Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 8, 2012

Castilleja graduates 52

Palo Alto school's 105th commencement abounds with literary, feminist exhortations

by Chris Kenrick

Lifting their red and white bouquets amid of sea of white dresses, 52 Castilleja School seniors graduated Saturday, June 2, in the Palo Alto school's 105th commencement.

Feminist and literary allusions — from Virginia Woolf to Milan Kundera to J.K. Rowling — abounded in the 90-minute ceremony.

Valedictorian Eleanor Brug evoked Kundera in a speech pondering the significance of single events, such as a graduation, and repeated events, such as the thousands of class periods experienced at Castilleja.

"I will remember that I graduated, and that there were speeches, and that we were all gorgeous with our diplomas," Brug told classmates and families assembled under a huge white tent in the Embarcadero Road school's grassy "circle."

"However, I will have stronger recollection of sprinting to classes for exercise, of adjusting navy collars and pinfeather skirts, of that moment when a convenient path opens up through a roundabout proof in calculus theory."

Graduates Lindsay Wang and Aurora Real de Asua, co-recipients of the school's annual Castilleja Award, jointly delivered a speech about transcending stereotypes and the pros and cons of belonging to a group. The Castilleja Award is given by the faculty to the senior who best exemplifies the school's "Five C's" — conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity.

Guest speaker Carol Jenkins, founding president of the Women's Media Center, advised graduates to suspend assumptions, travel widely, use their voices to "record history" — and not fear making mistakes.

"'Seeing the world as it is not' is pretty much the definition of erring, but it is also the essence of imagination, invention and hope," Jenkins said.

"As that suggests, our errors sometimes bear far sweeter fruits than the failure and shame we associate with them.

"This is a hard one because we often suffer severe consequences when we risk it all and fail. But here's the thing: Your space on the planet can be the safe, tiny top of a pin — or a vast rich landscape of experiences and people and places. You can't get there if you don't sign up for that 'adventure in the margin of error.'"

Head of School Nanci Kauffman discussed Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner's recent book, "Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed," which asserts that goodness — moral behavior in the professional, civic and personal realms — is a cornerstone of society.

"The complicated dilemmas that await you will demand that you do what it takes to define a better path, a path to goodness, a path with just and fair outcomes," Kauffman said.

"That is a road you will have to pave for yourself, using the vast array of tools you acquired here."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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