Following tradition, the School gathered several times over the course of Commencement week to acknowledge, thank, and honor this year’s graduating class—CdeP 2021. Here are some of the highlights.
Thursday, May 20, the School honored the class of 2021 for their academic, leadership, and horsemanship achievements. This part of the weeklong celebration is normally split into two events, All-School Banquet and Senior Banquet. To simplify logistics, this year the two banquets were combined into the All-School Banquet.
This honoring of students’ efforts and accomplishments culminated a year of great challenge—a year in which, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, students, faculty, staff, and the School administration moved forward with optimism. During her address, Head of School Blossom Beatty Pidduck CdeP 1996 shared her thoughts about optimism, “Optimism isn’t a passive attitude. It’s hard work. It’s not about pretending it’s all fine. It’s about confronting the pain, realizing the universality of struggle, and finding ways big and small to overcome.”
After their final dinners with advisory groups, students, and faculty gathered in the dining hall for the ceremony. The festivities included reflective readings from two seniors, Maya Watanabe and Jae Mejia-Bailon, and remarks by School Chair Sophie Bekins. Department heads presented academic commendations and program directors honored seniors with special awards and recognitons. (You will find the list below, at the end of this story.)
Keeping with tradition, Blossom took a moment to honor each of the eleven departing faculty members and thank them for their contributions to Thacher: Michelyne Pinard, Tyler Popa, Iona Popa CdeP 2010, Tracy Williams Sutton, Bob St. George, Lucia St. George, Vicky Edwards, Ann Merlini, Pete Fagan, Aaron Snyder, and Sabina McMahon.
Before handing the mic to Jae Bailon for the Benediction, Blossom acknowledged the whole community: “So as we bring this extraordinary year together to close, let’s raise a glass in honor of each other—and in honor of all the hard things we’ve faced, taken on, wrestled with, and in so many instances overcome through grace and patience and empathy and strength and resilience and kindness and friendship and doing our best even when it felt impossible. Here’s to all of you.”
Finally, on Saturday the big day arrived. The momentous event began with the faculty procession followed by the Class of 2021 Procession led by class marshals, Chloe Marie Cussen, Wyatt Menzies O'Connell, and Tyler John Vondriska. Reyna Grace Kleemeier gave the Invocation, then Alexa Romelle Guloy and Lizbeth Allison Velasco shared poems. Blossom addressed the community one last time, expressing a deep sense of gratitude to everyone who made this year on campus possible before Thacher’s 136th graduating class received their diplomas.
After the Benediction by Nolan Schepman, Blossom sent the Class of 2021 off into the world: “So go forth, proud of what you take from this place, confident in the strength and resilience you have shown yourself time and again, and listen to what life asks of you, knowing you have all you need to answer its call.”
Congratulations to all the new grads—CdeP 2021! You will always be welcome home.Awards
This was a transitional year for some of our awards and commendations as our faculty is in the midst of a long-term effort to evaluate the ways we recognize and celebrate academic achievement and to ensure that these are in line with our work towards greater equity at Thacher. As that work is in progress, we limited commendations this year to the junior and senior classes.
The Jack Boyd English Prize was established in 1906 in memory of John Franklin Boyd, Jr., who died at Thacher in 1902. The winner of The Jack Boyd English Prize is Olivia Skye Neulight.
Nash Robbins Short Story Prize is given in the name of John Nash Robbins, CdeP ’81, for excellence in writing. It is presented to the author of the best short story written at any time during the school year. This year the winner of the Nash Robbins Short Story Prize is Christina Grace MacCorkle.
The William Bishop Nixon Poetry Prize was first given in 1945 by William Nixon in memory of Jack Boyd. The prize is awarded for the best poem written at any time during the year. This year the winner of the William Bishop Nixon Poetry Prize is Natalie Isabel Rangel.
The Kumana Prize is awarded for innovative research and solutions in meeting the challenges of global sustainability. This year’s recipients are: Sophie Anne Moe Bekins, Saga Madeleine Leslie, Olivia Skye Neulight, Charles Ford Tracy.
Morgan Ward Prize: The Morgan Ward Prize was established in 1964 by Dr. Marshall Hall, Jr., in honor of a former colleague and friend, Dr. Morgan Ward. The senior who has done the best work in mathematics and is, therefore, the recipient of the award is Karina Lynn Andersen.
The Computer Science Prize: Each year, by a vote of the Mathematics Department, this award is given to the student who has contributed the most to the computer science program over the course of the academic year. This year the award goes to Adaugo Chisombili Obiora-Egbuziem.
The George Beckwith Gymkhana Trophy is presented to the captains of the winning Gymkhana team. This year the award is presented to:
Alexa Romelle Guloy
Adaugo Chisombili Obiora-Egbuziem
Lizbeth Allison Velasco
French Language Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has demonstrated excellence in and a passion for French language acquisition. This year the recipient of the Award is James Flood Eklund.
Latin Language Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has demonstrated excellence in and a passion for Latin language acquisition. This year the recipient of the Award is Li Keira Yin.
Mandarin Language Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has demonstrated excellence in and a passion for Mandarin language acquisition. This year the recipient of the Award is Olivia Skye Neulight.
Spanish Language Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has demonstrated excellence in and a passion for Spanish language acquisition. This year the recipient of the Award is Alexa Romelle Guloy.
The Bissell Gymkhana Trophy is presented each year to the high-point rider. This year the award is presented to Paige Drusilla Fitzpatrick.
The Physics Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has done the best work in physics. This year the award goes to Connor Lavine.
The Chemistry Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has done the best work in chemistry. This year the award goes to Elizabeth Waterhouse Goodyear.
The Biology Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has done the best work in biology. This year the award goes to Christina Grace MacCorkle.
The Environmental Science and Field Biology and Conservation Award: By a vote of the department, this award is given to the student who has done the best work in environmental science and field biology and conservation. This year the award goes to Katherine Anne Vyhnal.
The Best Camper Award is awarded to the student who, in the opinion of the Camping Committee, has done the most camping and helped significantly with the running of the camping program. This year’s recipient is Jack Jacob Chung.
The Edward R. Spaulding Tennis Cup was presented to The Thacher School by E. R. Spaulding of Santa Barbara. First awarded to Albert T. Spaulding in April 1903 and presented each year to the School Tennis Champion. This year’s recipients are:
Pierce Maxwell Bressie
Natalie Rie Cheng
The Vaquero Cup is awarded to the best all-around student in riding, shooting, and Gymkhana. This year the award is presented to Jack Jacob Chung.
The David B. Johnston History Prize—named for a beloved history teacher and department chair known fondly as Dr. J during his 29-year tenure at the School—recognizes the student who has consistently demonstrated all-around scholarship in and deep passion for the discipline of history. This year it’s awarded to Cooper Kelln Slaughter-West.
The Eric Bechtel Dachs Prize for Technical Theatre: Awarded by the technical director to the student who, in his or her career at Thacher, has shown the greatest dedication, imagination, and expertise in technical theatre. This year’s recipients are:
Alexa Romelle Guloy
Julia Katherine Parker Hale
Darrah Corbett, Jr. Studio Prize: First given in 1941 in memory of Darrah Corbett, Jr. CdeP 1936. This year the recipient is Maya Watanabe.
The Rhode Island School Of Design Art Award: Given to the student who has demonstrated uncommon dedication, commitment, and achievement in the visual arts. This year the recipient is Julia Katherine Parker Hale.
The Agnes M. Lord Music Award: First given in 1922 to honor Mrs. Walter St. Clair Lord, who taught music at Thacher from 1898 to 1925. This year the recipients are:
Theodore Marx Mailer
Cooper Kelln Slaughter-West
The Art History Award is given to that student who has done exemplary work in Honors Art History. The student who has done the best work in Art History this year is Anna Elizabeth Lister.
The Ceramic Arts Award is given to the student who has demonstrated uncommon dedication, commitment, and achievement in the ceramics studio. This year the award goes to Alexa Romelle Guloy.
The Harry Llewellyn Bixby Dramatic Cup: First given in 1919, the cup is awarded to students in recognition of their contribution to the Thacher Drama Program. This year the recipient is Lizbeth Allison Velasco.
The Herbert Sisters’ English Riding Trophy: First awarded in 2006, The Herbert Sisters’ Trophy is given in honor of Alexandra MacLean Herbert CdeP 2002 and Deirdre Healy Herbert CdeP 2006, both former captains of Thacher’s Equestrian Team and dedicated English riders. The Award goes to that rider who has shown exceptional dedication, commitment, and talent in the English Riding Program. This year’s recipient is Emer Grace Kilgallon.
Elizabeth Helms Adams Perpetual Sportsmanship Award: While being an accomplished athlete is an integral part of earning this award, athleticism is, by no means, this honor's most important criterion. Commitment to excellence, teamwork, ability to elevate the play of others, and, above all, sportsmanship are the qualities for which this trophy is awarded.
This year, the award goes to a young woman who embodies what it means to be a team player. She carries all the qualities of a great leader; passion, competitiveness, empathy, and the ability to rally her teammates to be their best. Even without the incentive of an interscholastic season, she was always at the forefront of spirit, camaraderie, and competitive fun. She was a member of the Girls’ Varsity Tennis and basketball teams for her entire Thacher career. And we won't soon forget those impromptu Tik Tok signature moves that make her special. This year, by a vote of the Athletic Council, the Elizabeth Helms Adams Sportsmanship Award goes to Maxine Chae Tamas.
The Thacher Lettermen’s Club Perpetual Sportsmanship Award: While being an accomplished athlete is an integral part of earning this award, athleticism is, by no means, this honor's most important criterion. Commitment to excellence, teamwork, ability to elevate the play of others, and, above all, sportsmanship are the qualities for which this trophy is awarded.
Often voted the best teammate by his peers and praised by his coaches for his enthusiasm and willingness to take on a new challenge, this Thacher athlete has inspired many. His love for sport had him scaling Jameson rock in the midday heat of the fall, embracing the remarkable views from our soccer pitch on a cool winter day, and smelling the orange blossoms of spring as he’d approach the tennis net for yet another slam. Whether playing a sport he knew well or taking on something new, what was always consistent was this young athlete’s love for play, his willingness to help the team, and consistent concern for lifting up those around him. Despite not having the opportunity to showcase his talents in traditional interscholastic sports this year, he was an enthusiastic participant in many of our intramural leagues. We are thrilled to present this award to a teammate and leader who truly embodies everything Thacher athletics stands for. By a vote of the athletic council, this year’s recipient is Charles Ford Tracy.
The Top Wrangler Award, given by the Class of 1979 in memory of their friend and classmate Richard A. Wilson, Jr. CdeP 1979 to recognize that senior who throughout his or her Thacher career has shown great endeavor and success in all aspects of the Horse Program: riding, camping, and leadership. This year’s recipient is Angel Carrasco Jr.
Charles L. Warren Alpinist Award: First given by Charles L. Warren, teacher and director of the Outdoor and Camping Programs at The Thacher School, this award recognizes the student who has demonstrated a commitment to the mastery of rock climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry camping. An alpinist is characterized less by achievements and summits attained and more by the full engagement of one’s body, mind, and spirit in the process of ascent as well as the qualities of preparation balanced with hope as indicated in the motto of the School's Outdoor Program. The recipient this year is Cooper Kelln Slaughter-West.
The Robert E. Chesley Memorial Scholarship: Robert Chesley was a graduate of the Thacher School and Stanford. Following military service, he taught physics and served as Science Department Head at Thacher for 14 years before moving to Washington DC to work for the Department of Education. In 1983 he returned to Thacher as business manager, during which time he became a member of The Ojai Rotary Club serving as president of the Club in 1987-88. He also was greatly involved in the formation of our Educational Foundation in 1991. The Robert E. Chesley Memorial Scholarship has been awarded to Katherine Anne Vyhnal.
Newton K. Chase Community Service Awards are given to the students who, through volunteer work in the community, have demonstrated an unselfish interest in and concern for others. Mr. Chase, who served as head of school for 15 years beginning in 1949, believed strongly that the “best you can do” referenced in the Banquet Song should incorporate work done for the greater good and not for oneself alone and understood the value of engaging our hearts, hands, and minds in the service of others. In keeping with this mission, this year’s recipients have dedicated themselves to identifying, promoting, and facilitating opportunities for participation in meaningful activities within the valley and beyond. We applaud these students for all they have done for our community and take this opportunity to thank them—for their leadership, their commitment, and their optimistic approach to the service of others. Their brand of the best they can do would have made Mr. Chase very proud. This year, the recipients are:
Matthew Dean Robinson
Sophie duPont Benello
Theodore Marx Mailer
The Marvin H. Shagam Award: Awarded annually to that junior who has made a difference in the Thacher community through force of character, goodness, courage, vision, and love for all God’s creation. This year the recipient is Yueshing Joyce Li.
Cum Laude Society
Founded in 1906, Cum Laude was modeled on Phi Beta Kappa, the national college-level honor society. The electing body at Thacher is comprised of faculty members elected to Cum Laude in high school or to Phi Beta Kappa in college, department chairs, and other members of Thacher's Academic Council.
Election to Cum Laude officially commends those students who have met the highest criteria of academic achievement and scholarly integrity across all disciplines throughout their high school careers. As we well know, the Thacher community contains so many outstanding students who demonstrate on a daily basis their intellectual prowess and dedication to furthering their own learning. We would love to highlight you all; however, the Society’s constitution stipulates that we may induct no more than 20 percent of the senior class and no more than 10 percent of the junior class.
Members of the Class of 2021 elected in their junior year:
Karina Lynn Andersen
Olivia Skye Neulight
Emer Grace Kilgallon
Holland Eve Stacey
Anna Elizabeth Lister
Members of the Class of 2021 elected in their senior year:
Sophie Anne Moe Bekins
Claire Marella Lynge
Duncan Paul Grimes
Charles Ford Tracy
Saga Madeleine Leslie
Juliet Huntington Thiessen
Members of the Class of 2022 elected in their junior year:
Oakley McKim Browning
Dylan Anthony Jin-Ngo
Natalie Rie Cheng
Elizabeth Waterhouse Goodyear
Yuxiang Jack Zhang
The School Chair Bowl is given in recognition of the service and leadership of our school chair.
This young woman’s particular combination of strength, courage, and hope have made her exactly the leader we needed this year. Committed to elevating the voices of her peers and empowering all students to be their fullest and best selves, Sophie has made herself available to all, listening deeply so that she can better understand the needs of the community. When she tells her peers that she loves them, that she’s rooting for each and every one of them, they believe her because they’ve seen that support and care in her actions. And Sophie is a woman of action. Just take a look at one of her to-do lists (she’s usually got about seven going at a time) and you’ll begin to understand what a force she is. There are the same 24 hours in a Sophie Bekins day, but somehow she’s able to check three times as much off her list as anyone else—and most of those items are in service to others. With a quick sense of humor and an innately positive outlook, she provides ease and light when we need it most. She’s the kind of leader who isn’t afraid of tough times or complex problems; she sees them as opportunities to do good, to be better, to evolve. And that’s exactly what she’s helped Thacher do this year.
This year’s School Chair Bowl is given, with great thanks and appreciation, to Sophie Anne Moe Bekins.
The Charles L. Tutt Bowl For Integrity And Responsibility: Given in 1963 by Mrs. Tutt in memory of her husband Charles L. Tutt, CdeP 1907. In giving this award, Mrs. Tutt wished to stress those qualities of character not always recognized in the traditional school-type awards. She spoke not primarily of leadership, but of integrity and responsibility, of fortitude in the face of adversity, and of consideration for others as traits that she had always admired in her husband and which she thought a school should be proud of in its students.
This year’s recipient has shown us over four years what it means to live a values-driven life. By modeling, in word and in deed, a truly selfless commitment to others, she has earned deep respect for her moral courage and authenticity. While she has never sought the spotlight, she has lived each day with a quiet, consistent integrity that inspires all those around her to follow her sterling example. Endowed with maturity, grace, sensitivity, wit, and warmth, this most deserving Toad has earned the deep affection and admiration of our entire community.
This year, the Tutt Bowl goes to Alexa Romelle Guloy.
The Thacher Cup is presented to that senior who, in the judgment of the faculty, best demonstrates those qualities the School holds as central: academic excellence, extracurricular achievement, moral leadership, and concern for others.
This student’s extraordinary strength left an indelible mark in every area of school life. A formidable and deeply committed scholar who excelled across the curriculum, a resolute and fearless advocate for justice, a gifted and versatile musician, and an accomplished rider, this student’s tireless pursuit of excellence set a high standard. No less impressive is this Toad’s ability to balance high expectations for others with empathetic, nurturing compassion. An unwavering moral leader, this year’s recipient called on all of us to aspire to live the values of the School each day.
This Year the recipient of the Thacher Cup is Adaugo Chisombili Obiora-Egbuziem.