COLUMBIA — During his introduction speech for the Columbia Independent School graduation Thursday night, Head of School Scott K. Gibson III welcomed each of the graduating seniors by name.
All seven of them.
Brianne Elizabeth Abramovitz
Madison Jane Berry
Katherine Blake Burch-Hudson
Colin Stuart Gardner
Andrew Stefan Melnyk
Peter Wicks Stringfield
Benjamin E. Wells
During the second speech of the graduation — which was held at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts in front of a modest audience of friends and family — CIS Upper School Director Doug Sept referred to each senior individually and made inside jokes about his experiences with the students.
This level of personal attention is possible at CIS, an independent school based in Columbia where the 2010 graduating class is the school's largest since 2005. This year's graduates earned an average ACT score of 30.6 and included three National Merit Finalists and two National Merit Commended Students, Sept said.
Mike Kelly, the radio voice of the Missouri Tigers, delivered the keynote speech. He said he felt “woefully unprepared” for the ceremony after hearing the students’ remarks and suggested the keynote speaker present before the students next year.
Each of the seniors delivered a short prepared speech at the commencement ceremony, reflecting on their time at CIS. Like the administrators, their words were full of personal jokes and memories.
Madison Berry, who came to CIS from the public school system, described her transition to the independent school environment during her remarks.
"I was comfortable, did well and was on a path to graduating high school," Berry said of her public school days. "I wanted a challenge, and CIS answered my call."
All seven of the graduates have been accepted to four-year universities, and some will be attending big-name schools — such as the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
The school’s website names its low teacher-to-student ratio and emphasis on community service as two reasons why CIS graduates are successful in college placement.
CIS parent Milbre Burch was glad her daughter, Katy Burch-Hudson, went to the school.
“We like the independent school because it has the chance to create classes that are small and intensive,” Burch said. “It has the chance to nurture students in different directions.”
CIS also encourages international students to apply to the school each year. Jimmy Joseph Cedeño Alcivar, an exchange student from Ecuador, received a certificate for his completed year at CIS during the graduation ceremony.
Students must complete an off-campus senior internship during their final semester.
Abramovitz said the internship helped prepare her for college because she got to see the different options available in the field and talk to a professional. She will enter the MU Pre-Veterinary Medicine Scholars Program this fall, from which she plans to graduate in six years.
Abramovitz is one of three graduates who have attended CIS since its inaugural year in 1998. Her classmates Peter Stringfield and Stefan Melnyk have also attended the school since its inception.
“We know these kids, and we know them well,” Gibson said in an interview after the ceremony. “That’s the beauty of CIS. Each child gets individualized attention, and that’s why each child can really bloom here.”