By Sam Uzwack, Associate Head of School for Middle School and Student Support Services
After more than a year of remote learning, it was a pleasure to honor the accomplishments of the Class of 2025 as a community…and in person! Parents and eighth graders gathered in the TALI Theatre to listen to teacher speeches about students and to celebrate each member of the class. Below are excerpts from my speech as well as those recorded by faculty members. The speeches reflect the individuality of both our students and faculty and represent a fundamental tenet of EPS: it’s all about rapport.
I am so thrilled we are all together in this theatre. It is the first time we have been together in here since March 2, 2020. You were about to start your third trimester of seventh grade. I will never forget that day, in which we gathered for one last time. But we are back now. And I have to tell you, we could not be more proud of you. The circumstances you overcame were trying. And yet you persevered. If there is any silver lining to the sadness and loss brought on by the pandemic, maybe it is that you now know…in sharp relief…just how resilient you really are. And that is exactly what Middle School is for…discovering who you are and how you thrive. Wondering about what it truly means to be human. It is the bridge between childhood and adulthood, and you have just crossed it. At times it was dizzying…at times exhilarating…at times frustrating…and each of those experiences helped you to understand, well, you.
STUDENT SPEECHES FROM FACULTY
Mr. Barrager compared Rohan’s spirit to that of an entrepreneur, noting his innovation and saying he is a “positive mover and shaker. He added, “His winning smile, easygoing charm, determined grit, and quick wit will indeed help him become a titan of business.” Rohan received Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.
Loyal, hard-working, and intelligent are three adjectives Mr. Graybeal used to describe Lorie. Of choosing a book for Lorie, he added, “I knew I wanted to pick a story where loyalty and friendship were two prominent themes. I have come to know your sense of devout friendship and fierce loyalty to your friends.” Lorie received The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
In recalling a story about Dominic sleeping out in the rain all night, Mr. Kelly-Hedrick stated, “Good on you, mate, for making the effort and the risk to stay out there; and this little episode catches the gumption and strategic thinking that you display as a student at EPS.” Dominic received Ready Player One.
In reflecting on George’s eighth grade personal essay, Ms. Andersen noted, “You wrote about…how smiling at one person can start a chain of smiles. Through your own smile or through your comedy, I have a feeling that you will continue to spread joy and laughter. George received A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir.
Ms. Frystak noted that in her time at EPS, Kaylia has “participated in productions, educated fellow students, and dedicated yourself to learning.” She added, “Your brilliance, your humor, your creativity, and your compassion will guide you through the Upper School with ease.” Kaylia received Shakespeare in a Divided America.
“Saina, I see color and stories when I reflect on you from your videos to your colorful artwork,” said Ms. Balcomb. She added, “Your visuals and your music tell stories. You tell stories. You bring fun, camaraderie, and creativity to whatever group you are in.” Saina received Everyday Watercolor.
In noting that the book reminds us of what is worth fighting for, Ms. Hale chose We for Toby and compared him to the revolutionary themes of the book. “Toby, you are a novel. You are a plot twist. You are a choose-your-own-adventure book. You are your own genre, constantly breaking molds. Toby, you are a revolution.”
Of Jacob, Mr. Yates commented, “You are such a deep thinker. You examine things with a real considered and deliberate manner. You’re not afraid to get into big questions of morality and purpose. When you disagree with something, you have the courage to express and to stand by your view.” Jacob received Parable of the Sower.
Ms. Andersen noted Darioush’s journey of self-discovery. “Over the past three years, it has been a joy to watch you grow.” Commenting on Darioush’s abilities as an incredible friend and a skilled collaborator, Ms. Andersen added, “You’re able to see the bigger picture and find simple solutions to complex problems.” Darioush received Alive.
Commenting on Adam’s kind and thoughtful qualities as well as his willingness to help others, Ms. Balcomb added, “It was very clear that you are a dedicated student and communicate beautifully. Your video work showed me your imagination and your drive for exploring and applying fantastic effects.” Adam received Grammar of the Edit.
“Will C. does well in whatever social or academic interaction he is placed. And while he is a hard-working student, he doesn’t seem to get overly stressed or sweat the small stuff,” commented Mr. Barrager. Mr. Barrager complimented Will on helping him feel connected to the class during remote instruction. Will received Moneyball.
“You are an amazing person, Iselin! During your years in Middle School, you have grown to a strong, competent, and confident young person,” said Mr. Barrager. He added, “What I truly appreciate about you is how you work with others and make them feel included.” Iselin received The Monkey Wrench Gang.
“Garrett, if you were a flavor, it would be ‘tranquilo spice.’ You are calm and yet you can dial up the energy to meet the needs of any group. You are flexible and you take on challenges with a sense of humor” said Ms. Lori. She added, “You work your tail off. You know yourself as a learner.” Garret received Zoology.
“Happiness and justice. Maggie lives by these two words and they frame most of her interactions with the world,” noted Mr. Winkelmann. He added, “Maggie lives out these words and tries to make them a reality for everyone. She questions any practice of injustice.” Maggie received Lead from the Outside.
Speaking for his teachers, Ms. Russell noted, “We love Jack’s creative mind, his willingness to go on a tangent to prove a point, and the glint of pure joy that often shows up in his eye.” She added that Jack “has an exceptional ability to synthesize complex ideas and generate avant-garde solutions to problems.” Jack received The Book of Joy.
“Ella, you are a powerhouse of organization and responsibility and have an amazing ability to connect with others,” stated Mr. Anderson. “You played a key role in welcoming fifth graders into our community. All of these attributes are going to be strengths as you move into the Upper School.” Ella received Daily Rituals: Women at Work.
Ms. Andrus noted, “Christian, you are supportive and loyal to your friends and family. You possess a strong sense of empathy and social justice. And even though you are deeply aware of the world’s problems, you approach life with a joyful and inspiring positivity.” Christian received Parable of the Sower.
Regarding Melia’s writing, Ms. Frystak noted, “This creative, witty, well-thought-out monologue exploded into a gorgeous self-reflecting freedom journey through the rest of the trimester.” Ms. Frystak added, Melia “greeted each challenge with a uniquely fun perspective only you could bring.” Melia received The Secret Life of Cows.
Noting that Gaon was one of the first in class to ask questions, Mr. Shaw commented, “Gaon is a great student, a fine writer, an athlete. Most important, Gaon lets her teachers believe that they have purpose too.” Gaon received Sapiens, a book about purpose for the human with a very full plate.
Mr. Graybeal described Yash as “kind, imaginative, and focused.” He added, “I remember the creativity you demonstrated in your Geometry transformations project and your kindness when working with your peers.” Noting his laser focus on math and his desire to pursue business, Yash received Shoe Dog.
Ms. Mills described Arya K. as “a soft-spoken learner, a curious and careful student, a kind and generous friend, an understated and gifted writer, a beautiful person inside and out. Every time you wrote…you taught me something new and showed me what courage looks like.” Arya received The Book Thief.
Ms. Russell noted that, “Addie came to EPS already a creative, conscientious, and inquisitive student. Over her Middle School career, Addie has emerged as a confident and strong self-advocate and a leader for the EPS community, the environment, and humanity.” Addie received The Gifts of Imperfection.
“Joseph has probably taught me as much about chess as I have taught him about history this year,” commented Mr. Shaw. He added, “Joseph shines as a chess player but really shines as a compassionate leader among friends.” Joseph received The Art of Sacrifice in Chess.
Noting Jonah’s essay about life experiences and how those events shaped him into who he is and how he sees the world, Mr. Anderson commented, “Middle School is a time to figure out who you are and what you believe. I have no doubt that the lessons that you have learned will benefit you in your next chapter in life.” Jonah received Armada: A Novel.
Noting that he had enjoyed getting to know JiaJia a little more each time they spoke throughout the year, Mr. Graybeal described him as “confident, diligent, and intelligent.” He added, “You were always one of the first people to send me your work…clearly diligence is something you exemplify. JiaJia received The Eye of the World.
“From the moment you joined EPS, Walter, you have made the most of every opportunity. You consistently demonstrate your grit and your thoughtful, reflective approach,” commented Ms. Hayes. She added, “You show kindness with classmates and teammates…you personify the traits of a great team member.” Walter received Shoe Dog.
Mr. Kelly-Hedrick described Sophia as a “wise one, worldly one, adventurous one, one who laughs with kindness and spark, one who does not dodge the tough questions, one who listens well to family and friends, one who shares and talks and dreams and plays, one who espouses wise on traits literary and otherwise.” Sophia received The Choice: Embrace the Possible.
About Sofia, Ms. Behrmann noted, “In a really challenging year, you have been a positive role model for your peers, and I have appreciated your consistent engagement in class more than you may know.” She added that other faculty members describe Sofia as “thoughtful, kind and supportive.” Sofia received Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners.
Speaking of Arushi’s poem from the point of view of a frisbee, Mr. Kelly-Hedrick noted, “This story-poem captures your great imaginative and creative powers—and also your sense of empathy, compassion, and humor.” Mr. Kelly-Hedrick encouraged Arushi to keep writing and hiking and to enjoy the novel Pet.
“Arya N., you never tell yourself no. And when someone else says it, you find a loophole. I have watched you deeply dive into understanding the political divisiveness of this country and inspire your peers with songs you create,” commented Ms. Hale. Noting her dreams and ambitions in politics, Arya received Minority Leader.
“Middle School is generally a time of developing self-awareness and discovery. However, for as long as I have known you, Lyan, I have been struck by your strong sense of identity,” noted Ms. Andrus. She added, “With a quiet wisdom far beyond your years, you know what you value and what to disregard.” Lyan received SuperMutant
About Taz, Mr. Yates noted, “As your advisor, I quickly discovered that your passion for justice and your desire for a better world runs deep. In addition to advocating for large-scale social and political change, you are a loyal friend and an active member of our school community.” Taz received Silent Spring.
“Nihaal, you are the consummate gentleman, soft-spoken, attentive, and a gracious receiver of constructive feedback,” commented Ms. Behrmann. She added, “One of your teachers describes you as caring, sensitive, funny, and sweet, and notes your leadership potential.” Nihaal received The Infinity Courts.
Dr. Reina noted about Miles, “You have a natural way of exhibiting leadership with your classmates. Teachers often observe how you slide into a facilitator role during small group discussions.” He added, “You show that you care about their ideas and are willing to listen to them.” Miles received The Foundation Trilogy.
“Maria is thoughtful. Inclusive. Kind. Creative,” noted Ms. Dodd. She added, “In many ways, Maria, you are the very embodiment of so many of the values that make up EPS.” Ms. Dodd encouraged Maria to keep writing her own stories and to enjoy Elatsoe.
About Kailen, Mr. Winkelmann noted “You are the complete package. It’s rare to find someone with the drive to work hard, the attention to detail, the willingness to take critical feedback, the ability to seamlessly fit into a group, and the heart and vision to make the world a better place.” Kailen received The Talent Code.
“What is not to like about Rishay?,” asked Mr. Winkelmann. “He’s usually smiling, works hard, asks great questions, is a loyal and devoted friend, and he has a fantastic sense of humor.” He added, “He thinks about others and the unique path each person takes to learn something new.” Rishay received The Book of Joy.
Noting that Will R. didn’t let challenges of remote learning stand in the way of his thirst for scientific knowledge, Ms. Dodd added, “You continued to make keen observations and ask probing questions that went well beyond a Middle School level. Your curiosity and compassion shine through in all that you do.” Will received The Field Herping Guide.
Commenting on Amanda’s ability to “reflect on the positives and the challenges of every situation,” Ms. Mills commented, “You take the feelings of others into account and are ready to support any classmate in need. Your generosity of spirit and kindness shines through in all that you do.” Amanda received Truly Devious: A Mystery.
Ms. Russell described Sienna as “a role model of what it’s like to be an authentic self—an authentic self that carries herself with confidence and power.” She added, “Sienna evolved into a stealthy leader, one who knows how to offer her ideas when it most matters.” Sienna received Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.
Mr. Anderson commented that he and Dash found a connection in seventh grade through a shared strange sense of humor. “I still enjoy Dash’s sense of humor, but I have also enjoyed watching Dash become a kind leader in the Middle School community,” he stated. Dash received Animal Farm.
“Jai, I really appreciate your positive attitude and willingness to try new things,” noted Ms. Abel. She praised Jai as a diligent student and continued, “His teachers consistently comment on his tenacity and determination to improve; both in and out of the classroom.” Jai received The Immortal Game.
“Anvika, you are a talented, dedicated, creative person who I know will enjoy life and go far because you care, you work hard, and you invest in your ideas to completion,” stated Ms. Balcomb. She added, “Your vision and sensitivity to beautiful visuals and how to use technique is so refined.” Anvika received Grammar of the Edit.
“Experts do not necessarily agree on how many pillars of emotional intelligence exist. But they do all agree that self-awareness is essential. This is where you shine, Arlene,” commented Ms. Lori. Noting her interest in becoming an entrepreneur, Arlene received Notes to a Young Entrepreneur.
“Cady, I hope that you take the time to appreciate how much you’ve grown. Not only is this reflected in your academic record, but in your leadership and social engagement as well,” commented Dr. Reina. He added, “I look forward to seeing how your confidence and caring for others takes shape.” Cady received Pocket Maya Angelou Wisdom.
Regarding Alexander, Ms. Hale noted that he, “Always had a kind word for anyone. Could make any group of kids laugh. Always had a great book in hand and another one to recommend.” She added, “You exude joy. You care about what people have to say and how they are feeling.” Alexander received Battles for Freedom.
Mr. Yezbick described Alina as being creative and determined when they first met. He now knows her to be “resourceful and imaginative, but also super thoughtful and vigorously opinionated. You regularly display brilliant focus and a keen desire to hone in on the crux of the matter.” Alina received Snow Crash.
Commenting on Stephanie, Mr. Yates noted, “You have a meandering way of moving through the physical world. Even completely stationary, you seem always to be floating through vast expanses of imaginative thought—a habit which lends a certain fanciful flair to even your most traditional academic work.” Stephanie received The Odyssey.
“You take in information, no matter how surprising, Dylan V., and process, process, process,” noted Mr. Yezbick. He continued, “Other teachers have noted your honesty, your humility, your subtle leadership style, and your academic ability. When you’re on a team, you are highly productive and encouraging others.” Dylan received the book Money.
“Annika, I really appreciate your candidness and willingness to make your voice heard,” commented Ms. Abel. She continued that Annika is “a conscientious student who stands up for what she believes in. I encourage you to continue to be an advocate for yourself and those around you.” Annika received The Rainbow Atlas.
About Trella, Ms. Lori noted, “I can see that you want to use what you learn in school in real life. You connect with friends, you have a sense of humor, you love animals, poetry, and reading about science, business, and history. Hopefully, you will keep dancing while following these passions!” Trella received Living in Mexico.
“Dylan W., your passion for the ocean and sea creatures really resonates with me. Your science teachers have noted your dedication to the subject and your passion for learning,” commented Mr. Yezbick. Dylan received Two Years Before the Mast, and Mr. Yezbick noted that he felt Dylan would get along with the kind and hardworking narrator.
“The Henry I know is a quiet and thoughtful student. He is kind, hardworking, and detail oriented,” noted Ms. Abel. She added, “I encourage you to remember that your voice matters. The world needs more quiet and thoughtful leaders like yourself.” Henry received Outliers: The Story of Success.
Dr. Reina complimented Ethan on his ability to “identify the goal of changing your study habits to be more efficient and effective,” resulting in improved performance as well as less stress. Comparing this to his efforts in tennis, Dr. Reina added, “You persevered and maintained your commitment to your goals.” Ethan received The Foundation Trilogy.