“Always Forward, Forward Always”: Hotchkiss Celebrates Its 127th Graduating Class 

Under picture-perfect blue skies, 180 seniors took their final walk out of Elfers to Harris House lawn for Commencement exercises. An hour later, after singing “Fair Hotchkiss,” they became Hotchkiss’s 127th graduating class. 

The festivities leading up to graduation kicked off on the evening of May 30 with the senior recital and awards ceremony in Elfers, and continued on the following day with the Baccalaureate Ceremony in the Chapel, which included a performance by the Hotchkiss Chorus, and reflections by class co-presidents Souleman Toure and Katya Giffenig, senior Jailyn Mallard, and Chaplain Jason Larson. In her address, Mallard spoke about her journey as an insecure prep from the south side of Chicago to finding her path of self-discovery at Hotchkiss. 

Outside, on Harris House lawn overlooking Lake Wononscopomuc, family, friends, and alumni welcomed the Class of 2019 as the Hotchkiss Orchestra played Pomp and Circumstance No. 1. Following remarks by All-School Presidents Daniel Pai and Caitlin Reilly, and a musical performance by seniors Gemma Tung and Brian Wong, Head of School Craig Bradley introduced this year's keynote speaker Cheo Hodari Coker ’90. 

“Cheo embodies the power of an excellent liberal arts education at Hotchkiss and Stanford and how that education prepares talented and creative people to have a broad impact on society. He understands deeply the power of story telling across all media,” said Bradley.  

A Stanford graduate, Coker is former music journalist turned television writer and producer known for such television series as Luke Cage, NCIS: Los Angeles, Southland and Ray Donovan. Despite the all the pressures of working in Hollywood, Coker told the seniors that the most difficult challenge he faced in his life was making the honor roll at Hotchkiss. 

“Stanford was a piece of cake after this place,” he said. He credited the late Robert “The Hawk” Hawkins, an English instructor who was equally revered and feared by his students, with giving him solid writing skills and unlocking the magic of words. 

"Hotchkiss teaches you that there is nothing you can’t handle if you put your mind to it; I call it 'Hotchkiss Grit'," he said. As Hotchkiss alumni, he told seniors, they will have the skill set, the focus, and the poise to meet the challenges they will face ahead. 

“It has been 'Lakeville Grit,' not 'Palo Alto Grit,' that gets me through my toughest, most demanding deadlines,” he said. He left seniors with a rallying call and a mantra from his Netflix series character Luke Cage: “Always forward, forward always.” 

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