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Class of 2020 graduates virtually at 11th Commencement

It was a bittersweet moment for the King’s Academy community on May 26, 2020 as the much-anticipated graduation of the 149 members of the Class of 2020 was marked with each graduating senior, teacher, friend and family member tuning in from their living rooms to a special virtual event. With an in-person ceremony postponed until the end of COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing, the Virtual Commencement sought to mark the important milestone in a meaningful way.

Livestreamed online, the Virtual Commencement of the Class of 2020 included a pre-recorded video created by alumni Rob Bahou ’11 and Suhayb Al-Jawhari ’11 — working from Australia and the United States respectively — and featuring King’s own world-famous Omer “the Admissions Guy” Khalayleh. 

Bassem Al-Salem

The event began with a welcome by Chairman of the Board of Trustees HE Bassem Al-Salem who said: “When we look back on this year, we will not be defined by the events that transpire but by how we responded to them. Now, at the end of this school year, this school is coming together in a way that no community ever has before. Acknowledging both what we are missing at this time and celebrating the opportunity of this school. It is my pleasure to introduce King’s Academy’s first ever virtual graduation.”

Next, Head of School Peter Nilsson addressed his first graduating class. “When we are forced to have a Commencement that is socially distanced and therefore mediated through a screen instead of together in person...while we lose something, what do we gain?” he asked. “We cannot and should not try to recreate the past when the world is shifting around us, but we should recognize what the past stands for and what its values teach us: togetherness with family, closure and transition, and we should let those be our guides as we combine them with something new.”

“It is now broadly understood that this class, the class of 2020, is going to be a class of innovators, of resilient, creative leaders, because if you can get through this, you can get through anything,” continued Nilsson.

Peter Nilsson

Comparing the Class of 2020’s strength to that of a fire, referring to the concept of “anti-fragility,” Nilsson explained: “Something that is anti-fragile, when acted upon by stress grows stronger. A fire is anti-fragile because it is interconnected like a system, it shares its resources, its interconnections make it stronger. To say this global pandemic is putting stress on us is putting it lightly. But like the fire, we are more connected than ever before. If you recognize the opportunities that the challenges around us now present for us, then in this more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, you will continue to grow stronger.” 

“So please, stay connected, to each other and to us, embrace this rapidly changing world, even while you hold fast to your values,” said Nilsson as he congratulated the Class of 2020 on their commencement.

Following commencement tradition, the virtual event included musical performances by students from the graduating class, including Letong Qian ’20 and Salam Karadsheh ’20. The Virtual Commencement also allowed for new additions to the program, such as heartfelt messages of congratulations from faculty and alumni, and a skit by Dean of the Faculty John Leistler and history teacher and alumnus Ghassan Gammoh ’10.

Tala Salman

This year’s Arabic oration speaker was Tala Salman ’20 who said: “If we reflect on the past four years, we would realize that we wasted minutes that could have made unforgettable memories. This is what the pandemic has taught us: to focus on the small details that can make a great difference.”

“Thus, when we gather soon, we will be new people, more aware of the value of each minute,” continued Salman. “We will take group pictures where we hold each other tighter, we will speak more spontaneously, and laugh louder, because we learned — the hard way — to give all we have to these last minutes, and to make this distance an inspiration that drives us to create ideas that make up for lost memories.”

Reflecting on how he wants to remember his time at King’s Academy, Zaid Al Zoubi ’20, chosen as this year’s English oration speaker, said, “It saddened me to see people continuously defining my senior year, and telling me that it has to suck because of COVID-19. Because of anything I'm going to remember of my senior year, it's not going to be this. It's going to be the small moments catching up with my friends in the hallways between class, ordering pizza on my friends’ birthdays. It's going to be cheering with my friends in Nihal — a place I never imagined I'd call home.”

Zaid Al Zoubi

“Graduating from King's is special because of the opportunities it has given us,” he continued. “I wish to remember the times our experiences surpassed our expectations and reflect on the defining characteristics we have imposed on ourselves in the last four years.”

During the virtual event, three students were awarded the two most prestigious awards given during Commencement: The Academy Cup, which was awarded to Hannah Szeto ’20 for being a “leading scholar whose academic work has been characterized by deep scholarship, curiosity, and a love of learning,” and the King Abdullah II Award, which went to both Ibrahim Al-Aboosi ’20 and Yoanna Gammoh ’20 for “fully embodying the ethos, spirit and guiding principles of the Academy.”

This year’s graduation speaker was Deputy Head of School and Dean of Students Julianne Puente. Commencement 2020 also marks her own “graduation” from King’s Academy after serving the school for 11 years. Puente leaves King’s to take on the position of Head of Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico. 

Julianne Puente

“I am simply a lifelong teacher who fell in love with Jordan and dedicated herself unreservedly to building a school in which she believes deeply,” said Puente in her last poignant address to the school community in her capacity as deputy head. “To my dearest students. You have helped me remain forever young, inquisitive and driven. You have made me laugh until my sides hurt, and there are times you have made me cry, too, though often from joy.”

“I have been allowed to forge, shape and burnish a school I absolutely love — I also have had to learn how to take the heat!” she continued. “As the saying goes, ‘Out of the hottest fire, comes the strongest steel.’ I am so grateful that under the heat of the Jordanian sun and within the cauldron that is King’s Academy, like you, I have been made stronger, grittier and more durable than when I first arrived.”

Puente concluded her address with this advice to the Class of 2020: “We are told to follow our dreams, but I encourage you to be flexible with them and allow them to change and grow with you, and remember, too, you just may have to wait a bit to see how they come true. And remember, a small act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention. We have all been given a gift. So act.”

Commencement Awards

  • The Arabic Award: Nedaa Awawdeh
  • The Arabic as a Foreign Language Award: Yanlin Wu
  • The Arabic as a Second Language Award: Hannah Szeto
  • The Arabic Capstone Award: Noredeen Al-Zu'bi
  • The Capstone Award: Abdulhadi Alsaidi, Nadine Jarrar and Walid Nabilsi
  • The Chinese Award: Jude Hajhamad
  • The Computer Science Award: Noredeen Al-Zu'bi
  • The Creative Writing Award in Arabic: Tala Salman
  • The Creative Writing Award in English: Noredeen Al-Zu'bi
  • The Dance Award: Duanduan Lin and Hanae Yoshida
  • The French Award: Suhair Hassuneh
  • The Historian Award: Hannah Szeto
  • The Instructional Music Award: Letong Qian
  • The Mathematics Award: Dongmin Kang
  • The Peter Greer English Award: Nedaa Awawdeh and Tara Tarawneh
  • The Physical and Life Sciences Award: Walid Nabilsi and Yoanna Gammoh
  • The Purchase Prize in the Fine Arts: Salma Alka’abneh
  • The Social Scientist Award: Duanduan Lin
  • The Spanish Award: Tara Tarawneh
  • The Theater Award: Seokhyeon Hong and Yara Mustafa
  • The Visual Arts Award: Kleobetra Al-Zoubi
  • The Asad Al-Malek Award: Fawzi Al-Jawhari and Nadine AlMuasher
  • The Middle School Leadership Award: Afeef AlQasim and Othman El-Tayeh
  • His Majesty King Constantine Award: Ibrahim Al-Aboosi
  • The Perseverance Award: Ibrahim Al-Aboosi and Kenza Zakarya
  • The Samar Khader Award: Elias Tannira
  • The Respect Award: Ahmad Al-Daoud and Maria Billeh
  • The Responsibility Award: Hend Al-Zeer and Salam Karadsheh
  • The Eric Widmer Award for an Integrated Life: Ayesh Awad and May Alzaben
  • The Global Citizenship Award: Rui Wen and Zaid Al Zoubi
  • The Viswanathan Award for Love of Learning: Abdulhadi Alsaidi and Dina Dawod
  • The Head of School's Award for International Student: Ghena Mostafa and Seokhyeon Hong
  • The Head of School's Award for Proudly Jordanian: Banah Khamis and Kamal Fakhoury
  • The Head of School's Award for Residential Life:    Ameera Haffejee and Sharif Janbek
  • The Head of School's Award for Scholarship and Intellectual Engagement: Dania Abu-Hashish and Moath Al Najjar
  • The King's Academy Cup: Hannah Szeto
  • King Abdullah II Award: Ibrahim Al-Aboosi and Yoanna Gammoh