Augur Bit Exclusive: Ketanji Brown Jackson to Speak at GDS Graduation

Seniors sit in the Forum for an assembly on April 18. Photo by Olivia Brown.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, a GDS trustee who was confirmed last month to join the Supreme Court, will speak at the graduation ceremony for the class of 2022, Robert Raben, a communications consultant who is working with the justice-designate, told the Bit.

Head of School Russell Shaw confirmed that Jackson, the mother of a graduating senior, will deliver the parent address. The ceremony is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Sunday, June 12, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Shaw told the Bit that, after considering possible parent speakers with other administrators, he decided “shortly after the new year” to invite D.C. Circuit Court Judge Jackson to talk at graduation—before Justice Stephen Breyer announced his planned retirement. Shaw said he asked Jackson in early February, and she agreed to speak.

Attendees will probably need tickets to enter, Shaw said, a change from past years and from the policy explained on the GDS website’s page about graduation. He expects the high school’s forthcoming plan to prioritize community members and graduates’ families in distributing the tickets. The webpage says seniors’ families will be allowed to “invite as many guests as they choose.”

“We want this to be our high school graduation, not a media event,” Shaw said. “She will want this graduation to be a celebration of our graduates.”

The student speakers at graduation will be seniors Maddie Feldman and Miles Huh, and the faculty speaker will be English teacher Julia Fisher, according to an email, shown to the Bit by a student, in which Principal Katie Gibson told the trio that seniors had chosen them. (Fisher is the Bit’s faculty advisor.)

Students had speculated that Jackson might be among the likeliest parent speakers, given her historic confirmation to become the first Black, female justice and the national attention attracted to GDS during the Senate’s process for considering her nomination.

“A lot of people wanted it to be her and thought it was going to be her,” senior Noah Freedman said after being told that Jackson would speak at the ceremony.

“To say that a Supreme Court justice-to-be spoke at our graduation and waved us all off into adulthood is an incredible privilege,” Feldman said in an interview with the Bit. Jackson will fill Breyer’s seat on the bench when he officially steps down at the end of the Court’s current term this summer.

Senior Yael Wellisch told the Bit it would be an honor to have the soon-to-be justice address the class of 2022 and other attendees. “She’s making history, so hearing her words at our graduation will be so inspiring,” Wellisch said.

The ceremony on June 12, three days after prom, is set to last from 3 to 5 p.m. before an hourlong reception. It will be the first GDS graduation in the 1500-seat Lisner Auditorium since 2019. The ceremony for the class of 2020 was held on Zoom in August of that year, and last year’s graduation happened on the high school field, with restricted attendance.

The graduation program has typically included speeches by a parent of a graduate, two graduates and a faculty member, as well as the head of school and high school principal.

Past parent speakers have included Jim Shelton, a former U.S. deputy secretary of education; Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic; and Ron Klain, who at the time was Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff and is now Biden’s chief of staff in the White House.

Seniors cast a final round of votes by May 3 to choose their student and faculty speakers. The seniors on the ballot were Feldman, Huh, Pallavi Bhargava, Maya Stutman-Shaw and Aidan Kohn-Murphy, Feldman said. The final three faculty candidates were Fisher, English teacher and Assistant Principal for Academics Khalid Bashir and the twelfth grade dean, Anna Howe, also a member of the English department.

“I love the entirety of the graduation,” Shaw said. “People hear how many speeches we have, and they say, ‘Really? That’s a lot of speeches.’ And yet I always find it an incredibly rich reflection of who we are as a school community.”

As of the morning of Wednesday, May 11, the student, faculty and parent speakers had not been announced to seniors, whose classes mostly ended on April 29.

CORRECTION (May 13): A previous version of this article misstated the date of prom. It is on June 9, not June 10—three days, not two days, before graduation.