Category Archives: Alumnae

Looking After Each Other

“And finding each other, then looking after each other, is well worth doing.” – Bud Hunt

Even with 140 characters or less, you can tell on Twitter when people have been moved. Sunday, March 4 was such a moment as teacher after teacher retweeted Bud Hunt’s extraordinary blog, “On Love and Infrastructure,” often adding short comments such as @AndreaZellner’s “<3 this One to favorite and return to.” Mr. Hunt closes with five fundamentally important questions: “So how do you build love and care into your systems and infrastructures and learning environments and experiences? How are you doing so in a way that doesn’t over simplify the complex backgrounds of the people and communities you’re learning from and with? How are you looking for ways to increase the love and care in your systems? What are you loving in front of your students and colleagues? What would they say gets loved in your spaces?”

These questions go so much deeper than simply “What do you love?” It’s communicating love, fostering love, spreading love, ensuring love – not just between you and those around you but between others in your sphere of influence, along of course with a love of learning. I think back to an early year in the middle school when parents, asked to define what goals they had for their daughters, listed “happiness” as the #1 goal. Try and achieve that without love. It simply can’t be done.

I think one way to build love in your systems, learning environments, and experiences is simply to keep it ever in the forefront of your mind. Those young people sitting on the floor around me? While I’m with them, the rest of the world simply ceases to exist. For those 50-145 minutes, nothing in the world is more important than helping them create a context where they can be themselves, saying what’s on their mind, listening to others, learning with and from each other not just about whatever we are studying but also about each individual person in our community, including ourselves. After all, Humanities, I tell my students, is at its most fundamental about what it means to be Human. What more important curriculum could there be?

Images settle in my brain. A student’s proud parents hovering in my mind as I watch their daughter’s hand shoot up in the air with hesitation or reservation. One of last year’s students watching me approach and mock-sighing, “You’re going to ask me a question, aren’t you?” One of this year’s students reminding me, “We’re your favorite 2011-2012 Humanities 7 class, right?!” (note – as they well know, they are the only one. It’s an ongoing joke I have with them.) A drawing, with text, on the white board by another student recounting “A Philosophical Discussion by (some of) the great minds of Stoneleigh.” Me trying to figure out how often to allow myself to say “I love you all” so it becomes a given and yet continues to have impact. Several students in MOCA making announcements asking for help keeping corridor spaces clean, for older students to give as well as demand respect, for quiet on the corridor as their RA’s try to study for finals. “It all comes down to respect,” I said on that occasion, “which, being human, everyone simply deserves and everyone must give.” Behind that respect, of course, is love.

Building love into your infrastructure is a much more difficult proposition. Certainly, we build love into our schedule – we are on our 9th schedule in eight years precisely because we work hard to be aware of how the schedule supports students and what additional needs they might have. Each year, we think in particular about what could strengthen our advisory program for subsequent years. Our community service program is certainly a chance to give and receive love, whether working at the after-school program, the animal shelter, or the nursing home. Could there be more? I’m sure there could. But it’s at least a start.

So at Stoneleigh-Burnham, as I reflect on what I’ve just written, I do think we are constantly looking for ways to increase the love and care in our systems. We may or may not phrase it that way, and output can certainly distract us on occasion, but at root we are acutely aware that our school is built and relies on relationships. When former students look around at the physical changes of the school and tell me how different it is, I let them know that were they to spend enough time on campus, they would realize that it still feels the same, even if it might not look the same. You can see the realization wash through them as they start to smile.

“All we can ask,” I often tell my colleagues and my students, “is your best.” That which is done with genuine love is, far more often than not, your best. Our learning. Our friendships. Our school relationships. And reaching out beyond our school. It’s about voice and being your own best self.

Ultimately, it’s about happiness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Horses we Love

The following was originally published in the Spring 2007 Bulletin. At the time, Samantha Pleasant ’02 was  Associate Director of Admissions and a riding instructor here at SBS. Her words still reflect the feelings of so many students and alumnae that we wanted to share them here with you. We hope that you enjoy reading Sam’s account of her own relationship with horses and what she observed in our students during her time here.

I was never fortunate enough to have had my own pony as a child, although I certainly spent enough time wishing for one. But every day, rain or shine, I had a barn of 60 horses ready to love at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Even before I was a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl, before I was a Bonnie Castle Camper…I was a girl truly in love with the sight of a horse. I spent every waking minute that I was not at school at the barn rolling wraps, grooming horses, hand-walking, doing turnouts and of course, riding. I had a favorite horse for every hour of every day: Stoneleigh-Burnham School gave me a thousand opportunities to call a horse my own.

As I grew older, I learned that horses recognized footsteps and I could count on my horse to be standing in the closest corner of her stall, ears perked and her soft whiskered muzzle pressed against the iron bars. Today it’s still the best moment of my day. Each afternoon I take the few minutes I have before I begin teaching to press my face into her chestnut side and let her wrap her neck around me as I lean into her steady shoulder. During summer evenings, I’ll walk to the barn after dinner – let the slow lazy sun sink behind the trees and enjoy the quiet. She’ll have settled for the evening, finished her hay while her eyes start to droop and she’ll wait for me. I can spend hours grooming her, loose her from her stall without seeing another person or hearing any other footsteps beside our own. She’s content to stand as long as I hold a soft brush to flick the hairs from her coat and and a carrot to thank her. Her dark chocolate eyes follow my movements, as she carefully watches me. She knows that I can be trusted, that I am here to give care, worry over cuts and nicks, and satisfy her needs. I know in that moment what connection is, I can understand the beauty of horse and rider. Secrets spoken aloud lose their power; I keep this time with her private.

Not every day is like this, sometimes time and real life can interfere with want and I find myself barely stopping by on my way to an appointment, or traveling will leave me without checking on her for days at a time. But the consistency of knowing that your horse will be waiting when you return, just as ready, just as eager, is testament to the quiet acceptance horses can grant so easily.

Horses love unconditionally and pass no judgement, and that quiet whoof of breath into your hand can make the minutes and the hours melt away. Your physical limitations disappear in a half pass or a soaring jumper course and there is nothing but appreciation for the body beneath you that has given you wings. I’ve learned compassion and patience from my horses over the years and even more from watching the strength they can inspire in our students. Girls spend their adolescent years searching for voice, purpose, connection and an individual sense of accomplishment.

Stoneleigh-Burnham is a place for girls to foster connections with these uniquely dignified animals. We are able to continue these traditions year to year because of compassionate people who understand the importance of the relationships between girls and horses. These people are our Director of Riding Mina Cooper, our alumnae and the patrons of the SBS Riding Program, and they continue to give of their time and their hearts to support a program that gives young girls purpose.

Our school is a magical place where adults can help students combine a love of learning and a passion for horses. As one student remarked on her senior page, “I wish leaving Stoneleigh was as easy as leaving the ground. Thank you…”

-Samantha Pleasant, Class of 2002

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, Equestrian Program, School Happenings, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Esprit de basket

I will never forget the look on Ramses Lonlack’s face when we first walked into the Mullins Center at UMass. Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, her head tilted back, and as she gazed slowly around the arena, she said softly yet firmly, “Some day, I’m going to play in a place like this.” Along with several other fans from Stoneleigh-Burnham, we sat down near the small but enthusiastic cohort that seemed to be made up mostly of friends, roommates, and family members to cheer on the UMass women’s basketball team, Ramses’s voice rising with many others as she got caught up in her enthusiasm.

Women’s basketball fans are indeed enthusiastic about their sport, and many of us share a bond that goes far deeper than whatever team(s) we happen to support. Liz Feeley is a former women’s basketball coach in Divisions I and III, but although she undoubtedly sees more in five seconds than I see in five games, she loves to discuss the chances of UConn (a team I’ve followed since Rebecca Lobo went there out of Western Massachusetts) vs. Notre Dame (one of her former teams) with me, and a Diet Coke now rides on each match-up. Similarly, when I took Ramses and another girl from Africa to a professional Connecticut Sun game, they discovered the visiting Los Angeles Sparks had a player from Africa and began to root loudly for the opponents. Other fans turned around to gaze at them, but rather than incredulity or irritation, their faces showed a kind of bemused delight.

The following year, I learned a friend of mine (Melissa Sterry, a Sun fan and former WNBA blogger whom I had gotten to know simply by starting an email conversation in reaction to one of her blogs) kept six season tickets for the express purpose of bringing people to Sun games and getting them interested in women’s ball. She invited me to bring a cohort of students whom we took out to dinner after the game so she could talk to them a bit about basketball and about their lives. Ramses was originally supposed to go to that game too, but at the last minute had to cancel because a Division I school had offered her a tryout. She expressed profound disappointment at missing the Sun game, but knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

Historical Interlude

Women’s basketball began in 1892 when Sendra Berenson of Smith College adapted the rules of the year-old sport for women. Players could only bounce the ball once before passing, and the court was divided into three zones to minimize running. Three players per team were assigned to each zone – guard, center, or forward. The first known women’s basketball game opposed the classes of 1895 and 1896, with the freshmen winning 5-4.

In 1914, just two years after the college opened, West Tennessee State Normal School played their own first women’s basketball game, winning 24-0 over a local high school. The college would undergo a number of name changes through the years, settling on the University of Memphis in 1994. Despite their early advocacy of women’s sports, the college demoted all women’s athletics from varsity status in 1936. They would remain so until the passage of Title IX, and the women’s basketball team was reinstated for the 1972-1973 season.


Ramses did end up at the University of Memphis, the school she missed the Sun game for, and made her mark quickly. She won the “Rookie of the Week” award her first week in the league, and has won numerous defensive awards. More recently, she approached a major milestone, her 1000th point. She has also grabbed more than 500 rebounds and had over 250 steals, and is only the 6th player in U. Memphis history to achieve at this level. As Ramses approached the milestone, an excited buzz rose up on the Internet in the spirit both of women’s basketball and of Stoneleigh-Burnham, and when she finally made it, friends and fans from all over joined in congratulations. We could not be happier for her or prouder of her, and wish her all the best as she continues through her senior season.

Photo credit: Joe Murphy

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under Admissions, Alumnae, College Prep, On Athletics, The Faculty Perspective

The Magical World of Musician

I used to think making music was magic. I guess, after doing it, I still do. – Lisa Bastarache. ’99 (from her yearbook page)

I will never forget the first time I saw Dar Williams in concert. She opened for the Indigo Girls at the Mullins Center at UMass way back in the mid-90’s, and they invited her to play one of the encores. Alone on stage with her guitar, she transfixed the approximately 8,000 people in attendance with heartbreaking images of a relationship entering and eventually, tentatively, emerging from a “February” period. The song instantly became one of my all-time favorites, and I bought her CD “Mortal City” the very next day.

So when she came to our school on Friday to play a short concert, it was a dream come true, especially as she chose “February” as her last song of the set.  Even more importantly, though, she agreed to host a Q and A session with interested students afterward. I tipped off one of the middle school band members about the Q and A, and she said “THAT WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!” as she too is a Dar Williams fan, and has already written a number of songs (some of which we are eventually going to be performing). Four of the students in my French II class are in Select Chorus and, predictably, they too wanted to attend.

The questions – “How do you know if a song is good?” “How do you get from scribbling songs on index cards with broken pencils to knowing you’ve made it, to having a recording contract?” “Have you ever written anything so personal you’d never share it with anyone?” “Did you always know you were going to be a musician?” – both showed where the kids were coming from and inspired thoughtful answers. Ms. Williams’s thoughts on the last question not only brought me this blog title, but also took me back to the 90’s…to the early days of the school’s student rock band.

Lisa Bastarache, who is quoted above, was a founding member, alternating in the earliest concerts between playing guitar and singing because she wasn’t quite ready yet to do both at once. By fall of her senior year, though, she was commanding the stage, from the sass and in-your-face attitude of “not a pretty girl” by Ani DiFranco (“I am not a pretty girl. That is not what I… do. I ain’t no damsel in distress, and I don’t need to be rescued. So put me down, punk…”) to the clear, sweet longing of R.E.M.’s “Fall on Me” that contrasted with the growl of her black Strat as it intertwined with the harmony vocal of our drummer, Leah Freeman and the flute countermelody of Cassie Bohnett while Becca Engle anchored us on bass. The song still rests on my iPod, and when it comes up I generally drop what I’m doing to listen to it.

Under the watchful eye of Frog, Becca’s stuffed sheep that she willed to the group in Vespers, a generation (in middle school terms!) of bands have now taken the stage, and we’ve played witness to that mysterious alchemy time and time again. Kate Keiser’s gorgeous interpretation of “Hands” one winter, as her Christmas gift of an autographed picture of Jewel from our bassist Nicole Brennan graced the stage. Cass Panuska’s unforgettable “Zombie.” Mary Dooley’s recording of “Walking in Memphis” which was so dead-on perfect I’ve never seen a version that matches it  (though I’ll grant you this version by Marc Cohn himself is pretty awesome). Julie Stevenson’s rendition of “Don’t Know Why” that made me cry at least once each rehearsal. Michaela Sandhoff’s wistful “How’s It Going To Be?” And so many more. Cass and Mary, for sure, continue to work in, and with music, but most of the others have gone in other directions. No matter. Traces of their legacy remain forever in our music program. And similarly, each of them can draw forever on their experience in the magical world of Musician.

P.S. In one of those intriguing coincidences, “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls just came on the radio here at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters – a song from that evening at the Mullins Center, and one which alumnae from the 90’s may remember from many Farewells to Seniors: “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was FREE!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, On Education, Performing Arts, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Just a Color

Dance life deep into the dark night with the stars the keepers of your fate. No, you take its keeping. And the music of the peepers is the keeper of our salvation… In the end, there is one dance you do alone. – Millie Sutton (from an inscription in my high school yearbook)

It was the evening following Stoneleigh-Burnham’s graduation, a time normally given over to celebrations and parties. And indeed, part of our group was planning on stopping through on the way to or from one of those parties. But a solid core of us had decided to spend the entire night at the Greenfield Relay for Life, which happened to fall on the same date as our graduation that year. When I arrived around dinnertime with my tent and sleeping bag, I found a festive atmosphere. There was music, food, decorations, and a fire (s’mores!) around which many of us were sitting and talking. Several members of our team were out on the track at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, including Jess, the newly-minted alumna who (along with her parents Cyndee and Bill) was the driving force behind our presence. We had spent months holding bake sales, tag sales, car washes and more, raising money in every way we could think of. We had succeeded in meeting Jess’s goal of every single participant raising at least $100 to fight cancer. And now it was time to celebrate the newest SBS graduates, our group’s fund-raising success, and even more importantly, the progress that was and is being made in the fight against cancer.

One of the traditions of the Relays for Life is to line up luminaria alongside the track, their soft glow both lighting the way for participants and illuminating the names of both survivors and those lost to cancer. Although I prefer to run my laps during the Relay, I always take at least one very slow lap to read the names and honor the spirits of those who were and are loved so well. This year, I chose to do so during my 3:00 A.M. shift on the track while some of the students/alumnae were catching short naps. About three-quarters of the way around, I stopped short and my eyes filled with tears. I saw a sack with the name “Amelia Sutton” taped to it, written in simple block letters. I closed my eyes and envisioned my old high school friend, her smile, her laugh, the night before she left for college when she ordered “Superior” pizzas so I could stop by her “off to college” party as I made the delivery, the way her long skirts twirled as she spun her way through a too-short life. She was just 44 when she died.

I grew up thinking of cancer as something that could be serious but that could also be beaten. Though my grandmother was first diagnosed with breast cancer when my father was in college (and medical treatments, of course, were not remotely as advanced in the early 1950’s as they are now), she fought hard and achieved remission no less than six times before her eventual death at 74, nearly 30 years after her initial diagnosis. She was, and is, an inspiration. And I have many other relatives who have successfully beaten back cancer. When I hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, my first instinct is to think, “Okay, time to gear up yet again and win this fight.” So that night on the track, I was not just grieving for Millie, I was also forced to confront the fact that sometimes the fight is lost.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During faculty meeting when Jeff Conlon, our Athletic Director, shared the idea of getting pink uniforms for our athletic teams in support, there was a buzz of affirmation around the room. Already, Linda Beaudoin was planning to organize our community service club to help with the Greenfield Rays of Hope walk for the third straight year. Last week, on the top of Mt. Holyoke on Mountain Day, a number of faculty members were knitting pink scarves as part of the Rays of Hope tradition. When Sandy Thomas P’99 and Michelle Shattuck came to housemeeting to represent the Rays of Hope walk, they asked for a show of hands of how many people had had breast cancer or knew someone who had. Nearly every hand in the room went up. With that sobering image in mind, Stoneleigh-Burnham is proud to join with so many others to do our part and look to the day, as in the title of Kal Hourd’s beautiful song, “When Pink is Just a Color Again.”

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under Admissions, Alumnae, On Athletics, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Tribute to Performing Arts Teacher Cyndee Meese

Way way back in 1987, my second year of the school, we decided to break with tradition  and close the year with a musical revue. A teacher who was going to be rejoining us the following year after a brief leave of absence was put in charge of it, and everyone told me to expect greatness from Cyndee Meese and from the kids. She asked me to help out by choosing, arranging, and selecting and rehearsing the performers for three medleys representing women in rock in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. After sitting in on auditions, we agreed that Jen C. would be Laura Nyro, Deanie A. would be Stevie Nicks, and Sabrina P. would be Cyndi Lauper. We put together a faculty band to accompany the students and began preparing for the show. Cyndee’s impact was felt immediately in two ways. One, that the kids were indeed headed for greatness and beyond Jen’s tear-inducing cry of “Eli’s a-comin’. Woah, you better hide your heart,” Deanie’s gorgeous lilt as she sang “Shattered with words impossible to follow,” and Sabrina’s gutsy and brassy affirmation that “Girls just wanna have fun,” there were many memorable performances.  Cyndee’s second impact was more literal; as I was accompanying another song on piano, I was having trouble getting just the right sound, so she slid onto the bench to show me what she wanted, bumping me in the process so I slid right off the end onto the floor.

Cyndee’s faith in the students’ and my ability to achieve high standards and her determination that we would in fact do so would animate countless shows and performances we would do through the years. The first time we did “Little Shop of Horrors,” now my all-time favourite musical, was truly magical. Every night before rehearsal, under guise of “warming up” or “just making sure we get it right,” the lead actors would sing through “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour” with the band. True, another music teacher at another school had thrown down the gauntlet by stating flatly you could not make the show sound good with a group consisting of three keyboardists and a drummer. “Oh, we can’t, can we?” said Janey S., the band leader. Indeed on opening night, that teacher came up to us and conceded we had, in fact, pulled it off. But at heart, we just loved the songs and wanted to hear them as much as we could. What more could a musician ask for?

By then, Cyndee and I had fallen into a pattern of hanging out after rehearsals and talking into the night, a pattern that would repeat for the many years we collaborated on shows and that would deepen our friendship and our respect for each other. This pattern would also repeat as Cyndee established a tradition of Senior Recitals and I would sit in on various songs when needed. Her renting me a cherry-red Yamaha electric guitar for Gigi K.’s recital led directly to my deciding I needed one of those and getting my black Strat. That Strat, whether borrowed by generations of student guitarists beginning with Lisa B. ’99 and continuing to Nhyira A. ’16 or played by me, has been in countless shows itself.

We were fortunate, when founding the middle school, that Cyndee knew, loved, and understood young adolescents, and she got the vocal music program off to a strong start, single-handedly building it to eventually include not just the general class for all middle schoolers but also a Select Chorus that was, and is, the equal of many high school groups. When she took over the middle school theatre program, she also took the risk with me of allowing the seventh graders to write and produce original plays every year; this has become a tradition and cornerstone of our program. Teaming up with Ann Sorvino (dance), Greg Snedeker (instrumental music), Kim Mancuso (theatre), and earlier David Killam (instrumental music), we pulled off a series of middle school productions that were jaw-droppingly good. Literally so, judging by Hank Mixsell’s reaction to the first show he ever heard.

Stoneleigh-Burnham is all about voice and all about strong women; both as a role model and through her work with the kids, Cyndee has exemplified our mission. I feel privileged to have been able to work with her, especially because it was so much fun it didn’t even feel like work. So thank you, Cyndee, and my very best wishes to you.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, In the Classroom, Performing Arts

Taking the Plunge

This posting is adapted from a speech given at an Upper School Honor Roll Assembly by Liz Feeley, Associate Director of Development and Alumnae Relations.

If I were a student here, what aspect of the SBS culture would captivate me?  What would my story be?  I fully appreciate the importance of finding one’s voice, and I hear stories from alumnae about their experiences of discovering their  own voices.  But in my case, you need to understand that I grew up one of seven children, so if I didn’t learn quickly to have a voice I would never have survived in my family, let alone the real world.

What I truly love about the culture here at SBS is that you are encouraged to take risks. That is my story. Taking risks and never failing.  Did you hear me right?  Did I just say never failing?  I did.  Let me tell you why I believe this to be true.

After 12 years of Catholic schooling, I guess you could say I had learned to play it safe. I was an A student, an accomplished athlete, and a friend to everyone. All of these things seemed to come easily, naturally for me. However, I can’t really say I was living on the edge or stretching myself.  I guess you could say I was the proverbial big fish in the small pond.

So one summer day before my senior year, while on vacation in New Hampshire, my father, four siblings and I were climbing out onto a jetty, a row of rocks that jutted into the surf.  At this point, I had an epiphany: I never take any risks.  So despite my fear of the ocean (rarely having gone in above my waist), I stripped down to my bathing suit, handed my clothes to a brother, and dove in.  My family was amazed.  But now that I was in the water, I had to swim to shore!  I started to simulate swim strokes, but it probably looked more like flailing.  I swam and swam and swam towards shore and eventually I got very tired.  But I was only half way there.  My dad shouted out to me, “Are you OK?” “Yeah. I’m tired though,” I breathlessly responded. He said that I should just stop and get out. “I can’t, it’s too deep and I’m scared,” I shouted back as I continued with my struggling strokes.” “Liz, just get out of the water!” he shouted again.  “I can’t, it’s too deep and I’m scared.”  Exhausted by his own attempts to reason with me, he finally yelled, “Liz stand up!”  I was confused, but I listened and I stopped haphazardly splashing at the water and I stood up.  The water, embarrassingly enough, was below my waist. My siblings were roaring with laughter, and I eventually joined the chorus.

So, I took the plunge, then I stood up.  And I was still here.

Clearly, this turned out to be a safe risk, but I didn’t know it when I took the plunge.  And life is kind of funny that way.  We need to realize that the risks we take don’t need to be life-threatening to be scary.  We might fall short, or shallow, of our goals, but that is when we can learn the most.

Taking a risk can involve knowing when to go towards something, but it can also mean knowing when to leave behind what might be perceived as the holy grail. After college, my first job was at the University of Notre Dame. I was 23, I didn’t even have a driver’s license and I had landed this incredible opportunity as an assistant coach.  This job was supposed to pave the way to a lucrative head coaching career in big time basketball.  However, after one year I risked losing that lucrative career and decided it was time for a change.  I never did make it to big time basketball, but I didn’t fail.  I found my niche in smaller colleges where I spent the next twenty years coaching college basketball at outstanding academic institutions.  I took the plunge, I stood up and I was still here.

One early morning, in the fall of 2006, I was out for a walk and passed by a house where they were building a beautifully structured addition.  I said, “That is what I want to do: build things.” Eight months later, I retired from coaching and opened my own business in home renovation and design.  I still had my beautiful home, but I sold my cool car and bought a truck, my fine clothes were traded in for jeans, and I learned a great deal along the way.  People hired me for some amazing projects over the next two and a half years. But then business slowed down as the economy tanked, and I needed to close the doors to my business.  I took the plunge, I stood up and I was still here.

Now what do I do?  I had given up a secure career for a short-lived business.  Lo and behold, less than two miles from my home, was another golden opportunity.  A small independent girls’ school was looking to fill a position in Development and Alumnae Relations.  Once again, I didn’t know a soul and it was going to be a great challenge to learn and adjust to an entirely new career path.  But I took the plunge, I stood up, and here I am at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Would anyone dare say I failed?

I hope I didn’t make all of this sound easy. Because it certainly was not.

I believe there are key elements to taking risks and never failing:

  • You need to surround yourself with good people – I have been incredibly fortunate in that department.
  • The harder you work, the luckier you get.
  • Prepare yourself and do your homework. These were not blind risks I was taking. I was always learning from the incredible people around me.
  • It is OK to be uncomfortable. Learning is uncomfortable in an exciting and weird way.
  • There is a difference between being prepared, and being ready – I’d rather be prepared.
  • The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.
  • I learned this last one from Pete Carill, a legendary men’s basketball Coach I worked with at Princeton University – “Whatever you are doing is the most important thing that you’re doing while you’re doing it.”

So I encourage you; take lots of plunges, keep standing up and you will still find yourself here.

I need to leave you with a poem.  I had this poem on my wall in my office as a very young coach, and with every risk I take I continue to learn more and more about what it truly means.


To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;

The optimist expects it to change;

And the realist adjusts the sails.

Congratulations to all of you who took risks this past trimester.  Whether you made honor roll or not, if you took risks, stood up and are still here, you did not fail.

– Liz Feeley, Associate Director of Development and Alumnae Relations

1 Comment

Filed under Alumnae, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School