It’s always wonderful to return to something familiar: your childhood home, the cottage you spent summers at, or in my case my alma mater, Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Things always seem bigger when you’re young, the summer cottage was a palace when you were five and although at 15 (on your family vacation) it probably seemed like the smallest place in the world, later it becomes cozy again and welcomes you home. That’s how you feel when you return to Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Every “Stoneleigh-Burnham Girl” can probably describe the feeling. As Sally Mixsell, Head of School and graduate of the class of 1969 remarked, “This is a place where you feel at home as soon as you drive up our long, tree-lined drive. At least that’s how I felt as a 13 year old coming to the school for my first time; I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to live, study and make life-long friends.”
As a fellow alumna, and one who has returned to SBS to live and work, I know the feeling well. I experienced it the first time I visited when, having been coerced into attending an Open House on Columbus Day (a day I vehemently believed was for sleeping late and not going to school), I told my Mother when I returned home “I don’t just want to go to Stoneleigh-Burnham, I want to live there.” Needless to say, being that I was 13 at the time, my Mother laughed and said “No way Laura, you are too young to live away from home…you can attend but only as a day student..” It took some convincing but I like to think that ultimately my maturity and thoughtful arguments persuaded my parents to let me go away to school and just a few months later I was packing and preparing to move all my things to my new home away from home at Stoneleigh-Burnham School.
The years at Stoneleigh-Burnham flew by. I did make life-long friends, I also worked hard on class assignments and projects and spent a great deal of time laughing and enjoying the high school experience…Stoneleigh-Burnham style. This included things like “kidnapping” friends on a weeknight to take them out to celebrate their birthdays (with the help of some beloved Houseparents), dancing around dorm rooms, attending numerous Housemeetings (our weekly all school meeting), manufacturing, and I use this word loosely, board games for class projects and because by senior year we had made so many, unofficially founding our own board game company. Before I knew it, the experience was over and it was time for graduation. There I was, processing through the Oval arm in arm with my two best friends on my way to the candlelit Vespers Ceremony, a longstanding tradition, where we sang “I Hope Tomorrow’s Like Today” by Guster before ceremonially passing the torch to the rising Senior Class. I graduated a few days later, celebrated, and spent a summer making even more memories with my friends and classmates before packing up to attend Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT.
Once again it seems time flew by and I found myself a college graduate frantically searching (because there really is no other way) for a job. By chance, Stoneleigh-Burnham was looking for an Associate Director of Admissions and when I drove up that long tree-lined drive, now an adult and college graduate, I experienced that same feeling. Just four years after my graduation from SBS I found myself returning to this place that carries such importance for so many women, young and old alike. I was home.
The past year has been one of both challenges and excitement. Sally our beloved Head of School, has completed a whirlwind first year during which she has made students and families alike feel welcomed and helped them share in the exciting changes occurring at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. In my new role as an “adult” in the community, a strange feeling for sure, I have had the opportunity to experience what it’s like on the other side. Now I have the pleasure of watching the girls grow and learn here at SBS and I can see the difference this small school is making in the lives of so many young women. As one senior told me, just a few days before the Installation Ceremony last fall, “Over the last four years SBS has become my home, not just my home away from home. It’s more than that; it has actually become my home.”
Now in my work in Admissions I am often asked what we look for in a prospective student. In some ways that’s easy to answer we look for intelligent, motivated, positive young women with a passion for learning and a passion for life. That’s not all though, there’s something else and it’s a bit hard to describe. I look for that spark, the one our Head of School felt when she arrived years ago and the one I felt when I first arrived at SBS. It’s that feeling, that connection that I look for in a prospective student, because I believe that we are all connected, and at some point we have all shared that feeling and we have all come home.