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The Ethel Walker School Celebrates 112th Commencement

Since its inaugural Commencement ceremony in 1913, The Ethel Walker School community has convened to bid farewell to its graduating class. With life lessons, heartfelt charges, and warm well wishes, this tradition has endured for over a century. On June 2, 2024, the community gathered once again under clear skies, enjoying a gentle breeze and radiant sunshine, to celebrate this year’s graduates.

The ceremony began with Dr. Eric Widmer, known affectionately to the students at Walker’s as “Mr. Vis,” delivering the invocation. He invoked the words of John O’Donohue, “Though your destination is not yet clear, You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning, That is at one with your life’s desire. Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”

President of the Student Body Averi Rodriguez ‘24 reflected on the Class of 2024 noting, “high school is a time of transformative change, giving students the space and opportunity to flourish into the person they’ve always wanted to be, and we could not have done it alone.” She went on to share words from her classmates, revealing the deep love and appreciation they share for one another, their school, and the adults in their lives who helped get them to the Commencement stage. She concluded, “Walker’s has given us all something to miss. Irreplaceable memories that will last a lifetime. Although graduation is a time to reflect on the memories we have had, we call it Commencement for a reason — serving as a reminder that, even though this chapter of our lives is coming to an end, a new opportunity is just around the corner. Walker’s is not our end, but rather it is the foundation that will allow us to flourish wherever our futures may take us.”

The 2024 keynote speaker, Bozoma Saint John, a renowned marketing executive, entrepreneur, and author of the memoir The Urgent Life, addressed the class with a meditation on the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” She reflected, “I can testify that I’ve seen many a person on my own journey who has tried to climb the heights alone because they believe they would reach the destination faster. And no, the lesson isn’t that they reached their goal and were lonely. The lesson is that going fast meant that they didn’t get a chance to savor the journey. The true joy in the climb.” She continued, “Now, some of you might have seen my memoir…called The Urgent Life, and so you may be wondering if it’s hypocritical of me to urge you not to go fast when I clearly believe in urgency. Well, I’ll clarify that urgent doesn’t always mean fast. I’d like you to consider that urgency is not determined by the length of time, but rather by intention. If you are intentional about your life choices. I believe you can go far faster.”

Ms. Saint John elaborated on this important distinction, encouraging the graduates to make a simple exercise a part of their practice. “Don’t ask for other people’s opinion about your life,” she instructed, “instead, make it a habit to rather ask for information which can lead you to your own decision…if you ask for others’ opinions, they might give you advice based on what they believe is right for you. So I ask you that, instead of asking for opinions, you get information that will condition you to make your own decision. Therefore, relying on your intuition to make the right call.” She concluded her remarks on this notion, “Your intuition is your superpower. It is what makes you unique in the world. My hope for you is that you go far using your intuition to live your life with urgency.”

The next segment of the program featured the presentation of Commencement prizes. First, the prestigious Ethel Walker Smith Medal, awarded to an adult member of the school community whose service and dedication exemplify the vision, tenacity, and commitment of the founder, Ethel Walker Smith herself, was presented to Kim Harris Thacker P’24, ’27. Following this, the Prize for Scholarship, recognizing the top student in the senior class who has undertaken a remarkably challenging course load and excelled in each class, was awarded to Rita Xiang ’24. Lastly, The Beatrice Hurlburt Memorial Prize, given to a student of outstanding character — defined by qualities such as integrity, honor, and unselfishness, and demonstrated through positive leadership either actively or by example — was awarded to Averi Rodriguez ’24.

As Head of School, Dr. Meera Viswanathan concluded the 2024 ceremony with final words of encouragement, “While today is certainly bittersweet, with both leave-takings and memories of golden hours passed, we are far from mourning.” She shared fond memories of the class and reminded them of the charge Dr. Suzanne Piela P’22, ‘28 gave them at Baccalaureate the evening before — to be mindful about what they take with them from their school days into their next adventure in college and beyond. She concluded, “Class of 2024, pack with you this kit and bring your overflowing, multifaceted love as you did at Walker’s, and we know you will be prepared.”