Schieffelin inspires graduates to find their guides, be the guide for others

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On Friday, May 26, students, faculty, and family gathered to celebrate the graduation of the Kingswood Oxford class of 2023 at the 111th Commencement Ceremony. English Department Chair Catherine Schieffelin delivered the commencement address, which focused on the importance of mentorship and growth. 

At 10:30 a.m., the program began with the procession of trustees, administrators, and faculty. These individuals wore graduation gowns, a new tradition established this year. Then, as the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band started their performance, seniors left Alumni Hall in pairs alphabetically. 

After the seniors found their seats, the Upper School chorus and orchestra began their rendition of the school song, “Hail Kingswood Oxford!” Orchestra Director Richard Chiarappa wrote this song, and thus, singing the school song is not only a long-standing commencement tradition, but also celebrates Mr. Chiarappa as he enters retirement. 

History teacher Ted Levine delivered the invocation and welcomed all audience members. Soon after, senior Faith Potter took the stage and introduced her advisor, Ms. Schieffelin. 

Ms. Schieffelin began her speech by reflecting on one particular and often well-known feeling. “I have to admit, as I stand here before all of you, I feel like a bit of an imposter,” she said. She continued describing what exactly this feeling of self-doubt is called, Imposter Syndrome. 

Ms. Schieffelin noted how her love for the seniors truly motivated her to speak at graduation. “Class of 2023: You’re a kind, thoughtful, talented, and creative group of leaders at this school, and you’ve made an impression on those of us you leave behind,” she said. “As I look back on the year, I think of the passion you brought to your classes, your teams, your art, your performances, and your clubs, as you’ve served as role models for younger Wyverns. You’ve grown so much in your time here as you’ve discovered yourselves through the best of times and the worst of times. Quite simply, you’ll be missed.”

However, Ms. Schieffelin soon shifted the focus of her address. Instead of discussing the successes and achievements of the seniors, she asked them to think about times when they experienced the infamous Imposter Syndrome. 

Her address narrowed into three specific examples when Ms. Schieffelin felt a sense of self-doubt and what those experiences taught her. These specific experiences include growing up as a faculty child at Taft School, teaching at the Berkshire School, and parenting twins. 

Ms. Schieffelin discussed her experiences at Taft School, and how growing up living on campus became a contributing factor to why she, herself, went into education. Later, when she attended Taft, she began feeling a sense of divide between boarding students since she was a day student. She started feeling like an imposter among wealthy and trendy classmates. 

This sense of feeling like an  imposter only grew with the nightly ritual, Ms. Schieffelin dubbed “the scene.” During this time, boarders were allowed to spend time outdoors. “At the end of the night, if you were lucky, someone would ask to walk you back to your dorm,” she said. “I had no dorm to return to, so I just walked myself home. This campus that had once felt so familiar suddenly became a foreign land.” 

Despite this, Ms. Schieffelin continued to discuss how she found guides and mentors who gave her critical advice and were able to rid her of her sense of uncertainty. She further charged the seniors to remember the importance of mentors. “As you all head off in different directions (with your many first days and first experiences), don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and support as you try new things or doubt yourself,” she said. “Look to those you admire and trust when you’re uncertain; relationships like this are often all we need to remind us who we really are.”

Ms. Scheiffelin next discussed her experience teaching at Berkshire School out of college. There, she was excited about working directly with students but still felt like an imposter. It was in her second year of teaching when she met a transfer student named Jess. This student was disruptive and hated authority; however, Ms. Schieffelin saw something in Jess and offered to take her on as an advisee after she was ousted by another advisor. 

Teaching Jess and getting to know her personally, Ms. Schieffelin saw all her great qualities. Eventually, Jess started opening up about her struggles with her mental health to Ms. Schieffelin. As an unqualified therapist, Ms. Schieffelin knew she needed to talk with Jess’ parents. “In supporting her, I learned so much about myself—both my limitations and my strengths—as this experience of profound self-doubt taught me the value of using my experience and empathy to guide others,” she said. 

Ms. Schieffelin shared her final anecdote about feeling like an imposter as a parent of twins, noting how she was unprepared when her twins were born early and spent time in the NICU and also felt like an imposter when she had to care for two babies when they returned home. She encouraged students to lean into moments of uncertainty and doubt. “Of the many lessons that my children have taught me, perhaps the most important one is that anxious feelings, doubts, or worries aren’t always bad,” she said. “In fact, they’re often a sign that we’re on the edge of growth. New, disorienting experiences sometimes give us the opportunity to fail, fail better, and ultimately grow. A little bit of discomfort and doubt can push us out of our routine and complacency; it can be transformative.” 

She concluded her speech by encouraging students to find their guides and then become guides for others, becoming part of what J.D. Salinger refers to in “The Catcher in the Rye” as a “beautiful reciprocal arrangement.” 

Following Ms. Schieffelin’s inspiring speech, diplomas were presented by Head of School Tom Dillow and Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason. After receiving their diplomas, the seniors shook hands with Mr. Dillow, Dr. Gleason, and the board of trustees. After the delivery of diplomas, Mr. Dillow then gave his charge to the senior class. 

Following Mr. Dillow’s address, history teacher Rob Kyff gave the farewell address. After these impactful words, the seniors proceeded in their pairs to the theme from Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1. to the front of Alumni Hall.

Seniors were not graduates yet, however. A beloved tradition at KO is to have seniors shake hands with every faculty member before they can call themselves alumni. Thus, seniors shook hands with faculty members to close the Commencement Ceremony. 

The class of 2023 has certainly made an impact on the school community academically, athletically, and through their various extracurricular activities. They overcame various obstacles, including missing the end of their freshman year due to COVID-19. Overall, the seniors’ dedication to excellence, in whatever form that may have been, will undoubtedly be missed. Congratulations to the graduates, and we wish them all the best as they tackle new challenges and explore new opportunities in their future endeavors!

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