Concord Academy alumnae/i, faculty, and staff taking part in the Alumnae/i Association Assembly via videoconference.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic prevented Concord Academy alumnae/i from returning to campus, it did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm for reconnecting with classmates, faculty and staff, and fellow CA graduates as part of the school’s first Virtual Reunion. More than 225 alumnae/i joined via videoconference as CA hosted three special reunion programs, the annual Alumnae/i Association Assembly, and 13 virtual class gatherings for reunion classes over four days in early June. 

The Virtual Reunion, as CA reunions regularly are, was open to all alumnae/i, and for some tuning in from far-flung locales, this year’s celebration proved easier to attend than usual. In addition to informal conversations, programmed events prompted through-provoking discussion. During a week in which the movement to protest racial inequality was growing as many U.S. states moved toward reopening amid persistent public health concerns, Concord Academy graduates from across the generations discussed how the school adapted to distance learning during the spring and how its values are steering CA during these difficult times.

The first program, on June 3, visited two of CA’s virtual classrooms, with Ayres Stiles-Hall P’23 ’24 and Stephanie Manzella P’14 ’17 ’18. Stiles-Hall led a brief discussion and close reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the contemporary resonances of the play’s exploration of ambition and authority. Manzella presented a distance-learning version of a course she teaches to sophomores, on 19th-century African history. “As we think more globally about how the pandemic is hitting the developing world, we can remember the greed and exploitation of the colonial world that put Africans on very unequal footing,” she said.

The following day, Manzella shared highlights of a seminar-style evening course she taught to 14 CA students in the fall based on the New York Times’ “The 1619 Project, an initiative conceived to reframe U.S. history with the enduring consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at its center. (That course culminated in November in a student-led assembly and evening event for the CA community.) At the reunion presentation, which also took up anti-racism efforts of today, Manzella walked some 30 alumnae/i attendees through the major themes of “The 1619 Project,” which she recommended as an educational resource and a spur to discussion with family, colleagues, and communities.

A screen-share of Macbeth from English teacher Ayres Stiles-Hall.
History teacher Stephanie Manzella shares a map from her course.

The following day, Manzella shared highlights of a seminar-style evening course she taught to 14 CA students in the fall based on the New York Times’ “The 1619 Project, an initiative conceived to reframe U.S. history with the enduring consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at its center. (That course culminated in November in a student-led assembly and evening event for the CA community.) At the reunion presentation, which also took up anti-racism efforts of today, Manzella walked some 30 alumnae/i attendees through the major themes of “The 1619 Project,” which she recommended as an educational resource and a spur to discussion with family, colleagues, and communities.

The second annual Alumnae/i Association Assembly was held by videoconference on June 4, drawing more than 50 participants to hear from school and alumnae/i leadership. It opened with a video created by faculty and staff for the senior class — a reading of the hand-carved 1 Corinthians passage in the Elizabeth B. Hall Chapel — which had been livestreamed at the virtual Baccalaureate celebration. Head of School Rick Hardy addressed the many difficulties this academic year has presented, from the threat of Eastern equine encephalitis in the fall to the onset of Covid-19 and distance learning in the spring. He also spoke about the necessary work of dismantling anti-Black racism, acknowledging missteps and affirming CA’s work to promote listening, foster dialogue, and provide ongoing resources to help the CA community address societal ills and engage in creating solutions. Fay Lampert Shutzer ’65, president of the Board of Trustees, highlighted the service of CA’s volunteer leaders in keeping alumnae/i connected with the school and with one another. The assembly also marked the transition of the presidency of the Alumnae/i Steering Committee from Laura McConaghy ’01 to Karen McAlmon ’75, who will lead CA alumnae/i into the Concord Academy’s centennial in 2022.

McAlmon then moderated a panel discussion about CA’s response to the challenges and opportunities posed by the requirement to educate in a virtual setting, a conversation involving Sarah Yeh P’24, assistant head and dean of faculty; Marie Myers P’19 ’21, director of enrollment management; Kate Peltz, director of college counseling; and Laura Twichell ’01, interim academic dean. Hardy reviewed the charges of the school’s four faculty/staff working groups, which are helping CA prepare for the 2020–21 school year and are focused, in turn, on distance learning and equity, safe return to school, finances, and communications. The conversation highlighted the tremendous creativity from teachers and students alike that emerged from the necessity of innovating quickly, and how those innovations will help CA support returning students as well as welcome new students and create community in the coming year. The assembly closed with a moving, socially distanced performance of “The Road Home” by the Concord Academy Singers.

A discussion of The 1619 Project and CA.
Joan Shaw Herman Award honoree Anne Pfitzer ’85 speaks about her work.

On June 5, in a final special program, Kate Rea Schmitt ’62, P’88, chair of the Joan Shaw Herman Award Selection Committee, introduced the 2020 recipient of the only award given in the Concord Academy community, for service to others. Anne Pfitzer ’85, honored this year, is a recognized public health leader who, as Schmitt said, “has worked tirelessly to improve the health of women and girls, newborns and children across the globe.” To several classmates and alumnae/i from many decades, Pfitzer presented about her efforts of many years to make contraception, and accurate information about the return to fertility and pregnancy prevention after childbirth, available to women and girls in some of the world’s poorest countries. She leads the family planning team for USAID’s global Momentum (Global Leadership and Targeted Technical Assistance) project led by Jhpiego, a nonprofit affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. “The program I’m involved in now is about building the capacity of local organizations to tackle these issues head-on,” Pfitzer said.

Finally, on Saturday, June 6, the many CA alumnae/i who attended their class gatherings online had a memorable experience. Provided with virtual campus tours; Zoom backgrounds of CA’s campus; summer reading, listening, and watching recommendations from faculty and staff; and even a tutorial for mixing a signature Green Chameleon Fizz cocktail, the reunion participants enjoyed catching up, and anchoring one another in CA’s values in this uncertain time.

During Reunion Weekend in June 2021, the school anticipates hosting special celebrations for 2020’s and 2021’s reunion year classes (ending in 0 and 5, 1 and 6). The next annual Alumnae/i Association Assembly will take place then as well, and all alumnae/i are invited to attend.

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