On June 12, the Buckley Country Day School Class of 2019 walked under the graduation tent to the processional sound of Pomp and Circumstance, confident about the pride and love that families, faculty, staff, and friends had come to share with them.
Reverend Patrick O’Connor, the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, parent of two Buckley alums, Ashley ’08 and Zach ’10, and a long-time beloved friend of the Buckley community, opened this year’s ceremony with an invocation.
O’Connor used the story of Minnijean Brown of the Little Rock Nine as a backdrop to urge the graduates to “believe in an America bigger and better, and a world where all of us are important” and to be “champions for something special in order to make the world a better place.” O’Connor was welcomed to Buckley’s commencement exercises by his goddaughter, Abigail Sinclair ’19.
Trustee Valerie DiFebo presented this year’s Trustees’ Bowl, the school’s most prized academic award, to the student who achieved the highest grade point average. The Trustees’ Bowl was presented to Maya Chugh Singh. The Scholarship Medal for the second highest academic average was awarded to Isabelle Chang, while Skylar Medina- Minerva earned the Certificate of Merit for the third highest average.
On behalf of her classmates, Allison Rosenthal and Filitsa Vasiliades presented the Teacher of the Year Award, selected by the members of the graduating class, to physical education teacher and coach Mrs. Christine Jenne whom, they said, “their whole class admires and will truly miss.”
The Thomas J. Reid Excellence in Teaching Award, selected by the Headmaster and the Assistant Heads based upon recommendations from the faculty, is an award recognizing outstanding teaching, demonstrated by concern for each student, quality of instruction, and commitment to Buckley. This year’s award was presented to fifth and sixth-grade English teacher Natasha Chadha.
The G. Robert Gage Award for Excellence in Teaching, named and given in memory of Bob Gage’s late father, is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of his/her excellence in teaching. This award is funded every year by the investment income earned on the endowment gift made by the Gage family. The 2019 recipient this award was presented to the Director of the Hagedorn Library Learning Center and fifth and sixth-grade social studies teacher Patricia Russac.
A generous endowment gift from Linda and John Powers has made possible the presentation of an additional faculty award at graduation. The Powers Family Teacher Recognition Award is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of his/her embodiment of the School’s character and spirit, care and nurturing qualities, and excellence in teaching. This year’s recipient of the Powers Family Recognition Award was second-grade teacher Jessica Raffaele.
Bryan Byrne and Skylar Powell, Student Council Co-Presidents, then presented gifts from the class of 2019 to Buckley Country Day School: new furniture for the 8th grade lounge for the upcoming classes to enjoy and funding for the Headmaster’s Impact Fund to assist Buckley Country Day School families with expenses above and beyond tuition.
“This,” Bryan said, “will help Buckley students participate in all that the school has to offer.”
Physical education and teacher coach Brian Boyle was selected by the graduating class to be their faculty speaker. He was introduced by Theodore Tsiamtsiouris.
Tsiamtsiouris told Boyle, “I want to let you know how much we appreciate your profound impact and your investment in our lives. Thank you for bringing out the best in all of us.” After reflecting on his relationship with the Class of 2019 and highlighting their special talents, Boyle concluded by remarking that, “Life will take you many places. Don’t be afraid of taking chances, because sometimes the butterflies in your stomach mean that something great is coming your way. During these times of transition please always remember that the Buckley faculty and staff will always be your family. I have a special place in my heart for this graduating class. I will always treasure the moments and memories over the past 10 years and I will miss you all very much.”
Brianna Smith ‘08 was this year’s alumna speaker. Brianna, the oldest of four Smith children to graduate from Buckley, was introduced by her youngest sister Charlotte.
Addressing the graduates’ understandable questions about starting in new schools, Smith reassured them. “Never doubt your worth or your capabilities,” she told them. “Regardless of whether or not your grades were straight A’s here, trust that this school has given you the tools necessary for you to succeed in the future. All you have to do is use them.” Finally, Smith spoke very convincingly to the students and their parents about the most important life lesson she had learned since her Buckley graduation: “Although perfection does not exist, I’ve come to realize that the closest thing to it is found in balance.”
The two student speakers selected by their peers were Isabelle Chang and Michael Marrale. With much wit and humor, Chang and Marrale spoke about the class of 2019 as if they were all members of the same family. Like their families, they didn’t get to choose their classmates. They cleverly turned each one of them into a parent, a sibling, an uncle, or a cousin. Their shrewd choices of family members for each of their classmates drew much laughter from the audience. Chang and Marrale closed with a shout out to their parents and their teachers, “the roots of their Buckley family tree.”
Diplomas were then awarded to the members of the graduating class. Upon hearing their names, the students handed their plaques to the newly-elected Student Council Co-President, Ava Nappi ‘20, and walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Simultaneously, eighth-grade advisors read excerpts from comments written by the students’ teachers over the past twelve years and selected by the Headmaster.
Lily Ventura introduced this year’s musical offering. The Class of 2019 chose Hannah Montana’s ‘You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home’ because, as Ventura said, “the song reminds us that even though we might be going our separate ways, we will always have each other’s backs and will always find our way back to Buckley.”
O’Connor concluded the ceremony with a blessing for the graduates and the school community.
—Submitted by Buckley Country Day School