June 17, 2022
Last week at Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South's commencement ceremonies, 645 seniors joined the ranks of GPPSS alumni.
Words of wisdom for the Class of 2022
“These next 24 hours, you will be metaphorized more than any other day in your life,” honorary poet laureate Gabrielle Bielak warned her classmates at Grosse Pointe North’s commencement ceremony on June 7. “You’ll be compared to butterflies finally shaking your cocoons, tadpoles turned toads after years of learning to hop.
“You’ll be told to reach for the stars,” she continued. “The reality is, some of us may not have our wings yet. … The stars might seem out of your grasp. That is OK.”
Equally in abundance as metaphors that evening was praise for the graduates.
“This graduating class is truly a special blend of Norsemen – distinguished scholars, tenacious athletes and caring individuals,” North Student Association President Shannon Kane said.
“We are a class of innovators, a class of firsts,” commencement speaker Stephanie Westrick said.
“These academicians didn’t just endure the pandemic; they conquered it,” added North Principal Kate Murray, who went on to talk about record-setting achievements. “In my 26 years at North, we have never celebrated 55 students in our Academic Hall of Fame. … We also celebrated 189 scholars on Honors Night who combined earned over $6 million in scholarship money. They truly are a remarkable class.”
Speakers also addressed the challenges the class faced during the two years of the pandemic.
“For many people it is easy to look at the pandemic and see what we lost, not what we learned,” Stephanie Westrick said. “… While COVID took so much from us, it also taught us how to problem-solve. And if we can do that at such a large scale at our young, formative ages, we can handle whatever life throws at us in our future.”
“You fought back against the disconnected and brokenness,” Dr. Murray said. “You chose creative ways of overcoming isolation, of communicating and reattaching. You dug into what you truly are and what you believe in. It’s as if the pandemic made all of us a more concentrated version of ourselves.”
Grosse Pointe South graduates crossed the stage on June 9. While gathering clouds rushed the proceedings toward the end, all names were called and the South band, orchestra and choir successfully performed the Alma Mater before the rain came down.
Commencement speaker Anne Davey compared life to a book in her speech, “The Next Chapter.”
“Like any good story, we never anticipated that the end would come so soon,” she said. “… It is now our time to open our personal stories and take all that South has given us to conquer the adult world. This new chapter seems scary, unknown and unpredictable, but we are brave, capable and daring to take it on because it is exactly what we have been taught to do.
“All the books and adventure stories we have studied in the past four years have taught us the same thing,” she concluded. “That without initiative, there is no progress. South has prepared us for the moment and it is now at our fingertips for us to go and make the most of it.”
Senior class president Aleena Siddiqui provided “Notes from Detention” in her commencement speech.
“As seniors, we’re constantly reminded of our lasts: our last first day, our last homecoming, our last charity week, our last ArtFest. Plays, concerts, sport seasons, and the list goes on. Sitting there in detention with a month left in school, I realized how daunting it is to ensure that every last lives up to our self-imposed expectations.”
South Principal Moussa Hamka’s parting message to the graduates was to see time as a gift and to make the most of it.
“Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself: What is it you most want to accomplish in life? Go beyond the obvious career and materialistic goals and really ponder that question, because ultimately success is not determined by the success of your job or the wealth that you have accumulated. All we want is for our lives to matter and to know we have made a difference. … If you have a goal you want to achieve, a dream you want to embark on, today is the day.”
Mr. Hamka quoted Master Oogway in the movie, Kung Fu Panda, who said “the biggest mistake you can make in life is to think you have time.
“He goes on to say that time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. And once it’s lost, you can never get it back.”
A commitment to connection
“Perhaps the most powerful symbol of human connection at North this year was the Norsemen Tide. ... They taught us that the first step to connection is being present. They were present in number and they were present in energy. … Their enthusiasm spurred others to join in and find their voice. Their collective voices filled us with hope and Norsemen pride. And that endlessly waving green and gold North flag inspired both the players and the spectators. It reminded us that in triumphant victories and tearful defeats, we are always connected as Norsemen."
– Kate Murray, Grosse Pointe North Principal
Live in the moment
“Graduates, as you embark on your life’s journey, we encourage you to slow down. Take time to appreciate the present, those around you, and live in the moment. I’m optimistic about the future of our community, our country and our world knowing that Grosse Pointe’s finest are ready to make their mark. You have been our gift the last four years and we are eager to see how you present yourselves to the world. Make your lives incredible, never stop learning, love fearlessly, and enjoy the ride."
– Moussa Hamka, Grosse Pointe South Principal
At the dedication ceremony for Defer's new dragon statue are, from left, Superintendent Jon Dean, Kerby Principal Walter Fitzpatrick (formerly Trombly's principal), former Defer PTO co-president Patrice Arend and Defer Principal Lisa Rheaume.
Dedication ceremony unites community
On Friday, June 10, the Defer community gathered to celebrate two schools coming together as one. This commemoration included a butterfly release in Defer’s new garden, a work in progress undertaken as a joint project by the Defer Beautification Committee and the Grosse Pointe Garden Center.
The afternoon also included the dedication of a dragon statue that Trombly’s PTO donated to Defer. The dragon will be placed in the butterfly garden.
In addition to the statue, Trombly’s PTO is donating three new benches, personalized with the two school mascots, a dragon and a terrier. The benches will be installed early next fall.
“Trombly’s PTO had funds that had not been spent during Trombly’s last year of operation so we wanted to donate those funds to something at Defer that was significant and lasting,” said Patrice Arend, who presented the gifts at the dedication ceremony as outgoing PTO president.
“Even before Trombly was closed we had been working with the two schools together to do joint events and bring the schools together,” she added. “I’m really proud of how hard everybody worked to bring everyone together in a really positive way.”
A committee of parents, including Patrice, Sophan Buffa, Doris Grose, Erin Weakland and Charlene Williams, brainstormed on ideas, but Patrice credits Doris and Erin for finalizing the details on the dragon and the benches, respectively.
All agreed a dragon reading a book was an appropriate educational symbol and new benches personalized with the two school mascots – a terrier and a dragon – and a heart would be a great addition to the school grounds, replacing the current wooden ones.
“We hope in years to come when people are dropping their littles off for the first day of school, people will take their picture in the garden and it will be a nice way to commemorate Trombly as well,” Erin said.
South teacher John Monaghan (fourth from right) poses with his English department colleagues after the clapout honoring his retirement.
Clapout for Mr. Monaghan
Longtime Grosse Pointe South English teacher John Monaghan thought he could retire without fanfare. After three decades of teaching, he announced his retirement after the district had recognized its 2021-22 retirees and 25-year distinguished employees at a reception at South's Cleminson Hall on June 1.
Members of the English department decided they did not want to let their colleague go quietly into retirement and hosted a surprise clapout for him on Tuesday, June 14. (His colleague, Harry Campion, lured him outdoors with the promise of lunch.)
In addition to teaching a variety of English classes, Mr. Monaghan was well known to generations of students at South for his Film Literature class. A member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, he has been writing professionally about movies in the Detroit area since 1982, including working at the Detroit Free Press as a freelance film reviewer, theater critic and feature writer.
Click here to view a slideshow of all the GPPSS retirees recognized this year, as well as those with 25 years of service to the district. This was as of the retirements and 25-year celebration and some chose not to have their photos included.
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Alumni Through the Decades
Claire and Elizabeth Sheeren
Elizabeth Sheeren, Class of 2018
Claire Sheeren, Class of 2020
Grosse Pointe South High School
By guest writer Andrea Daniell
Grosse Pointe Alumni & Friends Association
Elizabeth Sheeren has multiple autoimmune diseases, and her family describes her medical journey as “going through a storm for many years.”
Until the beginning of sixth grade, musical theater was Elizabeth's life. She was an actress in both Grosse Pointe Theatre Main Stage and Youth on Stage, and also a member of the Michigan Opera Theatre's Children's Chorus. But by 2011, her health began to decline and she was no longer able to attend school regularly or participate in activities.
Due to the incredible support of her Brownell and South teachers, she was able to stay on track with a hybrid of in-person and homebound instruction, often completing her school year throughout the summer months.
Unfortunately, her health took a turn for the worse in the Fall of 2017, and she had to spend more than seven months in the hospital, missing most of her senior year at South – including spending graduation in the hospital.
Her sister, Claire, still vividly recalls the night the Run, Walk N Roll 5K was born. Elizabeth was in the hospital, and Claire sat at her kitchen table with a friend, feeling completely lost about how to help her sister. It was devastating to Claire to see Elizabeth suffering so much, and missing everything she had worked so hard to hold on to. She wanted to help.
So, in 2019, during her junior year at South, Claire led the first Run, Walk N Roll 5K. Now it’s an annual event that raises money for the Palliative Care Department at C. S. Mott Children's Hospital in honor of Elizabeth. The Palliative Care Department helps patients and families battling complex and chronic diseases maintain a good quality of life. Claire shares that the palliative care team has been the driving force in Elizabeth's care.
It was also important to Claire that this event be inclusive so that people in wheelchairs and adaptive strollers could participate. In its first year, the event raised over $46,000 and had over 550 participants. The Sheeren family was utterly amazed by the outpouring of support.
In 2020, they planned to have another large event, but because of COVID, they had to pivot to a virtual fundraiser – and they still raised over $39,000! Then in 2021, they held a hybrid event with an in-person 5K that started and ended on the block where the Sheeren family lives. There was also an option to participate virtually. People were running, walking and rolling on three continents and in over 30 countries.
Claire says she is thankful for all of her teachers for their support, but especially Stephen Zaranek (“Coach Z”) at Grosse Pointe South. She ran cross country and track under his leadership throughout high school, and he has been instrumental in making Run, Walk N Roll a reality. Coach Z was the first person Claire talked to about the event in 2019, and he has been there every year to help with the race logistics and planning. This event would not be possible without him.
When asked what advice she has for this year's graduating seniors, Claire offered, “I would encourage students not to be afraid to have big dreams and set big goals, and to persevere to achieve them.”
Visit the Run, Walk N Roll website to participate in this year's event or to make a donation.
You can also contribute by participating in the online auction, open through 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22. Click on the image below for more details.
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