Interview with Mr. Thomas on All Things Commencement

By Abi Baker, Staff Writer

As students, faculty, and staff prepare to depart for the summer, the year ends on a much more normal note than it started. Since school started back up following spring break, grade levels have been coming into school more frequently, as opposed to the previous two days a week in-school schedule. The steady return to normalcy has been seen more prominently during the Commencement ceremony, in which seniors and their families will be able to attend in person at the Peterson Field on June 11, 2021. 


I recently spoke to Headmaster John Thomas regarding preparing for his commencement address, planning the event, and his reflection on the past year. So many traditional Flint Hill events have either been held in a virtual capacity or not at all this year. However, with so many in our community now vaccinated and with a decrease in cases, the administration wanted to prioritize holding a safe and inclusive final ceremony for the seniors. 


Mr. Thomas has worked to preserve his traditions with the senior class throughout the year, one being the senior dinner. This year the dinner was held on campus, and the class was split in half, some dining in the gym and others in the commons. They were connected through a Google Meet displayed on a TV in either location.   


Mr. Thomas considers memories and stories from each class when they begin in freshman year to when they are seniors. He says, “people don’t realize I’m always taking notes.” He describes the multiple folders he has compiled throughout his time as headmaster. These reminders help when he is crafting his welcome address to the senior class, which he says adds “humor and little touches [that] show that we are a family.”  It personalizes the speech, and he hopes at some point every senior can go, “he’s talking about me or that’s my group.”


In terms of coordinating the event, planning has been underway for months. It was an enormous project with a guiding principle to ensure that the senior class could all be together. Weekly planning meetings took place to discuss venues, tents, and capacity. Initially, the graduation was set to occur on George Mason’s campus, but the school has since transformed its field into a vaccination site. Before graduation, the seniors and their guests will quarantine for a period of time to prevent a covid case from delaying or prevent students from attending.  


One tradition Mr. Thomas had started was to have an alumnus speak at Commencement; this year, it will be Brian Aspinwall. The class of 2000 graduate is now a film producer and associate creative director at HBO Max. After graduating from Flint Hill, Aspinwall attended George Washington University; while he was supposed to give last year’s address, he could not give last year’s speech due to the obvious implications of the pandemic.


As this will be one of Mr. Thomas’s last Commencements, we spoke about his favorite traditions from the ceremony. “I’ve always loved the music and the singing,” he says, and each year he is “in awe”. Among others are the student speakers, the valedictorian, and the salutatorian. Furthermore, the Brody Prize recipient from the year prior will perform; this year, senior Kate Renner.