Prize Day 2021: Celebrating a Year Like No Other

Last year’s Prize Day, pre-recorded and shared online, felt like a foray into a strange new reality. This year’s Prize Day, pre-recorded and shared online, felt like the kind of event that’s become familiar during the long pandemic year. Live-streamed on May 27 (the recording can be viewed here), Prize Day served as an opportunity to recognize outstanding contributions from students, faculty, and staff.
In his opening remarks, Head of School Ned Parsons acknowledged that the 2020-21 school year “challenged us to be our best selves at every turn.” But beyond that—and perhaps as a sign of how normal the new normal has become—Prize Day proceeded much as it has in the past, albeit virtually.
Granted, given that last year’s Prize Day was slightly truncated, there was a bit of catching up to do. Faculty and staff prizes were omitted from the 2020 ceremony, so the years of service awards, recognizing those who have served Rivers for 5, 10, 15, or more years, included last year’s honorees as well as this year’s. And given the extraordinary challenges of the past year, many of the faculty and staff awards went to those who were particularly vital to taking the school through the pandemic: Tom Bourdeau and Claudia Silva (the Bergen Decker Award), John Adams (the Walter Family Community Award), and Chris Dalton (the Excellence With Humanity Award). Teaching honors were earned by Tori Lucas and Andrea Diaz (the Mida Van Zuylen Dunn Award) and Melissa Dolan (the F. Ervin Prince Teaching Chair).
The school’s highest honor for student achievement, the Faculty Prize, went to Tayja Sallie ’21. In announcing the award, Parsons noted, “This student loves to learn. The classroom has provided a space for them to explore, to test, to dabble, to tinker, and to master. Theirs is a curiosity that is practically palpable, electrified by innate intelligence and wonder.”
Two seniors, Talia Davis and Adebiyi Oyaronbi, were awarded the Dudley Willis Trustee Prize. Both students were recognized for their contributions to the school. Describing Davis, Parsons said, “This student checks off all the boxes and breaks those that don’t suit her.” Oyaronbi, said Parsons, stands out for his “dedication to making Rivers the best place it can be.”
The Jeremiah J. Sheehan Prize, given to the senior who demonstrates the “gentility, kindness, and all-around good sportsmanship” of former faculty member Sheehan, went to Abigail Weiss. And the Hooper Lawrence Prize, one of Rivers’s oldest distinctions, was earned by Maggie Leeming, for “those qualities that contribute so much to the happiness of other people: a cheerful disposition, an unselfish nature, and a kind heart.”

Top athletic honors for seniors went to Mallory Hasselbeck, who received the Priscilla Wallace Strauss Athletic Prize, and Gregg Dennison, recipient of the James A. Navoni ’70 Athletic Prize. In the Prize Day presentation, Hasselbeck was lauded as “arguably one of the best athletes ever to don a Red Wings jersey,” while Dennison got the nod for his “work ethic, toughness, and internal drive.”
In the Middle School, Taylor Ehler and Andrew Ho, both Class of ’25, won the F. Ervin Prince Award, given to the Middle School student who best embodies the qualities of former teacher Erv Prince: “A gentle, unassuming character, warm sense of humor, honesty, integrity, inherent consideration for others, and, above all, a passion for the pursuit of excellence.”
Several other students also garnered awards: Keira Thompson ’22, the Harvard Club Prize; Ian Behrstock ’22, the Thomas Olverson Prize; Celina Chen ’22, the Williams College Book Award; Samuel Lyons ’22, the Brown University Alumni Book Award; Jessica Bargamian ’21, the Center for Community and Civic Engagement Award; Jacob Sardinha ’23, the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Faculty Prize; and Coley Schaefer and Laylah Espaillat, both ’24, the Kenneth Benjamin Citizenship Award, given in memory of Ken Benjamin ’50.
Other graduating students were awarded prizes for their achievements in specific academic disciplines:
  • The Robert W. Rivers Prize for English, Sylvie Pingeon
  • The Mathematics Prize, Ezgi Bas and Elise Harvey
  • The Science Prize, Jessica Bargamian and Noah Naddaff-Slocum
  • The George Woodbridge ’24 History Prize, Michael Idzal
  • The Interdisciplinary Studies Prize, Talia Davis
  • The Otto Alcaide Language Prize for Spanish, Maggie Leeming
  • The Otto Alcaide Language Prize for French, Elizabeth Butter
  • The Austin A. Chute Memorial Prize, Tayja Sallie
  • The Modern Language Prize for Mandarin, Jenny Hotchkiss
  • The Three-Dimensional Arts Prize, Ceramics, Adebiyi Oyaronbi
  • The Three-Dimensional Arts Prize, Sculpture, Romy Arie
  • The Two-Dimensional Arts Prize, Jenna MacDonald
  • The Photography Prize, Ceanna Kinney
  • The Choral Prize, Drew Stephans ’22
  • The Classical Music Prize, Tayja Sallie
  • The David Killam Instrumental Music Prize, Calvin Smith and Will Randall
  • The Nonesuch Players Prize, Hannah Long 
Several members of the graduating class were elected to the Cum Laude Society: Romy Arie, Jessica Bargamian, Ezgi Bas, Elizabeth Butter, Cameron Dailey, Talia Davis, Elise Harvey, Annie Heuer, Michael Idzal, Kevin Kamanitz, Margaret Leeming, Noah Naddaff-Slocum, William Randall, Joshua Rocha, Tayja Sallie, Meredith Shah, Calvin Smith, and Timothy Tourigny.
Athletic achievements by seniors were also recognized. Independent School League Awards of Excellence went to Brian Gonsalves and Tayja Sallie. The Senior Award for Exceptional Dedication to Athletics, given in memory of Matthew Epstein ’89, was earned by Cameron Dailey, Mallory Hasselbeck, Brian Gonsalves, Margo Lewis, Tayja Sallie, and Nico Stuart.