Greenwich Academy graduated the class of 2015, comprised of 84 outstanding girls, on Thursday, benefiting from the most perfect of May afternoons. The class Valedictorian was Harvard-bound, Katrina Daniell Kraus, who was introduced as “speaking Math” and French and achieving a GPA of 99.1 while playing Varsity Field Hockey and Lacrosse.
Katrina introduced commencement speaker Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, who was inaugurated as Trinity College’s first woman President last fall. Dr. Berger-Sweeney went off script briefly to explain the significance of her robe. “These are actually the robes of Johns Hopkins University, and generally you wear the robes of the institution where you got your doctoral degree. The gold and black means the person is from Johns Hopkins. If there are three stripes, it means the person has a doctorate. If you see the long tail that I have — if it’s in purple, it means it came from a school of public health. If it’s two inches, it’s a doctorate. It really is complicated. The shoes are my own,” she joked.
Berger-Sweeney relayed the story of Jacob Pruett, born a slave in Alabama around the year 1825, just before the founding of Greenwich Academy in 1827. “Starting in 1867, just after the Reconstruction Act, more than 700,000 African-American men registered to vote. Jake Pruett was one of those men,” Berger-Sweeney said.
“I wonder what was going through his mind as he was waiting to register to vote, having spent most of his life as a slave, and now having the first opportunity to exercise his rights as a full citizen of the United States. Maybe he was scared. Maybe he was proud. I ask that you remember his name today: Jacob Pruett.”
Jacob was the great great grandfather of Berger-Sweeney. “In America, in four generations, you can go from a slave to a president of one of the finest educational institutions in the country,” she said.
Berger Sweeney said that after generations passed, Jacob’s grand daughter Alberta was married and living in New York City with her husband Samuel. They lived blocks from Riverside Church in Harlem, where Rev. Martin Luther King delivered a speech in 1967 against the Vietnam War.
“King said that Americans must embrace what he called ‘The fierce urgency of now,’ and act to end this war,” she said, adding that the Greenwich Academy class of 2015 understand the fierce urgency of now.
But, she said, there is such a thing as being too late. “Procrastination, he reminded us, is still the thief of time,” she said of Martin Luther King. “His words are fitting for the milestone you mark today, your graduation from Greenwich Academy. Your time is now. It is time for you to begin the process of deciding who you are and what you want to be. Now.”