2019 Address to Alumni

Almost 150 years since Vermont Academy was founded, the key identities and DNA of this place stand true: Faculty and staff meet students where they are. Students find joy in discovering how they learn. People join together to build a community of friends. The construction of character, citizenship, and authenticity is a daily focus. The learning and continued practice of self-advocacy is alive and well.
Last weekend, a group of us drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see the Chane Gang, a blues rock band, perform. Three alumni are in the band: John Chane ‘63, John Capron ‘63, and Larry Power ‘65. On stage, they talked about how they started the band 57 years ago at VA, when they were all students here... and they are still performing together three times a year across the country! Several VA alumni were in the audience to see them
It was another example to me of the strong relationships that are forged here at Vermont Academy...relationships that can last for decades!

Seeing all of you here together again this weekend is confirmation of what I witnessed in Portsmouth...it is wonderful to see classmates celebrating their 50th, 40th, 30th, 25th, 10th and 5th reunions here!
Almost 150 years since Vermont Academy was founded, the key identities and DNA of this place stand true:
  1. Faculty and staff meet students where they are.
  2. Students find joy in discovering how they learn.
  3. People join together to build a community of friends—there are countless non –academic opportunities and relationships founded here.
  4. The construction of character, citizenship, and authenticity is a daily focus.
  5. The learning and continued practice of self-advocacy is alive and well.
Other traditions continue.
  • Our connection to the community of Saxtons River and the wonderful outdoors that surround us.
  • When James P. Taylor was the assistant headmaster, he took his students from this campus and constructed the Long Trail, which became the inspiration for and is also a vital part of the Appalachian Trail. Just a month ago, a group of students, faculty and staff continued the tradition of going on a six-day journey to hike sections of this trail before the start of school.
  • We still have formal meals and community lunches and meetings where everyone comes together to discuss and celebrate the important happenings that occur on campus.
  • Most importantly, we still provide an education that challenges children. That develops a love of learning in a child. That helps students find the path they want to take in life, which can include superior college education.
Last year our graduates went to places like Harvard, Tufts, University College in Dublin, Ireland, Middlebury, George Washington, UCLA, Bennington, Purdue, and Trinity.

We find ourselves at an inflection point in the history of education and this school.
  • I’m the first female head of school.
  • The world we are entering will bring a faster pace and more technology from the growth of impacts from artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • And students will need skills to work and learn in this world and while hard skills like coding will be important, soft skills such as flexibility, living in ambiguity, being able to adapt quickly, ad the fine art of invention and self-reinvention will need to supplement our teaching of writing, speaking, and self-advocacy.
We graduated a very large senior class this past May and have made a conscience decision to become a smaller school for the next few years so that we can build our school purposefully and with mission appropriate students throughout all 4 grades and PG. We want to grow the freshman class, double the numbers for sophomores, and have equal numbers of boys and girls. We believe in our product, essentially, in what we do so well, nurturing student independence, and so the more that we have four- or three-year students and diversities of all kinds, the more we can create a vibrant community.

So while we’re celebrating traditions this weekend, please know that I can’t lead doing everything the same for twenty or thirty or forty years. We need to make some changes. We need to have a new vision for Vermont Academy.

We have put an amazing team in place to lead us forward.
  • We’re putting additional focus on student life. Dave Hodgson from the class of 89, is celebrating his reunion this year, and was appointed this summer as Assistant Head of School for Student Experience. This allowed us to promote Brian Gilloran to Dean of Student Life and Caitlin Holton from the class of 96 to assistant dean.
  • Long time and deeply respected faculty member Lorna Schilling has been appointed as our Academic Dean.
  • We brought in a new Director of Enrollment Management all the way from Wyoming. Warren Samuels led admissions for the Teton Science School. This is a return to New England for him, as he was the assistant director of admissions for Concord Academy.
  • We brought in a new Director of Technology all the way from Denver. Jeff Gaudet is an expert in the Blackbaud system that drives all of our student and enrollment information. This is also a return to the area for Jeff, as he was the director of IT for Stratton Mountain School.
  • Last year we welcomed Assistant Head of School and Director of External Affairs Melanie Hoffman to Vermont Academy. This summer she brought in Tonia Fleming, parent of a 2018 graduate, as our new director of annual giving. She brings incredible experience to the position, having an MBA from the University of Chicago and years of experience in successful healthcare fundraising. She also brought David Petrie on board as our new director of communications and marketing. He provides a unique combination of not-for-profit and for-profit marketing experience.
All of these people are bringing fresh ideas and new insights to campus!

It is an exciting time to be at Vermont Academy. Here are some other examples of what’s recently been going on:

One of the things I love about VA is the school’s ability to honor its traditions while also looking for new and innovative programs and activities for its faculty and students. Now that fall has arrived, we are looking forward to Mountain Day (the date is a surprise!) when we all go to a mountain lake for a day of no classes and enjoy the outdoors, unplugged. Later this month is the Pumpkin Run on campus, and soon we will enter the holiday season with the Kurn Hattin Christmas Party and the Candlelight Service.

All school theme last year was Sustainability, which culminated in a beautiful exhibit in Horowitz called “Thaw.” It combined faculty member Evie Lovett’s artwork of the Connecticut River and visiting writer Diana Whitney’s poetry. I bought two paintings from Evie to round out a collection of three.

This year’s theme is Service—for faculty and students—and we began the year with a Community Service Day with our students, which will continue to be woven into our curriculum and extra-curricular activities throughout the year, like the Advanced Art class designing and making bowls for the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Bellows Falls food pantry.

Our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Department is led by Cynthia Murphy, who is also working closely with our international students and leading the planning for our annual Diversity Conference in April.

Our Wildcat Den, which is our student center, is now offering food 5 days a week during the times when the dining hall is closed and it is still a great place for students to socialize, hangout, or do homework.

We continue to offer faculty opportunities to expand their skills. Christy Catsos and Jo Fuller went to the Learning and the Brain conference. The book it was based on was the required summer learning for our entire faculty, and I love this book – it presents a whole different way of challenging children to literally work sections of the brain in ways that increase their capacity to understand the world around them.

Two teachers are working on Master's degrees from Northeastern--Katie Stames and Savanna Poole. Christine Armiger, the head of our sustainability program, participated in a week- long geology course out in Montana this summer.

Our arts program continues to go strong. Thomas Durnford from the class of '16 recently graduated from Loyola University and stayed in New Orleans and is making his living full-time as a player and teacher. Miks Lai from the class of 18 is in his second year studying at the Hart School of Music in Hartford, CT where he’s working on transcriptions of the great pianist Red Garland. Ben Matte graduated last year and is at Castleton with a scholarship for marching percussion.

Athletics is still big on and off campus.
  • Junior Maurice Day won the first race of the season in Mountain biking.
  • Crew is on the water and getting ready for the first regatta coming up beginning of October.
  • Girl’s soccer just got their third victory of the season, winning at Holderness and beating New Hampton here at home.
  • Boy’s varsity soccer varsity is working their way to the NEPSAC Tournament and just celebrated a 6-2 win at Gould.
  • The Cross-country running team is growing in numbers and striving for the top 3 in the Lakes region in the boy’s team competition.
We also have exciting capstone projects taking place this year!
  • Myles Kaplan is building an electric bike and researching if electric bikes can be a sustainable source of transportation
  • Lauren Eppinger is working with me as her writing coach.
  • Alex Paluscek is conducting the forensic science behind a murder mystery. She’s working with Archer Mayor, who is a local writer and medical examiner, and she’s also writing a short play including her research on forensic science
  • Siyang Wang is completing two capstones: one is focused on Math and using machine-learning methods, artificial intelligence, and programming to model and compute the time sequence and price fluctuations of stocks. His second capstone will focus on proposing critical questions on the future of science, society, and ethics to render a blueprint for the future. The question is: What does the future look like and how does it reflect our core beliefs? His premise is based on finding the truth through debate.
As you can see, amazing things are happening here!

So, what can you do to be a part of the “VA Vision” roadmap?
  • Come to alumni events on campus, and thank you for being here, and go to alumni events in your area.
  • Promote Vermont Academy with all of your friends and neighbors.
  • Send your children and grandchildren—we want to have more legacies at our school!
  • Agree to mentor a senior capstone project or share your skills with our students some other way.
  • Help us know how and where to share our stories in the area where you live.
  • Share your stories with us.
So many of you tell me how Vermont Academy was transformative for you or for a son or daughter or grandchild. We are collecting our stories and successes so we can share them with others who are looking for a safe, nurturing school with high academic standards as well as strong athletics and arts.