Grade 8 Portfolio Night: The Class of 2028 is Ready to Take on Upper School

The evening of Tuesday, June 4, marked a milestone for the Rivers Class of 2028. While not a formal graduation, Grade 8 Portfolio Night is an annual rite of passage for students poised to move on from Middle School and enter Upper School. It is a moment to reflect on accomplishments, challenges, future goals, and—most visibly—skateboards.

The decorated skateboards are a capstone art project for Grade 8 students, and they are the most visible manifestation of student interests on display, but they are just one aspect of the portfolio. Each student compiles a thick binder of their best work across the disciplines, along with a collection of meaningful and personal items that reflect their time in Middle School. These multifaceted portfolios were displayed on tables around the periphery of Kraft Dining Hall for parents, fellow students, and professional community members to peruse. Each portfolio was accompanied by a statement explaining what collection means to the student. “This is more than just my portfolio. Each item represents me in a different way,” one such statement began. The display, read another, “shows who I am as a learner and as a person.”

Before the formal presentation got underway at 6:30, students were interviewed by faculty members who circled the room, asking questions about the accomplishments that were shared and the personal items—from sports equipment to toe shoes to musical instruments—that made up the displays.  Savannah Conway responded to questions about her skateboard, which took a leap into three dimensions with a peeling away of layers that, said Conway, was meant to create a “wallpaper effect.”

Myzelle McCleary had decorated her skateboard with a whale floating through outer space—the confluence, she said, of her interests in the ocean and fantasy. Valentina Guerrero had used Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” as the motif for her skateboard, an image she said she’d first seen on a poster in her brother’s room. Other popular themes included sports, the beach, and video games. Travis Felice had carefully drawn the logo of each professional Boston sports team, while Elise Kravitz’s plant-bedecked board reflected her future ambition of becoming a botanist.

Portfolio Night, however, isn’t just about tangible accomplishments. By 6:30, parents and other audience members had taken their seats, and the Grade 8 violin quartet—consisting of Conway, McCleary, Sophia Gao, and Sophia Kim—performed “The Return,” by Charles Dancia. Head of Middle School John Bower then addressed the audience, sharing some thoughts about the class and their time at Rivers so far. “Your teachers and I have reveled in the talents you bring,” said Bower. He touched on the trends he’s picked up from this group, from slang words like “rizz” to TikTok fads such as mewing. (Don’t know what it is? Ask Alexa, as Bower told the crowd he had done.) He reminded the students that their “journey of self-discovery is just beginning” and that “how you proceed through this world is a choice,” encouraging them to choose to be their kindest selves. 

Students Blake Saint Louis and Stephanie Keel introduced the featured student speaker, Emily Reidy, who, said Saint Louis, “exudes enthusiasm and is rarely seen without a smile.” And Reidy’s enthusiasm was indeed apparent as she spoke about her love of Rivers and thanked teachers, friends, and the “Kraft Dining Hall staff for providing the best chocolate chip cookies.” She recalled the Grade 7 Chewonki trip as “nothing but laughter” and recounted her joy in watching her classmates succeed and build a community with a strong sense of belonging. 

The heart of the evening then commenced: Each student in turn took to the stage to share a brief reflection about their time in Middle School. They spoke of lessons learned, obstacles overcome, and risks taken; of good habits formed and unhelpful ones broken; of projects that were particularly meaningful. In aggregate, they shared a journey of burgeoning academic curiosity and the cultivation of a growth mindset. 

At the halfway point, Ella Gardener and Ella Kramer took to the stage to perform the song “For Good,” from the musical Wicked. The reflections were paused while parents and other well-wishers circulated around the room to take in the portfolio displays. The remaining students then shared their reflections, and Grade 8 Dean Josh Shaller provided closing remarks. 

While no diplomas are awarded at the end of Portfolio Night, it is both a fitting culmination of one stage at Rivers and a meaningful transition to the next. And the students feel prepared to move on. As Reidy, perhaps speaking for the entire class, had said in her remarks, “We are ready for the challenges, and ready for what high school has to bring.”
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