Straight Talk from Author of “Curveball”

What a treat it was to hear from Mount Holyoke College professor, Dr. Martha Ackmann, a nationally recognized journalist and author. Ackmann was the lead off speaker for Williston’s 10th Annual Diversity Day on Feb. 16.
With the entire student body arrayed before her, Dr. Ackmann told the mesmerizing story of Toni Stone—perhaps the least known famous name in all of baseball. Stone was an African American woman who made her way in the Negro League in the pre-Civil Rights era.
Stone’s name was not widely known until Dr. Ackmann’s passion for uncovering lost voices brought her to rightful prominence. The story Dr. Ackmann told was unforgettable. (I suspect “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League” is an equally engrossing read.)
So, at a day where Williston paused to reflect on identity, difference, the power of words and voice, our keynote speaker set the tone and topics for a remarkable day.
Schools never like to disrupt the academic day. When they do, it reveals what is most important to their community and institutional culture. For Williston, what strikes at the core of our mission is also the essence of what it means to live in a diverse and respectful community.

Thoughts on the New Normal

At the College Board regional conference in Boston last week, I presented a session called “Embracing the New Normal” with Smith College Dean of Admission, Audrey Smith, and Brown University Director of Financial Aid, Jim Tilton.

While much of the session focused on access to and the affordability of education—both public and private—there was still time for an exchange of a more abstract bent. After my two expert colleagues presented evidence about the economic challenges facing all institutions, a counselor from Vermont spoke of the real danger of developing a two tracks in education.

The counselor dealt with many high school students who were the first in their families to head to college. These students simply could not assume the financial burden of their own flagship state university, she said.

My thoughts turned to the access that we provide at The Williston Northampton School. As a 171-year-old school founded on principles of inclusion, we embrace a remarkable socio-economic diversity. Yet our noble mission also has challenges. One of those challenges is to raise funds for endowed scholarships, as some of the elite colleges and universities have accomplished.

At the conference, it hit home to me once again that these efforts will be a priority for Williston in the future.

Role Models

H6797414419 0970e94d76 oow fitting that, as we celebrate 40 years of coeducation at Williston Northampton, this year’s Cum Laude speaker was Professor Sheila Fisher ’72, valedictorian of the school’s first co-ed class.
Standing before a packed Stephens Chapel, Professor Fisher, associate academic dean and member of the English faculty at Trinity College in Hartford, extolled the talent and accomplishments of this year’s Cum Laude Society inductees.
Then she threw in a twist.  A “relationship with work,” she said—referring to academic prowess, rather than the effort that produces a particular result—is essential for one to have a fulfilled life.
What a strong message for our students to hear—no matter where their passions take them.  A scholar in her field and one who holds three advanced degrees from Yale University, Professor Fisher now stands as one of the “giants” she remembered from her own school days. Our students clearly understood the significance of her scholarship and accomplishments.
Indeed, Professor Fisher embodies, as a living testimony, the enduring impact that great teachers have on generations of students—not to mention individuals whose lives they steer by the magnetic pull of emulation.