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Scarsdale Alternative School Celebrates 28 Graduates

SAS Cover PhotoThe Scarsdale Alternative School held its annual senior graduation on Friday, June 21, celebrating the class of 2019. Reflective of the program’s unique nature, the non-traditional ceremony featured personal speeches given by SAS teachers to each of the graduates, and all students in the program were present. Although the graduation was held in SHS’ auditorium on account of inclement weather, the space was completely transformed to suit the vibrant personality of the program with floral wreaths, bouquets, and colorful signs. Exemplifying the close-knit spirit of the class was emcee Sam Hoffman, whose intermittent, comedic addresses greatly contributed to the sense of unity and familiarity in the room. Following Sam’s opening remarks, as well as those given by SAS Director Jennifer Maxwell, Principal Kenneth Bonamo addressed the class and recognized the students for not only their accomplishment of graduation, but also their commitment to the unconventional program. Mr. Bonamo referenced the SAS culture of learning through disagreement and discourse, highlighting the democratic and experiential values that the program maintains, and he challenged the class to retain its, “spirit of inquiry, advocacy, [and] intellectual wrestling” and give back to society in a way that combines skill and passion. Looking forward, Mr. Bonamo described the graduates as, “our best hope,” and expressed great confidence in their capacity for success in college and beyond.

Students gain admission into the A-School through a lottery system, but it takes much more than good fortune to build the strong community that the class of 2019 helped create. Intimate meetings in core groups, weekly community meetings with everyone in the program, and bonding events such as “Outing” all strengthen the bonds between students and contribute to the experiential learning that is the foundation of SAS. There are many opportunities for student leadership positions, and classmates work together on committees to plan events. In this way, students are encouraged to take control of their education in both their democratic community as well as in their co-curricular pursuits. The Internship Program—which all SAS students participate in each January—is perhaps the hallmark of the Alternative School. The program urges students to take initiative and secure internship positions, thus gaining work experience, developing a greater sense of independence, and delving deeply into one’s interests. The internships also serve as a method for teachers to get to know their students better as they watch them struggle and triumph in real-world scenarios. The close faculty-student bond was apparent in the many speeches given by teachers that recalled students’ internship endeavors through their multiple years in SAS.

The first of the five SAS teachers to address his core group was Mike Giordano, whose personal speeches articulated students’ character and interests. His presentations celebrated the personal growth of the graduates, and he shared his perspective of having watched them enter the Alternative School as quiet and reserved only to emerge as strong and confident leaders and role models. Mr. Giordano also touched on the talents and values of the group, noting Julia Loten’s, “gift for gracefully weaving words together,” and how Isabella Stewart, “exemplifies the A-School value of learning for learning’s sake.” Mr. Giordano presented Margaret Brew, Ian Lerner, Julia Loten, Isabella Stewart, and Sophie Weingrad with their diplomas following each of their individualized speeches.

Jennifer Maxwell emphasized the diversity of the class when speaking to her group of seniors. Citing interests ranging from legal studies to music production, Ms. Maxwell shed light on how each of the graduates learned from each other, and how the students’ experiences in SAS were enhanced by their individuality. Her speeches presented the Alternative School as anything but homogenous: an environment where an array of mindsets can find common ground. Ms. Maxwell referenced the students’ self reflections, where Ella Ansell wrote, “I welcome mistakes, as these are essential for improvement” and Simon Bradlow considered how he had become, “a more welcoming, accepting, and understanding person.” She presented Anshu Ajmera, Ella Ansell, Simon Bradlow, Sam Hoffman, Kate Nova, and Hayden Seidman with their diplomas.

One of the most unique and thoughtful moments of the ceremony was Senior Speaker Isabella Stewart’s address to the class. Like many other positions in the A-School, Isabella was voted into giving the speech by her fellow seniors. She described SAS as a “big, beautiful mess”—a community that finds opportunities for learning and growth in patches of chaos. Isabella noted some of the most important lessons she had gained throughout her years in the A-School as being trust, respect, and passion, but she also centered on the importance of disagreement as a catalyst for personal and community improvement and togetherness. Perfectly summarizing the micro-society that is the A-School, Isabella told her class: “we are a colorful mosaic of human life.”

Instead of traditional speeches, Fallon Plunkett presented the seniors in her core group with spoken letters. In them, she opened up about the graduates’ best qualities, notably mentioning Paige Barlow’s sincere empathy, Ross Forman’s admirable humility, and Fletcher Faden’s “thirst for social justice.” Ms. Plunkett spoke to the impressive efforts the seniors have made to improve SAS after they leave, specifically a mentor program ideated by Avery Rubin that will be implemented next year. She also designated a book for each student that encompassed their personalities and whose messages would serve them well in the next phase of their lives. Ms. Plunkett then presented diplomas to Paige Barlow, Nathan Bookvar, Fletcher Faden, Ross Forman, Kimberly Markowitz, and Avery Rubin. Before leaving the podium, she presented teacher Sheilah Chason with a letter of her own, commemorating the occasion of her last year as an educator in the A-School. Ms. Plunkett expressed gratitude on behalf of the entire A-School for her deep care of the program and meaningful relationships with students, and Sam Hoffman affectionately commented, “Sheila is the mother of the A-School.”

Ms. Plunkett’s address to Ms. Chason underlined the significance of impactful teaching. While SAS does put students in the driver’s seat, student academic and civic engagement wouldn’t be nearly as strong without the guidance of truly caring teachers. The five advisors particularly honored four students as recipients of unique awards. Ian Lerner and Anshu Ajmera were presented with the Senior Project Award for the dedication, creativity, and passion they poured into their senior projects—SAS’ version of Senior Options. The advisors selected Kate Nova and Grace Vericker as the recipients of the Tony Award—the A-School’s highest honor that recognizes those who most embody the principles of the program. They applauded Kate for having always stood strong in her principles of fairness and equality, and celebrated Grace for her empathy and deep relationships with others.

Having made over fifty A-School graduation speeches over the past nine years, Ms. Chason presented her final round of recognition to Lindsay Donat, Aidan Londa, Kodai Morikuni, Dan Silk, and Grace Vericker. Like the other advisors, Ms. Chason did not hold back in her praise for the graduates, occasionally pausing her speeches to collect her emotions. She shared a particularly meaningful internship experience had by Dan, who played guitar for patients at Northern Westchester Hospital. Dan would always engage with those he played for, and would leave their rooms graciously offering to one day return. His constant smiling did not go unnoticed, she added, as well as his ability to light up any room.

Jeanne Cooper addressed Morgan Costello, Natalie Gee, Liana Givner, Zachary Reyman, Jonah Schneider, and Alexandra Wilson. Ms. Cooper shared with the room some of the deep wisdom that had been imparted upon her by the members of her core group. She noted one of Zachary’s reflections that states, “a life can change drastically, potentially forever, in the lifespan of a single doctor’s appointment,” and a research paper written by Alexandra that addressed how, “becoming more mature means accepting that the world is more morally ambiguous than we thought when we were younger.” These students exemplify the SAS principle of growth outside the classroom walls, and Ms. Cooper expressed her appreciation for all that they have taught her.

It has been said that graduation ceremonies are one of the most purely happy events one can attend, and the Scarsdale Alternative School graduation was no exception. Beautifully unconventional and profoundly moving, the ceremony gave well-deserved recognition to the best and brightest that Scarsdale has to offer: both the program itself, and, of course, the SAS class of 2019.

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