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 2023, this meant celebrating each girl’s trajectory through GPS, and thus was born, “Joy in the Journey.”
This year’s graduating class has had a somewhat untraditional high school experience, with their freshman year—arguably the year that presents the most growth and change—shaped by distance learning due to COVID. But while that situation could easily hamper the experience, the Class of 2023 was able to find joy and even grow closer. The celebration of moments small and large continued throughout their journeys, and today we honored each girl.
The Commencement ceremony marks the conclusion of their time together, but their bonds will remain unbreakable, having 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 colleges and universities across the U.S. But today they are one—The GPS Class of 2023.
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 to the 117th Commencement ceremony.
Cover then introduced Erin Ensign, who offered the invocation, before beginning her charge to the Class of 2023.
“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.
“Throughout your time at GPS, I hope you felt celebrated for the unique gifts you brought to our school,” she continued. “That we prioritized healthy connections and relationships and fostered a culture where you were known, you were heard, and you were empowered to use your voice. And that you immersed yourself in a culture of acceptance and belonging that lifted you up in mind, body, and spirit so that you could find your place and discover your potential with confidence and joy for dynamic engagement within a rapidly changing world.”
Cover then touched on the importance of the theme of the year, “Joy in the Journey,” reminding the class of some of the central ideas in this year’s Chapel Talks. She said, “Honor Council President Hannah Grace Kornberg reminded you that joy can help you to appreciate special moments and get you through times that aren’t so easy. Student Council President Caroline Clark challenged you to find something every day to be joyful about or thankful for. Partnerships in the Community President Hayden Wise cautioned that when you focused on destinations—what to do on the weekend or where to attend college—that you would miss living in the moment. And Senior Class Leadership Council Chairwoman Anabel Wilson encouraged you to find what sets your own soul on fire, to find new goals and destinations to work toward, to create our own journeys.”
She touched on the bittersweet feeling of wishing the graduates could stay here forever, but recognizing the importance of letting them go out into the world to become strong and independent and to discover their places, knowing parents, grandparents, friends, family, and lastly, GPS, will always be here to support them. She concluded her speech saying, “You are ready for this next journey. You’ve worked hard. You’ve studied and practiced and worked out and rehearsed and performed to the best of your abilities. You’ve tried new things—some you discovered you were good at and others taught you that your strengths lie elsewhere. You’ve recovered from setbacks and disappointments and learned that, while sometimes life might not seem fair, it is always an adventure. … So my wish for you is that joy follows you every step of the way. And when you do return to Chattanooga, I hope you feel welcome here and visit often. More importantly, know that GPS is a place where you are seen, heard, known, and loved and you can always call home.”
Following her charge, the GPS Singers performed “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” before Cover introduced Head of Upper School Beth Creswell Wilson ’96 to welcome the student speakers to the stage. Wilson said, “Girls Preparatory School has a long tradition of not inviting outside Commencement speakers because we find this time to be most suitable to hear from the young women who have grown, flourished, and deepened their wisdom while students at our school.” She then introduced valedictorian Anisha Phade and senior speaker Anya Parambath, who was chosen by her classmates to reprise her Chapel Talk.
Anisha opened with a quote from Thomas Paine’s American revolutionary pamphlet: “It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies.” She noted there is no shortage of superlatives to describe the class: “creative, athletic, focused, brilliant.” But she said what stands out the most is the determination that shows, especially when they are together. “When we’ve set our minds to something, we’ve worked together to make it happen. We’ve celebrated one another and found joy in little moments together. We’ve picked each other up and pushed each other to test our academic, artistic, and physical limits.”
She continued the allusion with stories from their time together, ranging from a near-disastrous Winterim trip in eighth grade to seeing classmates support each other at every event possible, from out-of-town regattas to Terpsichord concerts, Mock Trial competitions, and more. She noted that not only has their class found power in each other, but also in the rest of the GPS community. She said, “Our parents helped us find this sisterhood, providing us with the opportunity to attend this school. Our teachers have challenged us and our occasional stubbornness to open our minds. Even our cafeteria staff have put food on our plates and smiles on our faces. The girls in the classes before us have paved the way for us and led by example. We are forever grateful to this community for being there for us.”
As they head out in new directions today, Anisha encouraged her classmates to continue to test how far they can push themselves while remembering the confidence they gained at GPS. “When we leave here today, our class will take on and lead the world,” she said. “Since we have been fortunate enough to be a part of this community, we have a responsibility to share this collective strength with others. We need to lift up our new circles, just as we have done for the past seven years. We will continue to find inspiration in each other and use the resilience we have learned here to help others find joy in their journeys. We will be the changemakers, the ones who challenge injustice and leave the world a better place than we found it. We will be the ones who consider opposing perspectives and look past our differences to resolve societal polarization, because we realize the importance of unity.”
Anya spoke next, connecting the constants in our lives to a heartbeat. “There are constants in our lives that beat away in the background, keeping us moving. People, places, and things that define us, safeguard our identities, or just make us smile. These constants could be anything. Like the people who have stood by your side through your roughest patches. The places that remind you of your childhood that you feel nostalgic about. The smell of your favorite home-cooked meal moments before you devour it. Just like the tiaras that we received on Ring Day, the capes that we got from our Cats, or the wings we made for our Rats, we are always reminded of our constants.”
Some constants—like culture, background, and upbringing are not visible, but they still influence us, she explained. GPS, she said, is another constant. “It is what brought us all together, and without it, none of us would be the people we are today. Whether it’s the people we have met through certain activities, like Terpsichord, diving, theater, climbing, Mock Trial, swimming, E-sports, soccer, and more, that bring us closer together, or the positives and negatives that solidify our experiences at this school. … In those moments, you realize that you have unconditional support from your friends and teachers. The love that they give you keeps moving forward, always there. …This is a heartbeat place I will surely never forget.”
Today, she concluded, the members of the Class of 2023 are at the end of their long journeys. “Don’t neglect the constants that keep you going. The heartbeat that carries you on even when you don’t realize it. So listen out, and try your best not to forget all the things that made you you. That heartbeat will keep on beating.”
After the student speeches, Clay Watson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, addressed the class. “To the Class of 2023, you may recall back in August, on the first day of your senior year, I challenged you to make your time at GPS count, to set the example for the other classes to follow as they work to get to where you are today. I trust that you’ve spent this past year making an impact, making good choices, and making memories to last your lifetime.” He reminded them how hard their teachers have worked to prepare them, acknowledging that his own daughters, Kennedy ’22 and Clayton ’22, just completed their first year in college. He said, “They have told me how well GPS prepared them for managing their time and advocating for themselves—for prioritizing their homework and studying … even when it wasn’t the most popular thing to do. And when you are miles from home, your parents will rest easier in the knowledge that you are well prepared for this next step.”
Following Watson’s address, Beth Creswell Wilson ’96, 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 Soree Kim offered the benediction.
Here’s to the Class of 2023! We could not be more proud of you!
To see a complete list of “Where Oh Where” go our Grand Old Seniors, click here. To watch the video of the ceremony, click here.