Author Archives: Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Guest Post: “Believe the Bird” Commencement Address by Anna Schuleit Haber

This year’s Commencement speaker, chosen by the graduating class of 2014, was visual artist and MacArthur Felllow Anna Schuleit Haber. Ms. Haber has graciously given us permission to post her full speech here. “Believe the Bird” was delivered at Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 6th in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

 

BELIEVE THE BIRD

Anna Schuleit Haber delivers the 2014 Stoneleigh-Burnham Commencement Address.A squirrel appears on a lawn and sees a nut lying out in the open. Carefully, it looks around and assesses its surroundings. When it feels ready and safe, it moves into the open, aiming for the nut. It reaches it, scoops it up and hurries back to safety. In his book on the brain, “The Master and His Emissary”, Ian McGilchrist describes the kind of attention the squirrel uses here as “open attention”.

Later, when the squirrel sits down with the nut, to crack and break it down, it uses an entirely different attention, a kind of attention that can be understood as “narrow attention”. Both are needed to navigate through this world; both are indicators of the interactions between the two hemispheres of our brains: left and right. The right brain hemisphere is connected to open attention: our skill of taking in an entire scene and making sense of it. The left brain hemisphere is responsible for breaking things down and categorizing everything.

Dear graduating seniors, dear parents, trustees, faculty members, families, and friends — I am honored to be here with you today and to celebrate your graduation. For the past few days, I was sitting in the garden of a friend, thinking about this special day and about you, and I decided that I would speak to you about attention, and types of attention, intuition, about the time during and after high school, and—most generally—about happiness in life.

Walking across a campus like this reminds me of being a student like you. When I was in boarding school, an ocean away from my family and childhood friends, my days seemed to be made of nothing but school matters: assignments, books, late night studies, basketball practice, bakery duty, stacks of vocabulary cards, so many words that I didn’t know. High school in a boarding school, away from home, equaled more than high school had ever meant to me up to that point: it was a sense of school as pure possibility. An opening of the self. It was, to me, the highest version of high school: higher than any place I’d known before, a place of higher learning, higher knowledge, and high growth.

In boarding school I finally became a curious student. And you, too, might have been feeling this same progression in you: that over time you have become, in fact, the kind of student for whom this place was originally created, for whom it had been made ideal. For whom all these buildings had been built and for whom the curriculum had been developed. Each of you is a young woman with a full-fledged story from where you come, who your people are. A story with details, and details with facets of humanity, each one of you different from the next. This place was created for bringing life stories like yours together and making more layered, more evolved, more deliberate stories out of each of you, stories of conscious growth. A place for a community of girls, a place for you who graduate today.

When I was here last October and met so many of you, I felt that this was a special place. I loved your energy. It made me think that high school is truly a place that puts the student at the center of the universe and surrounds him or her with the possibilities of life and knowledge, a place for you to learn to embody the personal and to then to head out to touch the world with and through your life —your lives.

After today most of you will go on to college, and you might think it’s similar, but it’s not. College is bigger, less intimate, more speedy, more layered, crowded, and complicated. Somehow, as you move from high school towards the next step in your journey, you become a more public person. Your career starts. High school is the necessity on which everything gets built, but it isn’t your outward career yet. It is your private career, your chance to learn who you are. You’ve had a most exquisite chance here on this campus, of learning more than the basics. Now things will speed up, and speed you into the lanes of adulthood, which are speedier, riskier, and less neat.

And so I want you to pause here for just a moment longer, pause and celebrate inwardly and with each other, and then take the best of what you’ve been building and making here at this school, during this time, as an investment into the self that you are poised to become: take all these treasures with you as you start your career as an adult student, an adult woman, and a citizen of this world. Once you’re out there in the world, with your treasures of high school under your skin, all the details of your education thus far, I encourage you to make passionate choices that honor this foundation that you have created for yourselves. Choices of schools, friends, majors, direction, and — style. Why do I mention style? I don’t mean the way you dress, I mean the style of self: what kind of woman are you evolving into, what kind of mind are you cultivating, what type of personality are you beginning to be? Whatever the answer, whatever your style and your direction, your very own arc of a journey, I am happy to say that ALL of you will be needed.

That there is a place for each and every one of you out there in the world.

As you graduate here today, you are freer than you have ever been in your life before. More free to make your own choices. After today, you will be seen as adults in almost every sense. You will be expected to be responsible and mature, as people will rely on you. Strangers might ask for your help when you don’t expect it, more than before. The world will simply assume that you have gained the basic tools to navigate through this life, which is not basic at all, but complex.

As graduating seniors, your schedules had already became as full as you thought they could possibly be, and you made it through, and here we are. you have all been “big sisters” to younger students at the same time, you have been mature and responsible for and with others around you, as you grew to be the oldest. Now you will leave here and feel young all over again, in college, or in whichever job you pursue. You might realize that you’re the youngest again, actually. And life might suddenly appear quite large and vast and disorganized around you.

And it is.

So—when you find yourself in a tight spot or crisis, which sooner or later you will, I would like you to try something: try to practice a sense of open calmness before zooming in. Try to first collect and balance your mind and body for a moment, like the squirrel taking in the wider context. Locate yourself within yourself. Then step forth.

When, on the other hand, you find yourself hungry or tired, too tired to be glowing or helpful, don’t be ashamed to withdraw and recuperate. And to do so, you will have to learn to be clear: first with yourself, then with others around you. Clear about your needs, and then kindly straightforward. Learn to take efficient, simple care of yourself. Nobody will be better at this task than you.

And when, perhaps, you find yourself feeling lonely, try this: reach out to someone without expectation, rather than waiting to be reached for. Sit down and write a letter by hand. Go for a walk along a babbling creek, off the beaten path, without your phone. Notice your loneliness with that same open attention, and treasure it. That sounds very hard and strange, but it’s the truth: it, too, is one of your treasures.

When you find yourself bored, ever, try this: be curious about something outside of yourself. Pick something beyond your usual horizon and marvel at it. Divert your attention and let something unlikely into your mind, something to re-arrange your thought patterns and your mind’s habits. The writer Samuel Beckett pushed the boundaries of language, concept, composition in his writings. And he did so by positioning himself in a beginner’s spot: he wrote many of his works in French, rather than in his native English — and he attributed this to his “need to be ill-equipped.” Having been ill-quipped many times in my life as an artist, I can tell you that this is true: if you’re not quite certain of how to do something, but if you commit yourself to the process of it, you will, wonderfully inevitably, make discoveries. And making discoveries is a fundamental ingredient of creativity.

When I was a painting student at RISD I discovered that I enjoy the stretch of time that passes between having an idea, a plan, and realizing it. That the uncertainty of the journey of creating something, the lag between first motivation and later outcome, can be enjoyable, even thrilling. If you are on the path to becoming an artist, too, or any other creative job, I invite you to watch how other artists and makers, older than you, manage to stay true to themselves through that creative uncertainty, i.e. the interaction between right brain open attention and left brain focus and analysis. Look for smart people who know more than you, watch them and see how they work, how they move through the world.

And when something you’re witnessing is great, truly great, when the hair on your neck stands up in admiration for something or someone, make sure to take notice. Learning to pay compliments if inspired, is as important as learning to give honest feedback if asked. Try to become an athlete in your own field, however un-athletic it may be, and by that I mean dedicate yourself to practicing your stuff, over and over and over. When you need help, look around—ASK. Then offer your help back to others who cross your path needing help. They will. There will undoubtedly be times to give back, and it’s rarely to those who once gave to you, but usually to others, in other ways.

Three and four generations ago, our women ancestors in this country, and many countries around the world, began to fight for their right to vote and didn’t give up, a struggle that is hard for us to imagine today. We take for granted their then newly-won right to participate as equals in governments and society, and our natural inheritance of it. As women we all have been given the fruits of women’s struggles of the past, so I would like to ask you graduating girls particularly, to never miss an election: to go out and vote for what you believe in, who you root for, who represents you. Like so many other female writers and artists, Virginia Woolf struggled to shake off her sense of the confinement of her imagination, her creativity, asking herself: “What IS a woman? I do not know… I do not believe anybody knows until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill.”

Along those lines I want to invite you, in your lives, too—to go, if necessary, against the tide. The women who fought for our rights in the past, for us to vote and to be equals in the arts and all other professions, went against the tide. Conditions would never have changed if they had waited for someone powerful to make the changes for them. So don’t miss a chance to engage in dialogue about difficult things — and that’s usually not when difficult things are easy, but when they are difficult to discuss. Point out and pause for injustice whenever you come across it in your lives.

If necessary, go against the tide.

But truly, and most of all, and in all of this: I would like to invite you to be infectious with a good, open attitude. Having a good attitude is not a minor secret skill, something hidden under the surface of your personality, but it is completely and utterly visible to anyone who comes anywhere near you. If you don’t know how to do it, watch those who have mastered this art, and then practice it like the French Horn, or third level dressage. You can actually, really truly learn how to light up a room, and not miss a chance to be genuinely curious. A good attitude goes hand in hand with curiosity, with openness, and with a flexibility of one’s ego.

And even if you’re as considerate and humble and kind a person as you can possibly be—for as long as you can—you might still encounter incredible obstacles for long inexplicable stretches. Then I want you to trust: to trust that none of what you invest your heart and energies in will be in vain. The trick is to shape your destiny with your intentions but to expect nothing directly back—except to be surprised. In Buddhism this is called “the light of the world”: that the karmic fruits of your being will keep arising. But it is your responsibility to see the world with your best, open attention, as the squirrel does before it narrows its focus on the outcome of the nut. To learn to see the choices that you will make.

What lies ahead for you is a road of gains and losses, between which you will make your home. This making of a home will most likely be the most creative and individual act of your lives. Why creative? Because there is not realIy any kind of guidance for it other than your own, so you must use your intuition, intention, and practice. John J. Audubon, in the preface to his guide to birds in America, reminds us that “If the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.” Use your own inner light to shine your way, to stand straight, to stand right up, and stand light and firm on the ground you’re claiming for yourself, the self you are becoming. Take IN the whole scene of your life, as it unfolds. And, “I urge you” said the writer Kurt Vonnegut, “to please notice when you are happy.” Which means, to actually notice when all is well for the moment, when the air is clear.

It is my honor to remind you today, and to remind you to remind yourselves in the weeks and years to come, wherever you may be, that each and every instant is, in fact, a rare moment of creation. That sense of your journey can be, and I hope that it will be, your very own sense of happiness. As if he had known about the squirrel, and maybe he did, wonderful E. E. Cummings put it best:

“(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”

Congratulations, dear Seniors.

- Anna Schuleit Haber
June 6, 2014

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Filed under Graduation, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Guest Post: Reflections for the Class of 2014

Today we feature a guest blogger, parent Christina Lord. Christina has written a reflection for her daughter Caroline Lord and Caroline’s peers who will be graduating tomorrow morning, June 6th.

‘We were all to be queens
of four kingdoms on the sea:
Efigenia with Soledad,
and Lucila with Rosalie.

In the Valley of Elqui, encircled
by a hundred mountains or more
that blaze red like burnished offerings
or tributes of saffron ore,

We said it, enraptured,
and believed it perfectly,
that we would all be queens
and would one day reach the sea.

With our braids of seven-year-olds
and bright aprons of percale,
chasing flights of thrushes
among the shadows of vine and grape.

And our four kingdoms, we said,
so vast and great would be,
that as certain as the Koran
they would all reach the sea.

We would wed four husbands
at the time when we should wed,
and they would all be kings and poets
like King David of Judea.’

“We Were All To Be Queens” by Gabriela Mistral, Chile (1889-1957)

Today begins another chapter of your life. We rejoice with you as you stand at this summit looking into a new dawn, full of unseen perspectives and unchartered roads that await you. Looking back, while twelve or more years of school have gone in a blink, each day has prepared you to take the steps that lie ahead.  Challenged by teachers, family and peers, you have become whole women, ready to play your part as members of this global village.  From cells to equations; from Shakespeare to Middle Eastern peace efforts, Shostakovich, Balanchine and Van Gogh, from the theory of knowledge to the values of community service, Stoneleigh-Burnham empowered you to pursue excellence and to find your own voice. This home has also allowed you to experience firsthand the fellowship of girls from all around the world and, in doing so, you have expanded your horizons as ambassadors of peace.

Looking ahead, in the words of Gabriela Mistral, your kingdoms, so vast and great will be, ‘that as certain as the Koran they’ will all reach the sea. The journey you begin today will test your character, your beliefs and your self-knowledge, as you come to realize that change is the only constant and that your decisions will have ever greater consequences for yourselves and others. Embrace every moment. Trust yourselves, for you are resourceful women. Listen with your heart, not only to the voices around you, but especially to the one inside you. Respect yourselves. Recognize your limits. Mind yourselves. Through it all, remember to be grateful for your strengths, your resources and your heritage. For it is your inner strength and humility that will fuel and guide your steps in the world.

A Chinese proverb says that women hold up half of the sky. Some do so by cooking meals for their families in refugee camps while other rule nations. Wherever your roads take you, whether in joyfulness or suffering, remember that we, your parents, have your back, and that we are committed to you through the unbreakable bond of our unconditional, unwavering and everlasting love.

- Christina Lord

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Living The Kite Runner

Standing in line for food during Formal Dinner last week, I was approached by a new student, “S.” ’14 (her name has been withheld to protect her anonymity), whom I’d only known from house parenting duties. She told me, in her quiet manner, that my 11th graders’ English summer reading book, The Kite Runner, is her favorite novel. She continued by telling me that she is a Hazara, of the same tribe as Hassan, one of the significant characters in The Kite Runner, and that she has experienced similar discrimination growing up in Afghanistan as he has in the novel. As IB learners I thought that the girls would benefit from meeting “S.” and hearing her story, as it relates to The Kite Runner, and I asked her if she would be interested in talking to both of my classes. “S.” graciously, and without any hesitation, accepted my invitation.

“S.” had prepared a Power Point presentation in advance and she began by giving us a brief history of Afghanistan and telling us about her family. She then proceeded by relating her experiences growing up in Afghanistan to The Kite Runner. The thing that struck me the most was that “S.” at such a young age was able to talk about her difficult experiences with such clarity and in such an unblemished manner. She has already gained perspective and made sense of her country’s violent history and the effect it has had, and still has, on her family and her people. “S.” has decided not to let her experience bring her down; instead she has been able to turn it into something positive. She told the class about her volunteer work at the same orphanage in which one of the characters in The Kite Runner grew up. She and her sisters have had the rare opportunity to pursue an education and “S.” is a courageous and passionate advocate for girls’ education and women’s rights. At a very young age she has her goals set and is determined to make a change in the world.

At the end of the presentation the girls were able to ask questions and it was very clear they had been deeply affected, and touched, by “S.’s” story. The girls were very curious to know more about the history of Afghanistan, “S.’s” family, her take on The Kite Runner, and her goals. The questions asked were thoughtful and intelligent and helped the girls put the novel into a clearer context. With the start of this school year the 11th graders are embarking upon the great journey that is the IB and I truly think, based on today’s classes, that these girls are going to do very well. Thank you, “S.”, for being a role model and pushing the girls off onto the great seas of IB and giving them a taste of what this wonderful program is all about.

 

Tutu Heinonen

11th Grade English Teacher

 

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Filed under In the Classroom, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Keep a Questing Mind

by Shawn Durrett, Dean of Faculty

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At convocation on the first day of classes, senior Caroline Lord delivered a rousing speech encouraging her fellow students to “keep a questing mind” (thank you Caroline, for my new mantra for the year – I will quote you frequently and fervently). One of the great joys of being an English teacher is planning curriculum and thinking about ways to engage my students and inspire their curiosity, just as Caroline talked about.

When I plan a new course or unit, I often start by creating a thematic thread, knowing that I want my students to weave and tangle and unweave it throughout the term – in other words, to keep a questing mind as we work our way through the material, comparing and contrasting and building on and from the various texts and assignments. One of the most important skills we teach in an English classroom is how to recognize patterns: a recurrent image in a novel, words in an essay that create links back to the thesis, grammatical structure in a sentence. Basing a unit on shared themes is one such way to help students learn to recognize and appreciate these kinds of patterns and echoes.

This year I’m teaching a new-to-me 10th grade honors English class titled “Finding Identity.” Fellow 10th grade English teacher Tutu Heinonen and I decided we wanted the fall unit to focus on ideas about identity, gender, class, and society, with selected readings that pair nicely with our summer reading book, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We’ll read Henry James’ novella Daisy Miller (looking again at ideas of gender, class, and social manners in the 19th century but through a different lens- a male perspective). Then we’ll end the term with Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, focusing on judgment and prejudice in the extreme; how it can break down and destroy a community. I’ll add in some poetry and other short readings as time allows.

I wanted to get my students thinking right away about some of the ideas and themes we’ll explore this fall. I began by scattering dozens of images of women on one of the tables in our classroom, and then invited students to circulate the table and look. The reality is, I told them, we live in a world that is saturated with images of women and ideas about what it means or should mean to be one. We started with a simple question: What do you see? Women. From all different cultures. Doing things. Posing. Working. Parenting.

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Then I asked them to choose a pair of images that sparked their interest, perhaps because they expressed a certain idea or emotion or seemed to contrast each other in an interesting way. Here are some of their pairings and thoughts:

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Images of marriage, images of cultural rituals

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“Here’s what you would see in National Geographic, and here’s what you would see in Vogue.” (In other words, image vs reality)

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Artificial vs natural

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Images of strength (I am so proud that my students identify Malala Yousafzai as an image of strength!)

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Images of motherhood, perfection vs reality

Next, I explained that the readings for fall trimester focus on issues related to gender roles, class, and society, and asked if they were interested in these topics. The group of girls in this particular class is incredibly savvy, and like most young women of their generation, multi-faceted. They can speak with equal enthusiasm and authority on Malala Yousafzai as an advocate for social change in the world and on the power of Katniss to inspire a generation of readers. They are self-proclaimed “Jane Austenites” (to be fair, at least one student in my class hates Jane Austen) but they also love reading fantasy fiction. They not only know about the recent Miley Cyrus debacle on the Video Music Awards but they are outraged that Robin Thicke isn’t bearing more backlash for outright objectification and degradation of women in his songs and performances. They are critical consumers of media, and also sharply funny (best comment from the first day of class: Pride and Prejudice is like the Gossip Girl of the 19th century). Yes, they assured me eagerly, they are interested in these topics. Good.

So after our brainstorming about images and depictions of women, I sent the students off with their first reflective writing assignment. They turned in their responses on the second day of class, beginning a discussion that revealed a myriad of responses and emotions about what it means to be a woman in our modern world- outrage, confusion, skepticism, shame, joy, and pride, among others. They have a pretty mundane task for day three of class – study for a test on the summer reading- but then we’ll pick back up with our discussion and start linking and contrasting Pride and Prejudice and Daisy Miller.

The beginning of a new term is filled with nervous excitement, not just for the students, worrying about their first test, but for me as their teacher, wanting to immediately ignite their curiosity for the work that lies ahead. There’s an art to this; you can’t force students to be curious, but you start by providing the opportunity for curiosity to take root. Thank you Caroline, for opening our school year by inspiring both students and teachers to keep a questing mind. The coolest part about any quest, of course, is that you don’t know exactly where it will take you. I’m excited to venture out with my students.

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Not One Dollar: Guest Post From Charlotte M. ’16

Charlotte M. ’16 recently guest blogged at Twitter Youth Feminist Army‘s Blog, JellyPop. She wrote about the Women’s Film Series here at SBS organized by Mary P. ’13 and her experience watching “Iron Jawed Angels.” In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’d like to share it with you, and we hope you’ll want to find out more!

“My name is Charlotte and I am a freshman at S-B School. Part of my school’s goal is to help students find their voices, and I have wanted to find my voice since I was nine years old. I have wanted to find my voice since an exhibit taught me to fear death, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation. I have wanted to find my voice since I realized that I could use it to change my life. But I never thought of using it to change someone else’s, and I never realized that what I thought was a personal struggle was something women faced all around the world: not being heard. I knew that women were oppressed, but it seemed like a distant problem that I had no connection to. This year, a single film changed that for me, something I never thought a movie could do…”

Read the rest of Charlotte’s blog post here.

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Filed under Gender, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Women’s Film Series Project at SBS

Ever since I came to Stoneleigh Burnham School in 2010, my interest in Women’s Activism has grown rapidly. I have spent three years engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations with many talented and promising young women. This school understands the importance of guiding young women to express themselves and seek change outside of the classroom. My goal is to bring in ideas and perspectives that will leave a lasting impression. We, as SBS girls, may live in a place where our voices can be heard, but in the outside world, women are often silenced. The oppression of women is not just a foreign issue, but increasingly present in the United States, where supposedly, “all citizens are created equal.” My frustration towards our gender’s oppression has inspired me to spread awareness to the SBS community. When I was given the opportunity to create a CAS (Community Action Service) project for the IB program, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to harness my passion for women’s activism and use it to inform the school. Ultimately I decided to create a Women’s Film Series, in which I would air inspiring documentaries and movies about the struggles of women around the world and the women who have led in the fight for equality.

On January 12th, the first night of my film series began with a showing of the documentary “Miss Representation,” directed by Jennifer Siebel. This is an inspiring film about the misrepresentation of women in the media. The students who attended this showing were outraged by how women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, magazines and newspapers. Even the most powerful women in the United States, and throughout the world, have been bombarded with disrespect and mistreatment. The students left the film, feeling the need to seek change. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start this Film Series.

In the coming weeks I will be showing the following films: “Iron Jawed Angels,” directed by Katja von Garnier, which depicts the struggles of Alice Paul, founder of the National Women’s Party, to achieve suffrage in the United States. I then will show “Half The Sky,” a two-part documentary inspired by the book “Half the Sky,” by Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This film documents the journey of author Nicolas D. Kristof and several celebrity activists into ten countries to tell the story of inspiring women. The women that they interview have lived in a world where forced prostitution, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence have taken place. The last film on my list will be aired during Women’s History Month. I will be showing the documentary, “Gloria: In her Own Words,” directed by Peter Kunhardt. This film chronicles the life of Gloria Steinem, a prominent figure in the Women’s Movement. So, when this Film Series has finished, I hope that this community will have been inspired to become women’s activists and strive to seek change around the world.

- Mary P., 2013

 

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Filed under Gender, International Baccalaureate, On Education, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

From Calgary And Back: A Letter of Thanks From PB

The Owl has finally landed, and our three excellent speakers are back in the fold. In preparation for the competition in Calgary, our work actually began in July: Caroline Lord and Mary Pura enrolled in Debate Camp and spent the week writing, polishing, and rehearsing. Jane Logan spent a month acting in New York City and New Haven. They return to us with rave reviews, very high marks, and several awards. I am still receiving emails from other coaches about these three. They loved their performances, and they loved the way they represented SBS in Canada.

Gratitude:

It starts with the Head of School, administration, and faculty—thank you for supporting their voices. An undertaking this large is never effected seamlessly, and I hope their return to Academia flows smoothly.

Karen Pleasant—thank you for navigating these waters. This trip threw you some weather challenges, but you communicated with all concerned parties, and you remembered all that was necessary. Your instincts were, in a phrase, spot on.

Kim Mancuso–thank you for your assistance with Jane Logan and Lillian Hellman’s translation of The Lark; your genius has now spilled over to our program. Bravo!

Highlights:

Mary Pura made the finals in After-Dinner Speaking. Jane Logan made the finals in both After-Dinner and Dramatic Interpretation.  Caroline Lord finished the week with a strong B+ average. There were 132 speakers and 44 teams from all corners of the earth.  Jane, for the second straight year, has been invited to join the US team which will compete, next March, in South Africa.

Thank you SBS—-it takes a village!

- PB (Paul Bassett, Debate Teacher)

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Filed under Performing Arts, School Happenings, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School