When a determination was made to hold reunion virtually this spring because of the pandemic, we knew we wanted to offer a range of events and experiences to facilitate connections not only among this year’s reunion classes (class years ending in 1 and 6) but also among all alumnae/i who might have an opportunity to connect virtually with Concord Academy from homes around the world. Beginning in mid-May and concluding in mid-June 2021, a full slate of events was offered.
Alumnae/i had a chance to experience virtual classes with CA faculty and hear from current students about the school traditions they most cherish. The school also invited alumnae/i to share in the educational framework of “Courageous Conversations” that the Community and Equity team has been using with students as part of CA’s mission-driven work of striving for equity. Alumnae/i also had opportunities to hear from this year’s recipients of the Joan Shaw Herman Award for Distinguished Service, to attend the virtual Alumnae/i Association Assembly, and even to gather online for coffee and conversation prior to viewing the livestream of Concord Academy’s 2021 commencement ceremony and for morning yoga prior to attending class reunion gatherings online.
Connecting with CA Today
Alumnae/i were invited on several occasions to connect with the work of the school today and learn about CA from its current teachers, administrators, and students. In a virtual classroom demonstration on May 12, Abby Laber P’16, CA English teacher, and Stephanie Manzella P’14 ’16 ’17 shared how adjustments to facilitate remote learning and the events of this year shaped their classes this year. Laber shared what she called an “infinite whiteboard” using a tool that allowed her students to collaborate online, visually and in real time to discuss and iterate responses to, for example, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay or a Shakespeare play. In the fall semester, when all students were learning from home, such tools became invaluable. Laber recalled that for the first time in her CA career, every student reported in their course evaluations that they had learned so much from their peers. “I count that as a huge win,” Laber said.
Manzella discussed her U.S. history class The Presidency. “Meeting with CA students to talk about the election was such a restorative experience,” she said, noting that it gave them historical perspective and a vocabulary that helped them process “the emotional rollercoaster that was the election season” this year. Her class made creative use of an electronic bulletin board to jumpstart conversations.
At a Courageous Conversations session on May 19, Rob Munro, dean of academic program and equity, and Laura Twichell ’01, interim dean of faculty, grounded alumnae/i in the work of inclusion and support for students who are marginalized or underrepresented at CA, which the school considers the work of all members of the community. They introduced several tools in use at CA, including a courageous conversation compass, a social identity wheel, and a practice of compassionate curiosity that helps people, as Munro said, “learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
In a panel discussion moderated by Dean of Students Sally Zimmerli P’23 on May 26, five day and boarding students spoke about the classes that changed their lives, from English to chemistry, as well as the ways they have been helping to pass on CA’s unique school culture to younger classes. They also shared their experience of adapting in CA’s supportive environment to the changing health and safety protocols throughout the year, which began fully remote, included periods of remote and hybrid learning for both day and boarding students, and culminated in a return to in-person learning for the great majority of CA’s students this spring.
English teacher Abby Laber demonstrates an “infinite whiteboard.”
History teacher Stephanie Manzella walks alumnae/i through her class’s padlet.
Moderated by Dean of Students Sally Zimmeri, a panel of CA students share their perspectives on the year.
Laura Twichell ’01 co-leads the Courageous Conversations discussion.
Rob Munro co-leads the Courageous Conversations discussion.
This year’s virtual reunion programming also presented plenty of opportunities for alumnae/i to connect in gratitude for one another and the extended CA community. On May 19, a virtual alumnae/i luncheon brought together members of the classes of 1970 and earlier, and on June 9, all alumnae/i were invited to attend the Alumnae/i Association Assembly online.
One highlight of the lineup of virtual events was a presentation on June 2 by the 2021 Joan Shaw Herman Award recipients, Dr. Leslie Davidson ’66 and Dr. Ingrid Walker-Descartes ’91. This year marked the first time the award was presented to two living alumnae/i, both of whom work in child protection, health, and advocacy.
Whether she has been spearheading the building of playgrounds or educating teens about dating violence, Davidson’s career has integrated clinical pediatrics and public health, both with local communities in the U.S. and internationally, guided by her research interests in maternal and child health, child and adolescent development, and the prevention of injury and violence. Walker-Descartes is dedicated to serving children as a pediatrician with a specialty in child abuse and neglect. Her advocacy extends from the clinic to the courtroom, where speaks on behalf of children unable to do so for themselves.
Both individuals honored with this year’s award shared the difficulty of their work and the urgency of societal change. “We need to change how children are valued,” Davidson said. Walker-Decartes had a similar message: “Through my work, I believe a more just and sustainable future can only occur if we prioritize the needs of children, of all of our children.”