By Sam Uzwack, Head of School-elect
It was a pleasure to honor the accomplishments of the Class of 2026 as a community! 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 teachers and represent a fundamental tenet of EPS: it’s all about rapport.
SAM UZWACK, HEAD OF SCHOOL-ELECT
I am so thrilled that we have our students, families, faculty, and staff together to celebrate a wonderful milestone. It is the strength of our partnership—school and family—that makes our EPS community so special. We work hard to cultivate a culture that brings us together. I believe it is the strength of our community that carried us through these past few unbelievable years. I think I can safely say that your Middle School experience has to count as one of the most unique and challenging I can recall. All along the way, you handled everything thrown at you with grace, courage, and even a bit of humor. We could not have done it without your amazing cooperation and resiliency, and I am so proud of you for stepping up in the face of such a challenge.
I have NEVER been more optimistic about our collective futures than I am today, and it is because of you. We are in the best of hands, for there is a new generation of leaders ready to dive in, take charge, and make a difference.
STUDENT SPEECHES FROM FACULTY
Celebrating Sophia through a poem, Mr. Graybeal commented, “She has consistently exhibited traits like kindness and empathy.” He added, “She’s got quite the humorous side. I look forward to seeing all that you will accomplish. Sophia, you will continue to shine, you don’t even need any polish.” Sophia received The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller.
Of Piper, Mr. Yates said, “There is an idea floating around in our culture that a person tends to be either bright, creative, and competent, or kind, friendly, and sociable—but not both. Thank you, Piper, for showing us every day just what a stupid idea that is.” Piper received Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Commenting on Sydney, Mr. Winkelmann said, “Your ability to understand the expectations clearly and execute at a high level pervades every facet of your life. And somehow you also make it meaningful, or funny, or inspiring, or all three. Of your amazing qualities, my favorite is how deeply compassionate you are.” Sydney received Be Water, My Friend by Shannon Lee.
Mr. Barrager wondered how Wyatt could make friends while starting school remotely. “This seems like a truly impossible task…but not for you. You fully participated in the community.” Now, he added, “Most of us can’t remember when you weren’t here.” Noting their Yellowstone trip, Wyatt received Scat and Tracks of North America by Dr. James Halfpenny.
Noting Anhat’s initial hesitance to use the Makerspace tools, Ms. Hollingshead said, “You continued to come to the space until, suddenly, you were ready to dive into the vinyl cutter. I have loved watching you grow into a confident young woman, and I will miss your presence in my classes terribly!” Anhat received A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell.
Of Finn, Mr. Barrager noted, “You are truly a delight to know. You are kind, empathetic, considerate, thoughtful, and have the ability to easily get along with everyone that you interact with at EPS.” Noting shared experiences on the Yellowstone EBC Week trip, Finn received Field Guide to Tracking Animals in Snow by Louise Forrest.
About Celine, Dr. Russell noted, “You are a good friend. You have an insightful, analytical mind. You take satisfaction in a well-crafted story and have a wonderful sense of comedic timing. You are humble— your cognizance of your own limited perspective makes everything you do and say all the more powerful.” Celine received The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani.
Of Emmett, Mr. MacKenzie noted, “You are generous with your time and helpful to your classmates. They seek out your friendly advice on projects. When you encounter an obstacle, you ask the same of your classmates and teachers. This educational journey is taken together, and you are all in.” Emmett received Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw.
Mr. Nuon stated, “Jeremy, you may appear quiet and reserved, but we all know you are one funny individual. Your teachers describe you as creative, bright, and a focused student. You continuously challenge yourself to become a better student and athlete, but most importantly a wonderful person.” Jeremy received The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb.
Describing Safaa as “cool and fierce,” Mr. Winkelman added, “You just get it. It’s never unclear how you feel about what is happening in any given situation. You surround yourself with ocean-deep people and fill your life with complex experiences that invoke curiosity and strong emotion.” Safaa received Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.
Of Mercan, Ms. Sanchez stated, “The unique maturity, responsibility, poise, and focus that you bring to everything you do is remarkable. I’ve seen these qualities on display in our very efficient student-led conferences, in the way you smoothly navigate potential challenges and difficult conversations.” Mercan received Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson.
Ms. Chalana commented, “Ella F., the thing I admire most about you is your love for books. Whether it’s a few minutes before class starts or lunchtime, or walking to class, you snatch those moments to squeeze in a few more lines of a story. You, my dear, are a rarity.” Ella received The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.
About Jaanvi, Ms. Behrmann noted, “I love how forthright and honest you are. You have a wickedly quirky sense of humor and you help create a positive environment in class. You ask interesting questions and are very curious about this strange world we live in.” Jaanvi received What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe.
“Arnav, I see an understated leader with a huge heart,” said Dr. Russell. She added, “Your frequent and enthusiastic contributions during class clearly come from a genuine place, making those around you also feel comfortable in honestly sharing.” Arnav received The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
Of Emma, Ms. Hale commented, “You see creativity everywhere. You see community in everyone. You collaborate to build connections. You dive deep. SO DEEP. And you come out the other side ready to share your creations with the world.” Emma received Sí, Ella Puede! by Stacey K. Sowards.
About Tegan, Ms. Hollingshead said, “I learn something new about you each time you submit an assignment, and each has confirmed that you are one of the kindest and most confident young women I have had the pleasure of teaching. You are bound to make a positive difference in this world.” Tegan received In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney.
Mr. Yates said of Eli, “You are a young man of principles.” About his focus, Mr. Yates added, “I’ve seen you harness that attentiveness and achieve powerful results. You have never been content to accept default settings or adopt majority opinions. At the same time, you are deeply engaged and communicative.” Eli received 1984 by George Orwell.
Mr. Kelly-Hedrick congratulated Aleena on her first and last year in the EPS Middle School. He shared that Aleena “begged me to publish the homework assignment on Canvas directing them to ‘Browse a Bookstore and Write a Reflection,’ so her mother would have to take her to another bookstore.” Aleena received In Five Years by Rebecca Serle.
Of Shruti, Ms. Hollingshead said, “You are a maker…and your creativity was astounding from the get-go.” She added she was thrilled to have a student in the Makerspace who would “dive into learning each of the tools and make glorious messes.” Shruti received Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn.
Mr. Graybeal noted that Reemah showers her dearest friends with love and shows so much compassion. In his poem he added, “Making her own path, I know she’ll move forward. Your Upper School experience, I hope it is one you enjoy. You make the world a better place Reemah, by sharing with others your joy.” Reemah received Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard.
Describing Mera as “a mix of brilliant creativity and piercing critical thinking,” Mr. Kelly-Hedrick added, “You are an accomplished creator and a deep appreciator of music, art, design, and color. You are a fierce and dedicated friend and you bring a wry and fun sense of humor to the classroom and community.” Mera received This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.
Describing Arda as “empathetic” and a “connector,” Mr. Winkelmann added, “You just naturally empathize with others. Actually, it isn’t just natural. You work on it. That practiced empathy shows up in how you connect with others and treat life like a book, like it’s one big adventure that everyone should enjoy.” Arda received The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
Mr. Graybeal commented that Isabella is “so kind and so thoughtful. Very respectful to all her teachers and her peers.” In his poem, he continued, “I am certain she will excel, of that I am confident. Not only will she do well, she will be quite dominant. You will continue to impress.” Isabella received Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.
Mr. Yezbick noted that Thaddeus’ teachers highlighted his “goodwill and quirkiness. Goodwill-wise, your teachers are sold.” He added, “They say you’re engaged, dynamic, have a ton of positive energy, are quick to share ideas, and that you make bold and interesting choices.” Thaddeus received Know Your Goats by Jack Byard.
Commenting on Kate and their shared love of music, Ms. Hale said, “Thank you for sharing your joy with me, Kate. Your life is mapped in music shows, connected with the threads spun by the experience. Music connects us to people, connects us to places. Keep listening and sharing—the playlist grows with you.” Kate received Music Is Historyby Questlove.
Commenting on Emily’s amazing talents and uniqueness, Mr. Kelly-Hedrick also noted her voracious reading habits. “When I checked a couple weeks ago, you had logged 428 books on your Goodreads account. You marked as having read 391.” He added that when not working hard at school, Emily is also a competitive skier and fencer. Emily received The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.
Noting that they bonded over books, Ms. Frystak said Grace is “a little bit of fantasy, mixed with reality and add in a lot of organized, dedicated, thoughtful. There aren’t enough words to describe you, Grace. You are strategic and you are willing to take risks.” Grace received Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Congratulating Lilly, Mr. Shaw likened the Middle School (and his World Religions class) to Lillian’s favorite show—Survivor. Mr. Shaw advised that Lilly had “endured the religions of the world, you survived the PowerPoint Challenges, outwitted the Classroom Council, and earned your Immunity.” Lillian received Bushcraft 101 by Dave Caterbury.
Describing Lucas, Mr. Anderson noted, “You seemed at ease as you first stepped foot on campus. It isn’t easy being the new student and you have made it seem simple. You have made solid friends and have dived into the EPS culture without hesitation. You are a great asset to Eastside Prep.” Lucas received Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman.
Of Noam, Ms. Frystak stated, “There are many parts of you I admire. I admire your thoughtfulness. I admire the way you are truthful not only to others but yourself, and I admire your understanding. Honestly, the Upper School is not ready for your cool!” Noam received The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.
About Ian, Mr. Anderson noted, “You have grown so much as a student and your commitment to becoming more independent grows by the day. This is most evident in your self-advocacy and your willingness to reach out to teachers. Asking for help is a strength that will carry you a long way.” Ian received Descender by Jeff Lemire.
Of Lara, Ms. Albu noted, “Like the stage crew in a play, you are outside and beyond the drama.” She added, “You are an intelligent observer who watches, listens, learns, and grows. You think critically, and you think deeply.” Lara received the manga book Toilet-bound Hanako-Kun, Vol. 1 by Aidairo.
Noting what was first clear to her during a student climate protest, Dr. Russell noted of Audrey, “Teachers repeatedly comment on how much they enjoy your critical, probing questions, your sharp wit, and your ability to be frank with people. Furthermore, we all agree that
you are a hard worker.” Audrey received Mystical Manga Tarot by Barbara Moore.
Complimenting Veer on his “stupendous achievements” in Robotics, Mr. Yezbick added, “Given your coding experience, I was sometimes at a loss as to how to keep you engaged. After completing web assignments, you helped the tech department doing special tasks and assisted with a web interface for the fusor project.” Veer received Exhalation by Ted Chiang.
“I count myself so lucky that I have gotten the chance to know you, Caden,” said Ms. Foote. “Just by being who you are, you show me that the future and the world we want to build is creative and inquisitive, angry at injustice, but still silly and full of laughter, empathetic when needed.” Caden received On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.
About Yisu Mr. Yates noted, “It’s a real joy to hear you discuss air and space travel or to get your take on a classic work of science fiction. The way you express your thoughts is fascinating. Your sense of humor reveals your role as a quiet cultural critic—observant, thoughtful, and deeply perceptive.” Yisu received Stories of Your Life and
Others by Ted Chiang.
Ms. Balcomb noted she was eager to discuss Sophie’s talents as a filmmaker. “I saw your film savvy in all of your videos. They demonstrated great timing and audio, and command of the frames. From start to finish, you knew just how to cut from scene to scene to tell your story.” Sophie received Premiere Pro for Filmmakers by Sonja Schenk.
Noting the unique perspective of Matei’s photographs, Mr. Hagen noted, “You have an eye for the often unseen or overlooked, and your photographs were both familiar and surprising. Just like your photographs, you bring fresh perspectives, subtle observations, and bright clarity to EPS and the world.” Matei received Flowers in the Gutter by K.R. Gaddy.
Stating that Arav is the definition of kind, Ms. Frystak said, “Whether it’s kindness you show to your classmates, your teachers, your parents, new students, old friends, new puppies—one is not able to separate kindness from Arav. You are funny, good natured, and curious.” Arav received A Natural History of the Piano by Stuart Isacoff.
Dr. Reina stated, “Grady, you are quite the explorer. You have the drive to experience new situations, including different lands and cultures. Learn as much as you can about the different cultures that you visit. Walking in others’ shoes broadens your perspective and allows you to view your own culture in a different way.” Grady received A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne.
Noting a previous quiet nature, Dr. Reina said Nima’s teachers were “impressed at your willingness to speak up and participate in class. Sharing your thoughts and ideas is an act of kindness. Explaining your perspective and ideas provides others with the opportunity to understand both the topic and you a little better.” Nima received Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Noting Joey’s desire to learn about leading, Mr. Colello noted, “You already have everything you need to be an incredible leader. You are kind, compassionate, and empathetic. You see the very best in people. You care deeply about those around you and are always seeking to include, rather than to exclude.” Joey received Trust and Inspire by Stephen Covey.
Of Vehd, Ms. Balcomb noted, “You are sharp, creative, and can self-advocate. Excellent student describes you. Diligent, thoughtful, focused, on time, follow-through, and communicative, are also some of your strengths. They carriedover into the drawing class.” Vehd received perspective drawing books by Ernest Norling.
Describing Samantha, Dr. Castro noted, “She is complex and wise beyond her years. One only needs to look into her eyes to see that she is serious and has a plan cooking.” He added, “There is a time to play and when it is time to work, she’s all business.” Samantha received Music Is History by Questlove.
Ms. Behrmann noted of Aria, “You are one of the sweetest, kindest, most well-mannered students I have had the good fortune to teach. You are humble, you work so well with your classmates, and you make me question whether I am ready to retire from this wonderful profession.” Aria received Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.
About Alex (Simone), Mr. Yezbick said, “I’ve come more and more to appreciate your offbeat humor, kindness, and hard work. When I see you working with others, I’m struck by the singularly good balance of friendliness and focus. Your attention to detail, concern for craft, and genuine interest in learning and sharing are infectious.” Alex received War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.
Noting that it has been a pleasure to work with Will, Mr. Anderson added the many reasons, “your witty humor…unlocked talents with loads of potential…willingness to listen to suggestions and often follow through without hesitation…your honesty…the kindness that you display to others.” Will received The Kite Runner graphic novel by Khaled Hosseini.
Of Owen, Ms. Dodd noted, “You brought an incredible scientific curiosity to our class. You regularly asked probing questions that showed how deeply you were engaging with the content, and it was not unusual for you to bring in additional information that always furthered the conversation.” Owen received The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales.
Highlighting Alex (Stone’s) production of music, Ms. Lori said, “You’re often behind the scenes and your sound is the star. Certainly, you are and will be admired for your accomplishments within music. However, a trait I hope you always keep is the ability to laugh at yourself.” Alex received Chuck D Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History by Chuck D and Shepard Fairey.
Wondering how Gavin was able to convince their advisory group to adopt a jingle as their mantra, Ms. Mills stated, “Perhaps it was your amiable and steady presence. Or that we all trusted you to be a little silly but also balanced, to include everyone in the joke. Probably it was a combination.” Gavin received Walrus vs. Elephant Seal by Jerry Pallotta.
Regarding Feben, Ms. Sanchez comment, “It’s clear that you exude a calmness and poise that has positive ripple effects in whatever space you are in. Your presence and all that you bring to the table—your deep thinking, your quiet confidence, your respect for humanity—are rare and remarkable assets.” Feben received Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.
Ms. Behrmann noted that “Gregory is gregarious, helpful to his classmates, and a joy to have in the classroom.” She also noted, “Progress reports are difficult to write for Gregory as the expectation that we note areas for improvement is a hard one to fulfill in his case.” Gregory received Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Mr. Shaw compared Ella W. to the sun. “You are a bright light. You are a brilliant ball of hydrogen burning. Your presence is day. Your absence is night. You radiate energy. You are well known, but you are hard to measure. Your gravity holds the whole system in place.” Ella received Nearest Star by Leon Golub.
Of Anna, Ms. Dodd noted, “I was always impressed by your curiosity and follow-through. Noting the value Anna places on connections, she added, “Connections between concepts, connections between people—you recognize the importance of these, and this is an incredible strength.” Anna received Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.