The sights and sounds of Pomp and Circumstance filled the Grove Sunday morning, May 21, 2023, as 91 seniors graduated from Saint Mary’s School. It was a blue-ribbon Saint Mary’s commencement day in the Grove, as the graduates turned their tassels and Saint Mary’s rings, becoming Saint Mary’s newest alumnae.
In keeping with Saint Mary’s tradition, Student Government Association President Caroline Bradshaw ’23 and Senior Class President Elizabeth Williamson ’23 marched at the head of the line of graduates. The new marshals led the two lines of graduates and the platform party dignitaries from Smedes Hall through the Grove.
As the graduates made their way around Smedes Circle to the center brick walkway for the official procession through The Grove, underclasswomen presented each graduate with an iris to carry and place in the Class of 1987 urn just before stepping onstage to receive her diploma.
The blue iris has long been an iconic symbol of Saint Mary’s rich commencement tradition. Graduates have carried the irises in our commencement procession for decades. Irises bloom each spring all around campus, most notably, in the Class of 1904 sundial garden in front of East Rock. The blue iris is a symbol of faith, hope, and wisdom, which makes it a perfect representation of all that a Saint Mary’s commencement embodies – the faith a student has nurtured in her four years in Chapel and in our community; the hopes and dreams of a graduate on commencement day; and the wisdom gained through a Saint Mary’s education. Through the years, the iris tradition has evolved and grown into a most beloved part of a Saint Mary’s commencement. The High School Class of 1987 gave the brass urn still used today, as the marshals collect the irises from graduates as they step up to the stage to receive their diplomas. In 2007, the tradition began of underclasswomen giving an iris to a graduating senior just prior to the commencement procession through the Grove. Today, Saint Mary’s iris tradition is stronger than ever, a beautiful symbol of a Saint Mary’s School commencement day.
Saint Mary’s Chaplain offered the invocation. Interim Head of School Adam Holden, Ed.D., welcomed the graduates, their families, and guests.
Valedictorian Isabel Yates ’23, delivered the valedictory address, taking us on a tour of campus memories, building by building, from the Chapel to East Park Science building to Pittman Auditorium, to the Ragland classroom building to the Sun Porch atop Smedes Hall.
Destiny Ellington ’23, delivered the senior commencement address, having been elected by her classmates as the senior commencement speaker. Destiny, who established herself as our poet in residence during her four years at Saint Mary’s, read a poem she composed for commencement.
The Honors Chorale, under the direction of Jennifer Moran, and accompanied by Dr. Karen Allred, offered special music, Omnia Sol, by Z. Randall Stroope.
Maggie Kane, founder and executive director of A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s first non-profit pay-what-you-can cafe, delivered an inspirational commencement address.
Adam Holden presented the graduates their Saint Mary’s diplomas.
Board of Trustees Chair Liza Roberts introduced the awards portion of the ceremony. Awards were presented by Ms. Roberts, Assistant Head of School Patricia C.A. Sasser, Dean of Student Experience Dr. Anne Aichele, and Dr. Adam Holden.
Following the benediction and the final singing of the year of the School Hymn, Chief Marshal Janiah Whitby ’24 stood at the top of the steps of Smedes Hall, directly beneath the lantern adorned with Saint Mary’s blue ribbons, to drop the handkerchief and declare the 181st session at Saint Mary’s to be officially closed. After the iconic handkerchief drop, the marshals walked into Smedes and closed the doors on another Saint Mary’s commencement, while the graduates joyfully tossed their caps high into the canopy of stately oaks.
The Baccalaureate preceded the commencement exercises in the historic Saint Mary’s Chapel with Chaplain Maggie Stoddard presiding.
Saint Mary’s commencement embodies personal touches of academic excellence, personal achievement, friendship, tradition, grace, honor, dignity, and resilience that are hallmarks of the Saint Mary’s experience.
Once again, Saint Mary’s graduating class boasts 100 percent college acceptance to a broad range of outstanding colleges and universities around the nation and abroad. The range of colleges and universities selected by graduates of the Class of 2023 are as varied as the graduates themselves and reflects their wide-ranging interests and personalities.
The Class of 2023 distinguished itself in the hearts of the faculty and staff by its collective kindness, talent, intellect, respectfulness, resilience, commitment to inclusion, loyal friendship, and support of each other. The graduates will be remembered for their delightful and impactful individual personalities as well as their class unity.
“Members of the Saint Mary’s School Class of 2023 are poised to step out of our gates and into an exciting future,” says Adam Holden. “Prepared at Saint Mary’s for college and life, these graduates have challenged themselves in and out of the classroom, expanded their boundaries, made real-world connections, and grown as young women of intelligence, integrity, and purpose – ready to serve and shape their world.”
Isabel Yates ’23 of Raleigh, North Carolina, was the recipient of the 2023 Cooper Medal, in recognition of achieving the highest G.P.A. for the year. The Cooper Award was established in 1944 by Fannie Cooper Gilliam ’44C, in memory of her brother, Hill Parham Cooper.
Isabel Yates ’23 was the recipient of the 2023 Niles Medal for finishing with the highest G.P.A. over her years at Saint Mary’s. The Niles Medal was instituted in 1905 by Dr. Charles Martin Niles.
Avery Boykin ’23 of Raleigh, received the Catherine Ruth Proctor Award, presented by the Saint Mary’s chapter of the National Honor Society in recognition of the student making the greatest scholastic advancement over the past four years. The Proctor Award was established in 1974 in memory of Catherine Ruth Proctor ’75HS.
Cora Lee Goldfield ’23 of Raleigh, was the recipient of the Georgia Lee Kinsey Award, presented by Saint Mary’s Chapter of the National Honor Society to the graduate who has accomplished the greatest scholastic advancement over the past two years. The award was established in 1982 by Saint Mary’s College Chi Beta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa in memory of Georgia Lee Kinsey ’81.
Destiny Ellington '23 of Fairburn, Georgia, was chosen to receive the King Medal, awarded each year to the graduate, who, in the opinion of the faculty, has most consistently practiced good citizenship at Saint Mary’s and inconspicuously served as an example to others. The King Medal was established in 1964 by Mr. and Mrs. Madding King of Florence, Alabama.
CC Chiavetta ’23 of Raleigh, was voted by her classmates to receive the Margaret and Ann Highsmith Medal, awarded to a graduate who exemplifies the Christian idea of helpfulness to others motivated by her genuine love for all members of the school community. The Highsmith Medal was established in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Seavy Highsmith of Fayetteville, North Carolina, in honor of their daughters, Ann Cameron Highsmith ’70HS and Margaret Highsmith Dickson ’67HS.
Anne Haddon Nottingham, is the 2023 Marian Drane Graham Award winner, as chosen by a committee of alumnae, students, and faculty. This award was established in 1968 as a memorial to Marian Drane Graham, Class of 1919.The award is made each year to a graduate who, in the words of her husband, Dr. Frank Porter Graham, exemplifies Marian’s “reverence and humility of spirit, scholarship without pride of excellence, zest for life, faith and fortitude, and all-around development in the course of her radiant and nobly useful life.”