Curiosity, Not Fear: Commencement for the Class of 2024

The Colorado Academy Class of 2024 is that group of 109 students who began their high school careers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the fall of 2020. So it seemed fitting that the unspoken theme of this class’s Commencement Exercises on May 30, 2024, was thriving in the face of fear and adversity.

Members of the Class of 2024 on their first day of Ninth Grade

The President of CA’s Board of Trustees, Kevin Reidy, welcomed families, faculty, staff, and guests to the event on the West Lawn of the historic Welborn House by sharing the story of the hero who helped his daughter, Diana ’23, survive cancer—the oncologist who saved her life turned out to be his own third grade classmate. “You never know when you’re going to meet your hero,” Reidy said, “but you will.”

He continued, “What if the next person you meet turns out to be your hero or saving grace? What if the person sitting next to you today drastically and positively changes the trajectory of your life, or, more importantly, what if you are that change agent? If you were to walk with the mindset that heroes are ordinary people who show up when you least expect it and most need it, how would you begin to treat others?”

“My message to you today is that if you lean in and rely on the mission of CA, you will undoubtedly find your heroes—and moreover, you just may be that hero to someone else.”

Reidy welcomed Head of School Dr. Mike Davis on the podium next to deliver his remarks, which directly addressed the unique entry into the Upper School experienced by this group of Seniors.

“You came to CA on your first day of Ninth Grade wearing masks, during a time of immense fear and uncertainty. But any worry you may have had was not going to stop you from connecting with one another. I vividly remember you all gathering as Ninth Graders outside the front entrance of the Upper School. Adults, me included, would pass through, pleading with you to stay six feet apart and wear your masks. You ignored us. Part of me appreciated your minor rebellion, because I understood your intense desire to get to know one another. You didn’t let fear get in the way of human connection.”

Davis continued by explaining fear’s physiological and emotional effects, noting that this natural part of life can impair judgment, reasoning, and understanding. “Yet there is an antidote to fear, and you have already used it in your lives: curiosity. Something that you all demonstrated in the fall of 2020, curiosity is not just a desire to know, it is daring to explore, having the courage to question, a drive to understand, and the heart of innovation.”

Curiosity allowed thinkers such as Newton and Einstein to make some of the most important discoveries in human history, Davis noted. And it drove the late, great basketball player and commentator Bill Walton to insist, “I learn from yesterday, I dream about tomorrow, but I try to make today my masterpiece.”

“Curiosity does not seek a final destination but rather revels in the exploration itself,” Davis went on. “This relentless pursuit is what helps us push past our fears. Today, as you step out into the world, I challenge each of you to let your curiosity lead you, let it be your guide through the complexities of life and your shield against the paralysis of fear. Nurture it, embrace it, and may it help build a life for you that is rich with discovery.”

The CA Chanteurs, conducted by Dr. Kevin Padworski, then assembled before the audience to perform the song “The Call,” by Regina Spector:

Just because everything’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war
Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light

Next it was time to hear from Upper School Principal Max Delgado, who shared his own take on fear, curiosity, and holding the future loosely.

He recounted stories about two old friends, one who held too tightly to a vision of his future, and the other who approached change and new experiences with openness. 

“My friend George knew that he wanted to be married one day, and made decisions based on that vision. He replaced curiosity with calculation and wonder with strategy.” When a family friend tried to introduce him to a woman from Canada, George turned down the first date because he couldn’t picture himself marrying her and living abroad.

“George did what he was trained to do his whole life,” Delgado continued. “Just like you, he was skilled at planning, analyzing, determining what sequence of steps would lead to the desired outcome. That’s why you’re getting your diploma today. It’s why you will go on to do big things and finish what you started.”

The other story, about Delgado’s young cousin from Mexico and his own first date, took a different turn. While visiting the United States, Ivan met a young woman, and years later was still corresponding with her regularly. On Ivan’s next visit, it was Delgado’s turn to worry about the future: he envisioned Ivan marrying the woman and disappointing his Mexican relatives. “If you marry an American girl, your mother is going to kill me,” Delgado told Ivan. 

But Ivan set him straight. “She’s not asking me to move to America or get married. She’s asking me to go to dinner.” Delgado realized that somehow, Ivan was able to think about the future without holding a preconceived idea about its outcome; he was able to hold the future loosely.

“This is a mindset your teachers have been trying to instill in you from the start: Process informs outcome, not the other way around. And the good news is that you already excel at thinking this way.”

The bad news, Delgado concluded, is that later in life, there are times when every individual is tempted to abandon wonder, curiosity, and open-mindedness for the sake of achieving a particular outcome. “Some adults spend decades trying to twist and turn the world into an order that they’ve convinced themselves is the only acceptable one out there. But I can tell you that often, the right thing to do is whatever scares you the most—because it’s also the thing that makes your life bigger.”

Finally, the Class of 2024 Elected Student Speaker, Graham Neely, came to the lectern to speak to his peers and their family and friends. 

Recounting his Eighth Grade first-day-of-school experiences, which included being unable to open his locker and then coming under attack by wasps, Neely explained, “I immediately understood that this was a place that wasn’t just supportive, but one where your fellow students actively cheer you on, rooting for your successes and commiserating with your failures.”

From bonding with classmates over those first-day experiences to surviving COVID-19 with them, Neely continued, “This class thrived. We passionately pursued individual and combined interests and experiences. We seized our opportunities and lifted each other up, and ourselves, by doing what we loved and daring to try new things. Let’s go out into the world stronger for what we have done and learned the past four years, and perhaps most importantly, for everything we’ve received from the friends surrounding all of us.”

Dr. Davis then stood again to issue CA-red diplomas to the graduates in the Class of 2024, reading individual tributes composed with the help of faculty, coaches, and staff for each one. Guests cheered as every name was announced, and after the final Senior, Jessica Zinn, was recognized, the audience stood and applauded while the graduates recessed down the center aisle and toward the next chapter of their lives.