirit, Dunnan said.

The commencement speaker was Lisa Beyer, a friend and colleague of Malcolm MacPherson. Beyer is senior vice president of public affairs for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and a former editor of Time magazine.

Beyer focused on three pieces of advice for the graduates.

She encouraged them to be curious and take initiative. She suggested they give their parents some slack, since they, too, were once high school graduates.

The most important piece of advice Beyer said she had for the graduates was to take ownership of their lives.

"Take credit for the good things you do, but also take responsibility for the inevitable missteps that you take," she said.

Before Beyer spoke, Dunnan talked about the depth of relationships and friendships the students developed with each other and teachers.

"It's really just a great family experience here. ... I've just made some great friends here and that's really important to me," Peterson said after the ceremony.

Graduate Ellen Barr said she grew a lot while attending Saint James.

"I learned who I was and I tried to try everything, and it gave me a place to be myself," said Barr, 18, of Hagerstown. She plans to attend Furman University, a private liberal arts university in South Carolina.

Graduate Elias Orfan, 17, of Hagerstown, said he plans to attend Indiana University and continue taking vocal lessons.

Asked what he would take away from his experience at Saint James, Orfan said, "Definitely all the people I've met here. The reason it's so unique is because of the people."




Saint James senior award winners



The following is a list of local Saint James School graduates who received prizes during Sunday's commencement for general excellence:

o Elizabeth Draper of Williamsport received the Onderdonk Headmasters' Prize. The prize is awarded to a student who served the wider community, beyond Saint James School, well beyond the school's expectations or requirements.

o Rachel Herrera of Hagerstown received the G. Dudley Acker Award. The award is given to a student who overcomes adversity and achieves a measure of success.

o Courtney Peterson of Sharpsburg and Joseph Perri of Hagerstown received the Charles G. Meehan Jr. '65 Prizes for all-around athletic ability.

o Ellen Barr of Hagerstown received the Headmaster's Prize and the David I. Barr Prize. The Headmaster's Prize is for a member of the graduating class who best exemplifies the qualities of a gentleman or lady and a scholar. The Barr Prize is for sportsmanship and leadership in athletics.

o William Howard of Shepherdstown, W.Va., received the Trustees' Prize for Scholarship in recognition of the highest achievement in the Upper School maintained during a two-year period.

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