Last weekend I had the incredible pleasure of attending the Bicentennial Celebration at Emma Willard School. It wasn’t just the thrill of sitting in the classroom my favorite teacher used as his “home” (and where I took economics from another favored teacher), listening to a new generation of faculty and students talk about their classes, or that for the first time in over 30 years I got to see friends from the classes surrounding mine (that pesky 5-year reunion cycle). Or the amazing dance party – with fireworks – thrown Saturday night.
What’s difficult to do well is balance that mix of paying homage to the founder’s vision (that girls deserve the same education as boys, enabling them to transform the world), honoring the generations of alumnae (who have different memories and attitudes toward the curriculum and changes to the physical plant, traditions, etc.) and inspiring the current students. Unsurprisingly, this weekend blended it all so well, with today’s students playing an integral part in all events, not just performing for the returning alumnae. There are things I mourned the loss of, but recognize that staying static simply to please the alumnae would do the school’s present needs a great disservice. It says a lot about the administration and the Board that they’re able to see past the history into the future.
At the end of this month, Professional Children’s School will celebrate its centennial. The two schools couldn’t be more different, yet I’ve been to enough PCS events to know how well they’ll blend the past and present, too. There will be nostalgia for the past, but honoring the students there now and the accomplishments of the alumni will predominate.
Too many schools look back at the past at these times without acknowledging the needs of the present school and students. Winning sports teams and teachers whose careers spanned decades are recalled, without a look outside the school walls. Alumni who have made outsized contributions to the outside world in some way are highlighted, while the more minor contributions are glossed over. Generations aren’t blended together, with graduates from the 50s clumping together and not really interacting with graduates from the 90s or 70s. At both EWS and PCS, that doesn’t happen. And (IMVHO) that’s not just a credit to the schools, it’s to their benefit.