Although separated by miles and even oceans, the Randolph-Macon Academy family came together online to celebrate the graduation and successes of the Class of 2020. The Class consisted of 56 seniors and eight Falcon Scholars, earning a combined total of $8.4 million in college scholarships, along with 211 acceptances to 130 different colleges and universities around the world. Those universities included Brandeis, Drexel, Duke, Duquesne, Fordham, George Mason, Howard, James Madison, New York University, Northeastern, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, The Ohio State University, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, University of California Irvine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Maryland, University of Pennsylvania, University of Richmond, University of Sydney, University of Toronto, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, and other prestigious institutions. All eight of the Falcon Scholars earned an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
From Class Night and the Baccalaureate Service to the Ceremony itself, the R-MA graduates were honored through musical tributes, awards, speeches, and individual recognition. The outpouring of love for this class was tremendous, as dozens of parents and alumni sent in messages that were played before and the graduation ceremony. Several past parents joined in on the YouTube Premiere event, offering their congratulations as well.
The guest speaker for the event was RADM John Stufflebeem, USN, Retired, a 1970 graduate of R-MA. While at R-MA, he was a varsity football player and went on to play at the US Naval Academy and then with the Detroit Lions. Upon returning to the Navy, he became a fighter pilot and a wartime commander, as well as the military assistant to the President of the United States. Stufflebeem is now an independent consultant and sole proprietor of the NJS Group LLC, a strategic and crisis communications consulting firm in Alexandria, VA. His selection as the guest speaker this year held special meaning, as the Class of 1970 had adopted mentorship of the Class of 2020 four years ago; since then the two classes have eaten together, talked together, and gone on trips together. Stufflebeem kept his remarks short and to the point, with one recurring theme: “Do good things.”
“What you may not realize is how closely we have watched you and your development into terrific young leaders,” he said to the graduates. “We could not be more proud of you, happy for you, and wish you well in what's ahead. You have already done good things and as some of you have heard me say before, the only difference between us and you are the experiences of life we've had since graduating. Take it on faith, many good things await you; the best is yet to come in life. Those of you who know me and know of my life experiences know that I'm not making this up, but to help create those experiences you first have to start by doing good things.”
“Stuff will happen in your lives, both good and bad,” Stufflebeem pointed out, “but what happens to you is not nearly as important as what you do about it. The best way to tackle new challenges is to start by doing good things.”
Valedictorian Benjamin Kopjanski also spoke during the virtual graduation ceremony, focusing on pulling the class together with encouragement and memories. “We’ve all worked tirelessly for this day–or not–but I think we can all agree that we've been through a lot to get this point,” he said. “Between classes, sports, cadre, clubs, societies, morning tours, and our social lives, we didn't have much time to relax, sleep, sleep, or even breathe. Sometimes we felt like we were pulled in every direction and that it would never end, but we finally reached the top of the mountain of high school where we can all see our accomplishments. We, the class of 2020, have been phenomenal.”
Like most of the graduation week speakers, Ben addressed the pandemic head-on. “We're all tired of this quarantine,” he said. “It is annoying, disappointing, and disheartening that this quarantine has stolen part of our senior year, but do not let it get you down. We will come out stronger for weathering this storm, because we were so suddenly precipitated into it. Every moment of this quarantine is an opportune moment to learn, grow, and improve. If you take that axiom beyond the context of this quarantine, you'll find that you can accomplish anything.
“When and if you're feeling down, just remember all of our blissful memories and accomplishments. I remember when we went on a paintball trip with the class of ’70, all the International days, all the talent shows, that time we all sang ‘Party in the USA’ at the talent show for extra credit in [Brandon] Sloan’s class, when cadre went to VMI for the O-course, and when we definitely did not have snowball fights because that's against the Cadet Manual. Remember when we were State Drill Champions, when we went to States for wrestling and swimming, when we went to the conference championships for basketball and soccer, when we went on the corps run…. Hold on to and cherish these memories as we embark on the next steps of our lives.”
Ben’s speech was followed by the presentation of diplomas. As each graduate was announced, they were highlighted with their military photo and diploma, followed by their senior civilian photo and their college selection, complete with their decorated wheel caps. The virtual graduation ceremony contained a touching rendition of the Academy’s Alma Mater, a recording performed by the R-MA Band and Chorus over Zoom.
While COVID-19 might have changed how the year ended, the success of this Class is aptly demonstrated in their $5.2 million in college scholarship offers and 211 university acceptances. More importantly, as shown by the videos and the many tributes, the Class of 2020 will forever hold a special place in the hearts of the R-MA family.