The ceremony included words of wisdom from commencement speaker and physician/journalist Tara Narula ’93 and valedictorian Nicolas Maynulet ’23. And, in a powerful moment, it paused to pay tribute to Austen Prescott ’23, who could not be in attendance after missing most of his senior year following the discovery of a rare and incurable brain cancer.
Wearing gray ribbons signifying brain cancer awareness, members of the Class of 2023 rose from their seats and applauded as several seniors accepted Prescott's diploma on his behalf. Seniors also signed a T-shirt that was placed on a chair left empty for him. Interim Head of School Rachel Rodriguez commended the Prescott family for its courage, and Austen for his inspiring spirit.
“As Austen’s seat is empty today, he fights a battle for his life and we wear gray ribbons in his honor,” Rodriguez said. She then quoted from a letter from his mother, Catherine Prescott. “Austen was hoping to be well enough to join you all at graduation. Unfortunately, that's not the case. If you take anything away from his experience, we encourage you to rip a page out of the Book of Austen: he invested heavily in friendships, prioritizing relationships over everything else – sometimes to the chagrin of his faculty and parents ... We invite you to meet each day with a smile and a joke, and don’t take it all so seriously. Life is ridiculous. It’s hard. It’s unpredictable. Hop the fence every now and again. Have fun. Eat well. Surround yourself with good people, and love those people fiercely.”Watch the commencement livestream here
The classmates who accepted the diploma delivered it to the Prescott home after the ceremony. They also laid a brick with his name in the Miller Quad after the annual Baccalaureate/Senior Send-off. Said Rodriguez: “Kindness, as Austen’s friends have demonstrated in the last month, is not a fad, and will never go out of style.”
Rodriguez and COO and Interim Head of the Upper School David Clark ’86
presented the school's annual commencement awards: Kyle Ng ’23
received the Faculty Cup; Natasha Rodriguez ’23,
the Head of School’s Cup; Loriz Arencibia ’23
, the Swenson Cup; and Jackson Pegg ’23
, the Ransom Cup. Theodore Ma ’23
, who addressed seniors at the baccalaureate (find his address here
), received the Salutatory Cup, and Maynulet received the Valedictory Cup from Associate Head of School John A. King Jr.
Maynulet congratulated his classmates and reminded them of the fantastic – and often hilarious – memories they shared. He noted that the annual ninth-grade excursion to the Everglades was “definitely an experience I will never forget no matter how hard I try”; he thanked RE teachers who, he said, “worked tirelessly to make us work tirelessly”; and noted that he found his passion in theater after being cut from the “no-cut” volleyball team in sixth grade.
“I know these last seven years have shaped the course of my life, and all of our lives, forever,” he said. “These last seven years anchor us together and provide a springboard for our future ... I’m sure that each of us is going to take this foundation provided by Ransom Everglades and build on it to make the world a better place. Because, no matter how many times we’ve heard it, we are still Paul Ransom’s third class of people."Read the entire valedictory address here
Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan who has served as Senior Medical Correspondent at CBS News and Medical Correspondent at CNN, was introduced by former classmate and current board vice-chair Elana Oberstein-Harris ’93. Narula urged seniors to see themselves as the authors of their life stories, taking control of the plotlines and recognizing the important chapters in a life well-lived. Emphasizing the importance of hard work, one’s inner voice, resilience, hope, service, compassion, dreams, bravery, love and gratitude, she encouraged seniors to dive into their futures fearlessly and full of confidence.
Ransom Everglades “has pushed you out of your comfort zones, opened your eyes to your passions and instilled in you a sense of community, responsibility and values,” she said. “It has given you friendships and relationships you will carry in your hearts for a lifetime. Let me also promise you that it has prepared you more than you can possibly know at this moment, for what lies ahead as you are about to take a giant leap into the unknown.”Read the entire commencement address here
Fitzpatrick, who handed a diploma to his daughter, Lucy Fitzpatrick ’23, reminded seniors of all they had accomplished at RE, and encouraged them to dream big and work hard as they depart.
“Our mission at Ransom Everglades is to produce graduates who believe they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it, as for what they can put into it,” he said. “And I know we’ve succeeded in this mission with the Class of 2023.”
Proenza-Coles provided more evidence of that mission accomplished. A professor at the University of Virginia in the American Studies Department and author of American Founders: How People of African Descent Established Freedom in the New World, Proenza-Coles grew interested in exploring the disparities in opportunity between different ethnic communities in the United States during her childhood years. She has contributed scholarship that explores those relationships, and she teaches students the centrality of those concerns to American history.
She told RE students that she learned much from her years in Coconut Grove and her mother Kitty Proenza, an RE faculty emeritus. She noted that “community is the investment that will bring you the greatest return.”
“Each of us is connected,” she said. “Every single one of us is responsible for shaping our community. And, regardless of who we are, or what we do or where, we all have the ability to cultivate the best of our ideals, both in the smallest and grandest ways.”
The commencement featured music from the Ransom Everglades Commencement Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jon Hamm, the RE Vocal Ensemble conducted by Laura Montes and Branden Cabrera '23
and Ian Barnett '23