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Class of 2023 Graduates from Westminster

Under picture-perfect blue skies, Westminster celebrated its 135th graduation held May 27 on Commencement Lawn. 
In the days leading up to graduation, excitement mounted with each pre-commencement celebration, including the Spring Awards Ceremony and the Baccalaureate Service, followed by the Lawn Ceremony and the selection of a new Prefect Board.
Finally, the big day arrived with nary a cloud in the sky. Head of School Elaine White welcomed the 120 members of the Class of 2023 and asked them to recognize the many people who have helped reach this moment in their life: parents, family members, trustees, faculty and staff members and fellow classmates.
For Sixth Formers, it was a bittersweet moment teeming with excitement, anticipation and a bit of melancholy.
“I will miss the people, the community,” said Amber Caruso, who clutched a yellow stem rose, as she waited in the procession line.
In their addresses, commencement speakers assured that all the newly minted graduates would always be part of the Westminster community and they will always have a home on Williams Hill.
In his Salutatory address, Head Prefect Kade Smith carried that idea forward. At Westminster, he said, “A common misconception about graduating is that it’s over; you will never see your classmates, teachers, or anyone you used to go to school with. But the beauty of attending Westminster is that now you are in one big family. Once we leave the hill we will enter an even larger community, one much bigger than the 425 or so of us. And there will be fellow alumni, students, parents, teachers willing to be there for you whenever you are. … I know it’s a cliche, but Martlets do fly together. Although I know we won’t see each other every day, like before. It doesn’t mean we are truly gone.
“Our shared experiences and compassion for this place will always keep us attached.”
Outstanding Scholar, Tia MacDonald
Tia MacDonald delivered a thought provoking take on the perception of time and how our memories become an unwavering fixture, flowing into the present and the future. 
One of MacDonald’s distinct memories from her time at Westminster was an experience she had while volunteering with Horizons.
She recalled it in detail: “A midafternoon sun blazed, and I usually hate those bright hot days, but I was transported somewhere that nullified all of that. A little girl named Zuleyak would roll a hula hoop across the grass to me and laugh; I would roll it back to her and laugh, too. And that was it. Again and again, we tossed the hula hoops and laughed; we chased after them and ran in circles where they landed. We threw ourselves on the ground in time with the landing of the hoops. I can’t describe it more than that, more than simply how wonderful it felt to be young again, to do something so simple and silly, to laugh and play with a little girl who was so quiet a week before. When I lived it, I knew even then that the moment would last forever; I knew even then that I would miss being there even though I was still there. But I knew that, somewhere in space and time, the memory would always exist — we would always exist — just like that, just as we were that summer. I knew even then that the moment would last forever …”
MacDonald contemplated life as a simulation in which there is no such thing as the past, the present or the future. It’s all happening now. If that was true, she said, “then I would never have to say goodbye. Nothing would remain a memory and I could have this life again. So, this is not goodbye, we will meet again and again, love and live again and this, our memories, will be more than enough.”
Keynote Address
White introduced commencement speakers Associate Head of School Mark de Kanter ’91, P’19, ’22 and Kathleen Devaney H’02, executive director of Horizons at Westminster. The long-serving faculty couple will be departing in June after a combined 51 years of service to the school. Kathleen will assume her new position as head of school at The Hill School beginning ­­­on July 1.
White praised the couple for their many years of service to the school: “Mark and Kathleen are each remarkable educators, and their dedication to their craft, their commitment to creating community and their passion for working with young people has shaped Westminster profoundly for the past 25 years,” said White.
Kathleen and Mark were married in the chapel and raised two children on campus: Emmet ’19, a junior at Harvard University and Samantha ’22, a freshman at Boston College.
Mark, who taught AP Biology along with virtually every science course at Westminster during his tenure, aptly began his address with an observation on earthworms.
“They are largely invisible to us until after a spring rain when they rise out of the ground and migrate looking for a mate,” he said. “A healthy square meter of soil can contain 400 earthworms and these blind, squishy creatures are essential to aerating and maintaining the health of the lush vegetation all-around us.”
The worm migration often prompted him to consider all that is happening around us that we can’t see and to appreciate the value of what we can learn without traveling beyond our home.
“Henry David Thoreau once wrote: ‘Far travel, very far travel, or travail, comes near to the worth of staying at home,’” he said.
“I remember reading Thoreau’s words as a student at Westminster, back in a Baxter Academic Center cinder block classroom with Scott Reeves, and obviously I took that sentiment to heart that all I needed to learn about the world could be found right here, in Simsbury and on Williams Hill,” he said.
Similarly, he assured graduates that everything that they will face ahead of them will be reflections and expansions of what they have done at Westminster.
“You’re ready ... the Westminster microcosm has provided you insights into the wider world.”
He added that he has learned much from the students and expressed gratitude to past and present faculty colleagues.
Next, Kathleen Devaney addressed the class and asked them to imagine they are in college and are gathered in a Westminster-style advisory. They might think about the habits and actions that served them well at Westminster like being engaged, taking courses that are interesting and that interest them, working strategically, spending time with people who bring out the best in them, trying new things and being open to new perspectives.
She called on her colleagues who stood up and delivered familiar refrains to the class.
Mrs. Heckman reminded them that “deadlines matter!”
Mr. Zalinger admonished them. “Shh, it’s a study hall.”
Mr. Huguley called out: “Keep moving forward.”
Mrs. Hall galvanized them to be “bold, courageous and be your absolute best.”
Mrs. Urner-Berry reminded them to “get out and get some exercise.”
In her parting comments, Kathleen expressed gratitude to the Westminster community. “We could not be more grateful,” she said, adding that they will stay connected to the school.
“We aren’t leaving, just as you aren’t leaving,” she told the class. “We are commencing a new journey and our bags are well packed, and because we belong to this community, we will be forever a part of this family. So, 2023, bon voyage, travel well, experience much and we’ll see each other soon.”
Student Awards
The Butler Bowl awarded to a Third former who demonstrates the traits of character and leadership: Caroline Breslav
The Adams Bowl presented to a Fourth Former who best embodies the qualities of Richard and Barbara Adams, who devoted more than 40 years of service to the school. Barbara served on the faculty from 1995-2011, and Dick served on the faculty from 1970-2013: Lucy Wainwright
The Wilbraham Bowl given to a Fifth Former who best embodies the qualities of Geoffrey Wilbraham, who gave distinguished service to Westminster from 1958-1994: Asia Daniela Odong
Richard K. LeBlond, II Honor Award given to a Sixth former who exemplifies dedication to academics and loyalty to the school: Maggie McCarthy
Paul Winship Alumni Book Prize awarded to the Sixth Former who has made an unusual commitment in breadth and depth to school programs and activities: Catherine Rodrigues
Keyes Bowl, recognized as the school’s most prestigious commencement award, presented a Sixth Former who displays loyalty, courage, leadership and humility: Emma Mason
Faculty Prizes 
The C. Hiram Upson Chair honors members in the humanities who are master teachers of writing: Colleen Joncas, history.
The Sherwin Cole Chair is given every three years to a senior faculty member who sets the standard for leadership and embodies the true meaning of Grit and Grace: Nancy Urner-Berry ’81, P’11, ’16, mathematics.
The Swayze Prize is given to a member of the faculty for outstanding contributions to the life of the school: Nick Cary, history.
The O’Brien Prize recognizes a faculty member who has been selfless and generous with time and care in the nurture and support of students: Kelly Curtis, history.
Awarding of Diplomas and Diploma Passing
Head of School White and Chair of the Board of Trustees Brad Raymond ’85, P’19, ’20, ’24, ’24 presented diplomas. White then congratulated the Class of 2023 and offered them a parting gift, the same one she gave to the Class of 2022.
“It’s called Saturday. Part of your experience on the Hill has been to learn its value, and next year you are going to be able to enjoy it as you see fit. Use it well,” she said.
Following the ceremony, the graduates participated in the Westminster tradition of passing their diplomas on the Sixth Form Lawn. They formed a circle and passed the random diplomas they received during the commencement ceremony until they received their own diploma. They then stepped out of the circle, signifying their graduation.
Watch a recording Class of 2023 Commencement here

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