June 12, 2023
At Commencement, Students Celebrate Their Community
The 25th Annual Commencement of Bay Ridge Prep highlighted the school’s students and the community they have built with their families along with the faculty and staff. Held Thursday, June 8, 2023 at Dyker Beach Golf Course, the day began with a ceremony for Eighth Grade students, who are now the Upper School Class of 2027, followed by graduation for the senior Class of 2023.
Seniors Reflect on the People of Bay Ridge Prep
Ava Barash ‘23, Sienna Cruz ‘23 and Kate Lynch ‘23 graduated this year with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude, meaning with high honors. Alyssa Caggiano ‘23 and Kenya Charles ‘23 graduated with the distinction of Summa Cum Laude, meaning with the highest honors.
In their Commencement speeches, graduates referred to the people of Bay Ridge Prep being at the heart of their experience in the school.
“I get asked more often than you’d think, what my favorite part about Bay Ridge Prep is and I always respond with ‘the people’,” said Caggiano.” I rarely ever elaborated on what that means, but now feels like the perfect opportunity to do so. It means that it’s not easy to find really good people in this life. Some people are just good people and you can feel that. They have a certain spark to them. They’re supportive, compassionate, and welcoming. They are people who are incredibly smart, funny, and loving.”
Recounting several members of the faculty and staff, Cruz described Bay Ridge Prep as “a school that truly feels like home” where she said every face she passed was “filled with a radiant smile.”
Charles, who started Bay Ridge Prep during the pandemic, said she was nervous about the transition into a new school, especially given the state of the world at that time and the hybrid nature of living and learning online with limited in-person interactions.
“We were all attending classes on Zoom,” she said. “As a new student, I was frightened and had no intention of forcing myself into friend groups. But, to my surprise, most students and teachers were exceptionally kind. I immediately felt like I belonged to the community.”
Daniel Calacanis ‘23, a recipient of the Charter Club Award for being a Bay Ridge Prep ‘lifer’, reflected on his experience growing up in the school beginning as Kindergartener and ending as a senior.
“Even though the school has changed, along with the people and some of the traditions,” he said, “the one thing that has been consistent is Bay Ridge Prep pushing us closer together and making us better people.”
Speaking about memories such as the 3rd Grade Rainforest, the theater performances, being part of several sports teams, and the senior year egg drop challenge, Calacanis reminded his fellow graduates that all of those shared experiences “brought us together, exposed us to new interests, and taught us how to work together in real life scenarios.”
Middle Schoolers Reflect On Growth
Earlier in Commencement, during the Eighth Grade Graduation Ceremony, several student speakers spoke about growth during the Lower and Middle School years.
“I have been given the chance to witness all of these lovely people grow up and mature into the young adults they are today,” said Elya Zucker ‘27.
Talia Bloomfield ‘27, who also spoke during the Eighth Grade Graduation said, “from meeting and quickly becoming friends with students in other grades during [theater] rehearsal to the memorable volleyball bus rides to and from our games, all of these activities have taught me about being a part of a team and working together for an ultimate goal.”
Other students, such as Grace Berkovich ‘27, said they became comfortable as individuals and overcame challenges throughout their time at Bay Ridge Prep.
“I am no longer the shy sixth grader that first stood before all of you,” Berkovich said.” I am no longer who I was and that is because of the immense impact of Bay Ridge Prep. I stand before you as someone with confidence.”
Anastasia Shevelenko ‘27 fondly recalled the Kindergarten Welcome Party held before her first day of school, saying, “Bay Ridge Prep helped me come into the school environment comfortably.”
Remarking on her time as a Middle School Tiger, Raffaella Bevilacqua ‘27 told the graduation audience about her decision to play baseball being one moment where the school pushed her to realize her potential.
“Even though I am a softball player, I had been tentative about whether I should play in an all-boys league,” she said. “However, Dr. Fasano convinced me to join the team to experience baseball and represent my school. This is just one example of how Bay Ridge Prep has helped me overcome self-doubt.”
Comparing the growth of individuals to the growth of a plant, when a baby root takes on a golden color, Amalia Rollmann ‘27 referred to graduating from Eighth Grade and the beginning of the high school experience as the “golden beginning” for the class.
In another speech, Oliver Kessler ‘27 noted the value Bay Ridge Prep places on the quality of work done rather than the quantity of work. He remembered how worried he was about homework when starting Middle School but soon realized that Bay Ridge Prep focuses more on collaborative work and experiences rather than assigning hours of busy work.
Wade Saadi ‘27 made similar comments, saying, “At Bay Ridge Prep we not only learned about academic skills, but social skills as well.”
Saadi continued, “we learned how to be a friend and a good citizen.”
Graduates Receive Advice from the Youngest Students
In his opening remarks during the senior class graduation ceremony, Head of School Dr. Charles Fasano imparted on the soon-to-be alums some advice from the school’s youngest students in Kindergarten and First Grade. Among the words of wisdom were:
“College will go by quickly, so don’t be sad.”
“Don’t be silly in class and distract other people.”
“Write a lot of letters to your family.”
“It will be a much bigger school, you might be afraid, but you need to be brave.”
“Be smart and don’t make bad choices.”
“Don’t use Cheat sheets, use your own knowledge.”
“Pretend that it is as easy as kindergarten but don’t act like a kindergartener.”
Creating Community Through Trying Times
In his welcome speech at Commencement, Dr. Fasano referenced the unprecedented and unsafe air quality from Canadian wildfires that forced many outdoor events in New York City to be postponed, canceled or relocated indoors at the last minute. One of those events was Bay Ridge Prep’s 25th Annual Commencement which, in less than 24 hours, was completely moved and reimagined from an outdoor event in Prospect Park to an indoor ceremony at Dyker Beach Golf Course.
For the Eighth Graders finishing Middle School and Seniors finishing Upper School, the last few years of their lives were bookended by the onset of a three-year pandemic and the brief air quality crisis. Dr. Fasano took note of this, telling graduates and their families that these groups of students have been through the craziest experiences imaginable and added, “there was no way we were canceling this day. There was no way we were rescheduling it.”
Dr. Fasano also noted that, in the days leading up to Commencement, the seniors were asked in a survey what they would miss most about Bay Ridge Prep and the most popular answer was the community, which is especially important now more than ever.
“Community is not something that just the people who run the school are in charge of,” he said. Pointing toward the Class of 2023, he continued, “Community is you and what you make of it. You have done an amazing job in helping us create a great community.”