The GDS community gathered on a Sunday afternoon in June to celebrate the 125 graduating members of the class of 2023.
As per tradition, the program featured remarks from Head of School Russell Shaw, High School Principal Yom Fox, English teacher Nadia Mahdi (representing the faculty), Drew Cowan ’23 and Andrew Mikhail ’23 (representing the graduates), and Matthew Kaminski ’90 (representing the parents). Members of the graduating class, their families, and faculty also enjoyed musical selections from a GDS vocal group and three instrumental groups.
In a ceremony that explored important ideas—friendship, self-expression, earnest inquiry, and advocacy—and everyday eccentricities—a pair of yellow rain boots, love of hallway carpeting, and a basket full of mini, naked, multiracial plastic babies—the 52nd commencement exercises captured both the seriousness and playfulness of the GDS Class of 2023.
Carry Them With You
Russell and Board of Trustees representative Laurie Wingate (Nell Cox ’23) led High School faculty into George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium as student instrumental group The Minor 7 played the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” Graduating seniors processed—in green caps and gowns—onto the stage to “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Russell began his welcome remarks by calling into the space the memory of beloved classmate Kamal Nashid, who was struck and killed by a car in the summer following the Class of 2023's 8th grade graduation. Remembering Kamal’s kindness and generosity proved a natural transition to Russell’s talk about the importance of friendships. He shared passages from somewhat angsty and prescient letters he had written to his best friends in the early 1990’s (“my ideal job…maybe head of a school”) that show the ways they leaned on each other.
“Tend to these friendships,” he said to the graduating seniors. “Try writing to each other. If you’re not going to write letters, call each other. Text each other. Visit each other. Show up for each other. Your friendships are treasures, ones that only become more valuable over time.”
As has also become tradition, Russell read several notes from graduates about what they’d be carrying with them from GDS:
Asha Adiga-Biro wrote to Russell of self-expression and GDS’s embrace of difference. “And although I might not always find that embrace in every space and community I enter,” she said, “if I am myself, with or without my yellow rain boots, I can be the start of a culture that celebrates differences.”
Mila Noshirvani wrote of passionate community and collective voice, while Nora Smulson’s comments echoed Russell’s message about lifelong friends.
Ethan Wolin wrote of learning to care deeply, Pierson Cooper explained the importance of being part of a diverse community, and Lucy Perl noted a dedication to meticulous, critical thinking learned at GDS.
Mackenzie Wiliams wrote, “I have learned that my voice has power.” Ava Blum wrote that she’ll carry with her “an open mind that is ready to listen, respect, and grow from divergent viewpoints.”
“GDS has taught me the importance of love in all forms,” Jacqueline Metzger wrote. “I came to understand the tradition of loving those around you so much that they become your family.”
Isadora Evers wrote of the soothing energy that GDS exudes, in part thanks to hallway carpeting, and Daria Kabiri explained the self-assuredness she’ll carry with her beyond GDS.
A Roadmap in Film and Books
High School Principal revealed her love of teen movies and shared lessons from three that she hopes will guide the graduates in their lives. From The Breakfast Club: Be willing to let go of outdated ideas of who you are. “My hope for you is that you come, more and more, to know yourself, to like yourself,” she said.
From Mean Girls: “When kindness is the foundation for our actions, it allows us to evolve into the best version of ourselves,” Yom said. “It will be through your acts of kindness that you will shape a better world.”
And from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Go ahead and do the things you’ve been waiting to do “so that [when] the final video montage of your High School journey plays back, you see all the little moments where you were coming into your own,” Yom said. “The end of the movie is just the beginning.”
English teacher Nadia Mahdi, who has made bibliophiles of a generation of GDS students, quoting Ursula Le Guin and Walt Whitman, mused on the ways in which reading books—and even our own writing—inspires curiosity, engages a keen practice of noticing, and offers glimpses of self-recognition in unexpected places.
“What I wish for each of you, seniors, is that you continue to make room for the words of great storytellers of all kinds in your life,” she said. “. . .take comfort in words that have been crafted with care: words of great writers that move us and words of your own, however humble, put to paper as you write your own way into the future.”
The GDS Singers, seven of whom were graduating seniors, performed Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” a nod to retiring theater director Laura Rosberg, whose GDS musical theater tenure spanned 43 years.
This Particular Moment
Student speakers Drew and Andrew shared their stories' arc from shadow days to the graduation stage.
Referencing the global pandemic striking during their 9th grade year, their resilience, and the mad scramble for senior yearbook quotes this spring, Drew dropped a Mike Tyson soundbite: “Everybody has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”
He described the excitement—right from his first visit day—of being in a place that fostered exploration, a community of friends, being “mentored by incredible adults,” and thrilling challenges.
“We will face new hardships, failures, and minor annoyances that may discombobulate our plans and goals,” he said. “But it won’t be shocking: we’ve definitely had our fair share of punches thrown at us, but once again we are still standing… and today we are graduating!”
Andrew recalled joining GDS in 2014 after discovering firsthand that GDS was just as delightfully “backward” as he’d heard during a visit to another school.
From the start, he found it fascinating that as a grade, students are labeled according to when they graduate. He said, “If the magnitude of today is at all lost on you, think about how every time we’ve been called the class of 2023—every class meeting, every grade-wide email—they’ve all been a reference to this moment.”
He closed with gratitude for the shared journey alongside creative people and “committed, badass” teachers. And to much applause and laughter, announced “Today, GDS loses its best.”
Matt Kaminski, Editor-In-Chief of POLITICO and a member of the class of 1990, is the parent of Ella ’20 and graduating senior Max. He spoke, as Hopper of the 1980’s, of the old, and cramped GDS buildings as well as the spirited discourse that thrived there in spite of them. He expressed the hope that the graduating seniors would continue to seek spaces welcoming to different perspectives beyond GDS.
“...We have been taught here how to think rather than what to think,” he said, reinforcing the importance of thinking and acting, as he called it, “unconventionally.” He advised the students to remain open to new ideas and to “dare to imagine a world that can be changed by the force of those ideas.”
Matt extended thanks to the graduates, on behalf of the parents, for showing them what resilience looks like and for taking care to carve out time to be together as a class.
“I’m sure you have found joy at GDS. I know we as parents have,” he said. “There is such joy in this moment. In this place.”
Diplomas and Departures
From Asha Adiga-Biro, to Jamie Zimmermann, the graduating seniors accepted their diplomas from Yom and filled Russell’s basket with plastic babies to accompany their gift of Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby, signed by each member of the class of 2023. Graduates—GDS’s newest alumni—flung their green caps out above their heads like Mary Oliver’s grasshopper over leaves of grass. Russell read Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” graduates recessed from the auditorium, and families celebrated with a reception in Kogan Plaza.
As Russell said, “Class of 2023, may you encounter joy, growth and blessing in your one wild and precious life. You have our confidence, our support, our love, and our profound hope for the road ahead.”