Private-School Poppets Welcome Ferrell, Hugh Grant, Reality-Show Cameras

“In second grade, we learned the proper way to show respect for someone’s home,” he said. “For example, how to christen a host’s elevator by breaking a bottle and running away or help bleach a guest’s rug.”

Outside after the ceremony, some of the boys lit stogies. “I was born to hold a cigar!” a young man with freckles named David Rattner was overheard to brag. This summer, Mr. Rattner, who lives on the Upper West Side and is headed to Brown in the fall, will work for Mr. Bloomberg’s reelection campaign. “I have some plans for the future, but I’m allowing myself some freedom,” he said, adding that he has watched Gossip Girl, but found it a bit hollow. “It is a hyperbolic representation of my life,” he said.

 

‘MAKE MS. SPENCE PROUD’

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, the girls of Spence were marching inside the Church of Heavenly Rest, dressed in virginal white dresses and holding colorful bouquets of fresh flowers. In the audience sat the writer sons of New York Times columnist Frank Rich, Nathaniel and Simon, there for a cousin. The commencement speaker was Last King of Scotland actress Kerry Washington, class of ’94.

“I wasn’t invited here today because I have some gifted capacity to deliver a message of inspiration for the future, no,” declared Ms. Washington, her hair pulled tightly back, dressed in a blue-and-white skirt suit. “You’ve invited me here because I am one of you—a Spence girl, through and through.”

Ms. Washington continued: “Your love and support for one another has gotten you worried a little about leaving here. You love Spence. And you are not sure what to expect. To that I will say, ‘Good, you should be a little nervous, because ladies, the world is not exactly like Spence.’” (Here the parents began to chuckle.)

“Make Ms. Spence proud!” later enjoined Bodie Brizendine, head of school.

Up at the Riverdale campus of Horace Mann, whose class of nearly 200 was four times most of the others, the red, gold, and white Chanel purses were in full bloom.

Upper East Side parent Debra Jaliman, “a Fifth Avenue dermatologist,” said her daughter was headed to the University of Pennsylvania. “It was her first choice; she got in early decision,” Dr. Jaliman bragged. “She worked so hard at Horace Mann and her dreams came true! It’s hard to get A’s here, so if you get the A’s, you’re going to get into an Ivy League school.”

A gentleman in a navy power suit and loafers was not so forthcoming, though he did allow that his second child was graduating from the school. “Horace Mann has been in the public eye a lot lately in a negative light,” he apologized.

Indeed, given New York parents’ traditional guardedness, it’s surprising that NYC Prep materialized at all.

But then again, it is co-produced by the formidable Liz Alderman, who attended the Brearley school for girls (considered the best in its class; as the saying goes: “Chapin girls sleep with the doctors, Spence girls marry the doctors, and Brearley girls become the doctors”) and then returned to teach at the school after Harvard. Another producer, Matt O’Brian, attended Stuyvesant.

“We’re just native New Yorkers that wanted to bring a fresh, East Coast perspective to the teen docu-soap genre and show the rest of America how New York kids operate,” Ms. Alderman said. “These kids have more opportunity than almost any other place on the planet.”

Ms. Goldman, the guidebook writer, expressed skepticism about the show. “Nightingale is the top school in the group!” she said disdainfully. “Anyone going to the top 10 or 15 schools would be smart enough not to be a part of this.”

Ms. Alderman was responsible for easing the concerns of interested parents, who would have to sign off on their children’s participation. Most of them asked her, “If this were your child, would you let them do it?”

“My answer was always, ‘Yes, of course.’ Reality TV is now a fundamental part our collective culture and the TV landscape,” said Ms. Alderman. “It’s a genre that is not going to go away. … Take the reins and make this genre your own.”

The schools that participated did not allow filming inside their walls, and their names are not mentioned. But according to a few speculative online parents’ forums, the brash Peter “PC” Peterson has already graduated from Dwight, where another cast member, Jessie Leavitt, 17, is a senior; the pretty Kelli Tomashoff, 17, is a junior at Birch Wathen Lenox; Sebastian Oppenheim, the 16-year-old “player,” is a sophomore at the Ross School in East Hampton; Taylor DiGiovanni, 15, is a student at Stuyvesant; and Camille Hughes, 16, is a junior at the Nightingale-Bamford School. (Nightingale recently sent out a letter to parents and alumnae, clarifying that the school did not O.K. Ms. Hughes’ participation and advised against it.)

“Maybe the parents are thinking that this is a good opportunity,” Ms. Goldman said. “But … the focus should have been on college admission, not who’s hooking up with whom.”

Ms. Goldman then confessed that she’s writing her own (fictional) series about the world of private schools. Title: Admissions Impossible. She said MTV and the CW are both interested.

Additional reporting by Caitlin Keating and Eliza Shapiro

ialeksander@observer.com