On Sunday, nearly 1,200 community members gathered at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium to celebrate the graduation of the 130 seniors of the Class of 2022.
Not since 2019 has GDS celebrated graduation on the site, the traditional location for the ceremony. After more than two tumultuous years, the event was perhaps the School’s most triumphant return to in-person normalcy; and yet, Graduation 2022 was nothing short of extraordinary.
From Sahari Abney to Sophie Zinn, graduating seniors processed in caps and gowns in parallel columns onto the ceremony stage. As is traditional, attendees had the opportunity to hear from the Head of School, the High School Principal, a member of the faculty, two members of the graduating class, and a parent speaker, who this year happened to be the recently confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
At the confluence of his three roles for the afternoon, Russell Shaw addressed seniors and guests, congratulated graduates as they crossed the stage, and, as a parent, celebrated the graduation of his daughter, Maya Stutman-Shaw. He spoke of setbacks on his own professional journey into education and his hopes that the Class of 2022 will persevere through inevitable failures along their own paths.
As is his tradition, Russell shared reflections from graduating seniors on those things they will carry with them from GDS. As always, students delivered wise and witty words on community, courage, collaboration, commitment to growth, and even a bit of wonderful weirdness.
In her speech, High School Principal Katie Gibson invited seniors to join her in switching the script from seeing graduation as a farewell to a beginning instead. Like the graduates, Katie will embark on a new adventure beyond GDS next fall.
Fifteen senior choir members with GDS Singers performed “Fly Away Home” by Pinkzebra, accompanied on piano by vocal director Jason Strunk.
Faculty speaker and English teacher Julia Fisher ’09 stepped to the podium and immediately quipped her congratulations to seniors on selecting the “High School teacher least suited to giving you advice about leaving GDS.” (To her credit, Julia has managed eight years of separation from GDS since 1995.) Julia chose to speak about the idea of walking, both as you are and as you dream yourself; about choosing delight even in the face of scattered despair; and about seeing possibilities in those who walk a shared path differently.
Student speaker Maddie Feldman chose to talk about individual and group expression, not only the ways students distinguish themselves in the arts, on a playing field, or in their advocacy, but also in the ways they show up to express “their anger and their hope.” She encouraged her peers to continue fighting to break norms “until the status quo is fair and just.”
The second student speaker, Miles Huh, spoke about his feeling of safety at GDS: the safety to grow, to become more authentically himself, and to be vulnerable in times of loss or struggle.
In a medley from three GDS senior instrumental bands, audience members enjoyed Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” Director of jazz and creative music Brad Linde accompanied on piano.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will soon be seated on the Supreme Court, spoke in her capacity as the mother of graduating senior Leila Jackson. She encouraged students to see, in their next steps, a version of those old Choose Your Own Adventure series books for children. She urged the seniors to see in their decisions their own power of self-determination, the agency to choose what inspires them, rather than a path laid out for them. “Let those inner voices and values guide you as you shape your own story,” she explained.
She left the seniors with words from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King in which Merlin advises the future King Arthur to turn to learning, especially when the world is wearisome or frightful. “[Learning] is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never
dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you,” she quoted.
Seniors crossed the stage—on the very short walk that Julia Fisher described—as Assistant Principal for Academics Khalid Bashir read their names.
Each year, graduates have handed Russell an item as they crossed the stage—a puzzle piece or a lei—and this year, he collected marbles, symbolic, he teased, of all those he’s lost over the last two years. “At least now, I have some of my marbles back, for which I am truly grateful,” he said before delivering a reading of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” his graduation tradition.
There was, in fact, quite a lot to be grateful for last Sunday. Congratulations, Class of 2022!
Official galleries and an event recording will be shared with senior families in the coming days.