Celebrating the Class of 2023 at Nightingale’s 99th Commencement

JUNE 26, 2023

While many graduating classes experience nervousness on their commencement day, the Class of 2023 was calm, excited, and ready for their big day—one they had been waiting for since they first entered the blue doors.

On the morning of Thursday, June 15, families, friends, Upper School peers, and professional community members eagerly found their seats in the pews of the Church of Heavenly Rest, welcoming over 900 guests for the seniors’ special day.

Once all community members were seated, the familiar and nostalgic tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” played as the Class of 2023 entered the great hall and walked to the front of the room.

After a welcome from Head of School Paul A. Burke, Class XII Co-President Julia Demeny ’23 moved to the podium to share the wonderful accomplishments of her peers.

“For so long, June 15 has been a distant date circled on the calendar but now, whether you have been here for 13 years or three, our moment has come,” Julia said. “Each one of us has contributed to Nightingale in unique ways, and I would like to take the time now to acknowledge the accomplishments, leadership and long lasting impact that our class has had on our community. Every member of the graduating class has contributed broadly to the academic and extracurricular life of the school.”

Julia then asked her peers to stand if one of the following accomplishments or achievements applied to their time at Nightingale. At the end of the recognition, the room erupted in applause as all students were standing—each having been recognized for the unique ways in which they impacted, led, and inspired their community. Students were recognized for their academic pursuits, leadership, athletic achievements, extracurricular involvement, and more.

Council Vice President Aashtha Amin ’23 then honored the accomplishments of their outgoing leaders and recognized the students who would serve on the council for the 2023-2024 school year. Each incoming leader was presented with a medallion, created by Daria de Koning ’98, to honor their new roles. Aashtha explained that Council President Nisa Williams recently presented the blue book of council proceedings to the new, incoming council president, Mya B. ’24. In the book, each board head and council president had written a summary of their goals for the year, accomplishments, and suggestions for the future.

“This book is the tangible connection between the school’s past, and reminds each new council of the important legacy of leadership they have received from the Nightingale students who have gone before them,” Aashtha explained.

With each name read, senior student leaders gave their successors the medallion along with a big hug. In these moments, new student leaders assumed their new titles for the 2023-2024 school year.

Class XII Co-President Annique Bien-Aime ’23 then introduced the senior that had been elected by their classmates to be their commencement student speaker.

“The person our class has elected is unfailingly kind and a friend to all. Her warm personality and effervescence draws people in and adds so much to our Upper School. She is just the kind of person people want to be around. This senior always puts herself out there, whether she is leaving audiences floored with her singing, acting, and dancing, or enlisting laughter in a Steve Harvey costume for Halloween. Furthermore, she works hard to make sure everyone in our community feels included and heard,” Annique shared. “As head of the inclusivity board, she has organized for students of color, she has organized affinity groups, and advocated to ensure every voice in the Upper School is heard and represented. Apart from her more formal roles, you can see this senior embodying the values of inclusivity in everything she does. You’ll often find her chatting with underclassmen in the hallway in between classes or cheering for her friends at sports games or performances. It’s clear just how much this person cares for the people around her. With that, I’m proud to invite one of my dearest friends to the podium, Tori Browne ’23.”

After a big hug between the pair of longtime friends, Tori made her way to the podium and addressed everyone in attendance.

“When I reflect on the beginning of my Nightingale experience, I think about my life before I even enrolled here. My sister had attended Nightingale since Kindergarten long before I joined her in ninth grade. My old school didn't have many yearly traditions, so I would always latch on to Nightingale's, causing an early and strong attachment to this institution,” Tori shared. “I would attend Nightingale spring and winter concerts, musicals, musical rehearsals, homecomings and PODOC meetings; many of the events that embody Nightingale's community-oriented conscience. My favorite Nightingale tradition, however, was Cultural Night, and my favorite segment of Cultural Night were the I Am From poems.”

Tori shared that, in these poems, the performers would always begin with “I am from…” and describe themselves and their background in this way, filling the remainder of the sentence. Tori explained that, while she wasn’t able to perform one of these during a Cultural Night, she would share a variation of the project she had always dreamed of sharing. So, for her speech, Tori created a We Are From poem about the Class of 2023.

“We are from small moments, early morning handshakes from Mr. Burke and goodbyes from Ms. Smith, Mr. Bell, Ms. Jones and the entire security team at the end of the day. We are from chocolate Wednesdays from fruity Fridays, and the pleasant surprises of cookies in the cafeteria and popsicles in the freezer.”

She continued: “We are from homecomings, the sticky lemon candies, the blue fingers and the pom poms. We are from pep rallies in the gym, and from pounding the bleachers with our feet during sports games. We are from drawing elaborate silly posters in the lounge to root for our classmates and from the sports managers who lead our teams to victory with their support.”

Throughout her speech, Tori highlighted the many ways in which the Class of 2023 remembers Nightingale.

“Now, to my friends in the Class of 2023. For many of us, Nightingale has been all that we know. For others, we have known many other institutions but regardless of that, in a class like the Class of 2023 I believe that it is impossible to not feel that a part of yourself belongs in this class and in this school, and when we leave somewhere that we identify with, and when we leave somewhere that we belong, it is overwhelmingly difficult.”

Tori then recalled a recent moment when she asked Head of the Music Department Mr. Goede if he had ever been afraid to grow up. In his response, Mr. Goede challenged Tori to turn her grief into celebration and fear of the future into excitement.

“We are scared, but we are excited. We are missing the innocence of freshman year but are ready to see what a different kind of freshman year has in store for us in the fall,” Tori said. “So I offer another one's your advice, Mr. Goede. Rather than us shifting anxieties and sadness into excitement and celebration, let's recognize that we can do it all at the same time. Bittersweet, happy, sad—whatever dichotomies of emotion—we are feeling at all.”

She continued: “We are from the Class of 2023; a group filled with vibrancy, love, intelligence and curiosity. A class of train of change makers, dreamers, and passionate members of the Nightingale community. As we leave where we're from and venture out into the unknown, I ask that we learn to embrace our nostalgia, our celebration, our fear, and our excitement,” Tori said. “With all of these emotions, we must recognize that leaving—although it is very daunting—is the only way for us to grow and diversify our personal list of ‘I am froms.’ Now that I've accomplished my goal, I would like to say thank you to every student, professional community member, family member, and friend in the audience and the Nightingale community. Thank you for fostering building and being who we are and where we are from. Most of all, thank you to the Class of 2023. You will always be where I say I am from.”

After a round of applause, the community came together in song to sing “Simple Gifts” by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. and Justin Warner.

Council President Nisa Williams ’23 then introduced the Class of 2023’s commencement speaker; someone they had chosen who could not only relate to their experiences at Nightingale, but who was also artistic, creative, young, entertaining, joyful, and caring.

Astrophysicist and Nightingale alumnae Lucia Perez, PhD ’10 began her speech by acknowledging the many emotions the seniors were feeling in that moment.

“What was most special to me about my time here was how Nightingale gave me opportunities to explore all the different parts of myself as I discovered them,” Lucia remarked. “I had the space to try new things, and the continual encouragement from my teachers and peers to keep at them even if I wasn't very good. Nightingale taught me this attitude of audaciously looking for new things I wanted to try.”

Lucia continued: “My advice to you is to face it the same way I told you to face the fear of failing and not being good enough—by wholly and wildly celebrating yourselves. Celebrate all of the weird and cool things you did together in Upper School. Lean into the delight of the journey you have had together. And let the sadness of having your time at Nightingale end move through you, because that sadness is born of the very joy and growth you found at Nightingale.”

It was finally time for the moment the Class of 2023 had been waiting for: the presentation of diplomas. As Head of Upper School Nichole Foster-Hinds read the names of each graduate, students shook hands with Board of Trustees President Kathleen McCarthy Baldwin P’31 P’33 and Mr. Burke. After each row returned to their seats, seniors moved their tassels, now Nightingale graduates.

With a congratulations from Ms. Foster-Hinds, graduates tossed their navy caps in the air above them.

Before closing, Upper School Chorus members came together to perform “Lift Thine Eyes” by Felix Mendelssohn, led by Mr. Goede.

“Alright, 2023, here we are,” Mr. Burke began in his closing remarks, “you have your diplomas, and we have lifted thine eyes. You are sitting with your classmates for the last time as members of Nightingale’s senior class. Before you go, a public word of thanks. You did something quite special for your school. You brought us back. You let us be us again. Even better, you asked us to be better than back. Because of you 2023, we are better.”

He continued: “You see, 2023 for you, this is not the Class of 2023, this is your class. It will always be your class. Your class taught you that life is better in-person. Life in-person leads to connection. Connection is the great reward in life. You are connected to each other 2023. And that is for life.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2023!