Spence News

Commencement 2024: Spence Celebrates a Legacy of Leaders and Innovators

During the annual Grade 12 retreat, which kicks off their final fall at Spence, senior Lucy Pakurar had an epiphany. “Here marked the moment that we finally found the words to describe our class as a community. We are ‘wrong’ but strong,” she told an audience of families, faculty, staff, and trustees at The Spence School’s 127th Commencement. “On a regular day, our class is made up of a whole bunch of individuals bouncing around in different directions. But, every so often, and especially during big transition points, all of our energy magically gets focused in one direction. And when that happens—watch out. We as a grade approach things in an unorthodox way.”

This theme of building an unconventional but powerful perspective continued throughout the 2024 Commencement Ceremony at Church of the Heavenly Rest. Dr. Nancy Doe Hopkins ’60, Spence alumna, Amgen Professor of Biology at the Koch Institute for Integrative Research at MIT, and the 2024 recipient of the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal, addressed the Class of 2024, telling them: “Today, I feel as though I’ve come home.”

Hopkins recounted a story of taking a Biology class at Harvard taught by James D. Watson during her sophomore year. Watson had just won the Nobel Prize, and after her first class with him, she was sure she wanted to be a molecular biologist. After she began her career, Hopkins observed a discrepancy between the value placed on accomplishments made by male scientists versus female. One day, a wonderful thing happened. “I woke up angry,” she said.

“I credit Spence for that,” Hopkins remarked. “Spence had given me a fundamental belief in the importance of fairness. What was happening was wrong and unjust. I decided I would try to change it.” What followed was Hopkins’ extensive work advocating for women in science and a 50-year distinguished career at MIT. “The reason I’ve told you all of this is simple,” she shared with the graduating class. “I want you to know that when I graduated from Spence, all of those years ago, I had no idea what I was going to do. But I discovered a passion for science. Back then, the world wasn’t quite ready for women to become scientists who would work as equals with men. But Spence gave me the self-confidence to pursue my passion, and the values to recognize unfairness and want to change the world for the better.”

Remarks from Head of School Felicia Wilks highlighted the exceptional foundation that Spence was built on: “From the very beginning, Spence was meant to prepare girls and young women to pursue further scholarship in an effort to live a life of purpose. The goal of a Spence education was and remains steadfast in preparing graduates for life and leadership. Our school’s founding identity is a point of pride for me and I hope for you, too, because this founding vision of respect for the power of women distinguishes us from other schools.” 

Wilks’ charge to the Class of 2024 focused on the School's enduring legacy. “You take your place today along this continuum of powerful girls and women who are prepared to take on the next steps in leadership,” she said in her closing. “As Dr. Hopkins said, you will create the future. Each generation of women pushes things forward in her turn.”

As always, celebrating the Class of 2024 included memorable performances from student vocalists. Spence’s Select Choir sang “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” and Select Choir seniors sang “The Parting Glass.”

Congratulations, Class of 2024!

Read full remarks from Felicia Wilks here.
Read full Commencement Speech from Lucy Pakurar ’24 here
Read the full Commencement Address from Dr. Nancy Doe Hopkins ’60 here.
A K-12 independent school in New York city, The Spence School prepares a diverse community of girls and young women for the demands of academic excellence and responsible citizenship.


© 2023 Spence School