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Prize Day 2017: Hats Off to the Graduates

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What do Varsity Crew, money, race, and Diversity & Inclusion have in common? They are among the number of topics students warned Prize Day speaker, Christopher Shays, to avoid talking about. Mr. Shays arrived over a week before the graduation ceremony to explore the Circle in preparation for his speech. “I’m here because I don’t want to talk to strangers. I want to talk to people I feel I know,” he explained.

Groton is eager to get to know Mr. Shays as well, after the recent turn of events leading to his new appointment as Prize Day speaker. Up until May 20th, students and faculty had believed that they would be hearing from Governor John Kasich on June 4th. However, James Lynch, a member of Kasich’s staff, explained, “Governor Kasich will now be traveling to Asia to pursue a multi-billion dollar investment opportunity for Ohio.” This cancellation was startling to Groton students, particularly the senior prefects who had held the vote for Prize Day speaker and had corresponded with members of the greater Groton community to secure Kasich for the day. House prefect Michael Aduboffour ‘17 said, “It was disappointing, but it was not surprising to hear that Mr. Kasich ended up with too much on his plate.”

Betsy Hawkings, a parent of graduating senior Charlie Hawkings and a Groton alum herself, was the initial connection to Mr. Kasich. After being informed of his cancellation, she, among others, quickly worked to secure Christopher Shays, another politician, as the Prize Day speaker. She had worked as Shays’ Chief of Staff for eighteen years of his twelve as a Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly and twenty-two in the House of Representatives. During his time in office, Mr. Shays has played many different roles in the American political scene. He is most often noted for his work on the financial reform bill McCain-Feingold, authorship of legislation establishing 9/11 commission, and involvement in national security discussions in Iraq. Ms. Hawkings described her respect for him, and his impact on her family, “Thanks to Chris Shays, Charlie and his older brother were able to grow up seeing firsthand that there are elected officials willing to do the hard work of listening to, learning from, and helping the constituents who put them in a position of leadership.” She is excited for him to use those same skills in preparation for his speech on Prize Day.

Mr. Shays was equally enthusiastic about his time at Groton, saying, “My first impression was thinking, ‘I would have loved to be a student here.’” He discussed Groton’s impressive sense of community, and its intimate group of students and faculty. “You must know every person,” he marveled, comparing Groton to his own high school experience in Connecticut. While Mr. Shays did not yet know what he was going to speak about, he hoped that by spending time with Groton students, he could present something that resonates with the graduating class and their younger peers. “I want it to be short … relevant, and meaningful.”

The student speaker, Marcella Flibotte, parallels Mr. Shays’ desire to present something sincere. “I hope that I can accurately sum up our Form’s experience here and represent all members of our Form from our first day to our last,” she said. Voted into this position by her form-mates, she is honored to have the opportunity to address the school and is taking the job of writing her speech very seriously. Laurie Sales, who taught Marcella in Public Speaking, praised her ability to bring people together. “Cella has a great sense of humor and a humility … [she] is kind to her core.” Form-mate and senior prefect Langa Chinyoka ‘17 also expressed her excitement to hear Marcella, whom she described as “relatable” and “a people person.”

All in all, students and faculty alike look forward to hearing from Marcella and Mr. Shays on June 4th. Headmaster Maqubela, who will also address the school on Prize Day, expressed his hopes for the event. “Let Prize Day be a langelihle,” he said, which translates from Zulu to “sunny day.” He says that both the senior class and one of their Senior Prefects, Langelihle “Langa” Chinyoka, reflect this idea of sunshine. As the spring starts to blend into summer and the Sixth Form steps off campus for their final time as students, he hopes the sun will shine on Prize Day and for their bright futures ahead.

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