Greenwich Academy’s Class of 2014 forges path to becoming extraordinary women

Head of School Molly King presents a diploma to Caroline Peaches Memishian. —John Ferris Robben

Head of School Molly King presents a diploma to Caroline Peaches Memishian. —John Ferris Robben

High school is hard, and in the words of Greenwich Academy’s commencement class speaker, Pamela Petrick, the road to graduation isn’t a straight one that’s always been smooth.

“Some of us have been anticipating, some fearing, some counting down the seconds to this day. When you’re in school at GA, the white dresses and flowers of graduation always seem like a moment that you can never really picture yourself in,” said Pam. “Yet here we are. The path to this stage has been long, confusing, exhausting, and at times hazardous.”

Pam, who has spent 14 years at GA, spoke at GA’s commencement ceremony on May 22 about the mixture of emotions stirred up by graduation. She talked about the excitement of college and for the future to come, nostalgia for school memories, reminiscing about pranks played, impossible school assignments, and hours whiled away on Netflix. She reflected back on the past 14 years, on all of the change that’s come and all that’s yet to come.

“High school … these four years were the most defining for the Class of 2014,” Pam said. “We finally got the chance to follow what we’re passionate about, whether on a team, in a club, or in the classroom. It’s moments like these that I’m going to miss the most.”

Whether a student since pre-K or even just a year, Pam insisted that GA was a place they all called home. Graduation was a day that the senior class had been looking toward all year, but now it had finally arrived, and in Pam’s opinion, it had come much too soon.

“Right now, I honestly wish that things didn’t have to change. … Something always comes sweeping in just when things start to feel too perfect. I know there’s a big new world out there waiting for us, but I wish it could wait just a little longer,” said Pam. “During these last couple of weeks, each day felt a little more fleeting, a little more bittersweet. Tomorrow the aspects about GA that stressed us out, brightened our days and occupied our time and energy won’t be a part of our lives anymore.”

All 79 girls of the Class of 2014, clad in traditional white dresses, congregated together for the last time, as a single class, a single unit and group of people. Before an audience of parents, friends, faculty, and peers, they celebrated the end of their time at GA.

Valedictorian Lara Tang, who will be heading off to Harvard in the fall, introduced commencement speaker Cynthia Breazeal, associate professor of media arts and sciences and director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT. Dr. Breazeal, a pioneer in the field of robotics, talked about the road toward becoming an extraordinary woman. She shared advice that she turned to over the years, to guide the Class of 2014 as they moved into adulthood, on their journey to becoming the women they are destined to be.

She discussed the “incredible balancing act” women do every day, in pursuing their dreams and goals, furthering their careers, building families, and caring for their loved ones.

“Being a woman is a quest to find balance with all we want to do and need to do. Have faith that you will find that balance. It is truly amazing how women just make it work. And know that part of ‘just make it work’ means to ask for help when you need it,” Dr. Breazeal said.

She urged the seniors to not merely live a life but to build one. To pursue challenging careers and do remarkable things, but to be kind and generous and forge strength of character.

“This key idea of building a life, being a maker versus just a user or a consumer, is so empowering, and the fact is the world needs you to help make it a better place. As young women, it’s particularly important for you to take on this quest,” said Dr. Breazeal.

In reference to her own career, she also spoke about the importance of women in technology and shared stories of her own. She even brought along DragonBot, a robot, who wished the graduating class well.

In creating Kismet, the first sociable robot, Dr. Breazeal faced enormous criticism along the way. Her own journey took great risk and courage, and there were countless people who supported her along the way, mentors who took the leap with her, instead of saying no.

“I can look back on my life and identify key people who were like those little forks in the road that advised me one way versus the other, that really influenced who I am today. … You will need mentors on your journey towards becoming extraordinary women,” Dr. Breazeal said.

Following Dr. Breazeal’s speech, GA honored its own. The sole graduation prize, the Katherine Hewitt Award, was given to Catherine Tubridy, who was lauded for her strong connections with both students and faculty, and demonstration of friendship, loyalty and compassion.

The members of the Class of 2014 then took their turns on the stage, receiving their diplomas, amidst resounding applause. Following the diploma presentation, seniors Phoebe Weiss and Julia Sassi entrusted symbols to incoming seniors and the eighth grade class, symbolically passing the responsibility and school reins on.

To the soundtrack of songs by GA’s seventh and eighth-grade chorus, some of the school’s youngest filed in and presented the seniors with flowers, in one of the school’s oldest and beloved commencement traditions.

The ceremony concluded with singing of the Academy Song. With words of glorious future days, eager minds and joyous hearts, the lyrics seemed fitting for a farewell to the Class of 2014.

 

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