Class of 2021 Commencement

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.


  • 110th Commencement
  • class of 2021
  • Commencement
  • Graduation
Ben Dize, 2021 Commencement Speaker

2021 Commencement Speaker

Ben Dize was born and raised in Crisfield, Maryland where he gained a deep appreciation for the Chesapeake Bay and its heritage. Ben graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1968 and received an M.Ed. from Towson State University in 1972. He began teaching in Howard County in February of 1969 and moved to teach art in Kent County in September of 1969. After completing 30 years of teaching at Kent County High School he started teaching art at Gunston in September of 1999. Besides art, Ben’s hobbies include hunting, fishing, boating and gardening. He enjoys cooking, learning Italian, and traveling.


Congratulations Class of 2021

Bella Adams

Isabella (Bella) Adamu 

Zach Anderson

Zachary (Zach) Anderson

Avy Aubin

Avy Aubin

Beckman, Hannah

Hannah Beckman

Bernsten, Lily

Lily Bernsten

Helen Boone

Helen Boone

Max Brady

Max Brady

Choi, Jonathan

Jonathan Choi

Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

Kayla Flood

Kayla Flood

James Fordi

James Fordi

Gardner, Glynis

Glynis Gardner

Gessford, Reagan

Reagan Gessford

Olivia Hershey

Olivia Hershey

Hightower, Ranger

Ranger Hightower

Janney, Carter

Carter Janney

Lee, Erika

Erika Lee

McClary, Emma

Emma McClary

McCluskey, Rion

Rion McCluskey

McDonald, Erin

Erin McDonald

Myers, Aidan

Aidan Myers

Nittle, Sydney

Sydney Nittle

Nuessle, Ethan

Ethan Nuessle

O'Connor, Brennan

Brennan O’Connor

Parish, Adie

Adie Parish

Parkhurst, Campbell

Campbell Parkhurst

Periconi, Lydia

Lydia Periconi

Pigman, Jack

Jack Pigman

Reichardt, Connor

Connor Reichardt

Riddle, Marion

Marion Riddle

Rushton, Kylee

Kylee Rushton

Ryon, Emily

Emily Ryon

Sanford, Josh

Josh Sanford

Santora, Owen

Owen Santora

Schut, Severin

Severin Schut

Sheets, Henry

Henry Sheets

Shifrin, Charlie

Charlie Shifrin

Shifrin, Henry

Henry Shifrin

Walker, Christian

Christian Walker

Ward, Colin

Colin Ward

Ward, Lilli

Lilli Ward

Wood, Phebe

Phebe Wood