Since March 13, we’ve been collectively holding our breath until this day would arrive and finally it did. On August 19, 2020, Girls Preparatory School opened for the 115th time.
The School Year Officially Begins
In an historic moment, during a global pandemic, GPS welcomed students with safety precautions in place and hearts full of gratitude that the majority of our teachers and students were back on campus. Middle School students as well as freshmen and seniors returned to 205 Island Avenue while sophomores and juniors watched the opening day’s ceremony remotely.
The Class of 2021 entered Frierson Theatre and took their assigned seats with a warm welcome from Ms. Jenise Gordon, Head of Upper School, who spoke on behalf of the faculty who were watching the livestream from classrooms around campus and led a round of applause for all the work done to get the school ready for opening day.
Gordon then announced the arrival of the girls in navy, the Class of 2027, our sixth-graders, as “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical played, and the seniors Cats cheered for their Rats who came from 25 sending schools. Together we also welcomed the new students, across grades six through 11, who joined us this year.
Next up to the lectern was Ms. Lynne Macziewski, Head of Middle School, who offered our prayer. She returned to the stage later to announce our new faculty members and to announce two new additions to the Bruiser family—baby girls born recently to our faculty and staff.
Our Speakers Impart Their Wisdom
Speaking on behalf of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Becca Stimson ’73, Board Chair, welcomed the student body, and listed three specific reasons for everyone to remain hopeful in a season of uncertainty: the prospect of a new Head of School by year’s end, the eventual end to the pandemic, and the potential for individual and institutional growth.
“At GPS we have embraced this time as an opportunity for self-reflection, for listening and learning,” she said. “I am optimistic that, in the coming year, our school will grow with the people and processes now in place, ensuring each person, every girl has a place here to learn and grow and become her best self. This is the GPS mission!”
As Stimson stepped away from the microphone, Dr. Kirk Walker, Interim Head of School, took the stage to speak to the girls. He reminded them about the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which took place the day before, and that the Tennessee legislature ratified the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, becoming the necessary 36th state to do so and making women’s right to vote a national law.
The women who fought for that right were often “labeled as troublemakers, but they persisted until they succeeded,” Dr. Walker said. “Their sacrifices provided you with a voice. Their efforts helped to empower you. I hope that all of you appreciate those efforts and will use their gift wisely and will join with generations of your GPS sisters in making a positive difference in your family, communities, nation, and even world.”
He went on to remind the girls that those who secured the right to vote were like them, with dreams and goals for their futures. “They learned to be resilient and determined. And they learned especially about the power of working together toward a common goal.”
Walker said we have two goals this year: One is about our health; the other is about our community. Both are about our well-being. The first involves staying vigilant in our hygiene, following rules put in place for our safety, and recognizing our interdependence on each other.
The second goal is to ensure everyone in our community feels a part of our community, where everyone has a sense of belonging. “All of us at times have felt the sadness of being left out of an activity, yet all of us at times have been guilty of excluding others from an activity,” Walker said. “All of us at times have judged people unfairly just because they differ from us. All of us have, intentionally or not, hurt others with our words or deeds. And all of us at times have convinced ourselves that we were accepting of others when all we were doing was just ignoring them. While it may be hard (with masks and distance) to extend your hand, you can extend your heart. Kind words foster relationships. They may seem like small flames, but they burn brightly.”
Gordon returned to announce the winners of the academic scholarships given to the rising junior and senior with the highest GPAs: Lauren Thacker ’22 won the Duffy-Jarnigan Scholarship while Maggie Parsley ’21 was awarded the Grace McCallie Scholarship; Maggie was the co-recipient of the Duffy-Jarnigan Scholarship last year.
She also spoke more about the 100th anniversary of suffrage and our state’s role in that historic moment and reminded our community that even our school’s three founders, in 1906, when they started our school, did not have the right to vote. As a segue into the unveiling of our theme of the year, Gordon introduced members of the senior class to explain how the theme was chosen and its meaning. Of the senior class’s charge when choosing the theme, Gordon said, “We ask them to consider the mission of our school and the values of this institution.”
Our Senior Class Announces the Theme of the Year
Speaking on behalf of the Class of 2021 were Astha Sinha, Chairwoman of the Senior Class, Reese Miller, Alie Williams, Morgan Brown, and Annie Thrash. “After much brainstorming, revising, and perfecting,” Astha said, “the theme of the 2020-21 school year is ‘Be the Torch.’”
“We all carry a torch,” added Reese, “but it takes courage to light it. It can be daunting to be the first person to raise your torch, but if you persevere, you’ll soon find your sisters will follow you.”
“We thought about our class’s strength, which we’ve acquired over the years together, a quality that is also found in a well-tended flame,” added Alie. “Together we find a sense of unity despite the multitude of passions, opinions, and personalities in our community. Even when our flame struggles to stay lit, we find comfort in the fact that all it takes is another flame to reignite it.”
Morgan talked about the tension and challenges posed by the pandemic and the polarizing upcoming elections. “We know that it takes community to build a flame that will truly make an impact, this is why we chose the torch,” she said, “a symbol that reflects the leadership it takes to be an influence in our school and also the world.”
Annie reminded the school of the GPS crest and the torch at the top. “We’ve seen this hundreds of times over the past years, yet many of us didn’t realize how central it was to the GPS experience. Growth, initiative, and the concept of enlightenment describe the essence of what we do here at GPS.
Everytime you see the crest, we want you to be reminded of this year’s theme and how necessary it is to not take a passive role in things that are important to you.”
Astha returned to say, “We hope you find the courage to ignite your flame, the perseverance to endure challenges, the sisterhood to sustain your flame, and the leadership to assist others in finding their own. By serving as torchbearers in our community, we will create an eternal flame. Remember to Be the Torch and have an amazing year.”
Gordon and Macziewski then reminded the girls to show love to their classmates and teachers by remembering to keep their masks on during the day and to maintain their distance.
Our Class Officers Are Installed
In closing, the installation of class officers took place. Katie Outlaw, Middle School Dean of Students, spoke to the students about leadership and their responsibilities to their classmates as their elected representatives.
Honor Council | Sworn in by Mrs. Erin Davis Sizemore ’98, Dean of the Senior Class
Emma Dexter, president
Seniors | Annie Thrash and Alison Williams
Juniors | Frances Crowe and Manasa Makam
Sophomores | Meghan Boehm and Hannah Grace Kornberg
Freshmen | Caroline Breazeale and Ella Harris
Eighth-Grader | Mabry Cook
Seventh-Grader | Adreanna Calloway
Student Council | Sworn in by Kate Kerekes, Dean of the Freshman Class
Erin Marshall, president
Seniors | Mia Iannios, Annsley Kelley, Alie Williams, and Addie Youmans
Juniors | Ally Daniel, Mary Kate Johnson, Emmy Richey, and Ellie Taliaferro
Sophomores | Caroline Clark, Megan Jones, and Abigail Mann
Freshmen | Scout Chapin, Emmaline Hill, and Claire Scotchie
Partnerships in the Community | Sworn in by Tiffany Simms ’03, PIC Advisor
Shreena Patel, president
Seniors | Morgan Brown, Rebecca Gilchrist, and Sydney Morris
Juniors | Willa Mirmelstein, Olivia Scotchie, and JC Wiedmer
Sophomores | Rowen Espy and Hayden Wise
Freshmen | Abigail Carpenter and Mae Collins
Upper School Dean of Students, Laura Vedas, dismissed the senior class with a charge to embrace the theme of the year. “To make GPS the best that it can be, each of you must also be the torch for honor and integrity across the GPS community through your own choices and actions,” she said. “Each of you has the opportunity to be the torch for sparking strong student and faculty relationships. Finally, each of you can be the torch for forging meaningful partnerships within our Chattanooga community and beyond. While you have elected the girls on this stage to lead you in this work, this is work that cannot be done by these girls alone. Therefore, I invite and challenge you to join in being the torch for making 2020-21 a school year to remember.”
After the playing of a recording of the “Alma Mater,” the girls were dismissed and the freshmen, the Class of 2024, took their ceremonial walk across the lawn from the Davenport Middle School building to the Upper School.
Here’s to the girls and the teachers, coaches, and support team who lead and love them so well. Here’s to the 2020-21 school year!