Castilleja graduates 61 seniors

Class of 2014 celebrates femininity with words from friends, favorite characters

With crimson bouquets clutched close to crisp white dresses, 61 seniors took the stage amidst the faculty, staff and junior class at Castilleja School's 107th commencement ceremony on Saturday, an occasion that lauded femininity and found inspiration in favorite books and movies.

After those gathered sang "America the Beautiful," Senior Class President and Castilleja Award Winner Smriti Pramanick opened the ceremony with Rudyard Kipling's "If--," a poem she modified at its end to laughter and applause as "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and -- which is more -- you'll be a woman, my girl!"

Other speakers echoed this emphasis on femininity during the independent, Palo Alto all-girl school's ceremony. Valedictorian Paulette Wolak recounted a humorous anecdote in which the Castilleja girls learned that sexism still abounds in progressive Palo Alto, at least at a bike shop they visited for a senior seminar.

Shock, anger and amusement ensued, Wolak said, when the owner glossed over the changing of tires, his rationale being that women -- "damsels in distress" -- could just wait for a man at the side of the road should they ever encounter bike trouble.

Despite the desire to "chastise the bike shop owner for his insulting words," she said, the girls decided "This was not the appropriate time to 'lean in,'" citing one of Castilleja's favorite phrases from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Instead, they found humor in the situation and settled on displaying courtesy to their host while knowing their capabilities are more than he gave them credit for.

In her speech, Head of School Nanci Kauffman referenced the boldness, independence and authenticity of Katniss Everdeen, a teen female icon and protagonist of the fictional "The Hunger Games," saying, "She sounds an awful lot like a Casti grad!"

"Hunger Games" was one of several pop culture references made on Saturday, including the senior class' choral rendition of "You'll Be in My Heart," from Disney's "Tarzan," and a quote from Winnie the Pooh in Pramanick's speech.

"You can't stay in your corner of the forest, waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes," she said, quoting A.A. Milne's anthropomorphic bear while encouraging her fellow grads not to fear risk.

Healthy risk-taking was also touted in the message from guest speaker Emily White, COO of the popular photo-messaging app Snapchat. She encouraged grads to "take risks that make you excited."

"Never forget how it felt when you were younger," she said, mentioning the "spirit of freedom" and the "permission of youth" that can and should be carried into adulthood.

And every Castilleja senior did carry an air of youthful freedom and jubilation as she walked across the stage to collect her diploma, pausing only to shake hands with the faculty and grin for the flashing camera.

Each graduate also had a substantial cheering section, as bursts of applause and hollers erupted after each name. At the ceremony's close, the school hosted a reception for the families, seating each grad and their loved ones at a table adorned with a framed photograph of the graduate and a decorated graduation cap.

Arthur Zetes stood and cheered loudly for his granddaughter Hannah Mazonson when her name was called. He said he found the ceremony "terrific" but also would like to have heard a mention of the value of wisdom.

"Look for it. Get it. Keep it," he said.

In the coming years, he'll be able to remind his granddaughter of this lesson while she attends Dartmouth in Zete's home state of New Hampshire.

The graduation marked a special moment for Tibi McCann, mother to Cassidy McCann Jensen, and the family's three sets of grandparents.

"She's the first granddaughter to graduate from high school," McCann said tearily.

Mark Bernstein, father of grad Gaelin Sullivan Bernstein, remarked, "Every girl has a sense of purpose and character that are quite unique." He credited teachers who are "dedicated to challenging (students) to do better."

The theme of character was also highlighted Saturday at the school, whose "five C's" -- instilled within the girls throughout their time there -- are conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity.

As Alina Brown, a Castilleja Award winner, said in her speech to her classmates, "My challenge to you, Class of 2014 ... is to search for people of character who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in."

Kauffman, too, touched on the challenges of making the right choices, a difficulty that can be eased by strong character. She encouraged the girls to ask themselves "What would Katniss do?" in tough situations.

"Guided by the principles of character you share with her," Kauffman said, "I am certain of one thing for sure: The odds will be ever in your favor!"

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The following article is from the San Francisco Call, reporting on the laying of a cornerstone for a new building on the Castilleja campus --

San Francisco Call, Volume 107, Number 152, 1 May 1910 — SCHOOL CORNERSTONE LAID AT PALO ALTO

Exercises at Site of Recitation Hall of Castilleja
[Special Dispatch to The Call]
PALO ALTO, April 30.—With appropriate exercises the cornerstone of the new recitation hall of Castilleja preparatory school for girls was laid today. Curtis Hillyer of San Francisco presided. The program was as follows:
Castilleja song, by the school; address, by President David Starr Jordan of Stanford university; address, by Marshall Black of Palo Alto; dedication song, by the school; laying of cornerstone. Miss Lockey, principal of the school, presiding; song, "America," by the school; benediction, by the Rev. N. Hays.

The Castilleja song was written by Miss Helen M. Hatch and the dedication song by Miss Alice M. Richard, teachers at the school.

The Castilleja school is located in a tract of four and a half acres in Palo Alto. A series of buildings, including dormitories, a recitation hall, a "domestic science bungalow" and a large gymnasium, are being built on the grounds.
Wonder what the founders, and grads of Castilleja of that era would think of the school today?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

What is it with the photo showing only shoes and legs?

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Rorschach test

Like this comment
Posted by Photog
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I'm a photographer (not this one) and I love photos of shoes, especially women's shoes. More than haircuts, hemlines or tie widths, shoes place us in a certain historical time. The choices of these young women say a lot about the year 2014. I don't know if that's what this photographer was thinking, but I really enjoyed that picture. In any event, congratulations to all the graduates!

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2014 at 8:51 am

Congrats to the grads.

Keeping learning. Changing a flat tire on your car, plumbing, understand the fuse box. Because some men are just as daft.

Good luck young women.

Like this comment
Posted by Honor Spirz
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2014 at 10:33 am

As a proud graduate of Castilleja (52 years ago!! How did that happen so quickly?!!), I am ever so glad that there is still a place where young women can find their voice and have an opportunity to explore and find their unique strengths and potentials. Same sex education isn't suitable for everyone, but I think that it is a wonderful alternative/choice for many people. It certainly was for me.

I feel very privileged to have been able to have had that experience, and I have tried to carry forward some of the important life lessons that I learned at Castilleja.

Like this comment
Posted by Quentin Tarantino
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2014 at 11:33 am

Awesome photos!

Like this comment
Posted by Tony Carrasco.
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 9, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Great Pictures,
Congratulations 61 and Honor

Like this comment
Posted by Rich legacy family
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 13, 2014 at 12:20 am

[Portion removed.]

We should care much more about all the public school children, most of whom do not have millionaire parents, who need a great education to get into college so they can go out and change the world.

[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Jealous?
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 13, 2014 at 12:33 am

When I went to Casti in the early 90s, it still had a dorm for girls who had to board there because they lived elsewhere.

There were actually a couple of African girls there ( their father was a diplomat), and several girls from all parts of Asia such as Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and China. There was even a girl from Siberia, as well as a girl from Mexico City.

Anyone living in a custom-built Palo Alto Hills home has to be at least in the upper middle class. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Latino presence
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2014 at 2:01 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Aussie Aunt!
a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2014 at 7:14 am

My Niece is one of those lovely girls ...
Both her parents have worked extremely hard to afford the choice to send their daughter to this school.. She herself has worked extremely hard, both at the school and in her community..
She will be an asset to her country as she marches forward in life..
I am saddened to read such prejudice as 'Rich legacy family' has felt the need to document on this blog..
I always thought that one of the important foundations the USA was built on was the celebration of the opportunities hard work can bring to individuals ..... which then also brings great benefit to your nation.....
I can only hope that none of the girls joy on achieving this momentous goal was tarnished by such thoughtless commentary..
Congratulations girls and special hugs and kisses to my wonderful niece..

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