The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
TASIS Announces the Class of 2019 Graduation Awards


The following Graduation Awards were presented to standout members of TASIS The American School in Switzerland’s Class of 2019 at the School’s 63rd Commencement Ceremony on the morning of June 1. Each award listing includes the citation that was read as the award was presented.

Excellence in Art

Presented by Fine Arts Department Chair Martyn Dukes

Art is a language through which every artist hopes to find a voice, and for over 60 years the visual arts at TASIS have been the means by which countless students have been able to give expression to this idea.

I have taught this student since she arrived at TASIS and had the privilege of watching her grow as an artist. As an accomplished and outstanding painter, she is both direct and honest—and, by her own admission, sometimes a little stubborn. This is a very useful characteristic, however, and through it she shows unwavering perseverance in realizing her ideas: one of the hallmarks of the successful artist.

I am delighted to present the Excellence in Art Award to Stanislava Kirsanova and wish her well as she takes her next steps into the world of art and design.

The Bertha Seifert Award for Excellence in Music 

Presented by Fine Arts Department Chair Martyn Dukes

This year’s recipient of the Bertha Seifert Award for Excellence in Music is a student with a special gift. She arrived at TASIS in the 9th grade and has continued to develop her musical and vocal skills consistently for the past four years. She has participated as a soloist, a chorister, a lead actor in the Spring Musical, and a leader of the a cappella choir, and thus during these years has blossomed into a truly gifted and dedicated performer.

In support of her individual talent, she has been a dedicated member of both the choir and music theater classes, through which it has become evident that her humility prevents any desire to showcase herself to be in the limelight. Moreover, this young lady has risen to every performance challenge and opportunity offered to her, and in so doing she has proven to be a highly competent and creative young musician who constantly supports both the music program and her peers.

Last but not least, she possesses the personality traits of kindness, generosity, sincerity, and reliability that will serve her well throughout her future.

For her outstanding and individual talent and dedication, it is our pleasure to give the 2019 Bertha Seifert Award for Excellence in Music to Lauren Riba.

The Horst Dürrschmidt Award for Excellence in Photography

Presented by Fine Arts Department Chair Martyn Dukes

The TASIS Art Department award in Photography honors long time Photography Instructor and Department Chairman Horst Dürrschmidt, whose vision, leadership, and creative energy helped to shape what the arts mean at TASIS.

The recipient of this year’s photography award is the kind of photographer who works slowly and deliberately, using the camera as a tool to achieve and communicate personal vision. In a world where almost everyone has a device that can make photos with them in every moment, and where the photograph most often taken is of oneself, this kind of deliberate work seems very old-fashioned.

This student’s passion led her to find ways to work away from the TASIS campus, during the summers and on weekends, where she could realize her ideas and practice her craft. The teacher’s job, in this case, was to stay out of the way and allow the student to pursue the process and make the eventual discoveries that come with hard work. More discoveries will come as she continues to practice and pursue her vision and the craft of photography at university.

The 2019 Horst Dürrschmidt Photography Award goes to Ashli Sartorelli.

The Kay Hamblin Award for Excellence in Theater

Presented by Fine Arts Department Chair Martyn Dukes

The Kay Hamblin Excellence in Theater Award is presented annually to a student who consistently demonstrates a love for and dedication to the art of theater. This student knows that individual success is possible only through teamwork—and that respect, collaboration, diligence, and joy in the art and craft of theater are the cornerstones of successful productions.

On Opening Day in August, Ms. Birk told Ms. Carlson, “There’s someone you have to meet”—a fateful introduction! From that point, this student thespian has—in just one school year—made a mighty enough impact on the TASIS theater community to merit this award. Although she could have coasted, needing only a few credits to graduate, she plunged into the rigor and fellowship of IB Theatre, the Fall Play, and the Spring Musical; rose to the call for her talents in service of the “Full Bloom” dance concert; and attended every theater field trip Ms. Carlson offered. She consistently demonstrated an eager readiness to learn and achieved the highest levels of competence and artistry. She has been a designer, technician, actor, scholar, and even teacher, so you won’t be surprised to learn that she has a summer internship at a professional theater and plans to continue her studies in Sound at university.

For her love of the stage, her commitment to the theater and its community, and her self-motivated growth in all areas of the dramatic arts, this year's Theater Award goes to Samantha Walker.

Excellence in Architecture and Design

Presented by Fine Arts Department Chair Martyn Dukes

This year’s recipient of the Excellence in Architecture and Design Award possesses creative strengths spanning the traditional divide between the humanities and the hard sciences. On the artistic side, her interests include literature and art history, in addition to her chosen career path of architecture.

She has distinguished herself in both architecture and art history, receiving the highest grades for her imaginative, “deep” designs and higher-level thinking. An accomplished musician and sportswoman, this student is truly multifaceted and excels on all levels.

Congratulations to this year's recipient of the Excellence in Architecture and Design Award, Virginia Italia.

Excellence in English as an Additional Language

Presented by EAL Department Chair Carolyn Heard

This year’s recipient of the EAL award has distinguished himself for his diligence, enthusiasm, and commitment to learning. Among the best prepared for his IB English class every day, he was at the top of the class in almost every aspect of his performance. With humility, persistence, and determination, he produced essays and made contributions in class that demonstrated a remarkable degree of acuity, maturity, and genuine interest in the topic at hand. Setting high goals for himself, his natural intellectual curiosity was always in evidence along with a sincere desire to make his learning meaningful on a personal as well as a scholarly level. This desire and determination to engage himself fully in the learning process not only enhanced his own progress, but also enhanced the learning of those around him.

It is for these reasons that the EAL Department bestows its award for excellence in English as an Additional Language to Daniil Fedorov.

Excellence in Modern Languages

Presented by Modern Languages Department Chair Nilda Lucchini

The Award for Excellence in Modern Languages recognizes the achievement of a student who has undertaken study in at least two of the five languages offered at TASIS.

This year’s recipient of the Modern Language award goes to a student who has excelled in both the IB Italian A Language and Literature and the IB Spanish B HL programs.

By the time he got to his junior year, he had acquired such a high level of proficiency in Italian that he was able to qualify for the IB Italian Language and Literature course. His interpretative abilities are remarkable in that he is quick to identify narrative and poetic elements of literary texts that elude most readers. For this reason his argumentation and his analysis are often brilliant, creative, and profound.

His Italian teacher taught him for three years, and during this time he grew to appreciate him not only for his fine qualities as a scholar but also for his noble character.

His Spanish teacher wrote: “One of the qualities that stands out in this student is his intellectual curiosity and genuine desire to learn. Intelligent, cultivated, modest, witty, and open-minded, this student not only incorporates the most complex grammatical structures and vocabulary into his language production, but also writes with an accuracy and depth of thought that reflects a maturity beyond his years.”

Our award goes to a student who plunges into all life has to offer with enthusiasm, kindness, and humor, qualities that he applies not only to his studies but which are also evident when he is interacting with his peers. His love of filmmaking for cinema is well known at TASIS, so if he has been composing a screenplay about his life for a future movie, his experiences and achievements here will certainly play a big part.

The 2019 Modern Language Department Award goes to Alexander Secilmis.

The Cynthia Whisenant Award for Excellence in English Literature

Presented by English Department Chair Dr. Christopher Love

There are writers and thinkers for whom literature is as much an act of generosity as it is an act of imagination, discipline, and curiosity. The student we honor here today never traded on the currency of his talents as expedients or emblems of vanity. This student’s acts of interpretation and imagination, while eloquent, nuanced, and wise, are always fixed on higher and nobler intents. The range of this student’s passions are startling and steadfast. There is the potent IB Extended Essay—the best I’ve ever read—that explored the role friendship played combatting historical and mythic evils. There is the film of Shakespeare’s Macbeth so powerfully directed and conceived, it received the plaudits of no less a figure than the screenwriter for the most recent Hollywood version of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard. There are the essays in Honors World Literature and IB Higher Level Literature that bespeak a spirit of inquiry and moral concern we rarely see today. Needless to say, there is the documentary exposé of the life and times of competitive tic tac toe players.

For the truth, beauty, and goodness this student legitimately infuses into his literary and broader creative pursuits, the TASIS English Department is proud to honor Alexander Secilmis with the 2019 Cynthia Whisenant Award for Excellence in English.

Excellence in History

Presented by History Department Chair Daniel Kirsch

This student has been one of the most imaginative and creative history students I have known since I first met her when she was in 9th grade. During her first year of High School, she showed me a project she had done in 5th—repeat, 5th—grade on the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. It took the form of a tourist brochure inviting people to visit Byzantium. Its combination of a foundation of hard work and a light-hearted, original touch is characteristic of this student's best work. As a senior, she not only wrote a good handful of excellent essays demonstrating that she fully understood what the IB Diploma Program demands of students, she also completed two longer pieces of written work in History, her Historical Investigation (IA) and her Extended Essay. Both were on events important in the history of her native country, Poland. One was the role of the Polish king, Jan Sobieski, in defeating the Ottoman assault on Austria in 1683; the other on the role of Polish aviators in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Normally, IB History teachers discourage students from doing these longer works on their own countries to avoid any bias. In this student's case, this caution was not necessary. I was pleased, but not surprised, to find that she was well able to separate her patriotic enthusiasm for the subject matter from her obligations as a student of history. Few professional historians always maintain such a fine balance between their emotional reasons for pursuing a subject and their duty to make disinterested judgments. This student well deserves the top award TASIS gives in History. I wish her all the best and look forward to following what will certainly be an interesting career.

It is a great pleasure to present this year’s Excellence in History Award to Aurelia Dochnal.

Ambassador’s Cup for Excellence in US History

Presented by History Department Chair Daniel Kirsch

Advanced Placement history classes are both a marathon, requiring stamina, and a sprint, requiring that a student be able to process large amounts of information quickly. This year’s Ambassador’s Cup For Excellence in U.S. History winner was able to maintain both mindsets through to the finish line. Combining the reading abilities of an advanced critical thinker, a drive to better understand such complex convulsions in U.S. History as the Vietnam War, a natural curiosity that inspired illuminating questions, and a dogged desire to get better at detailed, on-demand historical writing, this student’s track record kept her not only at the top of the class this year but predicts that she will have top marks on the AP exam.

It is with admiration and appreciation for her efforts that this year’s Ambassador’s Cup for Excellence in United States History Award goes to Heather Hines.

The Shah Akbar Khan Award for Excellence in Mathematics

Presented by Math Department Chair James Shields

Every year the Department of Mathematics has the task of choosing its top student from a very talented group of seniors. It goes without saying that we value accuracy and a penetrating intellect along with broad mathematical experience. This year’s winner demonstrated excellence in both the AP and IB programs and produced a remarkable essay on optimizing the launch angle for the flight of a baseball to maximize the probability of hitting it out of the park.

The Department of Mathematics is pleased to give this year’s Shah Akbar Khan Award for Excellence in Mathematics to Minjoon Seo.

Excellence in Science

Presented by Science Department Chair Alec Ogilvie

It was another difficult year for science—how to choose one graduation award? So we didn’t do it, we chose two. Both students have had a very heavy science schedule, with IB Higher Level Chemistry and IB Higher Level Biology, and despite the incredible demands of these subjects, both rose to the challenge and did incredibly well, achieving level 7s on topic tests and the mock exam. (Hopefully, for the real thing too!)

These students were extremely alert during lessons, asking very searching and informed questions, and both were involved with helping out with laboratory preparation. Their fascination with the innate complexity of biological systems and the interaction of the molecules involved has always been apparent.

Their IB individual assessments illustrated creative thinking and excellent analysis. They will continue with their scientific studies at university—one will study biochemistry and the other medicine. We are incredibly proud of their continued motivation and success in science.

It is my honor to announce this year’s winners of the Excellence in Science Award: Minjoon Seo and Edoardo Caimi.

The Salutatorian Scholarship Award

Presented by Academic Dean Dr. Mark Abisi

The Salutatorian is the graduating senior considered to have the second-highest academic performance after no less than two years at TASIS.

Of course, this year’s salutatorian has always been a top student who is intellectually engaged, crafts impeccable work, works diligently, possesses exemplary organizational and study habits, and rarely makes a careless mistake. All of this is true, but our salutatorian offers something more. Beyond earning stellar grades and a close-to-perfect academic transcript while engaging in a rigorous course of study, teachers report that he is a true pleasure to learn with. They describe him as a student who is lucid and nuanced, insightful and articulate, energetic and informed, detailed and astute, vigorous and precise.

Teachers comment that he is almost always the most enthusiastic member of the class, a student who provokes thoughtful, passionate discussions, serves to elevate lessons, and does it all with humor and personality.

I am proud to present the 2019 Salutatorian Scholarship Award to Kazi Zeydan Rahman.

The Valedictorian Scholarship Award

Presented by Academic Dean Dr. Mark Abisi

The honor of being the Valedictorian is based on superior academic performance over not less than two years of study at TASIS. The School considers academic achievement, the rigor of the academic program followed, and the number of courses completed.

This year’s Valedictorian is deeply and sincerely committed to academic excellence and has distinguished himself during four years of study at TASIS in all academic areas. As a full IB Diploma student with a robust and rigorous course load, he has earned predicted 7s in all courses, which is the highest mark possible, and he has earned a perfect transcript, displaying highest honors every year. In fact, back in Grade 10, prior to engaging in the IB, he not only danced with Dr. Love in Honors World Literature, he also enrolled in Ms. Venchus’s AP Calculus class and earned an A. When I was meeting with department chairs and teachers to discuss this student’s candidacy for the Valedictorian Award, comments were shared such as, “He is one of the top students I have ever encountered in my years of teaching,” and, “Simply put, he is on another level.”

I am proud to announce that this year’s Valedictorian is Minjoon Seo.

The Headmaster’s Award

Presented by Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

Please let me take this moment to describe this year’s winner of the 2019 Headmaster’s Award.

When we think of the ideals that TASIS sets for itself, we can state with confidence that there are none this student does not instantiate. Ceaselessly ungrudging, congenial, and reflective, he maintains an exuberant spirit and constructive sense of humor that speaks to his sense of fellowship and balance. He demonstrates on a daily basis a love of learning for its own sake, often volunteering to research, write, and create beyond what is required or prompted. Bilingual in English and Turkish, this student also studies Italian and Spanish at the highest levels.

What is more impressive, though, are the friendly and creative ways that he has fostered a spirit of internationalism in the TASIS community and beyond. Through his film productions, his participation in the Nepal Service Learning Group, his love of cross-language puns, his enthusiasm for running and track, and his passion for reading, he evinces and elicits a wisdom we have rarely seen in adults, much less in high school students.

This student stretches himself as a public figure, directing movies, giving speeches, participating in class, and leading his fellow students. On his second day of high school, in the fall of 2015, this student broke his arm, and badly. Only after months of medical care and physical rehabilitation was he able to return to the sports and activities he loved. What we saw during these months was a 15-year-old who smiled through the pain and never complained.

The person his fellow students know is the person we faculty know. With grace and aplomb, this student engages fellow human beings with "personal responsibility, civility, compassion, justice, and truth.” We could quote language at random from TASIS’s foundational documents: they would be apposite to this student’s achievements, character, and contributions.

For his nobility of character, his wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, his always affable wit, and his unfailing generosity, we are proud to confer the 2019 TASIS Headmaster’s Award on Alex Secilmis.

The ECIS Award for International Understanding

Presented by Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

This prestigious annual award is sponsored by the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), which specifies that the recipient must be “a good representative of his or her own country, with a positive attitude towards the life and culture of others, able to converse in at least two languages, a contributing force in the life of the school, with the ability to bring differing people together into a sense of community, thus furthering the cause of international understanding."

This year’s ECIS award recipient is a quiet member of our school community who always shows a very positive attitude towards other cultures and socializes with mixed groups of students. He speaks Korean and English and is able to converse in Spanish, representing a global citizen who understands and respects similarities and differences of individuals and is always concerned about world issues.

He is a consistent, positive presence on campus, and even during his IB exams, he found the time to participate in all school events, even those where his attendance was not required.

He has excelled in his Service Learning group, Ethiopia Nuovo Fiore, being in charge for the past two years of all activities, including fundraising, creating posters, and conducting surveys, just to mention a few.

I am proud to announce that the recipient of the 2019 ECIS Award for International Understanding is Minjoon Seo.

The Jan Opsahl Service Award

Presented by Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

This award recognizes students for whom the school community comes before self. In the past, this award has acknowledged students who contributed to the school community and to school life beyond the call of duty. Faculty members are asked to be especially mindful of students who may be giving of themselves in quiet, unobtrusive ways.

Here is what the faculty had to say about this year’s recipient:

“She is a quiet but strong presence at TASIS.”

“She is extremely helpful in her role as a proctor and ceaselessly goes out of her way to listen to and help her fellow students.”

“She maintains a bottomless reservoir of empathy for those around her and is compassionate when others need compassion.”

“She actively reflects on herself and her life circumstances as a way of thinking about others.”

“She does not take her good fortune for granted but rather thinks about how she can use it to help others.”

“Her humility is genuine, and her desire to give to others is genuine.”

“Nothing she ever chose to do while at TASIS was done merely to bolster or strengthen her university applications.”

“TASIS would benefit from recruiting 300 of her.”

For all of this and more, I am proud to announce the winner of the 2019 Jan Opsahl Service Award to Yeounkyung (Irene) Lee.

The Michael Ulku-Steiner Leadership Award

Presented by Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

This award recognizes the student or students who have shown initiative, creativity, and disinterested involvement in making our school a better place to study and to live in. Student council, committee, or student activity work may qualify a student. The award generally has been given to a student recognized as a leader (in the furthering of TASIS goals and ideals) by both the students and the Faculty.

This year’s recipient of the Michael Ulku-Steiner Leadership Award has been described by faculty members and peers as simply a wonderful person. She is thoroughly genuine and sincere, and in all she does, she goes all in with both head and heart. She is a leader in the classroom, in the dorms, on the courts, and on the stage. She is mature, respectful, considerate, hard-working, and impressive.

Simply put, she is a bright and radiant example of the attributes, qualities, and virtues that this community values.

I am proud to present the 2019 Michael Ulku-Steiner Leadership Award to Maria Veronica Ramos Romero.

The H. Miller Crist Award

Presented by Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff

The highest recognition accorded by the TASIS Faculty, this award is given to the senior who, by his or her actions (academic and otherwise), best embodies or pursues the ideals, aspirations, and goals of the School. In many ways, the award combines the stipulations of the Service and Leadership Awards with an expectation of academic excellence.

This year’s H. Miller Crist Award recipient is a person who fosters a passion for excellence along with mutual respect and understanding. She takes personal responsibility by being her own advocate in everything she does. She is thoroughly compassionate and honest and has a sense of justice, exceeding expectations in all her efforts, whether it is toward dorm duties, academics, sports, service learning, or the arts. 

She is a solid academic student involved in the AP curriculum, with her teachers describing her as follows:

“She is an absolute pleasure to have in class, and her positivity, pleasantness, and genuine kindness enrich every encounter.”

“She goes above and beyond on every assignment and always tries her best.”

“She always helps other students in the class”

“She continues to show her sincere commitment to the arts despite all of her busy academics, proctoring, and sports activities.”

Our recipient has served TASIS as Head Dorm Proctor for the past two years. She was praised by the Director of Residential Life as “exceeding every expectation I had of her, and I would like to keep her as head proctor going forward. If I could retire a number (like they do in sports), I would. I want to bottle up what she has brought to this community and then show upcoming head proctors how it is done.”

Her dorm parents describe her as “highly respectful and respected,” noting that they feel “incredibly fortunate to have her as a proctor.” When she is on duty, she provides invaluable help to her dorm parents, who have particularly appreciated “her input in helping the new members of the dorm community settle into life. She has developed wonderful friendships with others and always shows understanding, sensitivity, and kindness in her interactions.”

The words of her advisor are echoed by the community: “She is the embodiment of the TASIS ideals and goals. No matter which road she chooses to walk down, she will make a difference in a positive way to that community, just like she has here for the past four years at TASIS.”

It should also be noted that this student was nominated by the Faculty for every other major school award this year and that last year as a junior, some faculty members forwarded her as a candidate for this award even though it must go to a senior. They simply thought that highly of her.

I could not be prouder to announce this year’s recipient of the H. Miller Crist Award, Maria Veronica Ramos Romero.


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