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Mary McDowell Friends School’s first and historic upper school commencement was poignant and joyous. Families, friends, and staff gathered at the Brooklyn Museum on June 10th at 2pm to celebrate the graduating class of twenty-five seniors. Amidst the pomp and circumstance was a spirited event. The camaraderie amongst the graduates was evident, and they did not hesitate to show their affection when they each hugged Head of School, Debbie Zlotowitz; Kirk Smothers, Upper Division Director; and Amy Levine, Assistant Upper Division Director, as they received their diplomas.
Kirk recognized the risk that these students and their parents took when they joined the first upper school class. (Mary McDowell Friends School opened its college preparatory high school program for students with learning disabilities with a ninth grade class in 2010, and has added one grade each subsequent year, culminating with a twelfth grade class this year.) Kirk told seniors to feel proud and to appreciate the legacy that they have built over the last four years for thousands of future high school students who will benefit from the risks they have taken and their hard work.
Student speaker, Bella Schaefer, gave an anecdote to illuminate the challenges of having a learning disability in the larger society. She told the audience that, because she and her fellow students have worked harder and persevered through numerous struggles with learning, “we are stronger than you will ever know.” She said that their experiences together in the upper school have made them a close-knit group, supporting each other on their journey to today.
Debbie quoted from a letter written to founding trustee Vincent Longobardi, from a colleague of Mary McDowell’s. They wrote that Mary McDowell would be proud to be the namesake of our school, and that Mary’s courage, determination, and perseverance were a model for our students as they face their challenges to achieve academically and fulfill their potential. Debbie told graduates that, “… they are all that we had hoped for in our graduating class, and more.”
Commencement speaker Julian Bond, legendary civil rights activist, reminded graduates that their right to an appropriate education is a result of the hard work of civil rights activists whose goal was equality for all people. He congratulated them on their success. Furthermore, he urged them to not only do well, but to do ‘good,’ and extolled them to take up the mantle for social justice. In a manner of speaking – “pay it forward.”
Debbie noted that Julian is a graduate of a Quaker school, the George School in Pennsylvania. He credits that school with introducing him to the values of non-violent social change and individual community service.
The class of 2014 will be attending many fine colleges including American University, Clark University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SUNY New Paltz and Wheaton College. We wish them all the very best as they take on the new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.