Family, friends, classmates, and faculty gather to share in the accomplishments of our graduating seniors
Before the start of school, the leaders of the rising senior class always meet to determine their theme for the upcoming school year. For the Class of 2022, this meeting of the minds culminated in the idea that they didn’t want to be defined by the events of the past few years—the confusion and irregularity that came with a global pandemic. Rather, they wanted to focus on authenticity and kindness.
To coincide with this concept, the seniors selected the theme “Building Bridges,” which inspired a challenge to the entire student body to work together to build stronger relationships and enhance the community bond, whether that meant extending a helping hand to a teammate, talking to a new student who appeared lost, or making conversation with someone you didn’t know as well as you would have liked.
Today’s Commencement ceremony marked the conclusion of their time together, but the bridges our seniors have built with one another will keep them connected forever. Unbreakable bonds have been formed as girls shared victories in the classroom and on the courts and fields, bonded during late night study sessions, laughed and danced together in the hallways and dining hall, and experienced the ups and downs of adolescence. Very soon they will attend 49 colleges and universities across the U.S. and internationally. But today they are one—The GPS Class of 2022.
To begin the ceremony, the seniors processed into the main gym to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstances,” and Head of School Megan Cover welcomed those in attendance saying, “It is my honor to serve as the 10th Head of School at GPS and to award the members of the Class of 2022 the highest honor they can earn: their GPS diplomas.”
Cover then introduced Evie Jackson, who offered the invocation, before beginning her charge to the Class of 2022.
“Seniors, today you will join the ranks of thousands of talented and impressive women who, like you, carry the legacy of a GPS education far beyond our campus, making an impact on not only our community but the world,” Cover said, acknowledging that their journeys were anything but normal given the pandemic, political unrest, and virtual learning they experienced.
She continued, “Through all the turmoil and uncertainty, you kept the faith and never wavered in your commitment to your school and to your GPS sisters. Your shared adversity and your ability to make the most of an unpredictable future has forever bonded your class. Throughout all of the plans made and then rescheduled, you never stopped demonstrating empathy and kindness to each other.”
Cover then touched on the importance of the theme of the year, “Building Bridges,” before reminding the graduates (with quotes from classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Billy Joel) that time moves quickly, and it’s important to try to remain present. She said, “We get so focused on what lies ahead that we often can miss the beauty of the moment. So, to ensure we do this right, let’s all take a moment now—to look around, pause, breathe, take a snapshot of this historical day, and feel the love that surrounds us all. This moment culminates your incredible journey at GPS, this time celebrates you.”
She concluded her speech by thanking the Class of 2022 for their grace, guidance, inspiration, thoughtfulness, and joy. “You have made a lasting impact on this community and your school. Personally, you have made an impression on my heart—one that will always cause me to think fondly back on my first year at GPS because you were such an integral part of my story in understanding the essence of GPS. Just as the bridges in Chattanooga connect one side of the river to the other, you will always be my first connection to this incredible school and the sisterhood that unites each GPS girl.”
Following her charge, Cover introduced Head of Upper School Jenise Gordon to welcome the student speakers to the stage. Gordon said, “Girls Preparatory School has a long tradition of not inviting outside commencement speakers because we believe so deeply in the inspirational words and thoughts of our own graduates.” She then introduced valedictorian Lauren Thacker and senior speaker Julia Combs, whose Chapel Talk was selected by the Class of 2022 to be read again.
Lauren, a self-described “Swiftie” (Taylor Swift fan), likened the class to one of her most popular songs, “22.” Fitting for this year’s graduating class, Lauren said, “In my mind, this song has come to embody our class in more ways than one …. The beginning of the song always brings me back to opening day of 2015, our first day of middle school. If you were like me, you probably remember feeling a mix of emotions that day. In fact, most of our time in middle school was happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. There was a sense of excitement about being in a new school with newfound independence, but also nerves about finding the right friends and figuring out our role in the community. We all strived with such intentionality to connect with those around us, and welcomed others with open arms.”
She continued, “Fast forward a few years to high school, and most of us started to figure out who we are. More importantly though, our class had grown closer together. High school put us through a mix of challenging situations and exciting events that may have felt both miserable and magical. Our class has accomplished so much in high school, whether it be in the arts, athletics, or academics, and we’ve done this all in spite of major challenges, like a global pandemic. We have been resilient, and have not let any struggles ruin our spirit.”
This class, she said, has not been afraid to be authentically themselves, and their time at GPS has been characterized by growth. “I feel confident that regardless of what life throws our way, everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re the Class of ’22. Let’s live our lives in a way that reflects the values we’ve come to honor here. As we go to college and beyond, let’s connect with others in the way we strived so tirelessly to do in the early middle school days. Let’s be resilient in the face of adversity as we’ve been all throughout high school. Let’s find people like our classmates, who will always share in our adventures and make us comfortable to be unashamedly ourselves.”
Julia spoke next, connecting her time at GPS to her love of puzzles. “I tend to start with the border, like most puzzlers do, and like we all did in sixth grade. You tried to find the pieces that just clicked together: your interests and your friends.” Dance, she said, became a corner piece for her after taking her first class at GPS. Friends, she continued, were harder, because people tended to try to force a fit when there wasn’t one, rather than waiting on the right piece. “The feeling when pieces actually connect is so worth the search for the right one. When you don’t need to force the pieces but instead they just sink into each other, that is the moment you know you are in the right place.”
She continued, “Everytime I felt lost, buried in puzzle pieces that I couldn’t seem to fit together, there was someone who was willing to help me. Maybe they had already completed that section of their own puzzle, or maybe we were just working on it together. It didn’t matter what it was, they were there.”
Today, she concluded, the members of the Class of 2022 are placing their final puzzle pieces at GPS as they go on to begin new puzzles in college. “As I marvel at the almost complete puzzle, I am starting to see that this one is special. We will always continue to grow off of this puzzle each of us have started here at GPS.”
After the student speeches, Clay Watson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, addressed the class. “You may not realize it until you get to college, but one day soon you will look back on your time at 205 Island Avenue and realize that you were part of something really special. That your education and experience has set you up for success in life. No matter what path you choose, what degree or degrees you earn, GPS is an important part of your story and we are proud to say you are an important part of ours.”
Following Watson’s address, Jenise Gordon, Head of Upper School, presented the class, reading each girl’s name, while Cover and Watson handed out diplomas and personally congratulated each girl. Then senior Jenna Brown offered the benediction.
Here’s to the Class of 2022! We could not be more proud of you!
To see a complete list of “Where Oh Where” go our Grand Old Seniors, click here.