By Bill Kirk
---- — Although they hailed from 26 countries and 33 states, many of the graduates in Phillips Academy’s class of 2013 had strong ties to the school’s home base of Andover.
Class president Hemang Kaul who gave the address at Sunday’s 235th commencement exercises lives in Andover.
And Andover residents earned two of the top student awards. Piper Curtis received the Yale Bowl for attaining the highest proficiency in scholarship and athletics and Emily Field picked up the Faculty Prize for outstanding scholarship her senior year.
They were among the 38 Andover residents who helped the 323-member-strong class of 2013 go out in style.
Rev. Anne Gardner, the school chaplain, said in her invocation that students should strive for “something to do, something to love and something to hope for.”
Kaul said all of the graduates had their own individual experiences at Andover.
“I cannot speak for everybody and of a universal Andover experience, because there isn’t one. To know what it meant for you would mean to have spent my time at Andover in your shoes,” he said in his remarks to graduates, friends, family and faculty. “Each one of us will have unique memories of Andover, whether positive or negative, and we will all have been impacted by Andover in different ways and to varying degrees.
John Palfrey, who took over as head of school last July, told the graduates he will always remember what is his first graduating class,
“You, the class of 2013, will always have a special place in my heart,” he said
Palfrey said in addition to the departing seniors, five faculty members as well as two school leaders are also leaving Phillips. They include Temba Maqubela, who will is going on to lead Groton School, and Rebecca Sykes, who is becoming president of the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation.
After the speeches were over, the graduates marched down the center aisle of chairs assembled on the lawn outside Samuel Phillips Hall, and walked along a paved pathway to another lawn in front of the Addison Gallery of Art. There, the students assembled in an enormous circle. From under a tent, Palfrey read off their names in random order and passed out diplomas, which were handed from one student to the next until they reached their owners.
Parents, friends and family gathered behind their respective students as the diplomas made their rounds.
Andover residents Paul and Laurie Fraser watched as their son, Connor, received his diploma.
“It’s gone by quickly,” Paul Fraser said. “He worked hard to get himself in here. It was a perfect fit for him.”
A product of West Elementary and Middle schools in Andover, Connor Fraser was looking for a challenge when he took the initiative himself to apply to the school, his parents said.
He’s glad he did.
“It was great,” said Fraser, as he clutched his diploma after the ceremony. “When it was hard, it was hard, but in the end, it was worth it.”
Paul Fraser said the school really “encourages kids to find their passion and then supports them.” His son worked as one of the news editors for the Phillipian, the student paper, and is now going to Columbia University in New York, which has a top journalism school.
After the last diploma made it around the gathering of newly minted graduates, the students rushed the middle, holding diplomas aloft and dancing together while parents, relatives and faculty trained cameras and smartphones on the spectacle.
The 38 students from Andover made up a little more than a third of the 90 graduates from Massachusetts.
Among them was Erin Johnson of Reading. Her mother, Meg Mikita, said seeing her daughter earn her diploma was “bittersweet” because it’s the last time she’ll attend a graduation at Andover. Her other daughter, Emily Johnson, graduated from Phillips in 2010.
Another 30 students were from New York, 15 from New Jersey, 19 from California and 14 from Connecticut. But there were also students from many other states, including Texas.
Sixteen members of Michael Quackenbush May’s extended family from east Texas made the trip to see him graduate.
“He Googled the top boarding schools in the United States, downloaded the application and did it himself,” said Theresa Ramsey of May’s hometown of Crockett, Texas, one of those present for the occasion.
May’s aunt, Anne Walker, said her nephew “loved Andover and got an unbelievable education.”
The group rented an RV and was headed to Maine and other vacation spots along the East Coast following the graduation to celebrate.
The Peck family from New Orleans was in Andover to support Diondra Peck, who loved her experience at Andover and in New England so much she’s going to stay — and attend Harvard University in Cambridge in the fall.
“She doesn’t want to leave Boston,” Peck’s father, Warren, said, noting that his daughter got offers from top colleges across the country, but decided to remain in the Boston area.
There was also a strong international flavor to the proceedings, as some 45 students from 25 foreign countries graduated as well.
Nine relatives of Pallavi Prakash of New Delhi, India, including five from India and four from Vancouver, Canada, flew in for Sunday’s commencement.