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Commencement Exercises Held Memorial Day Weekend

Mercersburg Academy honored 123 members of the Class of 2023 during the school’s 130th Commencement exercises Saturday, May 27, on the traditional Commencement platform between Keil Hall and South Cottage. Brant Warner ’23 of Frederick, MD, delivered the valedictorian address, and Catherine Orders ’23 of Charleston, WV, gave the salutatorian address. Parker Ward ’82 was the invited speaker. He was joined by Head of School Quentin McDowell P ’25, ’27, Board of Regents President Stacie Rice Lissette ’85, P ’14, ’14, ’17, ’23, and Nevine Orators Mel Cort ’23 of Brookeville, MD, and Manny Ponce ’23 of Union City, NJ, who represented the class.

See a replay of the ceremony.

Orders advised her classmates to appreciate the time they’ve spent in high school while looking forward to the future. “This is a commencement after all, not a conclusion. Meet new people, do amazing things with the time you are given, use your powers for good,” Orders said. “Go into your next four years headfirst with gusto. I encourage you not to cling to the past, but rather to carry the memories with you.” 

Warner challenged members of the Class of 2023 to remember how far they have come. “What we started four years ago was more than just a group of students progressing through high school. It was a bond. It was a community. It was a culture. And that’s despite all that happened,” Warner said. “Our entrance as freshmen was so strong, the world sent COVID to break us apart. That didn’t work. Hours upon hours of online class and asynchronous periods tried to weigh us down, yet we are still afloat. So, Class of 2023, I hope you all recognize what you’ve been through to get here today. Remember, there’s a freshman version of yourself out there that is proud of you right now. So proud. Think about them. Think about who you were. Think about who you’ve become.”

Ward, a Mercersburg alum and a former commercial airline pilot who became a paraplegic following a 2004 snowmobile accident, shared his incredible story of perseverance.

“You can’t prevent what you can’t predict,” Ward said. “Don’t have regrets or beat yourself up about what has happened. If there is nothing that you could do, understand that failure is a part of life, and it will happen, and move on.”

The Mercersburg Class of 2023 should remember how they carved a space for themselves in the “great tradition of this school, time and time again, against all odds,” Cort said.

“We are an archipelago of unique, boisterous and incredibly promising individuals tied together by love for this community which provided my own journey with topographical beauty of epic proportions,” Cort said.

Ponce referred to the remote learning experience imposed on his class as a result of COVID-19, noting that it made them appreciate being together all the more. 

“Despite our efforts to make the most out of our Zoom experiences, it simply wasn’t the same as seeing your faces in person,” Ponce said. “I can vividly recall the exhilaration of being able to run to my classmates and embrace them tightly after a year-and-a-half apart. While we all hated that phase of our high school lives, I believe that without it, we wouldn’t have truly appreciated the indescribable feeling of togetherness that washes over us when we’re all physically present.”

This year’s class marshals were Chuks Ugori ’23 of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Isabel Su ’23 of Hagerstown, MD. Senior Class President Minh Tran ’23 of Hanoi, Vietnam, presented the class gift. Students will matriculate at more than 85 different colleges and universities, including Boston University, Case Western Reserve University, Clemson University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, New York University, Tulane University, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the University of Virginia. View a list of prizes awarded at Commencement.

On Friday, May 26 (the evening preceding Commencement), seniors participated in the traditional Baccalaureate ceremony in the Irvine Memorial Chapel. Trini Hoffman P ’00, ’06, who is retiring this year after 29 years on the Mercersburg faculty, delivered the Baccalaureate address. She spoke to the graduates about facing challenges through hard work and grit.

“If you quit when things get tough, it gets much easier to quit the next time,” Hoffman said. “On the other hand, if you force yourself to push through it, the growth begins to grow in you. Adversity is everywhere–in your relationships. It’ll be next year in your college experience, your jobs, your everyday life. These will all take grit and hard work and determination, passion and faith.”

See a replay of the Baccalaureate service.
Learn more about speakers Ward and Hoffman.

School carillonneur James Brinson gave a recital on the Chapel’s Swoope carillon one hour prior to both Baccalaureate and Commencement. For additional information about the weekend, visit

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