Celebrating the Class of 2024 with a grand send off

Save the Date! 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.

Celebrating Achievements, Past and Future: The Class of 2023 Graduates from Western Reserve Academy

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. 

See the Commencement Award Descriptions here.

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.

View the full photo gallery below:

Landon Allis Elected 2023 Commencement Speaker

Western Reserve Academy is excited and proud to announce that Landon Allis ‘23 has been elected by his peers to speak at this year’s Commencement ceremony. Each year, the graduating class participates in a vote to decide who will represent them and their voice. This year, the class of 2023 clearly anticipates hearing from Landon one final time before gathering around the flagpole to together laud the lawn’s wide sweep. 

Even on Reserve’s expansive acreage, Landon is hard to miss. One might see him at the podium leading Morning Meeting, guiding prospective families on tours of campus or performing with the symphonic winds band. Perhaps they will hear him on one of the live streams from his beloved Reserve Sports Network and if not there, in the stands cheering loudly for the Pioneers. When considering the “Reserve experience,” one need not look beyond Landon and how he has made it his own. 

It’s easy to see, then, why this year’s class elected for his representation on the Chapel Lawn next weekend. Landon is proud to represent his class. He shared that he is “honored that [the recognition] was based on who came to mind first” for his classmates. When considering the task of speaking to the expanded Reserve community, he added, “it’s not too often anymore I get nervous talking in public, but this is big… I want to do it right.” He hopes most to contribute positively to a memorable graduation for his peers. 

Nervous, yes; and excited. “When I got the letter,” he laughed, “it was really hard to keep it to myself.” Even now, his grandmother asks each day when this article will be published. 

A four-year student at Reserve, Landon’s hope is that his speech touches those for whom he has become most grateful. Earlier this semester, his Senior Speech implored the community to accept change as life’s only constant. He notes that the class of 2023 has experienced much of it just in their four years here. When asked how he has most seen change in himself as a Pioneer, he offered, “I’ve become much more appreciative of how others affect me and where I am now”—a beautiful sentiment for the matriculating class hoping to affect good in the world. 

Landon’s light is sure to shine bright on the Commencement stage. The very same charisma and joy that earned him this recognition will surely be on display. Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck P '24 commended Landon, recalling, “At the start of his 9th grade year, Landon stood in front of the WRA school community and regaled us with humor while a film crew finished its work. Throughout his time at WRA, Landon has engaged others and shared voice. It is only fitting that his time at WRA is bookended by speaking at graduation." Congratulations again, Landon. We are proud and excited to hear your wisdom.

Jeanne Donovan Fisher ’76 to return to Reserve as 2023 Commencement Speaker

Even if she had never attended Western Reserve Academy, Jeanne Donovan Fisher ’76 would certainly have been named a Pioneer at some point in her remarkable lifetime. And as you sift through her many published bios on sites such as IMDB and various leadership boards, it’s easy to see why. Fisher’s list of many titles include producer, investor, 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 Productions, a theater and film production company she founded in 2001.

Western Reserve Academy is thrilled to welcome back this Pioneer as this year’s Commencement Speaker. It’s a most fitting return as we celebrate 50 years since the reinstatement of coeducation, because Fisher is one of the first female four-year graduates — a truly pioneering class of women. 

It has been a wonderful year of celebrating WRA women. This fall, we launched our 50 Brilliant Years initiative, which honors WRA women in the modern era and calls upon our community to establish an endowed scholarship for future female students who demonstrate significant financial need. Many alumnae members have stepped forward to secure future female students’ paths to WRA, with Fisher — always a leader — a prominent and generous friend to the cause.

“Jeanne Fisher is an inspiration,” said Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck P ’24. “She has made an enormous impact in the arts and education and demonstrates what it means to be a dedicated steward for that which one holds dear.”

Fisher has given much to her alma mater, and this time with her will be another gift. The Class of 2023 will learn much from this trailblazer, as will we. We look forward to welcoming her back to campus this spring.