Parting words

Principals inspire fourth and eighth graders for their next adventure

Families gathered on Maire’s field on Thursday to celebrate fourth graders before they move on to middle school next year. Photo courtesy of Kristin Mann

Promotion ceremonies for fourth and eighth graders took place throughout the week and principals from the elementary and secondary schools had a few parting words for the students before they headed to the next level of their educational journey.

Following are excerpts from their remarks.

Lisa Rheaume, principal, Defer Elementary School

“You should be so proud of your flexibility, hard work, and determination to make this a great year. I enjoyed watching you meet new friends this year that will only strengthen in the future. You will take with you wonderful memories of your time together throughout your years at Defer and Trombly. When I first met some of you, you were just first graders. I watched as you grew into the leaders you are today. Your kindness, your positive attitude, and your smiles will be missed in the hallways. You are ready for middle school!”

Jodie Randazzo, principal, Ferry Elementary School

“They say that adversity reveals character. Through an adverse year, you showed resilience, compassion, flexibility and positivity. You should be so proud of yourselves. Fourth grade class of 2021, keep going forward confidently in the direction of all your dreams. Be bold. Be courageous. Take risks and be kind.”

Walter Fitzpatrick, principal, Kerby Elementary School

“So fourth graders, I want to let you in on a secret. I was really nervous and scared coming to Kerby this school year. See, I was at Trombly for a long time and had lots of friendships and felt very comfortable. Well, I want to thank you for accepting me and making me feel like a lifelong Kerby Cougar.”

Ryan Francis, principal, Maire Elementary School

“Famous inventor Thomas Edison once said, ‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.’ When Edison was working on a sustainable lightbulb he went through over 10,000 iterations until he found a material that would work. Our teachers, parents, and staff could have given up when the times got tough, when we pivoted to virtual or hybrid or quarantines. But success never comes to those who give up. I am incredibly proud of the grit and determination shown, especially from our students. You are here today because you kept going. You. Never. Gave. Up. Learn from that experience. When you come to your next challenge in life, remember that drive that you have, the support system including many here today, that will help you overcome each bump in the road.”

Roy Bishop, principal, Mason Elementary School

“Living through a pandemic has shown us that we have so much to be thankful for. Our health, peace of mind, and family, just to name a few. But this time has also created an opportunity for pure reflection and personal growth. Let our current situation fuel you as you enter your secondary schooling experience. Take advantage of every opportunity and always put your best foot forward. As you move into your secondary experience, now is the time for you to be the student that sits next to someone at lunch that is sitting by themselves. Now is the time to be the student who does the right thing when no one is looking. Now is the time to be the student who focuses on humanity and making everyone around you better. These are just a few simple things you can do next year to make the Mason community proud.”

Mason students and their families enjoyed a special guest appearance from former Poupard Principal Hussain Ali, who wanted to attend the fourth-grade promotion ceremony, albeit virtually, to wish his former students the best. “It was an absolute honor to be able to share the stage with Principal Ali during our fourth-grade promotion ceremony,” Mason Principal Roy Bishop said. “Merging two schools together is extremely difficult and important work. We wanted our students to know that even though we are in a pandemic, that we didn't forget to acknowledge their past and present experiences throughout GPPSS. Principal Ali's message noted how proud he was of all the former Poupard students for their bravery and relentlessness.” Photo courtesy of Roy Bishop

Shelleyann Keelean, principal, Monteith Elementary School

“You embody what it means to be a Monteith Tiger. Each one of you has stepped up in this challenging year in your own individual way. You have shown courage and grace when even the adults around you were having a tough time. By showing up each day of school with a positive attitude and showing kindness to everyone at school, you set the bar high for our younger learners. Your actions truly spoke louder than words. Every morning when I walk by your classrooms I see you participating, working together, making each other smile (under your masks) and I hear the pure sound of joy coming through in your laughter and positive interactions. I also see the future leaders of our world!”

John Kernan, principal, Richard Elementary School

“In the face of adversity, you show your true character. This year, you continually adapted, adjusted, and overcame many obstacles. Though there will be nothing like the 20-21 school year, you all have shown you can persevere through anything. I am proud of you and can't wait to see all that you accomplish!”

Rodger Hunwick, principal, Brownell Middle School

“Yesterday, as the eighth-grade students painted their names on the Brownell rock, a tradition here, I was asked several times, ‘Where are all the previous names?’ I replied, ‘They’re still there, just underneath your names. We paint over the names each year, so all the names of the past are still there.’ In typical eighth-grade fashion, the students replied, ‘Cool.’ That brief interaction led me to reflect: While it’s just a ‘rock,’ it does have all the names of past students still on it; that rock represents not just our accomplishments, but the obstacles we overcame as individuals to reach our collective goals.”

Dan Hartley, principal, Parcells Middle School

“As we log off from your days at Parcells, I hope that you give the next four years everything you have — you never know when it will all change. So, choose to work hard. Leave it all on the table. Push yourself to take risks and try new things and always, always, always be kind to others (no matter how kind they are or aren’t to you). Form relationships with others that will give you the support and friendship you need as you write your story. You are a class with tremendous spirit, talent, and ability and I look forward to hearing about the stories you write over the next four years and beyond.”

Sara Dirkse, principal, Pierce Middle School

“Just like you learned to navigate middle school, you will learn to navigate high school. Do not let this past year overshadow all that you have accomplished in the last three years, or what you will accomplish in the next four years. We all have moments of time in our life that impact us greatly. I have no doubt that this time has and will continue to impact you. But look for the opportunities to come. Sometimes what we are least looking for, or that which we want to avoid, become the very opportunities that are the most impactful and memorable.”

Oh, what a night!

The Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education broke records at its June 3 Be the Beacon benefit, held on the grounds of the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.

“All the stars aligned,” said Elizabeth Connors, a member of the Board of Directors. “Literally, the clouds parted. It was all quite magical.”

“We were very fortunate to have a near perfect night,” GPFPE President Bob Bury agreed, adding even the fish flies cooperated.

He credits the success of the evening to not only the beautiful weather, but also the hard work of event co-chairs Beth Moran and Kris Vande Vusse and the generosity of the attendees, which included both longtime and new supporters.

Clockwise from upper left: GPFPE Bob Bury introduces guest speaker and author JT Mestdagh; centerpieces reflect the theme of the evening; attendees raised their paddles in support of the SEED initiative; spring benefit co-chairs Beth Moran and Kris Van deVusse thank committee members and supporters.

“People were committed to the cause and committed to why we were gathering,” Bury said. “While the food was great and the drinks were great and the congeniality and the fellowship were great, everyone knew they were there to support the Grosse Pointe public schools and the paddle raise specifically for the SEED initiative.”

SEED stands for social-emotional encouragement and development and will fund grants specifically targeting social and emotional growth, healing and connections, and other mental health programs.

Students, teachers and parents may apply for grants year-round for programs that support the social and emotional health of students and staff in the district. Possible ideas from GPPSS school counselors, psychologists and social workers include professional development, “chill” spaces for staff wellness, restorative practices at all levels, extracurricular clubs to build connections and give purpose, mentoring programs, and the University of Michigan’s TRAILS — Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students — program, which is focused on bringing effective mental health care to all students.

“I was happy that people were willing to come under the tent and pay attention and learn about not only the great auction items — the boat rides and all the wonderful experiences we had — but also the reason that we were doing it: for our general grant cycles and for the SEED initiative,” Bury said, adding that after the past 18 months of the pandemic, “we didn’t have to spend much energy convincing people why this was a worthwhile opportunity to help children reacclimate to the educational process.”

On left, South therapy dog Tuka, dressed in his best Blue Devils and GPFPE attire, was counselor Beth Walsh-Sahutske’s “plus one” for the party. Therapy dogs across the district are on the wish list for school counselors, psychologists and social workers. On right, GPFPE board member Jason Tinsley raises his paddle to support SEED.

Buoyed by a $25,000 matching gift from the Boll and Mestdagh families, the paddle-raise began with a $10,000 pledge and by the time all paddles came down, the total amount raised was $94,000 — over double the amount raised at the last paddle-raising event in 2019, according to Bury.

This, combined with the $25,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, is “a significant start in helping to address this need,” Bury said. “That will also help us because we will continue to fundraise with other foundations and organizations and (these efforts) certainly will be validated by the success we’ve had so far and will help us going forward.”

Total proceeds from the event support the GPFPE’s biannual district-wide grants in addition to the SEED initiative.

People lend their support to GPFPE in a multitude of ways, Bury said, from major gifts to purchasing tickets to the benefit or giving a gift in honor of a favorite teacher or administrator.

“If you want to direct your support for direct impact like SEED, which is an abbreviated grant process, or you want to invest for the long term with the endowment, it all kind of works,” he said.

Clockwise from upper left: Mason Principal Roy Bishop and his wife, Latoya; Tammy and Joe Haney; Sarah Gough participates in the wine pull; guests Dave and Donna Martin (seated) and Pete Beauregard waged a friendly competition over an auction item.

Other highlights from the evening included lively bidding during the auction and remarks by guest speaker JT Mestdagh, author of “Untether: Inspiration for Living Free and Strong No Matter What the Challenge.”

Mestdagh, who grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, overcame health and learning struggles and was instrumental in bringing the Tattum F.A.S.T. reading program to the Grosse Pointe Public School System. The GPFPE supported the initial funding of the F.A.S.T. program, which represented its first major campaign to support the school system, followed by supporting the implementation of the Leader in Me program, a school-wide character development curriculum, into the district’s elementary schools.

Bury is confident the next initiative, focused on mental health and selected under the guidance of the educators in the school system, is well on its way to being a successful campaign as well.

“We’ve set the bar high,” he said. “It’s great to see that even though we’ve been perhaps out of contact with each other largely over the past year or 18 months, the enthusiasm and the support is there and brings a sense of hope and optimism that the community and the school system is going to continue to regroup as needed and continue its tradition of excellence.”

The Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing private funding to enhance academic and enrichment programs for the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Its purpose is to augment public funding to improve the quality of education for students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

For further information, visit or contact Karen Lawrence at (313) 432-3058 or

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