Commencement 2018: A ‘Passionate, Confident and Persistent’ Class

 The Spence School’s Class of 2018, 69 students, celebrated Commencement the evening of May 24, 2018, at The Church of the Heavenly Rest.
Guests heard opening remarks from Head of School Bodie Brizendine and President of the Board of Trustees William L. Jacob III and enjoyed hearing Select Choir sing “Over the Rainbow” and the Glee Club sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Naomi Victoria L. ’18 delivered the senior speech, which began with an anecdote of her first day joining the swim team with no prior knowledge of how to swim. Despite her hesitation, she dove in, trusting that the water would support her and realizing that she had the tools to figure out how to reach the surface. Naomi compared the Class of 2018’s support system to this water; families, friends and teachers have been there lifting them up over the years. She encouraged her peers to “dive in. Most importantly, keep your head above water and trust that you have what it takes to succeed.”
Naomi described her class as “passionate, confident and persistent” scholars who had demonstrated that they know how to work in unity while also maintaining their own unique voice and sense of agency.
“Don’t be afraid of your own voice. We don’t all have to sing the same note,” she said. “Like a choir, we are called together not to sing one note in unison but rather many notes like Triple Trio—in harmony, which allows us each to contribute our unique tones to create something beautiful.”
Commencement speaker Gwyneth Paltrow ’90 was introduced and welcomed back “home” by Hanna Mira Y. ’18. Paltrow—an actress, author, singer and entrepreneur—described her former high school self as having a rebellious inner compass that sometimes pointed to disruption. She had a relentless drive and a desire to pursue things that had not been done before.
What strikes me now, looking back, is that that very rebelliousness and what it has manifested throughout my life so far, in conjunction with what The Spence School gave me, is the reason I am up here today,” she said.
Paltrow recognized that our society was at a watershed moment when women are linking arms to say “Me too,” to unite against harassment and efforts to quiet or diminish them. She said it is her life’s work to give voice to women to challenge the status quo and improve their lives. However, she cautioned against breaking rules foolhardily; she encouraged the graduates to think about context and the aspects of the system that still work and bind people together.
“I still break rules,” she said. “It’s who I am. But now the rules I break are not to test the world around me. They are to challenge existing systems. … Spence somehow took a young rebel and taught her how to use those powers for good by providing all of the structure and yet giving me freedom of thought. I am now able to harness my inner insubordinate against the parts of the culture where inequality and shame exist.”
Paltrow said she had never met a Spence student who wasn’t brilliant, confident, poised and connected to their feminine power. And she inspired the graduates to redefine, live and show what a modern, powerful woman is like.
“Armed with your Spence education and your curiosity about yourselves, you will have an effect on the world that you can’t even fathom yet,” Paltrow said.
After Paltrow’s remarks, Head of the Upper School Michèle Krauthamer and Academic Dean Douglas Brophy joined Brizendine in presenting the diplomas to the graduates before Brizendine’s final words.
Brizendine encouraged the graduates to always be “looking and catching the wonder and beauty living in the corners of the everyday.” She sought to give the graduates a sense of balance between the large and small by reminding them that sometimes the big things they worry about should be “downsized to the dimension they actually deserve.” And in contrast, the little things in life—petting the cat, saying thanks or going out for coffee at Yura’s with friends—will help them have better perspective.
“We are so very fond of you, Class of 2018, now graduates and members of our illustrious alumnae,” Brizendine said in addressing the class. “Your zest, your demands for our School to be the best it can be, your willingness to explore, your individuality, your academic prowess, your commitment to learning and your appetite for engagement, all name you as extraordinary,” Brizendine said. “But there is one attribute that stands out among these many others: your joy. … Simply put, you love your lives and you live your days fully within the possible, and that makes all the difference.”