Graduation Weekend for the Class of 2017

This Memorial Day weekend, the Brooks School community gathered to honor the class of 2017 with a touching Lawn Ceremony on Sunday and bittersweet Prize Day event the following morning that had friends and family warmly laughing, crying and celebrating well into the chilly afternoon.

Festivities for the 86th Prize Day began with the Lawn Ceremony, during which more than 50 awards were presented to students in recognition of their achievements in the arts, athletics and academic studies.

Visit the class of 2017 web page to see videos of the student speakers and the list of prize winners, as well as links to the galleries of photographs from Brooks' Lawn Ceremony and Prize Day.

"The hard work, exceptional leadership, and superb citizenship so many students have shared and provided leaves us proud of the year we have had together," Head of School John Packard said addressing the audience.

Arts speaker Giovanni Vargas '17 spoke to the 103 new graduates about how, at Brooks, he'd found that he could speak through the arts. Reminding everyone that, "we are all artists," Vargas urged the audience to tap into its humanity through drawing, painting, music, acting or any other creative endeavor.

Gabriella Hillner '17 addressed athletics in her speech, during which the three-sport captain (field hockey, ice hockey and softball) thanked Brooks for the 12 seasons she played on 12 teams and formed 12 families. "The real value in sports is the teammates," she said.

Academics was the focus for Kyle Helfrich '17, who shared the journey he enjoyed finding himself as a student at Brooks. "There are so many little things in our control that can make the difference between good and great," he said, calling out the Learning Center staff, student-led tutoring program and his teachers for helping him grow as a student the past four years on campus. "This amazing faculty gave me the tools" to improve, he said. "Every teacher wants you to do well and someone will always help ... I'm amazed by how much I've learned."

The student speakers' thoughtful remarks and candid sharing was likely no surprise to Packard. "This class of 2017 gave of itself in so many ways that deepened the experience we had together as a school," he said during his address. "So many of them led in ways that mattered, in ways that were defined and undefined; in ways that were seen and unseen. In so doing, the 2016-2017 school year was full and meaningful in ways that will hold."

And emotions ran high, as always, in the Student Farewell Chapel service (affectionately known as "Boo Hoo Chapel") for students and faculty following Lawn Ceremony. At the conclusion of the service, the sixth-form filed onto the Chapel walk for a series of hug-filled goodbyes to faculty members and fellow students.

But the highlight of the weekend was, of course, Prize Day, Monday morning, when each member of the graduating class finally got his or her diploma.

"It is important that this class of 2017 knows that this school, more theirs today than anyone else's, will always be there for them; a port of sorts throughout your life, and a place that reminds you of who you are at your very best," said Packard to all those assembled beneath the tent on the fields overlooking Lake Cochichewick for the event. "It is my hope that time spent on this, the most spectacular boarding school campus of all, will grow in meaning in your hearts and minds as your lives take shape in exciting ways. We could not be more proud of you."

After a moment of silence in memory of George Alexius Whitney '96, killed earlier this school year while serving in Afghanistan, Packard introduced the four Brooks School trustees beside him on stage — all parents of graduating sixth-form students. The special guests included fathers: Steven R. Gorham '85, P'17, P'21, to son Oliver Gorham '17; Valentine Hollingsworth III '72, P'17, to son Henry Hollingsworth '17; Zachary S. Martin P'15, P'17, to daughter Emma Martin '17; Daniel J. Riccio P'17, P'20, to daughter Ariana Riccio '17.

Presentations of special awards came next with honors going to Hannah Latham '17: the Trustees' Prize; Yutong Coco Sun '17: The Faculty Prize; Julia Moore '17: The Headmaster's Prize; and to English teacher Stephanie Holmes: The Reverend George F. Vought Prize.

Class speaker Zi Qi Yang '17 rounded out the morning with his remarks on how Brooks School brings individuals together. "Brooks has transformed us in ways beyond our imaginations," said Yang in his address asking classmates to "look forward to the endless possibilities" of the future, while never forgetting their experiences at Brooks. "For all that my class has done," he said. "I'm forever grateful."

Watch Yang's moving address here.

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