The Gunston School’s 110th Commencement Honors 49 Students 

The Gunston School’s 110th Commencement Honors 49 Students 
The Class of 2021 Group Photo

The Gunston School in Centreville, Md. celebrated its 110th commencement this past Saturday, June 12, honoring the Class of 2021. Front row, from left, Lillian (Lilli) Ward, Sydney Nittle, Lydia Davis, Adison (Adie) Parish, Glynis Gardner, Lydia Periconi, Kayla Flood, Reagan Gessford, Marion Riddle, Lily Berntsen, Emily Ryon. Second row, from left, Helen Boone, Avy Aubin, Phebe Wood, Hannah Worth, Olivia Hershey, Hannah Beckman, Isabella (Bella) Adams, Erin McDonald, Emma McClary, Erika Lee. Third row, from left, Yongah (Jonathan) Choi, Brianna (Brie) Barrett-Kennedy, Henry Shifrin, Orion (Rion) McCluskey, Charles (Charlie) Shifrin, Colin Ward, Sean Riley, Carter Janney. Standing, fourth row, left to right, Assistant Head of School Christie Grabis, Head of School John Lewis, Ethan Nuessle, Samuel (Ranger) Hightower, Maxmillian (Max) Brady, Christian Walker, Campbell Parkhurst, Severin Schut, Zachary (Zack) Anderson, Graduation Speaker Ben Dize, Chair of the Board of Trustees Patrick Shoemaker ’03. Fifth row, left to right, Aidan Myers, Joseph (Brennan) O'Connor, Henry Sheets, James Fordi, Jack Pigman, Owen Santora, Connor Reichardt, Kylee Rushton and Joshua (Josh) Sanford. Not pictured are Suah Choi, Hyunseok (Luke) Lee, and Yi (Lily) Zhang.


The Gunston School celebrated its 110th commencement this past Saturday, June 12, honoring the Class of 2021 with a waterfront ceremony overlooking the Corsica River, as family and friends looked on. The procession began with Bagpiper Robert Wallace, followed by school faculty and staff, and then the graduating seniors. Senior Class President and Valedictorian Lydia Periconi, who is headed to Penn State Schreyer Honors College to study veterinary and biomedical science, greeted the audience and her peers before each graduate shared their senior quote aloud. 

Head of School John Lewis then introduced the commencement speaker, Mr. Ben Dize, a retiring faculty member who has spent just over 50 years teaching, with the last 22 spent at Gunston as the chair of the art department. “Born in Crisfield, Maryland as the oldest of three children, Mr. Ben Dize spent his formative years living a true Eastern Shore childhood from a bygone era,” began Mr. Lewis. “Immersed in the waterman culture, and without a television until the 9th grade, he was part of a small graduating class of 58 at Crisfield High School. From there, he migrated to College Park, Maryland, graduating in 1968, and then earning his Master’s degree at Towson in 1974. He started teaching in the Kent County Public School System in 1969 before coming to Gunston in 1999. For 22 years, he’s been a fixture as a teacher and advisor, seeing the school through growth and change.”

Mr. Dize posed the question “What is it about Gunston that makes it special? Every senior here probably has a slightly different answer. For some, it’s the lifetime friendships that were made here. For others, it’s a certain teacher who saw in them something they did not see themselves. It might have been the freedom to be an individual, or the chance to be a leader. Whatever your path has been, Gunston has played a role in your becoming. Gunston changes lives, alters attitudes, opens doors to self-discovery, challenges ways of thinking, and makes written communication an essential part of an individual’s educational journey. For all of us, the past 15 months has been a time of historic challenges and changes. We all have a shared story here—shared loss, shared pain, shared disappointments. But there are things I would like you to remember: BE KIND. As our parents used to say, ‘it doesn’t cost you anything.’ And, as a teacher colleague of mine used to say, ‘Do not mistake kindness for weakness.’ REMEMBER TO THANK PEOPLE. You didn’t get here by yourself.  Also, don’t wait until it’s too late. BE GENEROUS. You’ll probably run out of time before you run out of money. I love quotes, and perhaps my favorite is, ‘Life is not about getting and having, it is about being and becoming.’ This is your time to be and become.”

Mr. Lewis and Gunston’s Chair of the Board Patrick Shoemaker ’03 then presented each graduate with their diploma, individually handcrafted by faculty member Michael Kaylor on an antique letterpress. This year's senior class had a successful college admission season and worked hard to earn $7.3 million dollars in merit scholarships. The graduates are listed here with the honors presented to them the day before on Friday, June 11 during the school’s Green & White Awards Ceremony. Student government and team captains are also noted. 

Isabella Webster Adams (Captain of Green Team), Zachary Richard Anderson (Moore Award for Improvement), Avy Rose Aubin (Sandra Slacum Spears English Award, State of Maryland Merit Scholastic Award), Brianna Ranae Barrett-Kennedy, Hannah Eve Beckman, Lily Marie Berntsen, Kenneth Charles Bonuccelli, Helen Abigail Boone (Science Award), Maxmillian Xavier Brady (Captain of Green Team), Suah Choi, Yongah Choi, Lydia Marie Davis, Kayla Irene Nicole Flood, James Philip Fordi, Glynis Paige Gardner, Reagan Olivia Gessford (U.S. Naval Academy Prep School, Class Representative), Olivia Louisa Hershey (Environmental Stewardship, Student Government President), Samuel Ranger Hightower, Carter Watts Janney, Erika Uta Lee, Hyunseok Lee, Emma Katherine McClary, Orion Timothy McCluskey (Senior Paradigm, Diversity Leader Award, 2021 Van Hollen Public Service Award), Erin Ann McDonald, Aidan Thomas Myers, Sydney Gail Lorraine Nittle (Anita Gruss Athletic Award, U.S. Naval Academy Appointment, Class Representative, Captain of White Team), Ethan Nathaniel Nuessle (Computer Science Award, Mathematics Award), Joseph Brennan O'Connor, Adison Dryden Parish, Campbell Hawkins Parkhurst (Capt. John P. Vest History Award, Captain of White Team), Lydia Grace Periconi (Valedictorian, State of Maryland Merit Scholastic Award, Spanish Award, Science Award, Senior Class President), Jack Ryan Pigman (The Gunston Award), Connor Kevin Reichardt, Marion Somervell Riddle (Faculty Award), Sean Patrick Riley (Class Treasurer), Kylee Whitman Rushton (Anita Gruss Athletics Award), Emily Catherine Ryon, Joshua Seth Sanford (Engineering Award), Owen Edward Santora, Severin Suhaili Schut (Theatre Award), Henry Bennett Sheets IV, Charles Robert Shifrin (Faculty Award), Henry William Shifrin (Art Award, Leadership Award, Class Vice President), Christian James Walker, Colin James Ward, Lillian Taylor Ward (Hila C. Ferguson Literature Award, Marguerite Thomas Community Service Award, Class Secretary), Phebe Lace Wood (Music Award), Hannah Margaret Worth (Senior Paradigm, Art Award), and Yi Zhang.

Along with Mr. Dize, two other beloved faculty and staff retired this year including Mrs. Weixing Shepardson, who spent 19 years teaching mathematics at Gunston, and Mrs. Becky Schmier, who spent 16 years as the school’s business manager. Additionally, Gunston’s Board of Trustees honored three long-serving board members who are retiring and include Mrs. Betsy McCown, a former parent and Bay Studies Partner who served for a decade and provided invaluable leadership on the Chesapeake Watershed Semester advisory committee; Mr. Mark Freestate, a former Gunston parent and great champion of the school who completed his third tour on the Board and has also served as Chair; and Mr. Jim Wright, who leaves the board after serving five terms since 2008, having served as board chair, helped to bring both Horizons and the YMCA summer programs to Gunston and this past year, and served on Gunston’s COVID response team.