During a beautiful evening ceremony in our LMS Flexible Performing Arts Space, GDS celebrated 8th graders’ graduation from Middle School.
The ceremony featured touching speeches from Head of School Russell Shaw, Middle School Principal Debby Previna, Middle School Assistant Principal Mayra Diaz, and several 8th-grade graduates—touching on themes of care, unity, and strength of character—as well as two musical selections. Though the program took place down on the floor, the reactions of attendees up in the elevated seating best captured the arc of the ceremony. Audience members laughed raucously, grew tearful at times, and ultimately cheered jubilantly, waving from their seats with unabashed delight.
Mayra welcomed graduating 8th graders and families by expressing her pride in the care students received this year. Whether from faculty and staff members, in partnership with families, or from their peers, students received much-needed compassion and empathy throughout our second pandemic school year, Mayra said.
Debby spoke of the dual qualities the Class of 2026 exhibited, both in their perseverance through uncertain times and their “light.” Students shined their light, she explained, in the ways they “gave generously” of themselves, embodied empathy with classmates, shared their artistry, and acted courageously. She reminded the Middle School graduates to recognize the graduation milestone as a first draft—albeit an outstanding one—of themselves as adults.
In closing, Debby invited the students to look out into the crowd: “These are the people whose hearts are made full just because you exist in the world with them,” she said. And, as if to emphasize her point, parents in the audience nodded, wiped tears from their faces, and blew kisses down to their children. “I look forward to hearing how this beautiful draft of yourself will continue to evolve,” Debby added.
Echoing Debby’s remarks on the students’ “light,” the first student speaker, Sosi Audain, began by singing a verse from “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” She told of 8th graders shining brightly, first, in finding each other in Middle School, later in finding themselves during lockdown, and finally in the courage to turn outward together to make the world a better, safer, more just place.
The next student speakers, Iman McNeil and Nakeyia Brunson, also spoke of unity, discovering themselves, and branching out to make positive connections. In looking forward to High School, they encouraged their peers to trust relationships and seek a work-play balance; they both emphasized the importance of gratitude, which they modeled explicitly in their generous closing thank-yous.
Student speakers Jonah Phillips, Fiona McDermott, and Sarah Sakr stepped up to the podium as a trio, their friendship forged, across differences, in a 6th-grade art class. It’s a friendship, they explained, that “shows how GDS brings students together and fosters enduring friendships.” Like speakers before them, they told of striving for (and finding) unity, learning to respond with trust, and displaying the courage to “both see the light and be the light when things seem hopeless.”
Henry Fragale, the final student speaker, left the audience rolling with laughter with his tale of Middle School told through the lens of “Uno battles, Communism, and cult worship.” He explained that the 8th graders have displayed a talent for filling time productively with “wacky instances and a welcoming spirit,” as evidenced by a spontaneous student newspaper and a host of bizarre bonding experiences. Ultimately, he said, he and others learned to advocate for themselves and communicate with teachers.Russell closed the ceremony after all the diplomas had been distributed, by speaking about unsung heroes, taking his inspiration from the My Unsung Hero podcast. He chose to share a story highlighting the importance of noticing and showing up for others, especially in their time of greatest need.
“If you each think beyond yourself, you will be happier and more grounded as individuals—and you will be collectively better off,” he said. “That’s what community is. It’s being willing to think about and care about the well-being of those around you. . .We’re better off when we care for each other, even when—especially when—no one is watching.”
Audience members also enjoyed a stunning piano performance from 8th grader John Morsberger and an emotional performance of “Tshotsholoza” by our award-winning 8th-grade Chorus.
Congratulations, Class of 2026!