Dr. Jon Vogels’ parting words to the Class of 2020


Editor’s Note: This is the Commencement speech for the Colorado Academy Class of 2020 by Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels.

My approach to this Commencement address has taken several detours in the past few months. Originally, I thought I would play off the “20-20 vision” theme. I imagined I would talk about how you have all set your sights high and dedicated yourself to seeing the future clearly. But in the end, that approach would have been too obvious and clichéd, and that just wouldn’t be appropriate for such a creative class. Plus, as someone who has never had anything close to perfect eyesight myself, I just don’t think I could put my heart into that theme.

I planned to move past the vision concept by noting the satisfying nature of the numbers Twenty-Twenty. Not since the Class of 1010 have we seen such round numbers. (I personally don’t think 1515 has the same smoothness.) It even looks good in Roman numerals: MMXX. Now, I know the mathematicians among you might have appreciated this approach, but in the end, I felt like it was too cold, too calculated. Just a series of numbers, after all.

Then, of course, I thought about discussing the hardships you have endured being the COVID-19 class. Historic, unprecedented, surreal: all of these descriptors and more are fitting. You will forever be known as the graduating class that endured a pandemic. But that, too, feels like an overused theme now, and I believe we are all sick of thinking about this nasty virus and how it has upended our lives, anyway. Let’s try something else.

What makes the Class of 2020 special 

I would rather take a more personalized approach and home in on what makes you, the Class of 2020, a special group.

Such a diversity of interests in this class! In this group we have future doctors, lawyers, and architects. We have budding artists, economists, athletes, businesspeople, and at least one ichthyologist. We have students who want to serve in the military, lead nonprofits, and work in science labs. Some students in this class will conquer all things technological, while others will spend their lives helping others develop meaningful human relationships. Some of you will probably do both.

But that list just focuses on what you all want to do. I am even more impressed with how you want to be. It’s clear that you want to live your lives with integrity and passion. Through your Senior speeches, REDI Lab presentations, Community Impact Projects, academic contests, and numerous pieces of writing, you have made it clear that you have perspective, maturity, and insight. And I hope one of the key takeaways from these past few weeks of confinement is that your desire to be out in the world, making a difference, has only intensified.

Some of you have weathered multiple medical challenges, family break-ups, and broken hearts. You have suffered great losses, including loved ones. You’ve testified in court and performed CPR. You’ve turned up, come out, leaned in, powered through. Along the way, you have had “ah-ha” moments that have provided you with even more wisdom and insight.

You have also reached incredible heights in all phases of your school life. You have distinguished yourselves on the stage, on the sports fields, in the Mock Trial courtroom, and especially in the classrooms and labs. As leaders, you have been role models and have provided much appreciated mentorship to our younger students. There are among you some whom I would already rank among the finest humans I have ever encountered, and you’re only 18.

I knew this class of 2020 was special from your early days as Freshmen. I was lucky enough to teach a group that year that epitomized the best of the class. I had a blend of new-to-CA Freshmen and others who had been at the school since Pre-K. In those months together in Room 142, I saw incredible growth, openness, and compassion. You were one of the most mature Ninth Grade groups I have ever encountered, while at the same being funny, and eager, and even a little eccentric at times. So a personal ‘thank you’ to Brian, Camille, Cisco, Ella, Gaby, Haley, Jorge, Kenzie, Mariko, Nancy, Quinn, Savannah, and Tyler.

My list of thanks can extend well beyond that group. Thank you, Seniors, for your tireless dedication to your areas of interest and your willingness to go all out to make the community better.

 ‘One of our most famous classes’

In his recent Zoom assembly, our guest speaker Bryan Terrell Clark predicted you would be one of the most innovative graduating classes ever. “History has its eyes on you,” he said, and he challenged you to look at this extended quarantine time as a sort of gift. Dealing with adversity often does spark innovation. But I would argue this class has been inclined that way all along. I have rarely seen the level of creativity and inventiveness amongst a group of students that I have seen from you.

You have designed and made your own hats and t-shirts, written plays and musicals, formed an Ethics Bowl Team that was one of the best in the country, built your own businesses, designed your own climbing walls, created graphic novels, built guitars and other musical instruments, performed at slam poetry contests, taken apart and put together engines, created the stands on which our Senior boards reside, made countless clever videos, performed for students at local elementary schools, and, yes, even posted some truly epic memes.

You, the Class of 2020, will certainly go down as one of our most famous classes. And not only because you were the ones who had your Spring trimester so rudely interrupted, but because of the quality of your character and the spirit you brought to this school. I encourage you all to maintain that sense of purpose in the years ahead.