REMEMBERING A graduation ceremony is perhaps, more than anything else, a collective recollection of who we are and where we are going. As we celebrated our graduates on June 9, 2019, we also remembered with each other—faculty to families, students to faculty, students to students—what it means to be a part of the Georgetown Day School community.
The deeply felt remembering was akin to the tradition of zakar (in Hebrew, to remember in a way that stirs action) and sati (to remember in attentive mindfulness in Buddhist philosophy). The community laughed, cried, and cheered together as we remembered the importance of what these now-alumni have done here with us, what they will take with them, and what they will go on to do in the world.
Since their entry into Georgetown Day School—whether as Lower School, Middle School, or High School students—the members of the Class of 2019 have steeped themselves in the character qualities treasured here. For some, these virtues are first among the many things they told Head of School Russell Shaw they would carry with them:
“GDS has given me patience, determination, and drive,” Mia Cuneo wrote to Russell. “GDS has prepared me to overcome anything.”
Emma Leary wrote, “From PK on, GDS opened its arms to me and my family. It didn’t just teach tolerance; it taught me and my classmates to celebrate difference...GDS has taught me to take pride in myself.”
On friendship, Brion Whyte wrote about the importance of the diverse relationships he had the privilege to develop here. Cole Wright-Schaner wrote about his hopes for continued unity and connection, and Annalise Myre about her “gratitude for having spent four transformative years at a school where if I ever fell down, a friend, teacher, or coach would be there to pick me back up.”
Danielle Soto wrote about trust and empathy, Ellen Schlick about her conquered self-doubt, and Zach Blank wrote about finding his voice. Frankie Galli about her love for the school that meant a change of clothes every day of elementary school because she didn’t want to go to the bathroom and miss a moment.
“GDS takes you in and helps you find you,” Alex Carmen wrote about self-determination. “GDS supports the wild artists, sophisticated scholars, and aspiring athletes. There are so many different worlds and networks that are thriving in this school...if you don't find a space for yourself at GDS, then you can make one.”
These recollections become as much a call to action as they are reminders of what has passed. Russell urged our graduates to persevere in defining and telling their stories: “Seniors, when you tell us you’re leaving GDS with voice, with confidence, with skills and determination and empathy, you tell us that you’re ready to author your own stories—in fact you’ve already begun to do so. Far more important than the college you are each headed to after GDS is the story that you can tell yourself about your journey. You are choosing to write your own story rather than have someone else write it for you.”
LEAVING BEHIND When our student-chosen senior speakers William Goldberg and Shonali Palacios took the podium, they spoke instead about what they are leaving behind. “The GDS experience is so unique because while the school changes the students, the students change the school,” William said. “We made this community, and the community made us. To build, and to be built. William Miezan [Lower/Middle School P.E. teacher and varsity track coach] was correct: It is good that our time at GDS is ending. It is good to go to college, to join new communities, to find new people. But while our time at GDS is ending, the community we’ve made goes on. The community we take with us, the community we leave for future students—these communities are not ending.”
“My hope for us,” Shonali told her classmates, “is that we not leave behind the belief that we are each accountable to more than just ourselves. And that we remember how we got to know and care about one another despite our differences so that we are tolerant, forgiving, and open in the face of increasing insularity. My hope is that by holding ourselves to a higher internal standard, we’ll be able to create positive change and that our legacy will be that we left wherever we went better than it was when we got there.”
High School Principal Katie Gibson echoed Shonali’s hopes as she spoke to our self-dubbed “Senior Superheroes” about heading out into the world with a “personal sense of integrity and justice.” She reminded them to continue working with others across lines of difference and celebrate the full humanity of others.
Jeff Goldberg, our parent speaker, father of William, and editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, shared his own remembrances about the greatness of the GDS faculty and the immense impact of their dedication. He praised the graduates’ preparedness and forewarned them about the wounded world that awaits their leadership as they leave GDS and their parents behind.
He said, “No matter what we parents have achieved, you are the crowns of our lives. I want to say this again—you are the crowns of our lives. You are our greatest achievement...I am not asking you to save America—go have dinner with your families first—but GDS has uniquely equipped you to take on the biggest missions in our society. As you move out into the world, I hope that you will embrace optimism, I hope that you will work for justice, I hope that you will propagate the truth, and work to make this country the more perfect union that it is meant to be.”
WE GOT YOU “The future, in so many ways, is unknown,” said High School history teacher Marjorie Brimley, our student-selected faculty speaker. Marjorie bravely shared the painful story of how her students—how GDS—carried and still carries her through the terrible, sudden loss of her young husband. “I’m telling you that in the future you will face something hard. Maybe something really hard. But I will also tell you this: when I faced the worst possible thing, I was not actually alone. And you won’t be either.”
During graduation, Marjorie asked everyone in attendance to hold onto the person next to them or make eye contact with someone dear to them. With their arms around each other, the whole auditorium repeated after her, “We got you.”
“I really want you to say it,” she insisted. “...Graduates, this is your community. This is your web of support. And everyone here is saying the same thing: ‘We got you.’”
Russell, too, asked all in our community to hold each other, our work together unfinished. To the graduates, he said: “I want to invite you to be present, to pause and look around, face your parents, faculty, family and friends—look at all these people who have showed up for you today. Collectively, we are here for you, we believe in your tremendous capacity, we are proud of you.”
Turning his attention to the packed auditorium, Russell said, “And to the rest of us here—our responsibility for these graduates does not end today. These talented young people will need our ongoing support and guidance as they discover the world, make their way in the world, and change the world. Our work isn’t done."
YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE In closing, Russell read, as has become his tradition, the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. The narrator observes with reverence a grasshopper that suddenly landed in her hand. She invites us to pay attention, with gratitude, to even the small moments we live. “Tell me, what else should I have done? / Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? / Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
We cheered them out with our tears, our love, our pride, our confidence, and our hope. And we sent them our blessings for their one wild and precious life.
Georgetown Day School is a coed, preK-12, non-sectarian private school in Washington, DC with small class sizes and a diverse school community. Our comprehensive, innovative curriculum includes hands-on learning, honors and AP classes, as well as advanced-level math and STEM courses. An education is not just college prep and SAT scores. GDS teachers focus on providing the best education for each child, from elementary grades through high school. The school performing arts program includes theater, dance, and music. The athletics program offers competitive sports for student athletes, including cross-country, track, soccer, lacrosse, and crew/rowing. With our strong commitment to financial aid, an independent school tuition is affordable.