The air was filled with excitement and anticipation as the Class of 2023 gathered near the Loomis Observatory on Sunday morning. With signature white roses pinned to green lapels or clutched in palms, they lined up in tidy rows, ready for the bagpiper’s signal and to make their momentous walk down Lawn’s Wide Sweep.
The ceremony was an ode to the graduates, recognizing their tremendous growth and reflecting on the unforgettable memories that they will carry with them as they head toward new adventures. We recognized the tremendous accomplishments of multiple students through the delivery of distinguished Commencement Awards, which may honor academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, diverse talents and contributions to the community.
Congratulations to our award recipients:
- Bicknell Prize: Landon C. Allis
- John W. Hallowell Award: Rachel B. Ott
- Harlan Wood Award: Ela L. Mody
- Robinson Prize: Trey C. Autry
- Friendship Trophy: Sheilla G. Muligande
- Turnbull Endeavor Award: Ella M. Brooks
- Marie Fiedler Award: Nora E. Namiotka
- Angus Frew Award: Ty B.T. Banks
- Cum Laude Society New Inductees: Madison M. Aliff, Anna C. Eisaman, Cameron N. Griffith, Nhat (Flin) Huynh, Rachel B. Ott, Andrew F. Petras, Zichen (Francis) Wang and Miazhe (Michael) Yang.
We also honored longtime Mathematics Department faculty member, beloved Ice Hockey coach and former Dean Brand Closen with the Robert S. Weiss Award. This award is bestowed by student vote, and it was a lovely — if not bittersweet — parting gift to give to Closen as he settles into his retirement.
This year, Landon Allis ’23 spoke on behalf of the student body. For years, he has been a campus fixture, representing his student community as Student Body Co-President, welcoming new families to campus as a Chief Ambassador and providing increased access to both WRA athletics and dynamic student sports commentary through his beloved Reserve Sports Network. He recently announced this program will continue after his departure, appointing new leadership and ensuring its continued success. In this way, and in many others, Landon has not just left his mark, but leaves behind a legacy. It’s no surprise that he was elected to represent his peers on this esteemed stage.
“Embrace the things that life is going to throw at you,” said Allis. “Because every great thing, every good thing, every bad thing, every terrible thing that life has thrown at you has made each and every one of you the amazing and wonderful person that you are today. You have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring, and I think that should be what keeps you motivated for today.”
We also welcomed back Jeanne Donovan Fisher ’76 as this year’s Commencement Speaker. After Reserve, Fisher went on to become a successful producer, investor and philanthropist, as well as Chair of the Advisory Board at the Fisher Center at Bard, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Sundance Institute and President of True Love Production. Fisher is an inspiring choice for Commencement Speaker not only for her exceptional professional journey and philanthropic work, but as one of the first female four-year graduates after the reinstatement of coeducation. This year, we reached 50 years since this reinstatement, and after months of celebrating and honoring WRA women, the choice of Fisher as Commencement speaker felt especially fitting.
She spoke to the students about her time as a student and the transition to coeducation, of being one of the first female four-year graduates, and how this remarkable and unique time at Reserve was pivotal and precious in many ways, but also presented its unique challenges. Her remarks were inspiring and full of heart, relatable and honest.
“My advice, if I could presume to give it, is to be curious, stay present,” she shared. “Yes, put your phones down, listen intently, be kind. Be activists for women's rights, for human rights, for the environment, for fairness, for the causes that matter most to you and the people that you love, value and invest in the friendships that you've made here. And above all, give back whenever and however you can, especially to this wonderful place that is given more to you than you probably will realize for a long time to come. Giving is good for your soul, it's good karma, and it's a good habit to establish early. But of course, I can't end without the most obvious charge and this bit of advice: Above all, have fun and enjoy the ride. Good luck.”
Co-President of the Board of Trustees Marty Franks ’68 then took to the podium to share remarks, calling upon the Class of 2023 to practice gratitude — profusely and often.
“So to get you started on this path of gratitude, first, let me ask this graduating class, and all here assembled, to join me, and the entire Board of Trustees, in thanking Western Reserve Academy’s outstanding and dedicated faculty, staff and administration for all they have done to shepherd this class to this point, and in particular, I would like to ask the Class of ’23 to join me in a standing ovation for our faculty, staff and administration,” he said, and the soon-to-be graduates rose to the occasion, applauding with loud appreciation.
Franks and fellow Co-President of the Board of Trustees Nat Leonard ’82, as well as Trustee Emeritus David Hunter ’68 and Board of Trustees member Michael Johnson ’84, presented students with their diplomas, shaking their hands with pride. Every so often, a family member (or several) joined onstage to personally present their graduate a diploma, often forgoing the handshake for a joyful embrace. Every hug, every handshake was more than congratulations to the graduates — it was a warm welcome into their new alumni community.
Once every class member received their diploma, it was time for Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck P ’24 to close the ceremony.
“Class of 2023, I feel especially connected to you,” said Buck. “You are my first four-year class. We arrived on campus together, learned to pivot and pirouette throughout the pandemic, and subsequently welcomed new friends who would enrich our experiences… You have experienced the storm of COVID. And you got through. I wish I could say that life will not present you with challenges, but it will, and again you will get through. Invest in people, for relationships will sustain you through thick and thin. Employ empathy. Offer gratitude. Celebrate that which is good. Through all of these acts may you know joy!”
As students made their way to the flagpole to sing Reserve’s alma mater all together as a class — likely for the last time — faculty, families and friends stood nearby to take in the moment, with palpable pride and affection. Our Commencement for the Class of 2023 marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for this group. Their time here has been marked by shared laughter, challenges overcome, friendships forged, incredible growth and transformation. We are so proud of this class, and we simply cannot wait to see what they will do next.
Congratulations, Pioneers! Welcome to the WRA alumni community.
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