A Fond Farewell: WRA Celebrates the Commencement of the Class of 2024

Congratulations to our newest alumni members.

On Sunday, May 26, our Class of 2024 was gifted with what we can only describe as a picture perfect day — a bright blue sky, a gentle breeze and sunshine as bright and warm as the love and attention of our community gathered to watch our 189th Commencement Ceremony.

After receiving their white rose boutonnieres and bouquets, our Class of 2024 gathered in white dress and Reserve Green, posing for last-minute selfies and counting down the minutes until it was time to make their most important trek across Lawn’s Wide Sweep. Our campus, picturesque with peonies in full bloom, buzzed with energy as families, friends and faculty prepared to honor this class of scholars, competitors, creators, inventors, collaborators, leaders and more.

We can admit that this class holds a special place in our hearts. As freshmen, they experienced the trials and tribulations brought by COVID-19, enduring distance learning (and social distancing!) — and despite these rocky starts, they thrived. If we listed their collective accomplishments, it would run down the length of Brick Row — from national championship titles to the prestige of being the only high schoolers to present at the American Association of Immunologists’ annual conference. “Wow!” simply does not suffice. We invite you to read more about this impressive class here.

Congratulations to this year’s special award recipients:

  • Bicknell Prize: Stephen E. Kosco

  • John W. Hallowell Award: Alexandra J. Newman

  • Harlan Wood Award: Peter H. McGinnes

  • Robinson Prize: Kian T. Kischke

  • Friendship Trophy: Mira C. Zamarro

  • Turnbull Endeavor Award: Junbo Ocean Fan

  • Marie Fiedler Award: Jada L. Kenner

  • Angus Frew Award: Carter T. Fleming

  • Cum Laude Society New Inductees: Finnerty M. Barger, Celia J. Chapman, Junbo “Ocean” Fan, Anya Mathur, Katherine A. McMullin, Carmen L. Reed, Jiahe “Jenny” Su, Gaowading “Ethan” Tan and Mira C. Zamarro

Click here to read the Commencement Award descriptions.

Nominated by his classmates, Rojauhn Pakdel ’24 stepped up to the stage as Commencement Student Speaker — an opportunity he was both surprised and honored to receive. His speech centered around Opportunity Cost, a concept he learned from Social Science faculty and H. Arthur Bellow Jr. ’56 Chair Diccon Ong ’81 in his CL Economics course. Opportunity Cost refers to the potential forgone profit from a missed opportunity, but Rojauhn placed the economic theory in a very human context. There was an opportunity cost to his parents’ decision to leave Iran and start a family in a new, unfamiliar nation, and he wondered at all that they left behind and all they had to learn. He connected it to his peers, who chose WRA over all of the choices placed in front of them, leaving behind the familiarity of their local community or even their country to take a chance at this school in Hudson, Ohio. But in all cases, he marveled at how much was gained from their decisions — a pay off that’s hard to calculate, but visible in other ways, such as the opportunities taken, friendships made, memories shared.

“As we part ways, I encourage you all to assess the opportunity cost of every choice you make and to take risks in what you do end up choosing, even if it means giving up what is important in your life,” said Rojauhn. “After all, we can never predict where our choices will take us, we can only experience the journey. And I know each one of you will have incredible adventures during the years to come.”

We then welcomed our Commencement Speaker, EDWINS Founder & CEO Brandon Chrostowski, to the stage. A classically trained chef, humanitarian, social entrepreneur — Chrostowski is someone who wears many hats (or rather, toques!) The EDWINS Leadership & Research Institute provides an educational pipeline for the formerly incarcerated, and his recipe for hospitality, service, food and access is as life-changing as it is inspiring. We were beyond thrilled to hear from him. 

Chrostowski’s post as Commencement Speaker was intentional and especially relevant, as WRA continues plans for its Center for Food Innovation, Sustainability and Service (CFISS). The CFISS, a legacy project of the WRA Bicentennial, will be the first of its kind in the country at a high school, touching all corners of campus and curriculum, and bolstered by a prestigious leadership grant received earlier this year from the Edward E. Ford Foundation. 

Chrostowski was refreshingly sincere and candid, sharing scenes from his earlier years that provided him with important insights and a path forward, such as his experience serving time and the opportunity he received to change course and help make a difference for others.

“You never know what life's gonna throw at you,” he said. “Down the road, you might find yourself in a tight spot. Don't let it define you, but let it rather give you a perspective that you can use to help others that maybe couldn't get out of that same spot. I would also really highly recommend not being a jerk when you graduate.”

At the crowd’s responding laughter, he grinned ruefully and nodded, sharing that this was the same advice he had dispensed at his own alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America.

“What you have is a perspective, an incredible education and talents — and it’s your responsibility to share these with others and to give back. It takes courage to do this, and I’d say that courage is the key that opens all doors.”

The awarding of the diplomas by Co-Presidents of the WRA Board of Trustees Marty Franks ’68 and Nat Leonard ’82 was a moving sight made all the more meaningful when fellow family graduates took the stage. We are always surprised by our number of legacy families in attendance and touched by the endearing tradition of an alumni member — be it a parent, grandparent, sibling or other relative — personally handing over the diploma, embracing their newly graduated Pioneer with palpable pride and joy.

At the closing of the ceremony, Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck P ’24 took to the podium. Addressing the Class of 2024, she asked them to think back to the first days of their senior year, of the unconventional Convocation that launched them into their final year at Reserve.

“...We collectively filled the chapel with bubbles symbolizing the spirit of collective effervescence,” she recalled. “And throughout the year we have shared moments of sparkling brilliance… in the classroom, on the stage and in the studio, in the athletic arena, and within our community. As distinct individuals of unique backgrounds, talents, and interests, you have formed illuminating bonds with one another and those whom you have led. Who can forget the radiantly unifying experience of bearing witness to a rare solar eclipse in its totality? Throughout this year you have both experienced and embodied the power of “lux et veritas” — light and truth.”

Buck left them with a quote from author John Green, pulling from his book, The Anthropocene Review, in which he shares essays reflecting upon cultural and environmental transpirations in the current geological time period.

“Examining the power of human impact on our planet he writes: ‘You can't see the future coming — not the terrors, for sure, but you also can't see the wonders that are coming, the moments of light-soaked joy that await each of us,’” she read. “Class of 2024, go out into our world to shine your light brightly. Fill your life and those of others with joy and wonder. Happy Graduation! Congratulations!”

The ceremony closed as it always does, with the singing of the alma mater around the Reserve flag pole, affection clear in the raised voices until the final line — “Around Thy Walls, Dear Old Reserve” — gave way to loud applause and cheers, a well-earned cacophony of joyful celebration.

Though we will surely miss this class (and do, already) — we take heart in knowing that, like all of our graduates, they will come home to Reserve again. We cannot wait to hear about your next adventures, feats and milestones, and to see you once again at your future Reunion Weekends. Congratulations to our Pioneers. You did it!