June 10, 2006
By ANNIE TASKER, Courant Staff Writer
Emily Petrow remembers her first day at Watkinson School vividly. She remembers the dress she wore, her new L.L. Bean backpack, how intimidating all the upperclassmen seemed. They were especially intimidating at the moment she went tumbling down the stairs and landed at the feet of one of them.
She also remembers the tall upperclassman helping her to her feet. "That's when I knew that this was the place for me," said Petrow. "They care if you fall down."
Petrow was one of 44 students in the Hartford private school to graduate Friday. She was also one of the 14 who volunteered to speak at the ceremony, in lieu of a keynote speaker.
The student speeches and performances provided a special touch to the afternoon ceremony; the highlights included a martial arts demonstration, Hoagie Carmichael's "New Orleans" on trumpet and bass, an "Ode to Watkinson" written by student Jacqueline Knapp and "Pomp and Circumstance" played by a string trio: upright bass, acoustic guitar and fiddle.
Creativity was a theme at Friday's graduation, not unexpected for a school that emphasizes inventive learning. Graduate Benjamin Harris and Watkinson music director Luke Nelson co-wrote a song in honor of the school, WatkinSong. The tune was performed by a dozen members of the Upper School Vocal Ensemble.
The Watkinson athletic field's scoreboard hovered just over the white tent where the ceremony was held. Watkinson headmaster John Bracker proposed a round of applause for the sun on a day that showers had been forecast.
The girls wore white dresses and held single red roses; the boys were in navy sport coats and khakis, red flowers pinned to their lapels.
Bracker encouraged the graduates to be questioning of the world around them, not to tolerate the nonsense they heard.
Graduate Abraham Bobman demonstrated that questioning spirit with a performance of Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes," with lyrics poking fun at conformity. Bobman added a disclaimer before he started singing: he hoped all the lawyers, doctors and business executives in the audience wouldn't be offended at lyrics directed toward their professions, since he is considering law school himself.
Jennifer Weinholtz also took a questioning look at the world in her commencement speech.
"I am a white, privileged person, who for seven years has attended prep school while living in the suburbs of America," she said. "But that does not define who I am."
Through tears, she left her classmates with the words of Buddha:
"With our thoughts, we change the world."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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