2022 Graduation

Farewell address

On June 5, 2022, Principal William Rawson ’71; P’08 delivered his Commencement address in front of the Academy Building. Watch his speech or read the full text below.


See graduation photos.

Members of the Class of 2022.  It is now time for a farewell address.  I am pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate all that you have accomplished during your time here, and offer some words of encouragement as you look to the future. 

I feel a special connection to the Class of 2022.  We started together.  Your first assembly was my first assembly.  You were nervous and excited preps.  I was your nervous and excited new principal. 

And here we are today, four years later. 

Your class has grown in numbers and become stronger each year, as we have welcomed new Lowers, new Uppers, and this year new Seniors.  You have all grown in your accomplishments and personal development.  I have enjoyed getting to know many of you quite well along the way.  But your time here hasn’t been easy. 

For more than two years now, we have been mired in a global pandemic the likes of which the world had not seen in more than a century.  We are grateful for those who have worked hard to keep our community safe.  Even so, we must acknowledge that the pandemic has posed significant hardships and challenges for all of you.  You have met those challenges with perseverance and grace.

In all your endeavors, you have worked hard, given your best, aspired to excellence, and achieved excellence.  You have distinguished yourselves academically.  You have excelled in music, drama, dance and the visual arts.  You have competed at a high level in athletics.  It has been a delight for me to watch you learn and grow, pursue your passions, and thrive across all aspects of school life. 

I am proud of all that you have accomplished during your time here, and you should be as well. 

I also am grateful for the ways you have endeavored to make our school a more equitable and inclusive community.  You have been leaders in our anti-racism work.  You have helped create numerous programs and events to celebrate the rich diversity of our school, and to support a strong sense of belonging for all members of our community.  You have worked to promote greater awareness and understanding around issues of sexual assault, consent, and healthy relationships.  You have been strong advocates for environmental sustainability. 

You have done all this in the spirit of non sibi, to make Exeter a stronger community for all its members.

I also admire the way you have cared for and supported each other.

I think back to E/A weekend in the fall, which Dean Weatherspoon has said was the best he had seen in more than 30 years.  That was your doing.  You were in the stands, leading the cheers, screaming your lungs out, starting with our volleyball triumph in the morning, and ending with our football triumph at the end of the day.  I think about seeing you rush the court after the girls’ basketball victory at Andover, but also individual moments, how a football captain stood on a bench and addressed the team following the last game, and the times I saw one of you congratulate or console a teammate after a triumph or disappointment.  This was more than school spirit.  It was students supporting each other, celebrating each other, and caring for one another. 

I have seen this across all aspects of school life this year.  I have seen it in the energy and buzz in the lobby of the Goel Center after theater and dance performances, and in the way you have supported each other after performances and competitions in The Bowld.  I have seen it in crowded hallways at student art shows; and in how you have greeted each other with hugs after meditations.  And there is much that I do not see, that happens in clubs, affinity groups, dorms, classrooms and labs.  You care deeply for each other.  You always show up for each other.  In doing so, you have set a powerful example for the classes that will follow. 

Seniors, I say again that I am proud of all that you have accomplished, and all that you have contributed to the life of our school. 

You have not done all this alone.  I would like to acknowledge all the adults on campus who have supported you during your time here: your teachers, coaches, advisors and counselors; those who have kept you healthy and safe; those who have prepared your food; those who maintain our facilities; and all the others who in countless ways, often behind the scenes, have supported your education and experiences at Exeter.  Please take a moment to express your gratitude for everything all the adults on campus have done to support you. 

An Exeter education is an extraordinary gift.  Your families have made many sacrifices so you could be here.  Let’s also take a moment to thank them for the sacrifices they have made, and all the support they have given you, during your time at Exeter.

And now, a few words about what lies ahead.

I would like to share with you this morning something that my Exeter classmate, Roberto Garcia, said at our Exeter graduation 51 years ago. 

Roberto was our Senior Class President and also Student Council president, and he was on campus just a few weeks ago for our class reunion.  This is what he said at our graduation in 1971:

“This education has done more than just serve its purpose. It was a unique experience which has to some extent opened our minds to the virtues and inadequacies of human beings. It has contributed to the construction of our self-confidence and self-awareness. It has intensified my personal conviction that although people are basically self-centered, they are also basically good and that primary desires can be overlooked to make a human connection between ourselves. I’ve learned that despite the fundamental paradoxes in the American system and the resulting confusion, people can still work together.“

You hear in Roberto’s words his optimism and his faith in the basic goodness of people.  Fundamentally, he was saying to his classmates, we can make a difference.  We can put personal needs aside, confront injustices, and make the world better -- how? -- by making human connections.  By working together.

Earlier this year, a faculty member greeted me on the paths and asked, “How are you?”  Impulsively, I answered, “I am an optimist!”  That was not an answer the faculty member might have expected, but it is true.  I am an optimist.  And like my classmate and good friend Roberto, I believe that most people are basically good and capable of doing good things.  I expect most people to do good things.  I remember a line from a grace my grandparents taught me to say: “may we the good in others see.”

But it has been hard work of late being an optimist.  It is hard not to despair, in the face of racially-motivated and religiously-motivated killings, and other senseless violence.  These repeated hate-fueled acts of violence shake the very core of our being and our common humanity.  We also are deeply disturbed by the war in Ukraine and other troubling events around the world and here in the United States.  At times, it is hard to know what to believe in these days.

But seniors, I will tell you this:

I believe in the mission of our school.

And I believe in this senior class.  

Our mission as a school  is to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives.

Your mission in being here is to be challenged, learn and grow, have fun, make lifelong friends, find and pursue your passions, and in the process, prepare yourselves to lead purposeful lives. 

You have done all that.  You have been challenged during your time here, and you have succeeded.  Whether you have been here for one year or four, you have grown in ways that you could not have imagined when you first arrived.  And you are ready to take your next steps. 

“Exeter seeks to graduate young people whose ambitions and actions are inspired by their interest in others and the world around them, and who understand that the wisdom gained here should be used for others as well as for oneself.”  That is what our non sibi core value statement says.  I have every confidence that you will be such graduates. 

Imbued with knowledge and goodness – which our Deed of Gift tells us “united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to [hu]mankind” – you are ready to take your place in the world, follow the examples of generations of Exonians who have come before, and make a difference in service to humanity.

You are ready to be the kinds of citizens and leaders that our world needs -- citizens and leaders who will act with empathy, understanding, and respect for their fellow human beings, who will make the “human connections” that Roberto talked about, and who will work together to break patterns of injustice and form a better world.  You have been doing that work here.  You can do it next year.  You can do it for your entire lives.

You don’t need to know now what you will do with your lives.  Whatever paths you choose, you are leaving Exeter with the necessary foundation to be successful and make a positive difference in the world. 

Go with confidence, but also with humility.  Harkness teaches us that we are at our best when we are open to the thoughts and ideas of others, particularly those whose experiences and perspectives differ from our own.  Our Harkness pedagogy has uniquely prepared you to be a member and leader of teams – teams that can change the world.  Indeed, I believe your greatest fulfillment in your personal and professional lives will be determined by the quality of the relationships that you build, and what those relationships yield. 

Scale does not matter.  Keep in mind that when you change the life of one person, you change the world for that person.  If you respect the dignity of every human life — every day, all the time — then you are certain to change many lives along the way.

Seniors, I graduated from Exeter exactly 51 years ago today.  I left Exeter with deep feelings of gratitude for the education that I had received here, and with a strong sense of belonging.  I hope you will leave with the same feelings today. 

I hope that you will return to Exeter from time to time to share your stories with future Exonians, and by your examples, inspire them, as you have been inspired during your time here.

I also hope you will keep in touch with those adults on campus who have cared for you during your time here.  They will continue to care for you, and will be eager to hear from you.

You might recall something that I said to you in a virtual assembly during the spring of 2020, when you were learning remotely from home.  I said that “Exeter lives within each of us and forms around us, no matter the distance between us.”  That will remain true in the years ahead, as you travel far and near.  You will always remain part of the Exeter community.  You will always have a home here. 

And you will always be the great class of 2022.