THOMASVILLE -- Brookwood School’s class of 2020 celebrated their graduation with pomp and circumstance on Saturday afternoon. In recent years, graduation has taken place at the Thomasville Municipal Auditorium. However, in a return to its roots and due to the restrictions from COVID-19, graduation was held on campus in the school’s Beverly Athletic Center.
The commencement ceremony honored the 37 students in Brookwood’s graduating class, and the students had much to celebrate. As has been the case each year, Brookwood boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Students from the class of 2020 will be attending universities and colleges including, among others, Davidson College (NC), Emory University (GA), Georgia Institute of Technology, Sewanee: The University of the South (TN), Southern Methodist University (TX), the University of Georgia, and the University of Mary Washington (VA).
The Brookwood class of 2020 earned many accolades this year: as a group, they submitted 175 applications to 78 colleges or universities, and were admitted to 53 institutions in 20 states, including five of the top 30 national universities, and three of the top 30 liberal arts colleges in the United States. All told, the Brookwood graduates were awarded a total of $3.1 million in merit scholarships, not including Georgia HOPE scholarships. Over 40 percent of the seniors received more than $100,000 in scholarship awards; of those, four members of the class have each exceeded $200,000 in scholarship awards.
The speaker for the ceremony was Mrs. Alston P. Watt, the Executive Director of the Williams Family Foundation of Georgia. She is a leader in the community who has worked across the globe to foster economic development, relief and disaster response.
After working for CARE in Haiti and Bangladesh, she served as the Administrator of a Kellogg Foundation Grant in community-based public health at The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. Her journey then took her to Africa with her husband Philip, Brookwood class of 1979, where she served as Director of Community Development for the North Luangwa Conservation Project promoting small-scale economic development.
Watt opened her speech by recognizing the historic nature of the commencement. “Although this afternoon is nothing like you imagined last fall...it affords us an opportunity to have a more intimate conversation and allows you as a class to make just one more bit of Brookwood history.”
Her message centered on the importance of “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.” She regaled the class with stories in which she has gotten out of her comfort zone in her life, including working with female entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and attending Washington and Lee University in their first year of coeducation. She challenged the class of 2020 to get out of their comfort zones and explained how their flexibility during this time has prepared them to do so. “The easy route would be to play it safe, but I know your class - you don’t play it safe.”
Watt challenged them to “own your class of 2020 history by leaping bravely into the future knowing you are surrounded by the supportive scaffolding that was built around you by your parents, the faculty and staff during your time at Brookwood, remembering that you have begun to hone your skills at getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
She left the class with a question to consider as they leave Brookwood: “What will be your first, bold step out of the comfortable, and how will it transform you?”
During the ceremony, students reflected on not just their academic achievements, but the great things they’ve done outside of the classroom, as well. The Brookwood class of 2020 features one National Merit Commended Scholar, three athletes who will play in college, three Eagle Scouts, and the reigning Thomasville Rose Queen. 19 members of the class of 2020 have attended Brookwood since junior kindergarten or kindergarten.
Brookwood Headmaster Randy Watts spoke about the students leaving Brookwood with “roots and wings.”
“Your roots are your foundation. Academically, physically, socially, and spiritually, you have the foundation that you need for success,” said Watts. “You also have wings. You have the skills and confidence to leap out of the nest -- the protective comfort of home and school -- and soar as high as you wish.”
As is tradition at Brookwood, a number of student speakers also addressed the audience of their peers and family while faculty, staff, extended family, and friends watched on Livestream.
Lilly Jackson and Holland Walker, the co-valedictorians of this year’s graduating class, framed their speech through the lyrics of Marc Anthony’s song Vivir Mi Vida, a class favorite.
“It is the simple, uplifting message of the song which makes it so much more relevant and meaningful now during this pandemic,” Walker stated. “The attitude of optimism and perseverance in Marc Anthony’s lyrics that we have sung together over the past years reminded both of us of the optimism and perseverance of our fellow classmates.”
The song talks about how “sometimes, the rain comes,” and Jackson and Walker highlighted all of the ways that the class has overcome challenges and setbacks. “Online or six feet apart, we’ve been able to come together,” Jackson said of her classmates.
Walker concluded the speech by praising her classmates and alluding to their preparedness for the future. “Through the rain, we have developed spirits for resilience, optimism, and determination. We have discovered the importance of cherishing each and every moment together. These values will guide us as we continue through college and beyond, allowing us to live our lives full of laughter and full of dance.”
Co-salutatorians Thompson Miles and Mollie Vick spoke about their classmates, assigning each of them a popular advertising slogan based on their strengths and abilities. From Apple’s “Think Different” to Allstate’s “You’re in Good Hands,” every student was recognized for his or her unique contributions to the class.
Miles and Vick also assigned the class an overall slogan: Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It.” Vick explained, “No matter what this year threw at us, we did it. We have overcome unprecedented times while also making history.”
In addition to the speeches, two special awards were given out at the ceremony.
The Patricia James Bulloch Memorial Service Award is given annually to a student who has rendered outstanding service to Brookwood throughout his or her time at the school.
This year, the award went to Kelley Richardson, a cum laude graduate.
“(Richardson) has not only been a loyal supporter of Brookwood, but has shown this devotion by a spirit of generosity and a willingness to do whatever task is at hand,” Watts said. “(She) has already shown a deep love for Brookwood and an active dedication to the school.”
The Headmaster’s Award goes to the student who embodies the highest ideals of character, service, and involvement. It is the highest honor that the Brookwood faculty can bestow upon a student.
Co-salutatorian Thompson Miles was given the Headmaster’s Award. “(Miles) represents all that we hope a Brookwood student will be,” Watts said. “(She) has done what our alma mater encourages: lifted high the values of Brookwood School.”
While some students were singled out for special awards or had the chance to give speeches, every student received his or her time in the spotlight as they crossed the stage. Every individual student received a diploma from Watts before crossing the stage to receive a bible from Vann Middleton, chairman of Brookwood’s Board of Directors. David Grooms, assistant headmaster and Upper School director, announced each student’s name.
The ceremony closed with a benediction, given by Grooms, in which each student was individually uplifted in prayer.