On Sunday, May 26, 2019, Western Reserve Academy's Class of 2019 received their diplomas and took their official steps forward, now members of Reserve's proud and accomplished alumni community.
Student Body Co-President Zohaib Malik '19 spoke as the student-elected Commencement Student Speaker.
"Through all of your personal stories and small moments at Reserve, you have unknowingly built the foundation for not only who you are, but also who you are going to be. If you'd told me that I would be leaving the Lawn's Wide Sweep 8 months ago, I would have kindly responded "finally." But now as we sit here awaiting our diplomas, it has become more of a bittersweet event than I could have ever imagined. As much as I don't want to let go of Reserve, Reserve wants to let go of us so we can enter the world and show everyone what the Class of 2019 is capable of."
Standing in for Commencement Speaker Head of School Christopher D. Burner '80, Director of Athletics and Afternoon Programs Herb Haller '85 took the podium to read Burner's speech, which gave Burner the opportunity to say a poignant and heartfelt farewell to the Class of 2019.
Burner's speech confidently assured the graduates they are ready for their next step.
"You are ready," he said in the speech. "I urge you to embrace the lifelong learning that will and must occur throughout your education and life beyond WRA. If we have done our job well here, we have fired your interest and curiosity for continued learning... the best we can do for you right now is to spark your curiosity and establish these skills for continuous learning and the inevitable innovation that will occur throughout your life and career."
Good advice was embedded.
"Read! Continuously. Voraciously. It is how you continue to learn. You have learned to read and write effectively. I urge you to continue to flex this muscle -- read continuously. It will lead to continued learning and even better writing and communication -- you will need both."
The speech was closed by echoing the phrase coined by seniors in their senior speeches, which are delivered at Morning Meetings over the course of the school year.
"This I believe," said Burner in the speech. "You are ready for remarkable opportunities and challenges ahead of you. I know it."
Some of the achievements of this year's outstanding senior class include:
The graduates will matriculate to four-year colleges and universities at exceptional academic institutions such as University of Cambridge, University of Chicago, Duke University, The University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, New York University and many more.
The Class of 2019 has received merit scholarship offers in excess of $9.7 million and gained acceptances at 217 different colleges and universities in 21 states, Canada and England.
82% of graduates were accepted to institutions deemed "Most Selective" or "Highly Selective" by Barron's.
Of the 110 graduates, three students were accepted to Ivy Leagues institutions, like Congressional App Prize winner Juliana Xie '19. She joins the Class of 2023 as a freshman at The University of Pennsylvania where she will be a part of the Wharton/Engineering Dual Degree Program.
Ten members of the senior class were National Merit Commended students and six were named National Merit Finalists -- including senior Matthew Bloom '19. This year, Matthew was also recognized when he and his team won the Summit County Miniature Bridge Building Competition (MBBC) in February. In the fall, Bloom moves on to Duke University.
Graduates are also matriculating to top design schools, like Harley Fisher '19. Fisher will attend The Rhode Island School of Design.
WRA's Signature Programs and independent curriculum continued to provide unique opportunities to WRA students:
Beyond Reserve, the school's internship program, opened 22 opportunities with partners including the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Genetic Research Institute, Baylor Medical Center, Goodyear and ABC News. One of the participants includes senior Hanley Jefferis '19. During her time at WRA, Hanley took advantage of the most selective of the Beyond Reserve opportunities by participating in the summer experience at the International Science School in Heidelberg, Germany. This fall, she heads to Northeastern University to continue her biology studies.
This year's Compass class, a year-long course that enables students to turn passions into real-life projects, produced an award-winning neuroscience app, a smart jersey to protect athletes who participate in contact sports, and a "Race Space" event, where senior Leila Darwiche '19 aspired to grow empathy for the refugee crisis among her teenage peers and more. This fall, Darwiche matriculates to Northwestern.
Four seniors participated in the school's Cancer Immunology course taught by Science Department faculty member Dr. Robert Aguilar. WRA is the only high school in the country to offer this specialty. Jihyeon (JJ) Je '19 researched ellagic acid as a potential treatment for breast cancer. In the fall, she will pursue biomedical engineering at Duke University.
To end the need to teach to a test, in 2018 WRA replaced AP courses with more than 20 College Level (CL) Courses that offer greater depth, flexibility and freedom for our impassioned faculty. College Level Courses include Pathobiology of Human Disease, The Effects of Memory, Latin Literature and many more.
As a kick off to the 2018-19 academic year, WRA and the Advancement Office celebrated the completion of the $86.5 million Campaign for Excellence & Access to increase financial aid and faculty support and enable preservation across the historic campus, including the reopening of Seymour Hall, the capstone project of the campaign. Seymour Hall is the main academic building and student hub on campus.
Architectural Digest named Reserve the "Most Beautiful Private School in Ohio," and Niche ranked the school #1 in the state for Best Private High School, Best Boarding School, and Best High School for STEM. Signs of strength include:
On average, WRA has received $8.6 million in gift revenue annually from alumni, parents and friends over the last five years;
The school endowment totals $116 million, equating to more than $303,000 per student;
$20 million was raised and spent on new and improved facilities over the last five years.
The 2018-19 school year also saw the development of a new academic department -- the Integrated Studies and Design Department (ISD). United by a pioneering ethos, ISD offers a trio of self-directed study options -- Compass, GPS (Guided Project of Significance) and MAP (Making, Asking/Articulating, Producing/Performing). ISD asks students to pursue a passion or unlock a new opportunity on the path to wellness and an expanded worldview. ISD also includes courses like Learning to Make, which invite students to explore and utilize the Wang Innovation Center (WIC), the school's 6,000-square-foot makerspace.
The Class of 2019 has experienced a tremendous amount of change at Western Reserve Academy: a schedule change; the launch of a new curriculum with College Level courses instead of AP courses; and a substitute academic building during the 2018-19 school year while historic Seymour Hall was being renovated.
But perhaps what is most telling is that the Class of 2019 did not just endure these adjustments, they thrived amidst change. They proved adaptability and eagerness to embrace opportunities, such as when the school invited performances and production opportunities on an ambitious admission video. A number of the seniors volunteered their time, including Jack Sovich '19 (who makes a cameo), Student Assistant Producer Isabelle Murray '19 and Student Assistant Songwriter Will Downing '19.
Indeed, the resulting award-winning video "Your Second Home" aptly captures what makes the Class of 2019 so memorable -- they are bold, generous, driven, curious and full of spirit.
WRA wishes to congratulate all of its outstanding Pioneers!