Zach Harrington has been a fixture at Aiken Prep since 4-year-old kindergarten, but he was a fixture at the school even before that.
His grandfather, Bob Harrington, has been a fixture, too, for the past 62 years. And Zach's dad Rob grew up there and remains on the faculty, currently serving as the guidance counselor and physical education director.
Zach graduated as valedictorian during the campus commencement on Friday. Yet, for the first time, the name is now Mead Hall Episcopal School, following the merger of the two schools in 2012.
During his address at the ceremony, “I talked about how Mead Hall did such a good job of keeping up the Aiken Prep tradition,” Harrington said. “I'm glad about that. I had a choice to go to public school, but I chose to stay. That legacy has come to mean a lot to me.”
He was joined by five senior classmates – Jonathan Barr, Charles Lowe, Cod McNeill, Ashley Nelson and Ryan Grefenstette. The returning students from the high school are in larger numbers.
Mead Hall's facility on Pendleton Street goes through sixth grade. The higher grades are at the Barnwell Street location, now known as the Aiken Prep campus. Kitty Gordon is the Head of School for both locations. James May is the Upper School dean, and Joanna Morton is that facility's director.
Gordon noted the history of not just two schools, but three. Aiken Prep was founded as a residential boys' school in 1916. The Aiken Day School for girls opened 1933, and, decades later, the two merged. Mead Hall was established in 1955.
“God has ordained the journey that has brought us together,” said Gordon. “I am so proud to be in a community of such history and to be a member of this academic community… The strength of our young people is such a blessing.”
The guest speaker was Dr. Harry Shealy, the recently-retired USC Aiken professor of biology. He and Bob Harrington are the only people to serve on the boards of all three of the schools now represented by Mead Hall. Shealy encouraged the graduates to find ways to renew their spirit.
“Work on the brain all the time,” he said. “It's an exciting time for you. Follow your bliss.”
Zach Harrington received the long-established Palmetto Award, citing his leadership, serving as the Student Council and Beta Club president. Harrington also won the John Philip Sousa Award and an Aiken Rotary Club scholarship.
Other awards were as follows – Headmaster's Award and the Sandy Rogers Community Service Award – Julian Wilson; American Legion – Ashley Nelson; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's Congressional History Award – Jon Barr; Episcopal Character Award – Ella Morton, Sandy Rogers Community Service Award – Julian Wilson.
Aiken Prep has been fun over the years, Harrington said.
“Being in the same spot for all that time, you get to know everything,” he said. “As I grew up, it began to feel like a home.”
Harrington will enroll at Clemson University this fall. He will start in engineering and then pick the field of his choice.
“I told the junior class that they have to keep up with the traditions,” he said. “I'm looking forward to college, but it will be a weird transition for me. It hasn't really sunk in.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.