70 Graduates Celebrate Commencement
On Thursday, June 10, the Class of 2021 celebrated Commencement exercises on campus, with three students joining virtually from China.
This year’s student speaker, Marion Reidenbach, reflected on pivotal moments during her time at Agnes Irwin — including during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Class of 2021, she noted, “took these challenges as an opportunity to unite as one big 70-person family, and grew stronger than we ever have — together. We were able to make the best of this year by adapting to the circumstances by still finding ways to use our talents.” As she highlighted the class’s unique strengths, Reidenbach encouraged her classmates, saying, “In light of all the major events over the past year and a half, none of us have lost our spirit. It was because of you all that we will be able to continue to grow stronger — and show the world what it means to have been an Agnes Irwin student.”
A familiar face took to the podium as this year’s Commencement speaker, as Mr. Edward “Wigs” Frank celebrated his final ceremony as a faculty member at AIS. He encouraged students to “let your life speak,” and to explore how this concept might manifest in the years ahead.
Wigs arrived at Agnes Irwin 36 years ago, and was immediately regarded not only as an extraordinary teacher, but also as someone with an outstanding ability to connect with all students. He has chaired the History Department, Policy Committee, and Discipline Committee; coached Varsity Basketball; advised Student Government and Current Events Club; and hosted Friday Forums. Wigs was a founding member of the school’s Cum Laude Society in 1991, and served as the chapter’s president ever since. His connection with the senior class was formalized when he became the Senior Class Dean in 1989 — and, in the 32 years since, he has formed a close and indelible bond with each class.
Prior to his tenure at Agnes Irwin, Wigs served as an attorney at firms in New York City and Boston before becoming Chief Counsel for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. He has served as a trustee at both Agnes Irwin and Lincoln University; as a member of the Association of Yale Alumni’s Board of Governors; Special Assistant to the President of The Barnes Foundation; and as a founding board member of the Multicultural Resource Center of the Philadelphia Area Independent Schools.
Wigs began his address — his “own senior assembly” — by highlighting the significance of the event, not only as a celebration of the completion of classes and requirements, but also as the beginning of a new stage in life. “It is a day both of reflection on your AIS experiences, and of anticipation about your future,” he said, and encouraged students to take a moment to congratulate themselves, as “It is your day of metamorphosis from student to alumna.”
Wigs also echoed a core belief of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, and told students to “Let your life speak.” He elaborated on Fox’s words to offer three guiding principles: Find your passion, embrace the unexpected, and value the common good. “To live your life doing something you are passionate about is a gift that everyone deserves,” he added. Embracing the unexpected, he noted, was a hallmark of the class’s last two years of high school. “Allow your life to unfold at your own pace. Listen as your life speaks. See the opportunity in the unexpected to reimagine what is and what can be.” Drawing on several examples of individuals who worked in service of the common good — including Mary Winsor, Class of 1892, the founder and president of the Pennsylvania Limited Suffrage League — Wigs added, “Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage and sacrifice to live in service of the common good. [Yet] each of us can contribute to the common good in our own way, which may be in small, simple yet important gestures within our local community.”
In closing, Wigs eyed the future with anticipation, saying, “The one thing I am sure of is that we — the local, national, and global ‘we’ — will be in a better place for the contributions you, the members of the stellar Class of 2021, will make.”
This year’s ceremony also included a special tribute to Naya Summy ’21, who lost her battle with high risk medulloblastoma brain cancer during her 4th grade year at AIS. Lower School Science Teacher Julie Haines accepted an honorary diploma on behalf of the Summy family, having served as Naya’s 4th grade teacher. Prior to the presentation of diplomas, prizes in the arts, classics, English, history, mathematics, modern language, science, and overall academic achievement were awarded to seniors.
- The Alumnae Association English Award, given by the alumnae of The Agnes Irwin School in memory of its first president, Elizabeth Elliot Wiener, Class of 1913, for the best work in English: Molly Knoell
- The Agnes Irwin School Arts Prize, presented to a senior for distinguished work in the visual or performing arts: Fiona Moser
- The Agnes Irwin School History Prize, given in memory of the founder of the school for the best work in history: Hanna Askarpour, Caroline Vauclain
- The Agnes Irwin School Modern Language Prize, awarded by the Modern Language Department to the senior or seniors who have shown the greatest degree of excellence in study of the language and culture: Chinese — Caroline Vauclain, French — Eliana Baron-Hionis, Spanish — Raquel Coren
- The Bertha Laws Classics Prize, awarded to the senior who has shown the greatest understanding of the classical languages and of the classical concepts that are the cornerstone of Western civilization: Latin — Fiona Moser
- The Edith C. Gall Science Prize, presented by the Class of 1963 to a senior who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in the field of science during the year, given in memory of Mrs. Edith C. Gall, beloved teacher: Rachel Meng
- The Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Delaware Valley Award, presented to an outstanding senior who embodies the Phil Beta Kappa ideals of academic achievement, character, and a love of wisdom and learning: Caroline Vauclain
- The Phyllis Belisle Mathematics Prize, given by Mrs. Armand A. Belisle in memory of her daughter, chair of the Department of Mathematics from 1957-1957, for the best work in mathematics: Eliana Baron-Hionis
Additional senior accolades were presented at the Class Night Awards on Tuesday night, including:
- The Daphne Apostolidis Award, given in honor of Ms. Apostolidis for her 33 years of service as a Lower School teacher to The Agnes Irwin School. This award recognizes a student who embodies selfless commitment to the Agnes Irwin community: Libby Lerch
- The Head of School Award: Kelly Cooper
- The Jeanne Clery Award, presented to the student who has demonstrated the qualities of courage, compassion, and leadership in her associations with her classmates and in her contributions to the school: Marion Reidenbach
- The Joanne P. Hoffman Award, given by the Class of 2018 in honor of the former Director of the Upper School Mrs. Joanne P. Hoffman. This prize is awarded by the director of the Upper School to the Upper School student who embodies the spirit and ideals of Mrs. Hoffman. This student is a mentor to her peers, continuously makes an effort to include everyone, and demonstrates the same love of fun and spontaneity that Mrs. Hoffman modeled in her time at The Agnes Irwin School: Tori Summers
- The White Blazer Award, awarded to a student chosen by the Athletic Department as an outstanding senior athlete exhibiting a unique combination of athleticism and mental toughness while displaying the ideals of sportsmanship and leadership: Kelly Cooper
Head of School Sally Keidel praised the unwavering vision and commitment of the class, particularly in this time of great uncertainty. “It has been a year like no other, for a class like no other,” she declared. “Your story now has a permanent place in the Agnes Irwin narrative.” In reflecting on the class’s strong bond, and the value of maintaining these relationships beyond the walls of AIS, Mrs. Keidel said, “In years to come, when faced with obstacles, I hope you will draw strength from what you accomplished this year with energy, teamwork, a big dream, and a sharp focus on what matters most. Stay close to one another. You will be amazed by how your classmates grow and what they accomplish in the years to come.”
Mrs. Keidel concluded her remarks with optimism for the future of the Class of 2021. “I am hopeful,” she shared. “Hopeful that your energy, your bright minds, and your big hearts will have an incredible impact on the world. Know that we will be here cheering for you, rooting you on, and looking forward to that day we meet again.”