Madeira School graduation 2019

Trudy Painter, Katie King, Sophia Bernstein, Theresa Carr, Nkem Haffner, Megan Grohowski, Julie Kenyon and Nandi Ndoro smile while queuing up for the processional June 7, 2019, during commencement exercises at The Madeira School. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Madeira School’s Class of 2019 was amazingly diverse as far as race, religion, talent and thought, and its members excelled in a wide range of activities, not just one narrow focus, senior-class speaker Amani Hagmagid said at the school’s June 7 commencement ceremony.

“We’re truly individual in our talents,” she said, adding that the outspoken class is “part of a generation that can’t keep its mouth closed.”

The 73 graduates, wearing white dresses of various styles, promenaded single-file, about 10 steps apart, down the hill to the school’s outdoor amphitheater. Each class member carried the traditional 13 red roses, which represented the original number of boarding students at Madeira.

The weather was pleasantly warm and not too humid. Apart from occasional rogue insects, the only other distractions were airplanes and helicopters passing low to the ground.

Hagmagid, a Sterling resident who plans to study cinema at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she had learned much from her classmates.

“You are all beautiful and I thank you for four years well-spent,” she said.

This year’s keynote speaker was author Julia Reed, a member of Madeira’s Class of 1978 who had impressed the graduates during a presentation she gave at the school when they were freshmen.

Reed still had fond memories of Madeira and credited its teachers for instilling discipline and compelling her to live up to her potential.

“This place was the hardest I ever worked,” she said. “You couldn’t get by with slacking off.”

Apart from some personal tips – do not fill your face with fillers; do not wear blue, yellow or green nail polish after age 20; and do not get tattoos, because they become grotesque over time – Reed focused on the theme of poise under fire.

“Function in disaster, finish in style,” she said, quoting a motto long in use at Madeira School.

Reed, a contributing editor at Vogue and Newsweek, also quoted from Dolly Parton, Kurt Vonnegut and former U.S. President Andrew Jackson. She urged graduates to strive for their dreams and not let trepidation dissuade them.

“Every regret in my life stems from fear,” she told the class. “Put yourself out there. Do some things that scare the hell out of you.”

Reed exhorted class members to be kind, keep their hearts open and move ahead stoically when bad luck, such as a cancer diagnosis, strikes.

Head of School Pilar Cabeza de Vaca echoed the theme of discipline, saying Madeira tries to inculcate solid habits that will serve its graduates well in the future.

The Class of 2019 stood together, despite individual differences, but may not encounter that same generosity of spirit elsewhere, she cautioned. Cabeza de Vaca urged graduates to make the right decisions in life, even if this proves challenging or inconvenient.

“Choosing the right path can be oh-so-much harder,” she said. “Don’t let your lower instincts make you err.”

Several Madeira board members presented diplomas to their daughters in the class.

After singing the school’s alma mater and receiving a final benediction, graduates strode up the hillside toward the Oval in the center of campus to eat some finger foods, fruit and cookies, and pose for photos with classmates and family members.

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