The front lawn of Beaver Brook was the setting on June 11 for the 105th commencement ceremony of The Ethel Walker School. Forty-six graduates in the Class of 2017 accepted their diplomas under hot, gentle breezes as their families, friends, faculty and staff, and underclasswomen gathered to celebrate their success and wish them well as they begin the next chapter of their lives as members of the Walker's alumnae community.
The ceremony began with a blessing from Dr. Eric Widmer, or Mr. Vis as he is affectionately known as the husband of Head of School Meera Viswanathan. "...We are blessed by this festive day; by the joy that we share, and the thankfulness that this day inspires in all of us; and to our seniors, by a belief in ourselves that will always be part of who we are, for the diplomas awarded today have been fiercely earned and will soon be so proudly bestowed..."
In her opening remarks, Head of School Meera Viswanathan reminded the group that she was participating in her first commencement exercise as head of school. She went on to thank the many individuals who made such a wonderful day possible and she had a special message for the parents, "Thank you for entrusting what is most precious to you to all of us at Walker's. We have partnered with you to nurture, guide, mentor and encourage your daughters to discover all of which they are capable and more."
Idabelle Paterson, student body president, spoke on behalf of the Class of 2017. "It's not easy to graduate. Walking across this stage and shaking people's hands and smiling with our diploma and hoping we don't trip on the red carpet in our heels may be easy, but it's not easy to leave behind the world we know and love." She went on to say that in addition to the thankfulness that students feel towards their parents, faculty and others who helped them be successful, she added, "When we walk across this stage, we are giving a silent promise to all of you. We are promising to remember what Walker's has taught us: to be the best, truest version of ourselves," she said.
Leander A. Dolphin '95, a member of the School's board of trustees and a partner at Shipman & Goodwin LLP, delivered the keynote address. She began by reminiscing about how improbable it seemed 26 years ago when she entered Beaver Brook as a student that she would be delivering the keynote address at this year's commencement. "I was born in Castries, St. Lucia, a beautiful and tiny island paradise in the Lesser Antilles," she began. "I moved to Brooklyn, NY when I was eight to join my mother, who worked as a housekeeper for a several wealthy families, and my younger brother. I hated leaving my home, my grandmother, and the rest of my family. Though there had been talk about the streets of New York being paved with gold, I saw quickly that 1986 Brooklyn streets were covered in everything but gold."
Leander said that while schoolwork in Brooklyn was easy, her heavy Creole accent and "a name like Leander" were two things she felt would hold her back. With the help of WINS1010 talk radio and inclusion in a gifted and talented program at her school, Leander was offered a scholarship to attend Walker's from A Better Chance. "So it was, that I walked into Beaver Brook, five years after moving to the United States, with my American accent and Brooklyn girl attitude... It was here that I received the gift of self-actualization, a gift that required accepting that I owed it to myself to be my authentic self, no matter the circumstance," she added, kicking off her heels because they were bothersome and, being true to her authentic self, she felt more comfortable in bare feet delivering the remainder of her remarks.
Leander encouraged the graduates to think critically about the gifts they have received during their time at Walker's and how they too can use their voices to persuade others to use theirs as well. "Whatever you decide to do next, remember the gifts that have been bestowed upon you, and pay it forward. Reach back and lift up a girl. Lift her onto your shoulders, add your voice to hers. Throw open each new door, with our authentic selves, ready to listen, ready to advocate, ready to serve."
In her charge to the class, Ms. Vis recited Expect Nothing by Alice Walker, a poem she shared previously with the girls, as a reminder that while we are all individuals we are also part of a collective body. She said, "Ethel Walker graduates of the Class of 2017, we charge you to go out boldly into the world, expecting nothing, but embodying the most fundamental principles of our beloved school: Respect. Love of learning. Integrity. Conviction. Courage. And Confidence. And the words of our school meditation, carry with you love, 'for in love lies the key to life.' Remember that your bond to this school can never be severed, you will always be ours, we will always be yours. Though you will undoubtedly face many obstacles, manifest resilience, even in difficult times. Know that in the words from Virgil's Aeneid 'Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.' Even at this too will you one day look back and smile. Ave atque vale, hail and farewell, you brave graduates of 2017."
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The Ethel Walker Medal
The Ethel Walker Medal, the highest honor bestowed on a member of the Walker's community, was presented by Head of School Meera Viswanathan to Board of Trustee Member Christopher Brigham during the commencement ceremony. Brigham, whose two sisters Jean '82 and Kathleen '85 attended Walker's, joined his mother, Kay in service as a board member to the School. Kay served as a trustee during the 80s when her daughters were students. Viswanathan offered, "During his tenure as trustee at Walker's, Chris has been unstinting with his time and energy, generously offering his expertise wherever needed. He has chaired the Admissions Committee of the Board, served as a member of the search committee for a new head, regularly participated in panels with members of the EWS faculty at national conferences, encouraged the previous and new heads of School at every turn, ensuring they avoid any missteps...We know when Chris is present, all will be handled with meticulous correctness and extraordinary care."