Castilleja School celebrates students who lead

The Class of 2016 reflects on importance of friendship and gratitude

On Saturday afternoon, 67 girls clad in an array of white dresses strode across the circular lawn at Castilleja School arm-in-arm with their peers, each one holding a bouquet of red roses as they made their way to the stage.

Touching on themes of gratitude, education and leadership, Castilleja's 109th commencement began with a simple but telling statement from senior class Vice President Lea Sparkman, whose reading from Craig Silvey's novel "Jasper Jones" said what was palpably felt throughout the ceremony: "What I'm feeling, I think, is joy."

After a choral performance of "America the Beautiful," valedictorian Claire Huang recounted the simple joys she experienced during her years at Castilleja like a friendly hello on her way to class or a joke between friends in the hallway after school, and how those small gestures made a big difference to her self-confidence. She explained that the best advice she received was not from a speech or classroom lecture, but was shown to her instead by the compassion and love of her peers.

"If there's one thing this class will be remembered for, it is our readiness to love ourselves and each other," she said. "Thank you for sharing your boundless generosity with me and everyone else on this campus and for showing me you don't need a big voice to have a huge heart."

Other speakers talked about the importance of a Castilleja education, which keynote speaker and alumnae Laura Arrillaga Andreessen attributed to her success as a philanthropist, educator and social entrepreneur. Her schooling -- from its demands for excellence in academia, sports and service to its emphasis on camaraderie and friendship -- radically changed the way she approached life's most difficult and trying circumstances, giving her the foundation to be a leader in the world, she said.

"Education is the lighting of a fire, and at Castilleja we are ignited, we are stoked and we are illuminated," she said. "Castilleja educators light our fires, and they literally change the course of our lives."

Arrillaga Andreessen also imparted three "transformational gifts" to the graduating Class of 2016: competence creates confidence, hardship hones heroism and gratitude is everything.

Inciting laughter from students and the audience alike, she described the "two-year migraine" she suffered from her junior and senior years from the stress of school, and the constant diet of frozen yogurt, movie popcorn and broccoli that fueled her formative years at Castilleja, a battle greater in difficulty than any of her Stanford University degrees, she admitted.

Despite the difficulties of academic life, her education also gave her unique opportunities to learn from the world around her, to think critically and to gain entrepreneurial skills, all of which paved the way to her career today, Andreessen said.

"Learning how to multitask at a CEO level -- think academics, athletics, government, service -- before I had my driver's license, gave me the courage to have three full-time careers simultaneously," she said. "After succeeding at Castilleja, we can succeed anywhere and at anything because Castilleja gives us an invaluable gift: an acumen that creates unstoppable volition."

Castilleja Award winner Nicole Goodman, who was chosen by the school's faculty as a senior who best embodied the five Cs of Castilleja -- conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity -- reflected on her gratitude for the opportunities and mentors that surround her and her classmates, dedicating her speech to the teachers who shaped the core of their learning experience.

"You have taught me the importance of learning driven by curiosity, and the value of understanding material for life rather than memorizing it for a test. You are my role models, my life coaches and my friends," she said.

In the final speech of the afternoon, Head of School Nanci Kauffman began with a reference to the Golden State Warriors, who are currently playing in the NBA finals, and asked the audience, "How can the Warriors' popularity and success become a source of wisdom to impart on our graduates?"

Kauffman went on to explain that in the complicated world, success is often defined by acquiring the "right combination" of leadership, risk taking, passion and teamwork. The Warriors have found that balance by equating strong leadership with shared leadership, a skill that the Class of 2016 also embraces, she said.

She praised graduates for their ability to shift leadership roles at a moment's notice and understanding "when to step up and when to step back."

"A true warrior does not allow fear to guide her choices, and neither should you," Kauffman said. "If you take nothing else from Castilleja, please take with you the confidence to take chances and to take your own shots."

After performing their last rendition of the Castilleja School Song, graduates filed out in pairs toward their family and friends for a reception hosted by the school, where each graduating senior had her own table adorned with pictures, graduation caps and presents.

Juliet O'Brien, who is attending the United States Naval Academy next year, said she is going to miss the all-girls aspect of Castilleja, in addition to the "really extraordinary" teacher-student relationships that the school fostered.

"To be able to have the all-girls experience in the back of my head as I go through college is something that will really help me in the classroom, like being more confident and courageous about sharing my voice and speaking out," O'Brien said.

Senior Laurel Nelson said that the closing remarks by Kauffman stood out for her, adding that the support she received from everyone on campus was unparalleled.

"Having the courage to go after what we want because we have the ability, not just through Castilleja, but through our own individual merits resonated most," said Nelson, who is attending University of California, Berkeley, in the fall.

Andreessen left graduates with the determination to constantly strive for greatness, but she also left them with an unusual request: "Today, as each of you begin to write the next chapter of your spectacular lives, my welcoming words to each of you glorious graduates is do not become the person you always dreamed of being."

"Become the person you never dreamed it was possible to be," she said, smiling with a knowing grin.

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13 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Thank you for this story. Nice to see some attention given to our Casti grads! Congrats!

57 people like this
Posted by Nonny Mouse
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Friday and Saturday it was nearly impossible to get home, due to all of the cars coming out of the Casti gates. The traffic person they hired didn't even try to stop them as they streamed onto Emerson, impeding oncoming traffic that had the right of way. Many cars parked Friday afternoon AND Saturday morning on Kellogg, Emerson and Bryant, blatantly directed there by the orange-vested traffic "parkers".

Casti, you are TOO BIG to be in a residential area! Please move or hold your graduation ceremonies is some rented auditorium ELSEWHERE!

3 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Congrats to all the graduates. I'm confused, however. One of the photos shows Elijah Docter Thornburg, and says that Elijah gets high fives from HIS classmates after receiving HIS diploma. Castilleja is an all-girls school. What am I missing?

33 people like this
Posted by Somewhere else
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2016 at 9:55 am

[Post removed.]

44 people like this
Posted by kh
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2016 at 10:18 am

The neighbors near Casti should count their blessings that they can afford to live in PA, and that they don't have an office building adjacent to their homes which is becoming the norm in Mountain View. [Portion removed.]

Congrats to the grads, you are a lucky well-connected bunch....good luck.

2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Congratulations to all Castilleja graduates and "leaders of the future"!

Lead in a positive direction. A direction that differs from that of your Castilleja administration who knowingly violated their legal Conditional Use Permit for 12 consecutive years. Show respect for the law, as it is for the public good!

27 people like this
Posted by Midtown Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Midtown Citizen is a registered user.

To Nonny Mouse: I have attended events at Castilleja many times over the past 14 years and I would guess the average time it takes to clear out the parking area after an event is about 15 minutes. If you drove down Emerson during those 15 minutes, it must have been infuriating, just like it is for me when I drive anywhere around town where construction is going on and they temporarily block the street to move big trucks in and out. Other than that, your complaints are overblown [portion removed] (the parking attendants hired by the school direct people to not park on the streets and instead to park on the field.)

To Sandy: Castilleja respects the gender choices of its student body. The young person to whom you refer in your post came to the conclusion that they identified as male after starting school in 6th grade. He is a fine young person who has handled his situation with uncommon grace and that has gone a long way to easing how the school has handled this new situation.

13 people like this
Posted by Elena Kadvany
education reporter of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jun 6, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

The Palo Alto Weekly spoke with Elijah Docter Thornburg, who is transgender. He entered Castilleja as a girl and transitioned to male during high school.

15 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 6, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Great to hear about Elijah and the acceptance of his classmates. That is the kind of story that should be highlighted. Hard enough to be that open and comfortable in a co-ed school. Elijah should be commended for his bravery and knowledge of self.

25 people like this
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2016 at 8:10 pm

As a neighbor of the school, I am so impressed with the measures the school has taken to reduce traffic. I wouldn't have guessed there was such an event on Saturday. Thanks for opening up the school field for parking.

19 people like this
Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2016 at 8:40 pm

When you overuse and misuse the term "NIMBY" - which specifically applies to people's prejudices against the poor, people of color, the disabled, etc, coming out differently in their values depending on the proximity to their homes - you diminish it's power when it is needed for social justice. The misuse happens all too much in this town as a power play - which is ugly, hypocritical, and does a disservice to the people who are true victims of NIMBYism. I am not saying i know who is right or wrong here, just that the term does not apply in a situation where a wealthy school with uber wealthy patrons may fail to be considerate or does not honor its covenants with its neighbors.

4 people like this
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 7, 2016 at 1:57 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.


We are proud of your accomplishments!

Enjoy the journey of living and improve society.


13 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2016 at 11:14 am

Dear Somewhere Else and Nonny Mouse,

Castilleja has been a school on that property for over 75 years. I'm sure you noticed it when you were looking to purchase a home in the neighborhood. I am almost positive that the school was there before you were. [Portion removed.]
Castilleja is not a school filled with rich, entitled girls. My family makes a huge sacrifice to send our daughter there. We do it because of the outstanding education, and the social environment. EVERY student is valued for their gifts and talents; including a transgender student like Elijah (who by the way, is one amazing kid)! [Portion removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 7, 2016 at 12:20 pm

@ Member - [Portion removed.] Many of the neighbors have lived near Castilleja for decades. As recently as 2000, Castilleja had fewer than 400 students. In 1970, that number was less than half that. Add in the fact that Castilleja no longer has boarding students and you might realize that the increase in traffic to the neighborhood would be an issue.
To top it off, Castilleja was willingly in violation of their use permit for over 10 years. They didn't offer to do anything about it until it was discovered when they went to the city to further increase enrollment! Is this the type of behavior that should be expected from such an institution? [Portion removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2016 at 4:36 pm


[Portion removed.] According to the city of Palo Alto, the streets around Castilleja are two way streets, and I can legally park in the street. I don't do these things because Castilleja asks me not to. I send my daughter on the shuttle every day (even when it isn't convenient for our family) to minimize traffic in the neighborhood.

12 people like this
Posted by Bravo to Douglas
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Thanks Douglas to speak out for Casti' neighbors!

It's a shame Casti violated the enrollment limits for a long period of time. Don't know what kind of leadership, honesty teaching in the school......

4 people like this
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 7, 2016 at 11:50 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:17 am

Dear Douglas,
[Portion removed.] I get the fact that in 1907 when the school opened it was a quiet,unobtrusive member of the community. But, dear Douglas, change is inevitable. When you look out the window of your home (which is now worth a pretty penny thanks to the proximity of Stanford, Paly, Casti...) and you see traffic, think to yourself: that girl, in that car, is going to be a well-educated woman that is going to improve society. Maybe she'll be your doctor, lawyer, or accountant. Maybe she'll be a teacher in your grandchild's school, the vet that provides expert care to your pets, or an artist that displays work for you to contemplate. Heck, she might even be the next president! I know she might not be a girl from Palo Alto, but regardless of where she's from, she is getting a high-quality, all-girls education. She will make her mark on the world and hopefully improve it. If she graduates from Castilleja she will be well equipped!

I am not sure why Castilleja violated the express terms of the CUP for as long as they did. I am sorry that the school was not 100% transparent. But, change does happen. Castilleja is NOW making strides to reduce the impact on you and the other neighbors. Castilleja is NOW following the guidelines that they agreed to with the city.
Douglas, you accused me of "only looking at how Castilleja benefits my daughter". That couldn't be farther from the truth. I look at how Castilleja benefits girls from all over the Bay Area. Let's work together (more buses? staggered arrival times? Any other ideas?) to provide this education to more young girls.

9 people like this
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:49 am

Member - [Portion removed.] I've contacted PAUSD many times on how their failure to open more schools has caused problems both on and off PAUSD campuses. And it's the same issue at Castilleja. Too many students at too small of a space. I have no problem with the mission of the school. I think it's great. I have friends whose daughters have gone, go and will go there. But, to say that since it's a great place then we should release them from all responsibility is not appropriate. They've maxed out their space. If they want to grow, they should look at getting a larger campuses. It will not be the first time Castilleja has moved. Many schools move as they grow. If they want to stay in their small neighborhood campus, then they need to stay a small, neighborhood school I don't see why that's such a complicated concept.

Castilleja is only NOW following the guidelines because they want to expand.

[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by KH
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2016 at 11:06 am

@PA Parent Definition of NIMBY according to Webster's Dictionary...

Noun 1. NIMBY - someone who objects to siting something in their own neighborhood but does not object to it being sited elsewhere; an acronym for not in my backyard Web Link

So actually the term does apply IMHO.

10 people like this
Posted by Hahaha
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm

When we moved to Palo Alto from another region, and we toured this area, our realtor ( Coldwell) told us that the building on Kellogg we were asking about was ONCE a girls' school, in the process of being converted to apartments.

Fortunately, we did not buy on that street ( orBryant), but unfortunately, this was in 1997-- the year the new capital gains law was enacted. Now, we have to pay 25% of profits in taxes if we move. At our age, we cannot get and do not want a big 20 or 30 year mortgage. BBut the tax problem makes it impossible to buy a smaller home with s small ( or no) mortgage.

I wonder how many people had real estate agents who lied blatantly?!

1 person likes this
Posted by Friend
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 7, 2016 at 8:39 am

Lea Sparkman was the Senior Class President (not the Vice President)

2 people like this
Posted by IT
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm

5 core C's. Seriously - Castilleja has been in violation of its contractual obligation to operate as a school enterprise in a residential neighborhood for nearly 15 years. Now they want to cut down nearly 180 trees, including 300 year old redwoods and oaks, so they can redevelop their campus and bloat their enrollment by 30%. What kind of example does this school set for its pupils? I wish some of their "leaders of tomorrow" speak up about this travesty.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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