On this perfect spring day, the 90 members of the Class of 2018 celebrated their graduation from Greenwich Academy with family, friends, and faculty.
The school's 191st commencement began as the seniors processed into the magnificent white tent set up on the school's front lawn, each carrying a single yellow rose. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the audience was led in an invocation by Alina Bulazel '18, followed by opening remarks from Chairman of the Board of Trustees J. Thomas Dunn.
Head of School Molly King then spoke of her pride in the achievements of the Class of 2018 including their many artistic, athletic, and academic endeavors. She noted, however, that "What stands out most is your voice, manifested in your leadership, optimism, kindness, sense of purpose, and joy. From the screams on the first day of school, to your courageous comments in last year's NAMES assembly ... to the recent walkout against gun violence, to the unforgettable Madrigals Farewell Assembly—your voices have brought your tremendous character to bear on this community."
Valedictorian Jane Watson '18 then had the honor of welcoming commencement speaker Pharrell Williams, to the stage. "He is a creative force who uses his music, fashion, and design to express his distinctive style," she said, going on to cite his many distinctions including 11 Grammy Awards, producing albums that have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, and his role as a producer of the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Jane also highlighted Mr. Williams' long-standing commitment to doing social good through his foundation, From One Hand to AnOTHER (FOHTA); much of FOHTA's efforts support learning programs for underserved youth in at-risk communities across the nation.
Mr. Williams' speech focused on the girls' future as changemakers. "I believe you are fully aware of your privilege," he said, "This gives me great hope ... But privilege is NOT your defining trait. You guys are much bigger than your privilege. You possess perhaps the most potent combination of traits—one capable of toppling the establishment and creating fairness for all. To me, your defining trait is EMPATHY. Empathy combined with an awareness of privilege is a game-changer. A super power!" He spoke to the girls about the women who've come before them and told them that now it's their responsibility to uplift people in need. He concluded with three pieces of advice the girls are sure carry with them to college and life beyond: Use your super power combination of traits (privilege and empathy) to make the world a better place for everyone; Continue the legacy and brave work of the strong women who came before you; Let what is inside you guide you.
The highlight of the ceremony, the presentation of diplomas, was filled with cheers and tears of joy, and was followed by the singing of the traditional, "Jerusalem," by Upper School students and faculty. Head of Upper School Tom Sullivan then presented the Katherine Hewitt Award to Kelsey Gabriel '18. This is a particularly meaningful prize as it is given to the student who best exemplifies the qualities of companionship, compassion, and abiding friendship and loyalty; it is the only award given at graduation and the only award whose recipient is selected by her peers.
Senior Class Speaker Kathryn Wright represented the student-voice in an address that was humorous, sentimental, and insightful. "The prospect of moving on from GA and leaving behind the familiarity of wearing a kilt, of walking into the senior room to a tray full of bagels is terrifying," she said, "but I believe that all of us are ready to take on what's next because, with each others' support, we have become resilient women."
The ceremony continued with some of GA's oldest traditions—the Entrusting of the Symbols, in which outgoing student leaders present tokens such as an arrow and a gavel to their incoming counterparts, and the Flower Songs. As Groups VII and VIII students sang the customary folk songs, Lower School flower girls delivered bouquets to the graduates for the recessional. Commencement concluded with all those gathered singing the "Academy Song," and a benediction delivered by Maggie Varvel '18. Having entered the tent as seniors, the girls then exited as alumnae, carrying their diplomas and bouquets.
While today marked the end of the girls' journey as students at GA, it was also a celebration of great things to come. As Mr. Williams said to the girls, "The world needs you in your purest and most honest form ... I look forward to a future where you are our leaders."