On a perfect, sunny morning in May, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School’s Commencement celebration returned to form after two years of unconventional festivities. This year, students and families gathered together on the Fieldston Quad — as is a time-honored tradition — to recognize the achievements of the Class of 2022.
Families and friends stirred excitedly as they prepared for the senior class to arrive. As the Fieldston Orchestra began to play, the Fieldston Class of 2022 descended the stone steps alongside their advisors and Class Dean Vinni Drybala, beaming in their caps and gowns. Students made their way to the Quad to enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience gathered to celebrate them. For many members of the ECFS community, this was an emotional and welcomed sight after last year’s ceremony was moved to a tent on the Upper Field in order to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.
As the graduates took their seats, Interim Head of School Kyle Wilkie-Glass opened the ceremonies with a moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the recent tragic mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
After the moment of silence, Wilkie-Glass offered a special thank you to the many individuals — including faculty, staff, parents/guardians, caregivers, and friends — for their support and guidance throughout students’ tenure at ECFS before passing the microphone to Kimberly Smith Spacek ’91, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, for a few words.
Smith Spacek emphasized how special it is to be a Fieldston alum and welcomed the Class of 2022 to an alumni community that is over 11,000 people strong. “You may leave the campus today, go off to college, travel the world, or embark on your future career, but I can assure you, whether you were here for 14 years, four years, or even less, you will always be a Fieldston graduate. You will always be welcomed with open Eagle arms.”
Three student speakers were invited to the podium to share their experiences at ECFS. First, Jala Atkinson ’22 expressed how far she and her classmates have come considering the many challenges they faced over the last two years. “We have been on a journey of exploration and growth. We’ve survived a global pandemic and experienced remote school, hybrid learning, and months of isolation. It was hard to stay in the moment, but we saw nature heal itself, tolerated the discomfort of the unknown, lived in the moment, spent time with our families, slowed down, and regrouped with our values intact.”
Abigail Trapp ’22 illustrated a connection between the Class of 2022 and the beloved hit movie series “High School Musical.” According to Trapp, the series represents three major points of change in the life of a high school student: “One: the start of something new. When we started high school, we eroded the sedimented versions of ourselves from middle school and allowed ourselves to cultivate new interests. We discovered passions; got involved in sports, clubs, and committees; and formed new friendships. Two: the fate of the real world, merged with the fate of our world. We embraced moments of joy and learned to love and empathize with one another after distance was forced upon us. And three: senior year — a time that is all about moving on. What makes reality so much better than the movies is that although we are leaving this place, we get to continue to grow and learn.”
Lastly, Asher Zemmel ’22 embraced humor, nostalgia, and heartfelt sentiment. As he wrapped up his speech, he lauded his fellow classmates for their vocal nature: “We always march to the beat of our own drum. It’s that courage to make noise that has brought us here today, and it’s that same brave refusal to never stay silent that will guide us forward as we go through life. But today is the day our noise on this campus stops. This is it — our time as Fieldston students is complete.”
After the student speeches, Sarafina Belafonte ’22 introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Mary T. Bassett ’70, P’06, P’08, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health. Belafonte, who is planning to study medicine, spoke about how Bassett served as an inspiration to her as a pioneering woman of color in STEM.
Dr. Bassett, a proud alumna and parent, recounted the different ways in which ECFS shaped her future and encouraged graduates with an important message. “As you leave today, you may not know what direction your lives are going to take; you don’t know which doors will open or which ones you will pass by. But you should know this — wherever you go, let your values guide you. You must continue to be outspoken and stand up for what you believe.”
Following a rendition of “Herbie Hancock Medley” performed by the accomplished Senior Jazz Band, Dean Drybala rose from his chair on stage to award diplomas to students. To begin the awarding ceremony, the Fieldston community took a moment of silence to recognize a special member of the Class of 2022, Matthew Steinberg, who tragically passed away in 2018. A commemorative plaque will be placed in the administration building in Matthew’s honor.
Students then proceeded to the stage to a clamor of celebratory applause and cheers, collected their diplomas from Assistant Principal for Academic Life Dr. Kenny Graves, joyfully tossed their caps in the air, and officially became graduates of Ethical Culture Fieldston School.
Interim Principal of Fieldston Upper — previously Dean of the Class of 2022 — Tony Marro closed Commencement with emotional remarks. Marro expressed the gratitude he felt for the many ways the Class of 2022 has impacted him both personally and professionally. “You’ve taught me and our community so much. This year, you taught me the greatest lessons: to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zones; to persevere through challenging times; to treat others with empathy, respect, and love; and, when in doubt, give grace.”
Marro concluded with a powerful and comforting reminder: “When you spread your wings and fly off to the next adventure, remember that you can always come back to the nest.”
Congratulations, Class of 2022!