From June 9 through 11, 2023, more than 600 CA community members gathered at Concord Academy to be part of a historic moment. The final and largest of several observances of the school’s 100th anniversary, the Centennial Celebration was both one heck of a party and a tribute to the power of a CA education. The celebration balanced opportunities to mingle and programs that engaged guests and speakers in deep discussion. While reunion classes enjoyed special class dinners, the event was also an unprecedented opportunity for alums from different decades and generations to connect. Sunshine alternated with showers, and the campus looked its finest by the glow of lights and lanterns. The predominant sense was one of a collective renewed energy. One alum, in a note of gratitude, called it a “fountain of youth.”
“CA’s Mission in Motion: Centennial Speaker Series” was the centerpiece of the celebration. In this series of panel discussions, nearly 30 alums offered their perspectives on topics as wide-ranging as journalism’s role in democracy and artistic models for transforming cultural understanding—all of them speaking to this community’s investment in positive change. Over four hours, in two keynote panel discussions and six additional moderated conversations among alums—scientists, artists, activists, educators, academics, and creative professionals—CA’s love of learning shone brightly. Watch the videos here.
The opening session, “The Power of Personal Stories,” engaged some of CA’s celebrated authors in dialogue with moderator Lucille Stott, former faculty member and administrator and author of CA’s Centennial book, Concord Academy at 100: Voices from the First Century. Drew Gilpin Faust ’64, historian and president emerita of Harvard University, reflected on the role stories play in providing role models and in shaping a world we want to live in, as well as CA’s part in her own life story, which she has chronicled in a forthcoming memoir. Biographer David Michaelis ’75 spoke about the importance of being able to “live in strangeness,” to inhabit the mind of another, and his most recent subject, Eleanor Roosevelt, who, he said, “found her humanity in others.” Princeton professor and National Book Award-winning author Imani Perry ’90 shared her drive to make a “resourceful, creative story to do justice” to her subjects, from playwright Lorraine Hansberry to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem. Read more about this session.
In the closing session, “The Future of Education,” moderator Trelane Clark ’92, P’22 framed the conversation around “educating whole human beings”—not only preparing students to thrive academically but “preparing whole people to change this world.” Head of School Henry Fairfax spoke about CA’s future in light of its origins as a girls’ school, part of the women’s equality movement. “I find that we are uniquely positioned to do something really significant,” he said, and he emphasized the work that lies ahead in CA’s commitment to striving for equity. Researcher, policymaker, and strategist Turahn Dorsey ’89 challenged the audience to think broadly about the role of independent schools as private institutions that can be reengineered “for public purpose.” He shared a vision for CA’s future that involved nurturing young people as “agents for justice” and “creating communities that lift everyone up.” Read more about this session.
In between, each of the conversations that took place deserves a spotlight. We invite you to learn more about the alums who helped us mark this moment by engaging with intelligence and heart.
- “Changing the Lens: Women in Entertainment Share Essential Perspectives,” featuring Susanna Fogel ’98, Danielle Lee ’93, Rachel Morrison ’96, and moderator Natalia Winkelman ’11.
- “Designing for Resilience and Sustainability: The Future Is Up to Us,” featuring Lisa Dreier ’85, Sonia Lo ’84, and Tony Patt ’83.
- “In Pursuit of Truth: A Conversation About Journalism and Democracy,” featuring Alexandra Berzon ’97, moderator Julia Preston ’69, Richard Read ’75, and Freddie Tunnard ’07.
- “Creating Connection: Transforming Models of Art and Cultural Expression to Build Understanding,” featuring Emily Harney ’94, Julian Joslin ’05, moderator Amy Spencer P’13, and Zack Winokur ’07.
- “Improving the Human Condition Through Science: Discovery for the Benefit of All,” featuring Peter de Blank ’92, Connor McCann ’14, moderator Lucy McFadden ’70, and Gail Weinmann ’67.
- “Making Change: Leaders Discuss Empowering Communities and Social Progress,” featuring Dave Cavell ’02, Catherine Gund ’83, moderator Lara Jordan James ’80, and Tremaine Wright ’90.
Throughout the weekend, guests took advantage of these and many other opportunities to reflect on CA’s first century and to consider CA’s role in shaping a more just and sustainable future. A decade-by-decade archival display in the Main School hallway and an oral history video project got alums reminiscing. For those who hadn’t been back in a while, student-led tours provided an orientation to CA’s campus, and CA administrators shared the vision for campus improvements and CA’s Centennial Arts Center.
A moving memorial service recognized the alums, former faculty and staff members, and trustees who passed away within the past year, as well as all members of the CA community whose lives we still carry within us today. Those who attended took home wildflower seeds to plant in their memories.
In the Math and Arts Center, a digital alum art exhibition organized by former faculty member Ben Eberle ’99 was on display alongside works by current students and a reprisal of the “Origin Stories” photography show that former faculty member Cynthia Katz curated in 2019.
The town of Concord was also livelier than usual throughout the weekend. Some guests borrowed canoes to paddle down the Sudbury River, and others explored Concord on walking tours that focused on the town’s Revolutionary history as well as the women and Indigenous people who inhabited this land.
At the celebratory dinner on Saturday evening, animated chatter rippled through the enormous tent that had been erected for the occasion behind the Chapel. Guests raised glasses of champagne for several toasts, by Fairfax and Fay Lampert Shutzer ’65, president of the Board of Trustees; Elizabeth Newbury ’98, the great-great-granddaughter of one of CA’s founders, Anne Chamberlin Newbury ’29; Jake Dresden and Tom Wilcox P’01, former heads of school, with Sarah Yeh P’24 ’27, former interim head; and Fairfax with incoming Student Head of School Jessie Ma ’24. In a toast by Amy Cammann Cholnoky ’73 and Thaddeus Danforth ’73, who were celebrating their 50th reunion, Cholnoky shared a wish that CA continue to “help students be their best selves” through a “transformational” education that helps them find their unique ways of contributing to change. “The world needs CA students and alums now more than ever,” she said.
The evening was also given over to music of sorts. An alum chorus, assembled just for the occasion and directed by former faculty member Keith Daniel, performed a madrigal as well as a medley of Beatles tunes. Guests enjoyed the funky groove laid down by the Centennial Student Ensemble and the pop-country stylings of Nashville-based singer-songwriter Lena Stone ’11, who reprised the first song she had ever written and performed at CA in 2009. Some even danced to the tunes of the band Hank Wonder (featuring Annie Bartlett P’24 and Ben Bartlett ’24), which closed out the evening.
The weekend concluded on a quieter note, with community members lingering over a sunny farewell jazz brunch. In all, the Centennial Celebration was a time for the CA community to think, connect, and re-energize. Guided by its mission, there’s no telling the impact this school will have on the world in its second century.
Story by Heidi Koelz
Photos by Cole and Kiera Photography, Jodi Hilton, and Nicholas Pfosi