Herb Weaver’s unique hand-made ceramic mugs — presented to seniors each year as they walk across the stage to rehearse for the graduation ceremony — are one-of-a-kind. The mugs are a meaningful gift that welcomes the graduates as they move from “student” to “alumni” status at Eastern Mennonite School.
Asked in 2006 by EMS development director, Lynn Leishner, to make mugs for the graduates, Weaver was happy to get involved, he recalls. “I wasn’t sure if EMHS would ‘hire me back,’ but they did. And here it is 2020. I didn’t know this would be a lasting gig!”
“My experiences at EMHS both as a student and as a teacher were very formative, and this is one small way I can return the favor,” says Weaver. He graduated from EMHS in 1975, earned a degree in art from Eastern Mennonite University, and then taught art at EMHS from 1980 to ’85 while earning his MFA from James Madison University. He went on to teach at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, Bethany College in West Virginia, and later at Georgia Gwinnett College near Atlanta. Throughout his career, he has taught ceramics, design, art history, art education, and art appreciation.
Now, retired from the classroom, but still active in his home studio in Singers Glen, Virginia, he turned fresh eyes to the EMHS mugs. “I decided that I had a great opportunity to send a message to graduates, and I started impressing phrases into the mugs,” he explains. There are about seven different inspirational phrases on the various mugs, including: “Make a Dent,” “Be You,” “Make an Impression,” and “Make a Mark.”
Like seniors across the country, EMHS’ class of 2020 is navigating the losses of most of the rites of passage that mark graduation. EMHS has not yet determined what its graduation ceremony will entail for class of 2020, but the original date of June 7 is not an option with Governor Northam’s mandate to keep public gatherings under 10 people until at least June 10.
“We’re committed to honoring our graduates this year and still hope to host a public ceremony,” says Paul Leaman, head of school. “The closure due to COVID-19 has changed the way we do community, but we are strong and invested in our students.” School leadership will discern commencement activities at a later date.
In the meantime, the Herb Weaver mugs are ready for the class, stored in the school where they were delivered in February, alongside the blankets that were ordered and ready to give at the last chapel of the year.
Alumni Award Gifts
In addition to the mugs, Weaver provides handmade gifts that the EMS Advancement team gives to recipients of alumni awards each homecoming weekend. Weaver has made a pitcher and bowl for the Lifetime Service Award recipient for about 10 years. More recently, staff has chosen other items for gifts that fit with the recipients’ interests. In 2019 for example, EMS gave Kirsten Nafziger Moore a platter, which fit with her passions for preparing and sharing food. She was recognized with the Community Engagement Award.
Weaver has also been active as the Chief Reader for the Advanced Placement Studio Art and Supervisor of the grading process of AP (Advanced Placement) Studio Art Exams for the past 20 years. He specializes in ceramics and sculpture. Weaver has exhibited in more than 200 exhibitions both nationally and internationally.
Since he’s no longer teaching, Weaver notes that, “I make pottery at a more peaceful pace.I think about WHO I am making it for, and WHY I am making it… it seems more meaningful and purposeful to me. And, I hope it’s more meaningful for the recipient as well.”
EMHS class of 2020 is unlikely to forget their unique senior year. The mugs will help to mark it.