King’s celebrates overcoming struggles in 12th Commencement

It was a sight at once familiar and shockingly rare: hundreds of family members of the Class of 2021 gathering on the lush Commencement Lawn to celebrate the graduation of King’s Academy’s 12th senior class.

In order to ensure the safety of all attendees, health precautions were taken that made this Commencement different from those in the past. Negative PCR tests or vaccination cards were required from all guests, who were limited to two per graduating senior and remained physically distanced through spaced seating. Masking was required throughout the ceremony. The Commencement was livestreamed via YouTube and Zoom for the 19 seniors and their loved ones who were unable to attend in person.

While the event was permeated by a jubilant atmosphere — embodied by the cloudless sky and warm, gentle breeze — the challenges of the past year were on everyone’s mind. In his welcoming remarks, Head of School Peter Nilsson spoke about the necessity of struggle to achieve and seek further purpose.

Peter Nilsson

Nilsson relayed a story about American playwright Tennessee Williams, whose “Glass Menagerie” brought him to such heights of fame that he lost purpose. Williams found that “achieving success had satisfied — and therefore taken away — his goals,” explained Nilsson. “He felt empty, and so he set out to find new struggles.”

Nilsson compared William’s success with that of the 137 graduating seniors, who not only continued their studies during the global pandemic, but found ways to deepen their ties to one another, the school and their broader communities through establishing new clubs, newspapers, academic endeavors and charity initiatives.

“And so what is next?” asked Nilsson the Class of 2021. “After today, you must go, create, act, do, live. Make change. Seek justice. Foster peace. Create opportunity. Our mission here at King’s — His Majesty King Abdullah II’s words — compel us to do the same. You have succeeded here; now go into the world — it needs you. Jordan needs you. The region needs you. The world needs you.”

Dina Shawar '10

The Commencement address similarly touched on the necessity of seeking out discomfort in order to achieve growth. Presented by Dina Shawar ’10, a member of King’s Academy’s first graduating class and the CEO of venture capital fund AdamTech Ventures, the address asked the Class of 2021 to consider the lessons they can take from entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is about creative problem solving; it’s about seeing opportunities where others do not” Shawar explained. “It requires being relentless and persistent, not letting anything stop you or come in your way, not giving up on your dreams and never taking no for an answer if it is something you believe in. [Entrepreneurship] is the ultimate manifestation of being uncomfortable.”  

The senior addresses, too, spoke to the power of discomfort to facilitate growth.

Zhengyu Su ’21, who gave the address in English, reflected on the symbolism of the King’s Academy colors. While blue is “the welcoming sky on our first visit to King’s, clear and endless with possibility,” it is also, she said “the weariness of our eyes and the sourness of our back staring at a screen five days a week.”

But red, “red is the fire within us,” she countered.  Red is “our love of learning our passion, our ambition. Red is also our vigor, our resilience, our courage to overcome the blues and obstacles ahead of us.”

Finally, gold is “the glowing future ahead of us,” she said. It is the connections between us; gold calls us to “remain appreciative and respectful to differences. Wherever we are, we are global citizens, embracing diversity in the world around us.”

Layan Alkasaji ’21

In her Arabic oration, Layan Alkasaji ’21 reflected on the challenges of their final year, compounded by the global pandemic. Yet she recalled the bright moments: memories created in the Green Zone bubbles, the infectious passion of caring teachers, the unforgettable laughs and treasured moments with friends and the satisfaction of facing head-on the challenges of a rigorous education.

“After spending many a night burning the midnight oil, and many a day toiling hard, we are finally living the moment we have waited so long for and worked so hard for,” said Alkasaji. “Reaping the benefit of what we sowed and saying goodbye to years that are unforgettable and memories that are indelible.”

During the event, three students were awarded the two highest King’s Academy honors. First, the King Abdullah II award, determined by faculty vote and presented to the graduating student who most embodies the ethos, spirit and guiding principles of the Academy. This award was presented to Khalid Siraj ’21, who attended the ceremony remotely but whose livestreamed smile showed he could hear the audience’s applause.

The second award, the Academy Cup, was presented to two leading scholars “whose academic work has been characterized by deep scholarship curiosity and a love of learning.” Yasmine Smadi ’21 and Yazan Alrayyes ’21 were each presented with the Cup, with Alrayyes accepting the award virtually.

While health considerations did not allow for the Commencement tradition of student musical performances, seniors were given several opportunities prior to Commencement to gather — both in person and online — to celebrate one another and carry out several King’s traditions.

Seniors Day

Seniors Day was held on campus on May 18, marking a day to tie up loose ends but also to enjoy a few last activities together as a class. Following one annual tradition, the graduates took a trip down memory lane when they sat down to read letters they had written to themselves four years ago as freshmen.

Seniors also had the opportunity to talk to members of the King’s Academy Alumni Association (KAAA) who were there to welcome the graduates to the alumni family and, alongside the Advancement Office, inform them of all the ways they can stay connected to their school and other alumni, such as through the new online alumni community platform. They were also presented with the school's new alumni ID cards and class rings.

On May 22, an additional special online event was held to celebrate the 19 seniors who were not able to make it to the in-person graduation ceremony. The seniors, their families, faculty, staff and friends attended the event that included words of welcome from the Head of School Peter Nilsson and Senior Class Dean Maram Haddad, performances by the school orchestra, a beautiful rendition of “Mawtini” sung by Jouna Hasan ’21 and tributes from advisors to their graduating advisees.

On May 21, Fanar AlDerzi '21, Ahmad AlZubi '21 and Zaid Odat '21 presented Memory Lane, a film they produced in collaboration with the Class of 2021, about the senior class’ journey over the past four years at King’s Academy. You can view the film here.

Commencement Awards

  • The Arabic Award: Shahd E’nizah
  • The Arabic as a Foreign Language Award: Mohammad Radithya
  • The Arabic as a Second Language Award: Shiyoon Lee
  • The Capstone Award: Farah Asali and Zuhair Khouri
  • The Chinese Award: Mohammed Chen
  • The Computer Science Award: Sanad Hajarat
  • The Creative Writing Award in Arabic: Layan Alkasaji
  • The Creative Writing Award in English: Ayham AlSeidi
  • The Dance Award: Yiran Zhao
  • The French Award: Ammar Hammad
  • The Historian Award: Ali Abughoush and Sarah Anabtawi
  • The Mathematics Award: Xiquan Guan
  • The Performing Arts Award: Khalid Siraj and Ruofei Shang
  • The Peter Greer English Award: Khaled Al Bayaydah and Sarah Anabtawi
  • The Physical and Life Sciences Award: Abdullah Abu-Aladass
  • The Purchase Prize in the Fine Arts: Haneen Alsadi
  • The Social Scientist Award: Hashem Yaish and Raseel Haddadin
  • The Spanish Award: Marita AlNimri
  • The Theater Award: Ahmad Ismail and Nadia Salfiti
  • The Visual Arts Award: Soraya Abukhadra
  • The Asad Al-Malek Award: Hamas Mohamed and Jianqiao Gao
  • His Majesty King Constantine Award: Shahd E’nizah
  • The Perseverance Award: Jouna Hasan
  • The Samar Khader Award: Sarah Masa’deh
  • The Respect Award: Kareem Madanat and Marym Younes
  • The Responsibility Award: Zeid Mustafa and Zhengyu Su
  • The Eric Widmer Award for an Integrated Life: Khalid Siraj and Lara Yousef
  • The Global Citizenship Award: Farah Hmaid and Mikhail Wijanarko
  • The Viswanathan Award for Love of Learning: Faris Al-Natsheh and Nadeen AlEmam
  • The Head of School's Award for Cultivating and Cherishing Relationships: Abir Jabri
  • The Head of School's Award for Leadership: Fanar AlDerzi
  • The Head of School's Award for Positivity and Engagement: Hamzah Dajani and Jana Alimam Alhusseini
  • The Head of School's Award for Proudly Jordanian: Sa’d Khalayleh and Salam AlQatawneh
  • The Head of School's Award for Residential Life: Ruofei Shang
  • Winner of the Head of School's Award for International Students: Leyan Alarifi and Mohammad Radithya
  • The King’s Academy Cup: Yasmine Smadi and Yazan Alrayyes
  • King Abdullah II Award: Khalid Siraj
  • Commencement
  • Seniors