Commencement 2021

by: Raffi Darrow, Ebytes Editor
On Saturday, May 22, the 81-member Class of 2021 were the first at Shorecrest Preparatory School to receive their diplomas on the Charger Commons Greenspace. Among the graduating class were 7 students recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corp., 1 military appointment, 2 Presidential Scholar candidates, 3 NCAA committed student-athletes, many Thespians, at least 2 pilots and 4 sets of twins!

Collectively the Class of 2021 completed nearly 12,000 service hours during their four years of high school through roles close to home with The Kind Mouse, Saint Anthony's Hospital and Guardian ad Litem, and nationally through Relay For Life and Camp Jenny among others.

The ceremony began with a welcome from Head of School Nancy Spencer. Ms. Spencer acknowledged "the leadership and commitment" that the Class of 2021 showed throughout the school year, and said they have been "nothing short of extraordinary. The spirit with which the senior Chargers have led the school has been model of positivity and determination."

Salutatorian Hailey Levitz '21 was the next to address her class, and thanked Shorecrest for posting old photos of her classmates online all month. "...Imagining you all when you first came to Shorecrest makes it a little less nerve-wracking, thanks to the Shorecrest instagram." Her advice for her peers was simple but wise. "Continue listening to music and to what other people have to say, maybe you’ll learn something. Then, when you’re ready, make your own music. Whether that’s advocating for people without voices, constructing a building, or going into a music studio and literally writing your own music -- go out there and pursue your passions, even if they might seem unconventional."

Senior members of the Upper School Vocal Ensemble then performed the Shorecrest Alma Mater.

Don Paige, Head of Upper School, recognized the 32 students from the Class of 2021 who were Shorecrest “Lifers,” having been students at Shorecrest for 12 years or more. 

A student reflection was given by Homecoming Queen and Student Ambassador Samia Hossain. Samia was not a Lifer, and joined Shorecrest in ninth grade. She recalled her first day jitters.

"It was 8:35am when I got to Shorecrest and I stood by Ms. Morlando’s desk waiting for school to start. I mindlessly scrolled through my phone so that it would look like I was busy, but I just didn’t know where to go. Clearly my nervousness was visible, because Ms. Morlando turned to me with a smile and said, 'You look nervous. Don’t be. You’ll make friends.' That moment stuck with me throughout the rest of the day and was the exact reassurance and guidance I needed, even if it was only a few words. Surprisingly, Ms. Morlando was right, I did make friends and I was fine."

The seniors asked art teacher Casey McDonough to share words of wisdom with the grade as an Honored Community Speaker. He shared lessons from his mother with the graduates:

"Be honest in all of your dealings at all times, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. ... Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect. Each and every person you meet deserves to be treated like the living, breathing feeling human that they are. ... Give more than you receive. Are you living in abundance? An abundance of love, an abundance of wealth, an abundance of knowledge? Do you have enough or more than enough? Give some of that away, you won’t regret it. ... Lead with love everywhere in life. If you want to change the world, if you want to affect the people around you in a meaningful way, the answer really is love. ... Success, love and happiness are out there waiting for each and every one of you. Go forward with confidence and be excited for this future that you alone control. Congratulations Class of 2021!"

Next, legacy student Julia Craig gave a student reflection. She started by thanking parents, faculty, coaches and her classmates. She then reminded her peers of the inner strength they have to tap into in the future. "Planning and executing Homecoming, Prom, Graduation and Service Week during a pandemic takes creativity and adaptability. Considering what we’ve all just been through, it’s funny to think back to Lower and Middle School and recall things that - at the time - seemed so overwhelming and insurmountable. Maybe they seem silly now, but those events were key lessons for our 6- and 12-year-old selves. Although our junior and senior years were upended, I am so proud of how we persevered as a class. As we head forward to college and beyond, it is clear to me we each have the ability to be resilient and work together, no matter what the world throws at us."

It is a tradition at the Shorecrest Commencement to name an Outstanding Senior. This member of the graduating class returns in ten years to speak at Commencement. Head of Upper School, Don Paige, named Shaherzad Chawdree the Outstanding Senior of the Class of 2021. On Monday, Shaherzad came back to campus to have a photo taken with the second grade, and took notes when she spoke with them about what she might share at the Commencement of the Class of 2031.

A Commencement Address was then given by Austin Fuss, the Outstanding Senior of the Shorecrest Class of 2011. Austin was an integral part of Shorecrest Performing Arts, as an incredible stage performer for all four years of high school. He went on to Emory University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentrations in film and media management. He spent a year as an NBC page on assignment with "Saturday Night Life", "Late Night with Seth Meyers" and the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group. After completing the page program he remained at NBC as an executive assistant supporting the president of USA Network and Syfy for three years. He left NBCUniversal in 2019 to start law school at The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, from which he plans to graduate in May of 2022. He is a member of entertainment and sports law society and served as the political director for Lambda Legal.

Austin's advice included a comparison of the demands of high school to performing in a musical. "There’s nothing like the feeling of opening night of the spring musical, experiencing the triumph of your collaborative efforts. The success of the team relies on each individual’s contributions, but the superior results only come about when the team is effectively working together. Knowing how you can best help the group accomplish the larger goal takes time and practice. Recognizing when it’s your time to step up and acknowledging the other times when it’s best to let someone else take the lead is critical. It takes time to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and with the experience you have from your time at Shorecrest, you all are well on your way to effectively joining any team." 

Shaherzad then came forward to impart the Valedictory Address. After thanking her family for their support, she thanked the Shorecrest faculty for aiding her in learning from home during the COVID pandemic. "The faculty truly goes out of their way to ensure the happiness of their students," she shared. 

Her delivery then focused on her classmates:

"I will look back on the days when we were high school kids and share stories about orange homecoming shirts and band concerts and art history tests. And earlier times of Silly Bandz and Rainbow Loom and Uncrustables sandwiches. And I hope you will too, even after you graduate from college and buy your first house. Even after you are successful, and grow old with children and mortgages to pay. I hope you will be grateful and remember our memories here at Shorecrest." 

Before the students were handed diplomas, Mr. Paige gave a formal introduction of the Class of 2021. He spoke about the juxtaposition of first impressions and last words that occur at graduations. Although they may be sharing some of their last words with members of the Shorecrest community, they may also be concerned about their first impressions with new roommates and teachers at college. 

"Forgive yourself for the first impressions you make on people. Don’t worry about those first impressions. You have plenty of time to show people your authentic self. But probably most importantly, forgive others for their first impressions. You’re about to meet many, many new people. Do not get stuck in your first impression of them, but rather be willing to reshape that impression. ... and don't wait for any last situation to say what needs to be said. If it matters, just say it."
Ms. Spencer then awarded diplomas along with Chair of the Board of Trustees, Beth Vivio, while Anthony Falcone '15, representing the Alumni Association, presented Alumni pins to each graduate.
At Shorecrest, diplomas are not presented alphabetically, rather the seniors are called at random. The final member of the class to receive a diploma was Rod Casteel '21, who then donned the golden mortarboard, a sign of good luck for the coming year.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from the co-Presidents of Student Council Jonathan Currie and Nadya DeFreitas. 

Nadya shared her Top 5 high school memories, one from each year and one overall. Her favorite memories included the freshman retreat in ninth grade, listening to her classmates' "This I Believe" speeches in tenth grade, dressing up as characters from "Orange is the New Black" during Homecoming Week in eleventh grade, and receiving financial and emotional support from the Shorecrest community and the Class of 2021 when diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and temporarily paralyzed from the head down during senior year (yes, you read that correctly.)

"We’ve now arrived at the number one spot," Nadya shared. "My favorite moment of high school. It’s going to sound cliche, and I am sure a few of you are going to cringe, but my favorite thing about high school was meeting all of you. I love you all and because of you and the amazing Shorecrest community, Shorecrest will forever be on my Top 10 list."

Nadya handed off the microphone to her co-President Jonathan, who told his classmates that they the only thing of true value they are taking with them as they move on, is each other.

"By the time fall rolls around, we will be scattered across the country and the world, forging new connections, eating meals in another dining hall, making new best friends, and not getting dress-coded by Dean Sessions. That being said, we never know what the future actually holds. I entered high school hating theatre kids and only owning one pair of shoes, but four years later I’m graduating in $500 sneakers as a planned theatre major. The point I’m trying to make is that no matter what happens in the next year, decade, or century, everyone who is receiving a diploma here today has the 80 most important tools for taking on tomorrow, each other. Just as I’ve been telling underclassmen all week, today isn’t the end of our time at Shorecrest. Sure, we won’t be here every day, but part of every one of us is going to be Green and Gold for the rest of our lives." 

Good luck to our newest alumni, the Class of 2021!


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Shorecrest Preparatory School is a private, non-sectarian, coeducational, college preparatory day school for students preschool through high school, located in St. Petersburg, Florida.