MERCERSBURG, Pa. — It was an unseasonable sweltering day on Saturday for Mercersburg Academy’s 119th commencement.
But there was a palpable excitement in the air not only as the graduates embarked on a new phase in their lives, but also because this year’s commencement speaker was Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state.
Head of School Douglas Hale outlined a list of Albright’s accomplishments, including receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Obama on Tuesday.
While Albright is proud of her accomplishments, she was especially honored to be the keynote speaker at her grandson David Bowes’ graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Standing under a stately oak tree, Albright mused about how quickly time passes between diapers and diplomas.
Her speech infused humor with pearls of wisdom for the newly minted graduates.
“Commencement addresses should be about the graduates,” she said.
So she did a bit of undercover work, sending out questionnaires to the future graduates to find out their dreams, concerns and thoughts on the state of the nation.
“What I found is the Class of 2012 was optimistic, but worried a lot,” she said. “In general, you describe yourself as hopeful, but worry that you will face greater obstacles than your parents.”
Education doesn’t end on graduation day, she said.
“Make the world a better place,” Albright said. “In closing, I invite you — the Mercersburg Academy Class of 2012 — to live each day with the knowledge that your actions and choices truly do count.”
Mercersburg Academy gave out diplomas to 127 students.
Denise M. Dupre, president of the school’s Board of Regents, is leaving her position after seven years in the post.
Dupre told the Class of 2012 to ask questions, listen and apply the tasks they have learned at Mercersburg to the wider world.
But her parting words to the graduates were “OTPYG.”
After she received a few puzzled look, she explained it’s texting for “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
“Now go and make us proud,” she said.
Salutatorian Jin Yong Shin will attend John Hopkins University after graduation.
While he always has been an academic overachiever, he told an anecdote about a Korean student and a master.
“How long will it take to find Zen?” the young student asked.
The master answered 10 years.
“But what if I worked harder?” the student asked.
The master said then it would take 20 years.
Stumped, the student asked why working harder would take longer to achieve the goal of Zen.
The moral of the story is work hard, but maintain balance.
Coming from a Korean family that put a lot of stock in over achievement, Mercersburg Academy has taught him valuable life lessons.
Valedictorian Kexin Wang, who plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania, learned that success is about taking chances.
“I was afraid of trying things, especially sports, when I am a pianist,” Wang said. “But I learned that being vulnerable opens up a world of opportunities.”