Celebrating the Class of 2024 with a grand send off

Our Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2024 will take place on Sunday, May 26, on our Chapel Lawn. Led by the Akron and District Pipe Band, WRA Trustees and faculty, the Class of 2024 will begin their procession down Brick Row promptly at 10:30 a.m., and exercises should conclude by 12 p.m.

We can't wait to celebrate a wonderful class of soon-to-be graduates!

Please contact Tracy Schooner with any questions or call 330.650.9706.

EDWINS Founder & CEO Brandon Chrostowski named 2024 Commencement Speaker

A Cleveland luminary who wears many hats — classically-trained chef, social entrepreneur, humanitarian — has been named the speaker for our 189th Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 26, 2024. Brandon Chrostowski, founder, CEO and president of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, a national model for re-entry and an educational pipeline for the formerly incarcerated, will speak to our 125 graduating Pioneers and their families about life, leadership, and lessons he has learned outside a classroom that are applicable to anyone who has hopes and dreams for their future.

“We chose Brandon as our Commencement Speaker this year for a multitude of reasons,” said Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck P '24. “His life and enterprise are mission-driven, like ours. He is compassionate and others-focused. His work is especially relevant and meaningful as we prepare to launch the WRA Center for Food Innovation, Sustainability and Service, a legacy project of our Bicentennial Celebration. The imprint that Brandon has made on countless lives and communities is a model for anyone looking to make a difference in the world.”

Since its inception in 2007, Chrostowski’s EDWINS program has become a multifaceted initiative, begun as a program to offer inmates a path out of prison, anchored by EDWINS restaurant in Shaker Square, and evolved to include Edwins Too — a culinary incubator and community kitchen; EDWINS Butcher Shop and Bakery and Diner; a Second Chance Life Skills Center with housing and wraparound services; EDWINS Family Center, a nonprofit offering free daycare to Institute students during class hours; on-site programs at Grafton Correctional Institute and Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center; and a virtual curriculum reaching more than 400,000 prison inmates across the country.

A colleague of Chrostowski called it all “the kind of idea that morphs from a crackling spark to a roaring fire.”

For someone so focused in his purpose and philanthropy, Chrostowski has been all over the map in the best ways — from busboy in Detroit to top chef, sommelier and fromager positions at renowned and Michelin Star restaurants in Chicago, New York City and Paris. Yet arguably Chrostowski has made his biggest impact in Cleveland, a city he admits wasn’t much on his radar growing up but has become both his home and his home base for big ideas.

Buck could say the same. Now five years into her tenure as the first woman Head of School at WRA, she has become very adept at launching big ideas from our backyard.

“This is a region forged by Pioneers, people who took risks and were ambitious” said Buck. “We strive to carry forward this spirit by inspiring our students to blaze trails in learning and life. Brandon is a visionary leader and a catalyst for positive change, a true trailblazer. We can’t wait to hear what he will share with our students.”

Buck’s vision in developing WRA’s Center for Food Innovation, Sustainability and Service brought Chrostowski into full focus as she considered luminaries in the food space who could share thinking with WRA students and help inspire the new Center’s path forward. Where Chrostowski seeks to foster opportunity in the community through food, the new Center at WRA intends to use food as a lens of understanding. Its interdisciplinary program will introduce students to the biological, agricultural, economic, anthropological and societal impact of food. Community service will be central to WRA’s new Center, with students expected to address food accessibility, affordability and environmental impact, and to share their volunteer time, labor and advocacy to support others.

A prestigious boost for the new Center and its programs came earlier this year, when WRA was selected as the recipient of the Edward E. Ford Foundation’s Educational Leadership Grant. Each year, fewer than a handful of top independent schools, selected from hundreds of applicants, receive this coveted grant and endorsement of programs that can, much like Chrostowski’s efforts, turn a crackling spark into a roaring fire, inspiring other schools and providing transformative experiences for students.

“The traits of sweat equity, creativity, experimentation and ambition that are baked into a chef’s kitchen are traits that make any human successful,” said Buck. “We can’t wait to send our Class of 2024 into the world with an extra helping of these fundamental ingredients for fulfillment and success.”