The view from the top of Taipei 101—the world’s tallest and greenest building when it opened in 2004—affords one an unobstructed 360 degree view of Taipei. Different from the forest of towers in Hong Kong, which at least in places look at and reflect off of one another, Taipei 101 occupies a singular position in the landscape. There’s nothing even close to it.
From what I’ve gleaned from the Williston Northampton families and alumni who came together for our reception here, Taipei 101 serves as a beacon for globalism. And the city reflects this sensibility, from the wide range of cars seen on the streets, to the international cuisine available, to the broad perspectives represented by our alumni and friends.
As we wrap up our six-city tour, doing so in Taipei serves as an exclamation point to what has been an extraordinary journey. Our students from Asia will travel to their homes shortly after our own return to the Pioneer Valley, and each time this trans-Pacific journey occurs, one perspective infuses another, ensuring that Williston’s education remains relevant, unobstructed, and beacon-like in its own right.
A highlight of our time in Shanghai was our visit to Xuhui High School, a school originally founded by French missionaries at almost the same time Williston Seminary was founded in Easthampton. Today, Xuhui is one of the city’s most acclaimed and sought-after schools.
Similar to American public schools like the Bronx School of Science in New York, Xuhui serves students in Shanghai based upon a demanding election process. The school boasts a well-kept museum, or what we would call an archive, cataloguing its history from the first principal (who has an entire room dedicated to his tenure) to its current educational mission. The school also proudly displays photographs of its graduates who have achieved fame in every variety of field and enterprise.
The day we toured, the school was in the midst of monthly examinations, so we were not able to interact with students. However, from what we were able to view, classrooms approximated their large public school counterparts in the United States. We were generously greeted by Xuhui’s principal who shared with me the nature of her job, and so I can now affirm that both Chinese and American heads of school have common experiences when it comes to administrative meetings!
With the stunning backdrop of Victoria Harbor and the night skyline greeting attendees at Williston Northampton’s Hong Kong reception, we once again had a marvelous time as parents and alumni came together, strengthening the ties that bind the school’s family. Thanks to our gracious hosts, Dr. and Mrs. Lai, the setting could not have been more majestic nor could our group have been made to feel more welcomed.
It has been particularly exciting for me to meet with younger alumni whose Williston Northampton experience has the most in common with our current students. It is reaffirming to hear from Gen-Y alumni that our faculty’s dedication to teaching 21st century skills and to building a global perspective in our students, conforms to their sense of what is most important for preparation to enter the work force.
It was especially fun to meet Ronald Chan (2001) who went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and is currently Special Assistant to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Not unlike the wunderkinds who we see surrounding our presidents in the White House, Ronald finds himself at the heart of the Hong Kong political scene. I am sure that our students would be intrigued to hear firsthand from Ronald about his decision to pursue a life of public service. When I spoke to him about that choice, it seemed that the underlying attitudes and assumptions about entering a life of politics are generational and transnational. We will have to work to get this 2001 alumnus back to campus in between his various governmental obligations that currently occupy his time.
I have just begun a two-week trip throughout Asia, traveling for The Williston Northampton School in the company of Eric Yates, Chief Advancement Officer, Ann Pickrell, Director of Admission, and Kathryn Hill. The length of the first leg of our journey has certainly given us all a firsthand appreciation of the challenges our students face during their transitions to and from Williston for holidays. The long flight from Chicago and the subsequent inversion of our internal clocks have taken a toll, but those effects have been more than offset by the incredible graciousness of our hosts.
We received a warm welcome in Tokyo at the Nishimachi International School, the alma mater of a current Williston senior. Our day was capped by an evening reception that included the parents of alumni, parents of current students, alumni, and prospective students. Two recent alumni discovered that they also had Yale University in common during the event, demonstrating the power of school gatherings to solidify old connections and to create new ones.
We have since moved on to Seoul where we anticipate one of our largest gatherings of the two-week tour. I am happy to share that the strength of our Williston family abroad remains incredibly vibrant and active, and it has been so gratifying to see the level of support that the school enjoys.