Seniors, staff prepare for graduation

Seniors, staff prepare for graduation

In only one week, the class of 2013 will walk across the lawn in front of the old St. Paul Academy entrance wearing white dresses and suits to receive diplomas and celebrate the beginning of a new era in their education. Commencement Day, which this year falls on June 9, will be a bittersweet moment for the seniors, who have to leave the comfortable confines of SPA to pursue their dreams for the future.

“I’ll miss the familiarity of the school and how it operates. I, along with a select group of seniors, have been going to SPA since kindergarten, and it’s really one of the only things that I can say has remained consistent throughout my whole life,” senior James Hargens said.

Senior Hagop Toghramadjian looks back on his experience in the Upper School as instrumental in shaping his character.

“I was influenced the most by my close friends and a few key faculty members. They encouraged me to pursue the activities and interests I cared about the most, and their examples drove me to succeed,” he said.

A momentous occasion like graduation requires planning and coordination beginning up to half a year before the event.

“I begin preparations in the fall by contacting all parents about the preferred name to be printed on the diplomas. Diplomas are ordered in early November. I contact numerous vendors to make arrangements for refreshments, flowers, photographers, announcements, linens, tables, tents, and 1500 folding chairs!” US Assistant Annie Harness said.

Diplomas and chairs are only the beginning, however. Harness also distributes a petition among the school’s neighbors and applies for a permit to close off a portion of Randolph Avenue for three hours on the day of graduation.

On Commencement Day itself, Harness and other faculty and volunteers work between seven in the morning and 4:30 in the afternoon to set up the tents and chairs and dais on the front lawn, all the while supervising a veritable army of florists, caterers, and photographers. In case rain should threaten the event, the Briggs Gymnasium is also set up to accommodate the ceremony.

Parents of juniors set up the reception in the lunchroom, and serve as ushers. Other family members and spectators arrive around 3:00, and the iconic graduation procession begins an hour later.

After the diplomas are distributed, the pictures taken, and the festivities moved elsewhere, the clean-up effort begins. “When the ceremony is over, usually by 6:00 PM, we start to clean up the lawn, take down the chair, throw away the debris and all is back to normal by 7:00 PM,” Harness said.

While saying goodbye might prove difficult, the seniors have a great many opportunities to look forward to, and feel their education has prepared them well.

“I would say that no one is perfectly prepared for everything the real world will throw at them, I certainly am not. But I do think that through my eighteen years I have attained skills that will have me set for what’s ahead,” graduating senior Chinaza Nwaneri, who will speak for the senior class at graduation, said. “I will be shaken, but I know that I will not fall that easily.”

Senior Maddie Hanson concurs. “I think SPA has equipped me with tools that will allow me to be assertive and successful in both college and in my career afterwards,” she said.

For now, though, Hanson is “just really excited to see everyone and celebrate our class’ accomplishments” at graduation.

Commencement is steeped in tradition and choreography, but maybe no ritual is more memorable than the senior song.

“Traditionally, the seniors come up with suggestions for a graduation song and we take consensus. The students are very thoughtful about the music and the text and what would be meaningful and appropriate,” choir director Anne Klus said. The Summit Singers rehearse the selected piece during April, before they leave on senior project. They also briefly practice during a Farewell Senior Brunch on the day of the spring recognition assembly.

“We also take a few minutes at the end of Graduation Practice to review. And somehow, it always works!” Klus said.

And somehow, despite the many things that could go wrong and thanks to the tireless efforts of the faculty and volunteers who organize it year after year, graduation always works too.