Trinity-Pawling 2021 Valedictorian Toby Berner '21

It’s kind of funny that a guy who prefers silence says he found his voice at Trinity-Pawling. Toby Berner, who graduated as the Class of 2021 valedictorian, laughingly acknowledged in his Commencement address that “this is the longest anyone on campus has ever heard me speak.”

A silent and thoughtful leader, Berner pushed himself to become more extroverted as a senior prefect and a proctor. “Trinity-Pawling provided me with plenty of opportunities to try new things and speak out in class, sports, and chapel.”

However, Berner still prefers paintbrush to words for self-expression.

In the spring of his junior year, Berner decided to focus his Senior Independent Project on a series of paintings of familiar campus scenes. “Sam Fechner, valedictorian of the Class of 2020, inspired me. He had recorded a CD, Sunrise Over the Eastern Hillsides, with original musical compositions based on his experiences at Trinity-Pawling, and he donated the proceeds from the sale of those CDs to the School.” Toby also created the cover art for Sam’s CD.

Over the course of a year, Berner captured the campus on canvas, including a snowy Chapel, the pond in autumnal hues, the flickering glow of December’s Candlelight service, students walking across the quad en route to classes, and pond hockey.

In mid-May, he posted these framed masterpieces to an online auction, with the assistance of Colleen Dealy in the Office of Advancement. The eight paintings generated nearly $5,000, which Berner donated to the Trinity-Pawling Fund. “It’s awesome to be able to do what I love and to help the School at the same time,” Berner said. “I love that my art will be in different homes, and I’ll be connected to these people in some way.”

In his valedictory address, Berner explained that when he paints, he must balance attention to the fine details with stepping back to see the whole scene. “When I finish a painting, it’s not perfect and it never will be. But I feel good because I know that I took the time to step back, ask questions, and look at it from all angles to get it as close as I can to being perfect. Likewise, when I make important decisions in my life, I feel good in my heart knowing that I stepped back and thought about all angles, vantage points, and perspectives. Asking questions that challenge us to think hard and to look at ideas in different ways and from different perspectives forces growth and ultimately encourages a better humanity.”

Toby Berner graduated Summa Cum Laude and earned a Diploma with Distinction for his Senior Independent Project. He will matriculate at Haverford College in September, where he plans to study art and engineering.

A final word from Berner: “One night after dinner, Sam and I stood in front of the Honor Student plaque in Cluett hallway. We looked at it and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we were listed as back-to-back valedictorians, and now we are!” From his home in Germany, Sam watched his friend and fellow artist deliver the 2021 valedictory speech via livestream.

by Maria Buteux Reade