The typical Groton School year is characterized by hard work. Six days a week of demanding classes, sports practices, all rounded off with a couple of extracurriculars. Schedules are packed and students sometimes are frantic. Such is the life of a Groton student, but the diligence pays off on Prize Day, the School’s unique graduation ceremony.
From the moment the seniors walk down the stairs of the chapel to the final handshake in the line of Sixth Formers, Prize Day is an emotional time. It sends off the seniors with a lavish farewell but also distinguishes the students who have yet to graduate.
Starting on Saturday evening the day before Prize Day, awards are given to recognize members of the student body who have displayed exemplary talent in a wide range of fields, both academic and athletic. Mr. Low, Director of Athletics, presents commendable athletes with league achievements like the All-ISL awards and recognizes the seniors with more than six varsity letters.
Prizes are also given on Sunday, focusing more on highlighting students from every form who have gone far beyond expectations in areas like writing, classics, studio art, and science. The Form Officers are announced in the midst of all this and the Fifth Form sings a terrifyingly catchy song with obnoxiously simple chords that pokes fun at each Sixth Former, a final moment of amusing vulgarity.
But at the center of Prize Day are the speakers – one from beyond the gates of Groton and another from the Sixth Form. This year, the speakers are Judge Stephen A. Higginson ’79 and Schuyler “Sky” Colloredo-Mansfeld ’16.
Both speakers were selected by the Sixth Form from a pool of candidates. “We decided by voting,” explained Lucie Oken ’16, one of the graduating form’s senior prefects, adding that “Judge Higginson attended Groton and he can give us relevant advice.”
After graduating from Groton, Judge Higginson attended Harvard College before moving on to the University of Cambridge and Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. From 1987 to 1988, Judge Higginson worked as a clerk for judges on both the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
In 1989, Judge Higginson worked in the criminal division for the District of Massachusetts, where he was an assistant United States Attorney. He later moved to the Eastern District of Louisiana, where he became chief of appeals in 1995 and later worked part-time as a prosecutor. In 2004, Higginson began to teach criminal procedure and constitutional law and evidence as a full-time faculty member at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.
Currently, Judge Higginson sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In May of 2011, President Barack Obama nominated him for the position. Obama commented that “both his legal and academic credentials are impressive and his commitment to judicial integrity is unwavering. I am confident he will serve the American people with distinction.” The American Bar Association rated Higginson “Unanimously Well Qualified.” Two months later, the Senate confirmed the nomination in a vote of 88-0 and on November 2, 2011, Judge Higginson was sworn in.
He has played a part in challenging court cases, presiding over the ruling of Texans for Free Enterprise v. Texas Ethics Commission, in which the TFE filed suit against the Texas Ethics Commission. Deeming it an “unconstitutional abridgement of free speech,” Judge Higginson helped to reinforce the essential right to free speech and the court ruled the case in Texans for Free Enterprise’s favor.
No doubt, Judge Higginson brings with him many years of professional experience, both from inside and outside Groton. His expertise will certainly make for a Prize Day talk to remember.
The Sixth Form speaker is traditionally chosen through several rounds of voting; the first round yielded five nominees and the second produced one finalist. This year, Sky Colloredo-Mansfeld is the one set to give the speech. His skill as a public speaker is perhaps most evident in debate, where he and Evan Long ’16 earned first-place in the advanced division at the Belmont Hill School Invitational Debate Tournament as Fifth Formers.
“We were all impressed by his chapel talk and his speaking skills,” said Lucie Oken, “and I think his talk will be very interesting for everyone.”
Prize Day is a celebration; it celebrates the immeasurable talent that comprises our community. It celebrates the close of a productive and strenuous school year. And above all, it celebrates the Sixth Form as they venture out into the big wide world upon graduation.
Certainly, Judge Stephen A. Higginson and Sky Colloredo-Mansfeld will amplify this celebration, advising and recognizing the seniors for all they have done for Groton and all they will do for others.