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2023–24 Awards Celebration

Thursday, June 6—The annual Awards Celebration kicks off the end-of-year events and takes the shape of an assembly where the whole school gathers in the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Theater. Marking a turning point in the year, the seniors sit on stage and the juniors take up the Class VIII–designated auditorium seats, a prelude to rising seniors who will soon take the helm as leaders of the school.

While parents and guardians of award winners filter into the balcony, their presence is a surprise. Between the Lower School and Upper School, over 40 awards are handed out and their winners are a closely guarded secret. From the Hemenway Prize for Speaking Competition to the Brooks Poetry Prize Competition, from the Crew Cup to the Ann Nowell Kramer ’48 Drama Prize, the Awards Celebration is a day the whole community looks forward to. 

Head of Upper School Kimberly Ramos pointed out that “while many of today’s awards recognize individual achievement, perhaps one of the best parts of a Winsor education is the way in which we work together as a community to encourage, to challenge, and to inspire one another.”

Conferring first the athletic awards and then the academic and community awards, Head of School Sarah Pelmas shared, “One of the things I love about Winsor and about you is that you like being smart; you enjoy thinking, learning, and reading. You are good at it!...Every accomplishment that we are proud of is only possible because of the collective strength of every single student here.”

One award in particular, the Class of 2002 Award, recognizes a student club or committee that has enhanced the environment of Winsor through its commitment to community, teamwork, and innovation. It is given to a student organization that has had a positive impact on the school in the spirit of the collaboration and unity valued by the Class of 2002. This year, two student groups were honored: Jew Kids on the Block and Ummah—Winsor’s Jewish and Muslim affinity groups, respectively—both of whom organized meaningful assemblies this year. 

In the lead up to Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Winsor hosted 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Janet Applefield in a special collaboration with Facing History and Ourselves (a national organization that uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate) and the club heads of Jew Kids on the Block emphasized how meaningful it is to hear survivor stories, especially because they may be among the last generation to hear first-person accounts of the Holocaust. Ummah’s first ever all-school assembly celebrated Muslim joy, shared traditions about Ramadan, and featured a presentation by award-winning author Hena Khan, whose many books often center around Pakistani American and Muslim characters. Many Winsor students are familiar with her work from reading Amina’s Voice, a Class I summer read. Club leaders for both organizations approached the stage to accept their awards. 

Another award of note, the Virginia Wing Outstanding Teacher Award went to Class VI Dean David Griffin, who received a standing ovation not only from the seniors on stage, but the entire auditorium. 

With the awards conferred, Ciara Leonard ’24 introduced a very special speaker selected by the senior class: Pennypacker Prize winner and English Faculty Samantha Simpson (pictured). In her speech to the Class of 2024 Ms. Simpson played a version of the game she often plays with students: “Well… what’s the worst thing that could happen?” The game comes from a place of empathy and tenderness when students are in distress. She says, “If we can name the fear, we can tame the fear.” For Ms. Simpson, the game shows an imagination in full bloom. “I confess that, for me, the worst thing that could happen is a failure of the imagination. That’s the thing that I’m most afraid of—for myself, for you, for the world at large,” she cautioned. 

But Ms. Simpson knows the seniors are ready to take their next step. “Your imaginations haven’t failed you…I’ve seen you look out for each other and be curious about each other. So many of you are creative. So many of you are inquisitive and brilliant. So many of you are cool.” 

Instead of fretting about the worst thing that could happen, she urged seniors to think about the best thing that could happen as they embark on life after Winsor. “The best thing that could happen is that you’ll have space—in your newly expansive world—to get bored (not boring) and to get nosy—I mean, curious…The best thing that could happen is that you’ll have a bunch of questions, that you’ll feel the tingle of ungraded, genuine curiosity.”

In closing, Ms. Simpson quipped, “Congratulations, youth—and goodbye forever,” but not before adding “You are so deserving, and I am so very proud of you.”
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