Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stories from Alumnae

I thought I’d get an entry in each week but have disappointed myself as we rolled our way into a week of Board meetings, MLK, Jr. Day, the Inauguration, and an alumnae-focused trip to Florida. My husband, Hank, reminded me that I don’t have to enter a highly polished or long essay; I need to listen to him more often!

So what’s on my mind these days?!!? --So much, I think, that I’m having trouble deciding what to write about. However, since I’m currently in Florida visiting alumnae, I’ll choose that…

Today we were in Sarasota and met with a wonderful group of women, most of whom had graduated from Burnham in the late 50’s-early 60’s. Though we went to different schools, it always amazes me how similar we feel about our school(s). Perhaps it was the influence of the Emerson family that made both schools feel so similar at the core. One woman, Marjorie, left the school before she graduated but credits Burnham with having given her the confidence to know how to act in all social environments. After high school, she spent two years in a British “finishing school” (her words!) where 40 girls from around the world gathered to learn from each other. She mentioned that it was there she began to appreciate what she’d been taught at Burnham; girls from such affluent backgrounds enrolled in the British program that she would have been a fish out of water without her earlier training.

I was asked by another alumna if we still had Mensendieck classes (for those of you unaware of Mensendieck, it was a Scandinavian posture and health class every new girl was required to take). Of course, the 70’s – when all tradition was questioned - got rid of that tradition. Gail, though, credited that class as the reason she eventually became a fitness instructor. Because Miss Otteson’s Mensendieck was for years a program at both Burnham and Stoneleigh, I (originally a Stoneleigh girl) can remember the posture prize given out at each year’s graduation. I even remember that Robin Fowler got the prize in 1967, and I was slightly jealous – knowing that I would never in a million years be the recipient of that award!

Also in our company today were two sisters who had come to the school in 1958 from Puerto Rico. Their stories of travel to and from the school in those days were fascinating, and I couldn’t help thinking how many of our girls today make the same kind of effort going back and forth to school.

Finally, we had the company of Penny, Burnham ’40, who began at the school in the days predating Mrs. Emerson’s leadership. In 1937 the school closed, due to poor financial management, and Penny went to another school for a year. But she returned in 1938 when Mrs. Emerson had come on the scene and borrowed money through Penny’s father’s bank. Penny was the first student to enroll under the Emerson tenure and was asked to show her room to all prospective students. She graduated later that year as one of twelve seniors. I had never heard this story before and felt so grateful that she had taken the time to drive herself all the way down from Bradenton! She was lovely.

There were other alumnae at the event today, and I enjoyed talking to them all – graduates of Stoneleigh, Burnham and SBS. Now, though, I’m off to have dinner in Palm Beach with one of my big sisters. Can’t wait to see her!

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