On the evening of June 13, more than 1,200 people gathered under the white tent on Garry Field at Westchester Middle School in White Plains, NY, to celebrate the graduation and recognition of The Windward School’s Westchester Middle School and Manhattan Middle School eighth- and ninth-grade students. Family members, friends, faculty and staff members, administrators, members of the board of trustees, and Mayor of White Plains Thomas Roach honored this important milestone of the 19 members of the ninth-grade class and the 114 members of the eighth-grade class.
Following the procession of the students and faculty members into the tent, student council leaders Samantha Glogoff and Lacie Melillo led the audience in the pledge of allegiance. Ellen Bowman, President of the Board of Trustees, then welcomed and addressed the audience.
“When you and your parents first came to Windward, you were told to trust the School. You were told to trust the Windward program. Now, as you are leaving, I ask you to once again trust Windward. Trust that you are sitting here tonight because you are well prepared to leave. Windward knows you are ready to go forward to your next academic adventure.”
Ms. Bowman also made a special announcement, recognizing Dr. Russell and his last graduation ceremony as head of school. To commemorate Dr. Russell’s tenure, the trustees and Windward will award The John J. Russell Award for Advocacy in Education annually at graduation to an individual who has made an impact helping children with learning disabilities reach their full potential. Their efforts may be in fields of research, pedagogy, legislation, education, or business, and the recipient will be determined by the head of school in consultation with Windward's senior administrative team. Alumnus Robert C. Carroll ’04 was named the inaugural award winner for his legislative work in advocating for students with learning disabilities as an assemblymember for New York’s District 44.
Although Mr. Carroll was not able to accept the award in person, he shared the following remarks, “It is with deep gratitude that I accept the first annual John J. Russell Award for Advocacy in Education from The Windward School. As someone who is dyslexic and only learned to read because of The Windward School and the education foundation that it laid for me, I am committed to working every day as a legislator to make sure every student in every school gets the opportunities and the learning experiences that I received here at Windward.”
After the introduction of the new graduation tradition, the highly anticipated speeches from a faculty member and alumnus were delivered. At every Windward graduation, the Isabel Greenbaum Stone Master Teacher Award winner, an exemplary member of The Windward School faculty, has the honor to speak at graduation. Roberta Plotycia, the 2019 Isabel Greenbaum Stone Master Teacher Award recipient, delivered her address, expressing her commitment to teaching and to Windward’s students. “It is the students at Windward who have inspired me. Watching your determination has inspired me to put forth the same effort each day, knowing I cannot let you down.”
A Windward alumnus also returns each year to share their journey post-Windward and advice from someone who knows what challenges and adventures lay ahead for the eighth and ninth graders. Alumna Anna Novogratz ’14, a special needs educator for Teach for America and Princeton University graduate, encouraged the graduating class, stating, “We can all agree that we have been dealt a tough card with dyslexia, but I promise you can turn that card into a golden ticket if you learn to unapologetically speak up for yourself. That is a priceless lesson I wish I had learned sooner. And, also, remember that your differences, and speaking up about them, doesn’t make you less than, they actually make you even more interesting.”
Both student council presidents, Rebecca Gordon from Westchester Middle School and Emma Rei Gottfrid from Manhattan Middle School, addressed their classmates before both division heads, Chris Eberhard from Westchester Middle School and Leslie Zuckerwise from Manhattan Lower and Middle Schools, gave their final remarks to the students. Lastly, Dr. Russell made his final graduation speech as head of school.
“At Windward, we are helping students achieve what few thought they could, by helping them to overcome seemingly impossible barriers and finding new ways to succeed. We are about restoring optimism, rebuilding confidence, and unlocking potential; about academic progress achieved through hard work; about emotional growth that results from positive thinking; and about striking a balance in all these things. You have demonstrated all these characteristics. Tonight, your teachers, family, and friends are here with you to celebrate the success that you have achieved throughout your years at Windward and to mark the beginning of the next phase of your educational journey.”
The final and most exuberant portion of the evening occurred during the diploma presentation to the eighth- and ninth-grade students. The call of each student’s name to receive their diploma elicited an eruption of congratulatory cheers from the more than 70 Windward faculty members flanking both sides of the stage. Following the ceremony, everyone enjoyed a reception inside the school. All eighth- and ninth-grade students were successfully placed into receiving schools for the next school year. To see the complete list of schools where Windward alumni will attend, visit here.