West Hartford’s Kingswood Oxford School held its graduation ceremony on Friday, May 26.
Submitted by Jackie Pisani, Kingswood Oxford School
Sunny skies and happy tears prevailed at the Kingswood Oxford 111th Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 26, where 84 Wyverns celebrated their achievements in front of family, friends, and faculty.
Chin Ho (Johnny) Kung was awarded the Dux Prize, the student with the highest grade point average, at the earlier Prize Ceremony. There were 17 Cum Laude recipients, and 12 graduates will be playing sports at the collegiate level.
Faith Potter ’23 introduced the keynote speaker, Upper School English Chair Cathy Schieffelin, whose message highlighted the necessity of finding mentors and becoming guides for others. She leaned into her vulnerability and shared three personal stories of encountering “imposter syndrome.” The syndrome is characterized by that gnawing feeling that plagues many highly accomplished individuals who feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for these moments that made me feel like a total fraud and simultaneously helped me forge some of my strongest connections and shape my values,” Shieffelin said.
Schieffelin’s first bout of imposter syndrome struck as a freshman at Taft School. Despite growing up as a faculty brat at the school, she struggled to navigate a world of far wealthier and hipper students once enrolled. Her confidence took a hit, and it wasn’t her sophomore year that she found her footing and a home in an English class where her teacher gave her the courage to use her voice.
“She helped me feel a sense of belonging,” she said, “and was always ready to remind me of who I was and how others really saw me — to shake me out of my uncertainty, uplift me, help me look at the scene around me with new eyes, and, above all else, make me laugh (sometimes at myself).”
Schieffelin related two other instances where she was overwhelmed by circumstances that rattled her confidence: as a 24-year-old dorm parent and teacher at Berkshire School and as a new mom of preemie twins.
While at Berkshire, she encountered a bright but troubled student. Knowing she was out of her depth in treating the mentally ill student, she contacted the girls’ parents. “In supporting her, I learned so much about myself – both my limitations and my strengths – as this experience of profound self-doubt taught me the value of using my experience and empathy to be the guide for others.”
While an overwhelmed new parent, she found her equilibrium in the new role by trusting her instincts, leaning into her discomfort, and finding her guides. She learned that these challenging moments are “often a sign that we’re on the edge of growth. New, disorienting experiences sometimes give us the opportunity to fail, fail better, and ultimately grow. A little bit of discomfort and doubt can push us out of our routine and complacency; it can be transformative.”
Through the lessons of her own growth, Schieffelin exhorted the seniors to try on new roles and identities while in college, embrace the disquiet, and seek out mentors to lean on and be that buttress for others along the way. In doing so, she said, one can become, as J.D. Salinger wrote, part of a “beautiful reciprocal arrangement.”
In his charge to the Senior Class, Head of School Tom Dillow remarked to the students about the extraordinary circumstances the class has experienced in the past several years, from COVID to the attack on the Capitol to toxic culture wars. He said the students remained grounded because they lead with love rather than anger. He offered them some advice, including living in the moment and enjoying life since they have earned it.
On a more sobering note, Dillow said that they remain unfinished products despite the students’ growth and development. “There will still be times when you will make mistakes,” he said. “When you do, whenever you are at fault, I charge you to own it and say sorry. The only thing keeping you from doing the right thing, from correcting a wrong, is pride. And our ego is the main obstacle to growth.”
Conversely, Dillow told the students they must recognize that others will also make mistakes and find forgiveness in their hearts. Without this understanding and mercy, holding on to anger becomes corrosive. “We’re all on this planet together, imperfect beings, striving and seeking acceptance. So let go of your anger and forgive others. In doing so, you will find freedom and inner peace.”
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