Ashburn, VA (June 20, 2015) – Principal Ed Starzenski looked far into the future at the commencement exercises for Briar Woods High School on Monday, June 15th, at George Mason University’s Patriot Center.
“In 40 years, Briar Woods High School will be celebrating its 50th anniversary and you’re going to be about 58. You’re going to be invited to come back. I’m going to be a hundred and three. I intend to be there; if not in body, then certainly in spirit.”
There was a lot of spirit evident as Briar Woods said farewell to an accomplished group of seniors. Starzenski read through the graduates’ accomplishments:
- There were 476 graduates in the Briar Woods High School class of 2015.
- 81 percent of graduates earned an Advanced Studies Diploma.
- 79 percent took at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or dual-enrollment class.
- 125 graduated with the Governor’s Seal (earning at least a “B” average and the equivalent of nine college credits).
- 237 graduated with a Board of Education Seal (earning an “A” average).
- 151 had a GPA of 4.0 or higher.
- 73 had an average of 4.3 or higher (an A+).
- 93 percent of the 2015 Briar Woods graduates will attend college.
- The graduates will attend 107 colleges and universities in 29 states and three countries overseas.
- Nine of the graduates have enlisted in the military or will be in a ROTC program.
- The Briar Woods Class of 2015 earned $5.7 million in scholarships and grants.
The commencement address was delivered by Susan M. Gordon, the deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). She also has more than 25 years’ service with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Gordon noted the last time she spoke at a graduation was at her own nearly 40 years ago.
“Forty years ago; I thought I would be so much older by now. If you had told me then what the next 40 years would hold, I would not have believed you.”
She added that her second chance to speak came with some “hard-won wisdom.” Among those bits of wisdom:
“The first one is exactly contrary to what I said in 1976. Then, I spoke about time and urgency and making it through the fray. Today, I’m going to tell you I was terribly wrong. Do not be in a hurry. Be purposeful, yes, but you do not need to achieve everything tomorrow or in your 20’s or even before retirement…
“Get good at something; you must acquire…skill and expertise along the way. Everything good starts when you actually know, and work to know, how to do things. You want people to care what you think? Start with being good.
“But please do not view acquiring knowledge like a check-box exercise…actually care about learning.
“You’re not that cool or are you? If you are today one of the cool kids, get ready because cool kids are a dime a dozen out there. If you are not cool at all, get ready because you will find so many others who are just like you and get you…
“All that matters is the quality of your character. If you hold on to that, you will always be enough just as you are. In other words, for goodness sake be true.
“There is always a solution. You will confront challenges that seem impossible to solve. There is always a way. It might be hard. It might cost you something. But if it must be done, it can be done.
“Let me tell you a secret: the key to happiness is believing you have choice. The key to success is understanding there are consequences and you don’t control any of them. So make sure your choices are worthy.
“You are not alone. You have not been to this point in your life and you need not be going forward. You do not actually possess all the wisdom in the universe – true – deal with it now, it will go easier on you later. There will be people who will help, be brave enough to ask. And please, when you are asked to help, remember, help isn’t when you can give it. Help is when somebody needs it…
“Understand that you have the ability to make things worse. When you find yourself with responsibilities, own them. Just when you’re absolutely, 100 percent sure of your rightness, consider the possibility that you’re wrong…
“Give away everything you have if it will help the cause. Be generous with your time, your ideas, your energy, your things; you can get more of most of those. Time spent on others is time well spent. Do keep something for yourself; friends, family, music, books. Have something that strengthens and sustains you…
“Finally, be gentle for everyone is fighting the great battle. Be inclusive, appreciate diversity, overuse ‘thank you’ and practice gratitude. We are all travelers, none of whom know the way alone.”
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams had a succinct message for the graduates.
“You matter. You each have unique skills and talents that the world needs… That brings me to my challenge to you, the graduates; use your unique skills and talents to make meaningful contributions to the world.”
The Briar Woods valedictorian was Yasawini “Wini” Dandu. She will attend Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
“Who are we as the Briar Woods Class of 2015?” Dandu asked the audience.
She said it was impossible to put the essence of her class in one symbol. “Our class is as diverse and dynamic as it is bound by a common spirit. We are a collection. We are a collection of comedians, artists, athletes, intellectuals, romantics and cynics…
“As I look back, I find it is our diverse nature, our bizarre ways, our unique qualities that have allowed us to push our limits and achieve remarkable academic, musical and athletic success as a collective class. It is both a quality and a spirit that I hope will continue to propel us toward success in our future endeavors.”
The salutatorian was Michael Dillard. He will attend Duke University.
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) and members Tom Reed (At-Large), Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run District) and Jeff Morse (Dulles District) attended the Briar Woods graduation ceremony.