Emma Willard School celebrated its 205th Commencement on Sunday, June 2, honoring the Class of 2019 under Mount Ida’s wide-arched skies at a beautiful ceremony in the center of campus.
Head of School Jenny Rao shared words about members of the class, a class she described as having “courage and conviction.” The Class of 2019 came to Emma from 13 countries and 13 states to make their mark on our campus community.
“Traveling from near and far, the seniors have each found their place on our campus and, though today marks their departure from Mt. Ida, they will remain in our hearts,” she said.
She welcomed Trustee Agnes Bogdan Chapski ’79, vice president, publisher at InStyle who delivered her Commencement address, “Following Fear,” in which she shared her perspectives on and experiences with Emma Willard School as a student, alumna, and a trustee.
“Emma is that safe place where you’ve built your self-confidence, self-compassion and resilience,” said Agnes. “Here you’ve been able to take risks and be yourself with a strong safety net. And, that safety net will always be there.”
She described her life after Emma and finding her way in and through a world dominated by men at the helm, and how she is proud to have done her part, along with many others, to create a fairer world for women.
“We are all part of an incredible legacy and, just as with the generations of Emma girls before you, your generation will now continue on that path and pave the way for the next generation,” she said. “As we have done for you–you will do for future Emma students.”
Susan Hunter ’68, chair of the Emma Willard School board of trustees, then announced this year’s Jameson Adkins Baxter Award winner; the senior class who has shown the most growth during her years at Emma Willard and “who embodies the integrity, discipline, and commitment to education—her own as well as that of others—so evident in Mrs. Baxter.”
She described this year’s honoree, Angella Kasande, as having a sunny disposition even when facing challenges, earning the admiration of her classmates and the students she served as a Wellie and Proctor; and as a tenacious learner who “left all that was familiar in her native Uganda and facing each uncertainty with heroic grace.”
Heather Leigh Wells ’88, president of the Alumnae Association Council, then presented the Clementine Miller Tangeman Award to the senior who “best exemplifies the spirit of enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity that characterized Mrs. Tangeman’s involvement with Emma Willard.
Heather described this year’s winner, Brighton Goh, as a confident leader who had deeply involved herself in the life of the school, “modeling how to squeeze the most out of her time here and embracing everything and everyone along the way.”
After applause and hugs, senior speaker Khadija G. addressed her class. She opened her remarks describing a memory of herself as a young girl riding her bike through the busy streets of Kabul, Afghanistan—a pursuit few girls in her country were allowed.
She recalled asking her father for a bike, and how when the day finally came it made her realize she and her brother were equal in his eyes.
“I have spent most of my life proving that a girl can do anything a boy can do and yet still be a girl. I can be feminine, emotional, kind, and most importantly, while being in touch with what society calls ‘more masculine,’” she said. “At Emma, I never felt the need to prove myself.”
Khadija recalled feeling nervous coming to the United States and leaving behind the supportive woman at SOLA, the first boarding school for girls in Afghanistan. “If I had known the Class of 2019 before that, fear would never have crossed my mind, it would never have entered my heart,” she said.
She described her class as “full of love, kindness, beauty, and knowledge,” and implored them to embrace their challenges and make them a source of strength, and to remember that life would never get easy but they would always get stronger. “Find the desire and strength to fight for your values as I did while riding my bicycle in the crowded streets of Kabul.”
After tears and applause from the audience, members of the Class of 2019 were awarded their diplomas in front of an audience brimming with pride and joy.
Dr. Meredith Legg, academic dean, concluded the day with some final words of wisdom. She told graduates that their Emma Willard story would always be there for them to look to in both times of joy and challenge.
“Find in your time at Emma Willard the strength, perseverance, friendship, and revelry to carry you forward. Find in yourself—Emma Willard graduates—the courage to begin the first sentence of the next book of your life,” she said.
Please join Emma Willard School in celebrating the Class of 2019 and wishing them well as they go on to serve and shape their worlds!