EASTHAMPTON – Tears of pride and joy flowed freely as 133 Williston Northampton School graduates marched to the sound of bagpipes and snare drums at the school’s 175th commencement ceremony Sunday morning.
The 2016 commencement was held in a large tent outside of the Reed Campus Center that was festooned with a variety of international flags representing the countries of the graduating students. Members of the class of 2016 came from 14 states and 12 countries.
In his address, Head of School Robert W. Hill III, told students that they were about to enter an adult world in which “a quantum change will take place” and they will become solely responsible for their words and their deeds.
“This is one of those boundary moments in life when you cross over a threshold and there is no turning back,” Hill said.
While that threshold may have been crossed, speaker Nonie Creme, who graduated from Williston in 1990, said that the experiences and friendships graduates found at Williston should be carried with them throughout their adult lives.
“I retain more friendships from Williston than I do from any other period in my life,” she said.
Creme called graduates of Williston her “tribe.” As proof of the camaraderie of alumni, she pointed to the large number of former classmates who had come to hear her deliver the commencement address.
Creme was the founding creative director of cosmetics brand Butter London and last year founded the Nonie Creme Colour Prevails makeup company.
While she is now at the helm of a multi-million dollar company, she told those gathered that her path to success was not an easy road to navigate.
Creme said she came to Williston as a troubled 16 year-old who had “no ability to control my emotions, and no ability to censor myself.
“I hated my body, I hated my family and I hated any form of authority,” she said.
“It was no secret that I came with baggage, but Williston was willing to give me an attentive home when my home was not viable,” Creme said. “Thankfully Williston felt safe and they recognized a kid with potential.”
After earning a degree in art from Scripps College, Creme moved to London.
There, Creme said she lived as a penniless undocumented immigrant painting nails outside subway stations before her trademark hand-mixed nail polishes were discovered by models such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.
Creme said that she has crashed and burned as many times as she succeeded, but that it is bravery, the willingness to try new things, and faith herself that carried her through.
“You don’t have to be the smartest. You don’t have to be the prettiest,” Creme said. “You have to be brave. You have to put one foot and front of the other and move forward.”
A self described “chubby Goth kid,” while at Williston, Creme said she evolved a style of her own featuring tattoos and piercings. She told the graduates that some have tried to tell her that a woman who doesn’t dye her hair and has the septum of her nose pierced has no place in the beauty industry.
“Because of the love and support that I found here at Williston, I have the confidence to say - screw you I can do whatever I want! And so can you! ” she said. “So congratulations class of 2016, now go out and kick some ass!”
Graduate Zoya-Jade Lewin of New Haven, Connecticut, echoed Creme’s remarks on the importance of friendships and character building at Williston.
“I was here for four years and it was rough in the beginning. But I have made a lot of great friends,” Lewin said. “I wouldn’t change anything about the experience I have had here.”
Lewin’s parents Paulette and Bert Reid said that Zoya had received a scholarship to attend Williston.
“We are a close family so she was very homesick at first, but we wanted her to go to a school where she could learn independence, self discipline and be able to rely on herself in the toughest of times – and she has,” Bert Reid said.
Senior class speaker Christopher Hudson of Hodgdon, Maine, said he wanted to leave graduates with three simple concepts: discipline, forgiveness, and attitude.
“Of these, attitude is the most important. With a positive attitude I truly believe that you can do anything,” Hudson said. He also noted that having an “attitude of gratitude” was important in keeping oneself humble and remembering that many in the world do not have the opportunity to receive the kind of education he and his fellow classmates now have.