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Handshakes and hugs to start

Cary Academy — a private school that serves 761 sixth-twelfth graders — is celebrating its 20th anniversary of providing education and of starting off each year with a handshake ceremony. On the first day of each school year, each Cary Academy student shakes hands with each faculty member and each senior.

Director of Admissions Denise Goodman was there at the very start of the tradition.

“We all gathered, that very first year, in front of the middle school,” Goodman said. That was back in 1997, when there were only 244 students and a lot less handshakes.

It serves as an opportunity to bring everyone — the administration and the teachers, the students and their peers, and the middle and high schools — together as one community.

“It really does show as a sign of commitment on our part and on their part,” Goodman said. “It really just sort of cements the relationship on a good standing.”

These days, the ceremony is held in the gym.

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Head of School Michael Ehrhardt opened the event with a few words.

“The idea behind the handshake ceremony is fairly simple, but I think it’s worth remembering as we come together.” Ehrhardt said to bleachers full of students. “This is a school, as you’ve heard over a number of different times… that was really founded to sort of push the boundary on what education could be all about. Certainly, we like to think about ourselves as a future-forward and a tech-heavy school. But at it’s core, we believe learning involves building community and building relationships.”

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At the beginning, each senior is called by name as their peers cheer them on. This is their first senior moment and, Ehrhardt said, a way to recognize their leadership role in the school.

Griffin Cece, a senior who has been at Cary Academy since sixth grade, said the ceremony means a lot.

“It’s the ultimate thing,” Cece said. “And once you do it, you feel so much older. It’s just amazing.”

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Handshakes often turn into hugs, high-fives, and how-have-you-been’s.

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Next come the sixth graders, the youngest in the school. They are followed by every grade. Each interaction is a chance to meet someone for the first time or to reconnect.

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Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.