Family, friends, classmates, and faculty gather to share in the accomplishments of our 83 graduating seniors.
Before the start of the 2018-19 school year, the leaders of the rising senior class met to determine their theme of the year. Unique in many regards, this group of girls did not seem to fit any mold. Rather they proudly claimed their individual stories—their interests, backgrounds, faiths, and dreams of their futures. And so their theme became known as Y(our) Story, a shared collection of many unique monologues.
Today, their Commencement Day, marked the conclusion of their collective story that includes years of hard work—of friendships made and relationships formed between students and teachers, of shared victories in the classroom and on the courts and fields, of late night study sessions and group messages regarding assignments. Because once all the essays have been written, topics debated, projects completed, numbers crunched, and tests submitted, the only thing left to do is to don a white robe, attempt to get a mortarboard situated on top of your head with the fewest bobby pins possible, and gracefully walk across a stage to receive your diploma.
The past few weeks were filled with myriad bittersweet milestones for the GPS Class of 2019. A sunny May Day. Their last Chapel Talk and College Decision Day. Celebrating the newest members of Cum Laude. Their senior prom with McCallie. Final exams and labs, papers and projects. Their last day of classes. Their Senior Dinner in Caldwell Commons. Yesterday’s Class Awards ceremony and College Sweatshirt photo. But today they were ready for this next step in their young lives. The last time they, as a class of high school seniors, will be together, because very soon they will attend 50 colleges and universities in 23 states and the District of Columbia. But today they are one—The GPS Class of 2019.
Following a fun confettied photoshoot on Smith Courtyard, their Commencement ceremony began with a procession into the school gym to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstances” played by the members of GPS Orchestra, led by Mary Baxter, Instrumental Music Director. Myra Brock offered the opening prayer and the audience responded with “O Come, Let Us Sing.”
Dr. Autumn A. Graves, Head of School, welcomed those in attendance and the 83 members of the senior class while acknowledging the faculty and staff, “who give so much to make GPS the transformative community that it is.”
She then shared a mantra that has been playing on her heart: You are enough.
“We live in a society that keeps telling women that we are not enough,” she said. “Instead, I want you to know that you are enough and don’t need that validation all of the time. You need to be confident in this moment—this moment on this stage with your friends and family surrounding you to celebrate your achievement. A moment when it is clear that you are more than enough.”
Dr. Graves shared that the senior class submitted 492 college applications to 165 different schools, and that 80 percent of the college applications the girls submitted were accepted. At least 12 percent are playing their sports at the collegiate level and have received athletic scholarships, and 75 percent were offered merit, talent, and athletic scholarships totaling $10 million.
“Girls, there will be moments when you will not easily conquer a particular situation,” she said. “But I know there is an army of supporters who will tell you to leverage the resiliency and confidence you have grown with the encouragement of your parents, teachers, coaches, advisors, and mentors. With your academic abilities, intellectual curiosity, and social IQ, you earn this high school diploma.”
Dr. Graves then presented, on behalf of the faculty and staff of Girls Preparatory School, the class of 83 students to Holly Lynch Harwell ’87, GPS Board of Trustees chair, and her fellow trustees. “These young women have met all of the academic requirements for earning a diploma from this prestigious academic institution that values honor, respect, curiosity, individuality, and relationships,” she says. “Graduates please move your tassel from the right to the left and turn your ring to have the crest outward facing.”
After Dr. Graves concluded her remarks, the GPS Singers, led by Mike Lees, Director, sing a lovely tribute to the senior class, “I Am Still Your Dreamer.” Rich in reflection, the lyrics journal the path of a graduate:
When I was a child, though I was small, I was your dreamer pretending to soar.
Fairytale scenes, chasing my dreams.
This is my time now to try something more.
I hope that I find what my heart’s longing for.
And I can’t wait to see what’s in store.
I’ll walk through that door.
And I thank you for the moments when I learned how to stand on my own.
And I’m grateful for the memories of the life and the love I have known.
And I want you to know not everything is changing.
There’s a place deep in my heart that will stay.
So when I see the open sky,
I will choose to fly.
I am still your dreamer.
Following the song, Olivia Combs, Ethel B. Poston Valedictorian, presented her edict to her classmates, after admitting that thinking about the future is a scary, swirling vortex she tries to avoid. “But it sometimes sneaks up on me when my guard is down,” she said.
And then she shared a moment that happened last November during a Model UN conference.
“… Amal Ali was talking about the particularly difficult day she had had in committee,” Olivia said. “As she stood there … I was struck with the vision of Amal Ali as a real United Nations Ambassador. I was suddenly overrun with pride and love and an immense gratitude for the privilege of having known her. And then I realized that that was just the first of 81 other moments that I will have just like that. Moments during which I will have the honor of witnessing how you all are going to change the world.”
Olivia talked about the many privileges they all have for which they have GPS to thank. “We have been gifted the ability to not obsess over the future,” she said. “I am not worried about our future, because I know that a GPS girl will never stand aside and let the world hurt her. We have been endowed with a beautiful, powerful, feminine strength.”
Olivia closed with a quote from her “personal hero,” Elastigirl, from the movie The Incredibles. “‘Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so.’ So, my charge to you, women of the Girls Preparatory School Class of 2019: Go save the world.”
Senior Claire Calhoun, whose Chapel Talk was voted by her classmates to be presented today, talked about discovering a woman’s handwritten journal in a bookstore. “Through its pages, I learned about her family, her views on the Panamanian government, the day she met her husband, what her father wore to work, and so forth,” Claire recalled. “Yet the really interesting things about this book weren’t just the stories that she chose to write, but also the stories that she chose not to finish through the pages left blank and the smattering of unfinished thoughts. I thought about this as if it were my own life. What parts have I chosen to write? What parts have I chosen not to finish? And why?”
A fitting and heartfelt talk, given the theme of this school year, Y(our) Story. “This woman, whom I’d never met,” Claire continued, “has taught me such an important lesson—the lesson that even an average story can be made extraordinary through how you choose to see it.”
She said that that while the future is still unknown and her story still unwritten, she thanked her parents for giving her the freedom to be herself. “If I were to author a memoir, it would be dedicated to them for providing me with the best volume of my life possible.”
After the student speeches, Jenise Gordon, Head of Upper School, presented the class, reading each girl’s name and the college she plans to attend, while Dr. Graves and Holly Lynch Harwell ’84, Chair of the Board of Trustees, handed out diplomas and personally congratulated each girl. Then Molly Ballenger offered the closing prayer.
As is tradition, prior to the ceremony, the members of the senior class formed double lines in the Athletic Commons, through which the faculty walked as they entered the gym, receiving high fives and smiles from their students. At the conclusion of Commencement, the roles reversed as faculty formed double lines through which the newly graduated seniors walked, receiving accolades from their teachers. Once the graduates reached Frierson Theatre Lobby, they hugged and celebrated the fact that they are now GPS Alumnae.
Here’s to the Class of 2019! We could not be more proud of you!
To see a complete list of “Where Oh Where” go our Grand Old Seniors, click here, and to see the list of the colleges and universities to which they were accepted, click here. Read Olivia Comb’s valedictory address here; read Claire Calhoun’s Chapel Talk here.
Photos from today’s Commencement celebration will be available on our SmugMug account for you to enjoy, download for free, or order prints for a small fee. To watch the recording of the livestream, visit our YouTube channel.