GA ladies encouraged to embrace ‘growing up Google’

GA graduates Sarah Better and Julia Jones share a hug.

GA graduates Sarah Better and Julia Jones share a hug.

A processional of 89 young women donning elegant white gowns overtook the Greenwich Academy (GA) campus last Thursday during the school’s 186th commencement ceremony.

In a heartfelt speech to the Class of 2013, Head of School Molly King repeatedly praised the graduating class for leaving a mark on the school “that must be characterized as nothing short of profound.” From the students’ remarkable test scores to stunning artwork to epic stage performances to impressive internships, the girls achieved success on every level, Ms. King said.

In addition to each of their other feats, members of the Class of 2013 also excelled in sports.

“Athletically, this class led Greenwich Academy to complete domination, really,” Ms. King said.

This year’s senior athletes earned seven Fairchester Athletic Association (FAA) league titles for field hockey, cross country, golf, lacrosse, volleyball, squash, and tennis, as well as New England championships for field hockey, squash and golf, Ms. King said. The athletes were in for a surprise as Ms. King discussed their accomplishments, however. The head of school informed students that on the day before the commencement ceremony, the school had been officially named the winner of the Allen Hall award, voted on by all coaches in the FAA, who select a school whose athletes display the greatest sportsmanship throughout the entire year.

The accolade was a “remarkable testimony to the character of these GA girls, their coaches and the leadership of this class,” Ms. King said, adding that to achieve such a feat showed the class’s spirit, resilience, sense of humor, and loyalty to GA. Centering on these Class of 2013 attributes, Ms. King gave students three examples of the qualities in action.

“You place a high premium on friendship,” Ms. King told the seniors, who she said cheered on each fellow student equally at a senior honors assembly the week before. This “unusually high-spirited community” ultimately provided the graduates with the confidence to assert themselves in a myriad of ways, she said.

The Class of 2013 also has a high level of resilience, having faced real challenges both as individuals and as a group, Ms. King said. Those challenges “sustained and fortified” the students, while giving them perspective on what truly matters in life, she said.

Finally, Ms. King pointed to the students’ sense of humor.

“You are funny,” she told the students. “You’ve got that twinkle in your eye that generates plenty of fun, sometimes with mischief, but never with malice.”

The class’s determination to find joy in life has “had a palpable effect on the atmosphere at GA,” Ms. King said. “You are strong, spirited, joyful, and idealistic, and we fully expect you to use your many gifts to seize the opportunities before you just as you have done here at Greenwich Academy,” she said.

Next to speak was class  valedictorian Ashley Richards, who, with a 99.75% grade point average, was described as “exemplary in every area of school.” Providing attendees with a brief synopsis of her life, Ashley introduced guest commencement speaker and Emmy Award-winning actress Julie Bowen, who is best known for her role as Claire Dunphy on the TV sitcom Modern Family.

“When Greenwich Academy was looking for a speaker who could impart wisdom and reinforce the moral integrity you developed in your time here, naturally it looked to Hollywood,” Ms. Bowen said to start her speech, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Packing plenty more humor into her commencement address, Ms. Bowen said she might not be the best role model to look to for obtaining a “real job,” but “what I can do is congratulate you on the challenges you’ve tackled so far and bolster your confidence in the face of something you’re going to hear for the rest of your lives … yours is not the greatest generation.”

Explaining that she respectfully disagreed with that notion, Ms. Bowen told the Class of 2013 that earlier generations could not stand in judgment of them, because they have grown up in an age unlike any other.

“We have no concept of the challenges that you face as the first generation in history to tackle the last frontier — growing up Google,” Ms. Bowen said. While earlier generations could “try, succeed and fail in private, you have to do it all with billions of eyeballs on your every recorded move,” she said.

Telling tales of her early days in acting and a number of embarrassing auditions, Ms. Bowen said, “I was mortified by my baby steps toward a career, but I was relieved that they lived only in my memory. Your generation, on the other hand, has a permanent record of every failed attempt at humor, every misguided and instantly regretted ‘mean girl’ moment, every unflattering picture of you and your pals raiding your dad’s secret station of Zima.” While becoming a public figure with a “digital footprint” was a choice for Ms. Bowen, the Class of 2013 was born into it, she said.

“You were born with a digital footprint,” Ms. Bowen said. “You are intricately connected to an online you.”

Growing up in a very public environment, Ms. Bowen said, today’s graduates have the opportunity to be a different kind of society. It’s possible, she said, that the “shared experience” of living in a world dominated by social media might make the digital generation more kind, more forgiving and less inclined to get caught up in insignificant moments because “the sheer amount of information coming your way forces you to filter the trash from the truth quickly and move on.”

“My hope for you, Class of 2013, is to embrace the age you were born into,” Ms. Bowen told graduates.

“You will have scant opportunity to make your way through the world without the public record of bumps and bruises you’ve amassed along the way. You must not let fear of judgment stop you,” she said. “You have a chance to find character as the ability to live out loud.”

Following Ms. Bowen’s speech and the disbursement of diplomas, the Katherine Hewitt Award was presented. The award is the only accolade given out at the commencement ceremony and is voted on exclusively by the senior class. This year’s winner was Erika Rodriguez, who was described as a genuine individual with a consistently upbeat attitude and an appreciation for what really matters in life.

The final presenter of the day was senior class president and class-elected speaker Caitlin Dunning Schram, who was noted for her unfiltered honesty, self-deprecating humor and fundamental kindness.

Caitlin spent the majority of her speech praising the GA faculty for their unwavering dedication and guidance to students, remarking that the teachers were the reason the Class of 2013 had made it to graduation.

“During my time here at Greenwich Academy, I have come to see teachers as not only people who gave homework or graded assignments but also as actual people,” Caitlin said. “Teachers are truly amazing and don’t get half the respect from people they should.”

Turning the attention to her fellow classmates, Caitlin told graduates that although it was a cliché thing to say, “we made it.” She went on to describe her classmates as having a little trouble following the rules over the years — “and to be honest, I love it,” she said. Praising the seniors for pushing boundaries, for their cleverness and for their ability to make any situation fun, Caitlin said she would always remember enduring life’s struggles and growing up at Greenwich Academy. The school, she said, shaped the students into the people they are today.

“We are the lucky ones,” she said.


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