End of Year Speakers Named
It’s hard to believe the final month of school is upon us, and Commencement is nearly here. The end of the year at Tabor is full of traditions during Senior Week, when the graduating class finish their classes and enjoy their last moments as students at School by the Sea. A senior/faculty dinner, waterfront days, fire-pit nights, and Prom are among the festivities for students. The largest of the traditions are the Baccalaureate and Commencement Ceremonies, the final two commitments for the graduating class.
As we count down the moments to when the Class of 2023 transitions from students to alumni, Tabor is excited to announce the End of Year Speakers for 2023. Speakers are chosen by the Commencement Committee, which incorporates student feedback and voting from the faculty prize to determine the choices. This year, the two end of year speakers are faculty members Merrie-Beth Cleary and Chris Conley.
Baccalaureate is a non-denominational ceremony held the night before Commencement. This ceremony, held in Wickenden Chapel, offers a quiet, more intimate opportunity to pause and reflect on this rite of passage. The audience will enjoy performances of the alma mater and additional music from the Madrigals, hear student readings, and take in the keynote speech from a faculty member offering advice to the graduating class.
Merrie-Beth Cleary has been named as the Class of 2023’s Baccalaureate speaker. Cleary has been at Tabor since 2015. Drawing on her background as a school counselor and her degrees in sociology and psychology, she has led Tabor’s ASSIST Learning Center as the Director of Academic Support. Cleary helps students with organizational practices, time management and study skills, and works with faculty on differentiated instructional strategies to meet the needs of all types of learners. She also coaches varsity field hockey and lives in Lillard Hall with her husband and their four children.
“To say I was caught off guard by the news would be an understatement,” laughs Cleary. “I wasn’t sure if it was for real at first because I don’t consider myself a public speaker. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes type of person. It truly was a moment of pure astonishment for me, but I’m proud to be chosen for this honor.”
The Class of 2023 holds a special place in her heart, Cleary notes. “It’s almost like an essence of being—you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it’s undeniable. The connection runs deep.” Over the past four years, Cleary has had the opportunity to work with the majority of the senior class in different capacities, ranging from coach, advisor, and houseparent, to working with them through clubs, activities, and of course, ASSIST. “They are a truly multifaceted and talented group of individuals who I consider it a privilege to honor as this year’s baccalaureate speaker."
Without giving away too much detail about her intended speech, Cleary notes that she aims to talk about change, something that is prevalent at this time of year. “Change brings about much emotion and a wide range of them that can challenge our core beliefs, both positively and negatively. But embracing change and all that comes with it, fighting those challenges and embracing the good, it’s a process that we all must work through to become stronger in the end.”
The following morning, the graduating class will dress in their graduation best and gather with the faculty, outfitted in their academic regalia, for the final event of the 2022-2023 school year. Taking place in Tabor’s 147th year, the 2023 Commencement Ceremony will feature student speeches, awards, musical performances, and the 2023 Commencement Speaker, faculty member Chris Conley.
Conley came to Tabor in 1998, and after a brief hiatus away, returned in 2010; his heart is truly at the School by the Sea. A science teacher and coach for varsity girls' basketball and the varsity sailing team, he dedicates his time to Tabor both in the classroom and on the field. Conley is also a houseparent in Heath House, where he resides with his family.
“To be honest, I was pretty surprised when I was asked,” Conley admits. “I have seen some incredible speakers give the address at Commencement, and I truly don't belong in their company. Then again, I have also seen some terrible speakers, which made me feel better about the lowest bar I will have to at least trip over,” he laughs. “I think Tony has taken a bit of a risk here, as I tend to straddle a line between reverence and irreverence, and if forced to pick, I choose the side not often asked to give Commencement addresses.” It seems the Class of 2023 is in for an interesting address this year.
Like Cleary, Conley shares a unique connection to the graduating students. “I feel a bond to Class of 2023, certainly due to a number of the individuals in the class, but more for their overall experience. We have all gone through this strange rollercoaster of normal school experiences, dashed by lockdowns and remote learning, then the stops-and-starts to the return of in-person learning, and now some hope and glimpses of normalcy. I think we are all trying to figure these past four years out, what they mean for our future, and how we grapple with our fears and aspirations, as well as the fears and aspirations of those around us.”
For his address, Conley says, “I do not promise any answers to those issues, as I am struggling with them as much as anybody will be under that tent. I do promise that I will share a secret and a lesson for the graduating class. That is because I have titled my talk, ‘A Secret and a Lesson,’ and I am no poet. I am a science teacher, and I take things very literally.”
Congratulations to our end of year speakers and to our graduating class. We look forward to celebrating you all.