September 7 was an exciting day on campus, with lots of special events that brought the Steward community together.
The Buddy Program + Processional
The morning began with the procession of junior kindergarten, kindergarten, and senior buddies along the Colonnade in preparation for Convocation. The Buddy Program is a charming School tradition: At the beginning of the school year, junior kindergarten and kindergarten students are each paired with a senior student, and throughout the year, they team up at School events. Seniors serve as informal mentors, and all buddies benefit from the friendship and empathy that the program fosters.
As the buddies processed on their way to the gym, their proud families lined the Colonnade, cheering and snapping photos.
Hand in hand, the buddies arrived at the gym to music performed by the Concert Band, which is led by Middle/Upper School Instrumental Music Teacher John McAlister. Associate Head of School Lisa Dwelle welcomed guests, and Ben Guidi Scarpa ’34, Melissa Guidi Scarpa ’27, and Tori Guidi Scarpa ’29 led the Pledge of Allegiance.
In his greeting, Head of School Dan Frank, using oversized playing cards, performed a fun card trick and talked about “real work” — the technical mastery that makes a magic trick successful. He then spoke about the “real work” that the Steward community does every day.
“School is about inspiring each other, engaging each other, and caring for each other,” he said. “At Steward, we do the real work together, and that’s not a trick … it’s magic.”
Alumni Achievement Award
The annual Alumni Achievement Award is another cherished Convocation tradition. The award recognizes outstanding members of the alumni community who live out the Steward mission through inspiration, engagement, and care of others. This year’s award was presented to Alexandra “Sandy” Szilassy ’86. Board of Trustees member Susan Cramer Twining ’84 introduced Ms. Szilassy to the audience.
Ms. Szilassy was a four-sport standout at Steward, garnering 21 varsity letters and winning multiple MVP awards. The recipient of awards in science, math, and theatre, she also received the Dixon Award, Steward’s highest honor. In 2015, Ms. Szilassy was inducted into the School’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame.
She went on to play field hockey at the University of Virginia, served as an assistant field hockey coach at Dartmouth College, and is the co-founder and director of Virginia-based TCOYO Hockey. A dedicated mentor, she has helped over 1,000 athletes reach their field hockey dreams as national players and collegiate athletes. Her athletes have qualified for both the indoor and outdoor United States national field hockey teams, and two of them represented the USA on the Olympic stage.
One of Steward’s first lifers (alumni who attended Steward from junior kindergarten or kindergarten through Grade 12), Ms. Szilassy has made significant contributions to the School. She led an indoor field hockey program and spearheaded field hockey camps for Janet Rice, retired athletic director, and Mrs. Twining, former field hockey coach. Dedicated to helping others, she teaches at and serves as chair of the Special Education Department at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Va.
In her acceptance speech, Ms. Szilassy said her years at Steward shaped who she is today.
“My experiences helped build my strong foundation as a person, which in turn allowed me to have an impact on others,” she said. Noting the significant changes that have taken place on campus over the years, she said, “It is so awesome to see how Steward continues to grow to meet the needs of the new generations who will experience this wonderful place.” Ms. Szilassy expressed gratitude to the faculty, staff, and coaches who taught her valuable lessons about character, integrity, perseverance, and honor.
“I try to live out every lesson that I learned at Steward,” she added. “With every student I teach and every athlete I coach, I try to instill in them to be self-reliant, to face every challenge with strength, and to continually foster a sense of family with the people in their lives.”
Following Ms. Szilassy’s heartfelt remarks, the Choral Ensemble, comprised of talented students from all divisions and led by Middle School/Upper School Choral Music Teacher Heidi Taylor, sang “Be a Light,” and division directors (Adam Seldis, Upper School; Susan Atkinson, Middle School; Becky Groves, interim director, Lower School) shared their thoughts on this year’s schoolwide theme of service. The three division directors spoke about the meaningful, lasting connections that are made when Spartans work together to help others.
Following the recessional, families caught up with their proud Spartans, and Ms. Szilassy and her fellow lifers gathered near the newly created Lifer Terrace, which is outside the Athletic Center, to mingle and pose for photos. Brick pavers on Lifer Terrace display the names of all 178 Steward lifers.
Last year, during Steward’s 50th anniversary year, Sydney Smith (development special projects coordinator) and Shahwar Qureshi ’90 (director of technology) wanted a special, tangible way to honor Steward’s lifers.
“It’s a big deal to be in one place for so long,” said Ms. Smith. “We want to recognize our Steward families’ dedication to the School. Lifer Terrace is a gathering place that is instantly recognizable to the Steward community.” Each year, more bricks will be added to Lifer Terrace. Ms. Smith noted, “The Class of 2024 includes 20 lifers, and it’s the first to include students who started at Steward in junior kindergarten.”
Honor Code Signing
Later in the day, Middle and Upper School students, along with their division directors and teachers, signed the Honor Code. By doing so, Spartans pledge that they will abide by the principles of the Honor Code, including honesty and integrity. Participating in this rite of passage, and understanding its importance, helps equip students to prepare for the world ahead. Next week, students in grades 1-5 will sign the Honor Code during a special assembly, and junior kindergarten and kindergarten students will sign it during their Character Education classes.
“The Honor Code signing is an important moment at the start of each school year when students and faculty come together to publicly reconfirm their commitment to meeting the mission and values of The Steward School, especially in the realm of academic and personal integrity,” said Mr. Seldis. “It provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on the purpose of education and the right way to achieve success in every aspect of School life.”
In his uplifting speech welcoming Middle Schoolers to the Honor Code signing, Henry Pietrantoni ’28, Middle School Student Council president, noted that community is central to the Steward experience.
“The Steward School not only gives students outstanding academics, athletics, and arts programs, but it also provides us with a community that we can rely on,” he said. “As you sign the Honor Code today, I encourage all of you to pause and consider what impact you have had on this community in the past and what you can do to make it the best.”View the Steward Snaps from this exciting day.