The 24th Annual Commencement of Bay Ridge Prep was a true celebration of community and the strong efforts made by students, families and faculty to support one another in school and through the challenges faced in the world around us. Held on June 9 in Prospect Park, it was also a day filled with fond memories of the past, honoring accomplishments and positive thoughts about the future.
Eighth Grade Completes Middle School
Kicking off Commencement was a graduation ceremony for 8th Grade students who completed Middle School. Of note were the student speakers who commented on all the things that make Bay Ridge Prep the community what it is.
“Our teachers create an environment that not only allows us to learn, but also gives us the freedom, to truly be ourselves,” said 8th Grade student speaker Noah Allbrooks.
Eight Grader Hailey Parcell made a similar comment, saying, “Our Middle school experiences above all else was where we learned to explore who we truly want to be as people on our own. With this growth comes mistakes and difficult changes, but thankfully we were lucky enough to have the warm caring environment that Bay Ridge Prep presents.”
Sophia Saadi ‘26 spoke about growing up in Bay Ridge Prep and learning to “take ownership and responsibility of our time management and successfully juggle multiple obligations.”
“We’ve realized that there are lessons to be learned in the classroom, on the field, and through interactions with classmates,” Saadi said. “Bay Ridge Prep has taught us the value of success and setbacks, character and confidence, and the importance of respect and community in preparing us for the next step.”
In her 8th Grade graduation speech, Daphne Tsarnas reminded her peers, “no matter where we all end up in the next two, five, or even ten years, we will all have come from the same place. The same home.”
Class of 2022 Graduates Bay Ridge Prep
The graduation ceremony for the senior class also featured student speakers celebrating their time at the school, the special bonds formed and the community that they helped to build over the years. Warm and welcoming, a phrase used many times to describe the feeling of Bay Ridge Prep, is how graduates will also remember it.
“From the moment I walked into the building, I was surrounded by people that treated me as a friend before I even knew them,” said Emma Raineri ‘22, a salutatorian for the Class of 2022. “They provided me with a safe space to learn how to show other people who I am. I think the school does that for every member of our community.”
Part of their community-building work involved continuing and strengthening the camaraderie of the class during pandemic-era restrictions and long stretches of remote learning.
“I always knew I loved school and the warming nature of being inside the building, but I didn’t realize how much I did until it was taken away from me,” said Michelle Shtutman ‘22, a salutatorian, when reflecting on the impact Covid had on high school life. “While sitting at home, I yearned for the presence of my other classmates... I couldn't wait for us to all be back together again.”
Steven Franco ‘22, a valedictorian, said that despite the challenges they faced, he believed the shared experiences will give the class as a whole a lifetime bond.
“I know that we will all remain connected from our shared victories and graceful losses,” he remarked. “There is no other student body I would rather be a part of than the one we’ve all created together. Because, through thick and thin, we’ve overcome all that this crazy world has thrown at us - together.”
Lexuan Wang ‘22, also a valedictorian, encouraged her peers to believe in themselves as they move forward to challenges of college and adulthood.
“You are smart and brave, and your perseverance and effort will help carry you through the tougher times ahead,” she said.
Advocating for Stronger Mental Health Awareness
During a poignant moment, graduates Abby Brodsky ‘22, a salutatorian, and John Calacanis ‘22 spoke about their time in Bay Ridge Prep since they started in Kindergarten and the people who impacted them along the way. One of those individuals was Megan Alano, a member of the Class of 2022 who the community lost suddenly in March 2020.
Realizing the toll mental health struggles were taking on her peers, especially during the height of the pandemic, Brodsky co-founded the Mental Health Awareness Club at Bay Ridge Prep. In a joint speech with Calacanis, the two spoke about Megan and the importance of mental health awareness.
“Megan was a voice for people who struggled with mental health,” Brodsky said. “They inspired in me my own interest and prioritization of mental health awareness - raising awareness, breaking the stigma, and caring for the mental health of my family, my friends and myself.”
Calacanis, referenced special pins worn by graduates and faculty that featured Megan’s artwork.
“I realized that Megan could be here in spirit if our school community all wore tribute pins in their honor,” he said. “As we graduate and move on to the next stages of our lives, we will take Megan with us wherever we go. Today, I can say for certain that Megan made it to graduation.”
Megan’s parents were in attendance during the ceremony and were presented with a Class of 2022 tassel, National Arts Honor Society cord and an honorary diploma, awarded posthumously to Megan.
Kiki Zisimopoulos ‘22, who co-founded the Mental Health Awareness Club with Brodksy, also advocated for more widespread attention to wellness going forward and her goal of “both educating and providing a safe space for students to open up about their struggles.”
Bay Ridge Prep ‘Lifers’ Recognized
Graduation this year also recognized were the newest members of the “Charter Club” - students who have been with Bay Ridge Prep since Kindergarten. The Class of 2022 “lifers”, as they refer to themselves, are Abby Brodsky, John Calacanis, Christopher Galette, Priscilla Sideris and Kiki Zisimopoulos.
Sideris, reflecting on 13 years as a Bay Ridge Prep student, took the opportunity to speak about “what it means to let go.”
“What I mean when I say that is the act of being vulnerable, allowing yourself to make mistakes, and growing through the difficulties,” Sideris said. “Bay Ridge Prep has given me the courage to do these things while offering me the most important gift: acceptance. Through my time here, I have been able to learn who I am: an outgoing and outspoken person who cares deeply about others and the world. When I saw other students struggling with the same uncertainties that I did, on multiple occasions I repeated: ‘This is Bay Ridge Prep, this is where you can figure out who you are and become comfortable with it.’”
Kindergartners Leave Advice For Graduates
Before closing the ceremony and officially graduating the senior class, Head of School Charles Fasano shared advice for college-bound graduates that he received from the school’s youngest students in Kindergarten. Among the advice they gave was:
- Practice going to college before you go, this way you will be good at it
Be kind to other students
Learn how to use an alarm clock so you wake up for your classes in the morning
Practice making coffee, you will need it to stay awake
Learn how to clean your bedroom
Learn how to cook food
Learn how to climb a tree in case you have to rescue a cat
Make the most of it
Shortly after sharing the insightful and adorable comments from Kindergarten students, Fasano instructed the senior class to stand and face the audience. With a turn of their tassels, diplomas in hand and caps tossed in the air, he then presented the school’s newest alumni - the graduating Class of 2022.