Making All the Difference IN THE TRENCHES, NOT STANDING ON DESKS
The Spirit of Taft at 30,000 Feet S P R I N G
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B U L L E T I N Spring 2004 Volume 74 Number 3 Bulletin Staff Director of Development John E. Ormiston Editor Julie Reiff Alumni Notes Linda Beyus Anne Gahl Jackie Maloney Design Good Design www.goodgraphics.com Proofreader Nina Maynard
Bulletin Advisory Board Todd Gipstein ’70 Peter Kilborn ’57 Nancy Novogrod P’98,’01 Bonnie Blackburn Penhollow ’84 Josh Quittner ’75 Peter Frew ’75, ex officio Julie Reiff, ex officio Bonnie Welch, ex officio Mail letters to: Julie Reiff, Editor Taft Bulletin The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org Send alumni news to: Anne Gahl Alumni Office The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftBulletin@TaftSchool.org Deadlines for Alumni Notes: Summer–May 30 Fall–August 30 Winter–November 15 Spring–February 15 Send address corrections to: Sally Membrino Alumni Records The Taft School Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. TaftRhino@TaftSchool.org 1-860-945-7777 www.TaftAlumni.com
This magazine is printed on recycled paper.
Making All the Difference
Fitting in, conforming to the norm, can be among the most difficult pressures teens face. For students of color, alumni say, those pressures brought additional feelings of loneliness and isolation. By Bonnie Blackburn Penhollow ’84
In the Trenches, Not Standing on Desks 22 Born in Saigon during the war, English teacher Steve Le spoke only Vietnamese when he arrived in the United States at 10 years old. An Annapolis grad and former U.S. Navy lieutenant, Le says he has found his calling in teaching. By Chris Torino
The Spirit of Taft at 30,000 Feet
A tribute to Development Director Chip Spencer ’56, who retires in June. By Barclay Johnson ’53
On the Cover The Collegium Musicum, directed by Bruce Fifer (left), performs at Grace Cathedral during its San Francisco tour in March. ABBY FIFER/SAMUEL DANGREMOND ’05
The Taft Bulletin is published quarterly, in February, May, August, and November, by The Taft School, 110 Woodbury Road, Watertown, CT 06795-2100, and is distributed free of charge to alumni, parents, grandparents, and friends of the school. E-Mail Us! Send your latest news, address change, birth announcement, or letter to the editor via e-mail. Our address is TaftBulletin@TaftSchool.org. We continue to accept your communiqués by fax machine (860-945-7756), telephone (860-945-7777), or U.S. Mail (110 Woodbury Road, Watertown, CT 06795-2100). So let’s hear from you! Taft on the Web: News? Stocks? Entertainment? Weather? Catch up with old friends or make new ones, get a job and more!—all at the Taft Alumni Community online. Visit us at www.TaftAlumni.com. What happened at this afternoon's game?—Visit us at www.TaftSports.com for the latest Big Red coverage. For other campus news and events, including admissions information, visit our main site at www.TaftSchool.org, with improved calendar features and Around the Pond stories.
From the Editor
Around the Pond
The Naming of a Feminist By Debora Phipps
Don’t forget you can shop online at www.TaftStore.com
A detail of La Bottega II by Langdon Quin ’66, whose work was on exhibit in the Potter Gallery this winter (see page 11).
In the last issue, Jon Willson’82 made a wonderful case for diversity at the school, but if today’s multicultural community is a work in progress, it’s important to remember (and thank) the pioneers who helped get us to this point. Toward that end, we asked Bonnie Blackburn Penhollow ’84 to seek out alumni from the ’40s to the ’90s to help us understand what it was like to be among the first black, Asian, or Hispanic students to walk these halls (page 14). Unlike the anniversary of coeducation, which we celebrated in 1996 by interviewing a number of those pioneering young women, there is no anniversary of diversity; as a school we made no single decision to be diverse. But the celebration is still long overdue. As both articles point out, having a multicultural faculty who can serve as role models for today’s students is key. This is a continuing challenge for Dean of Faculty Penny Townsend as she seeks the ideal candidates for each year’s vacancies. We are fortunate this year not only to have Felecia Washington Williams ’84 return to campus, but also to welcome new English teacher Steve Le (page 22), who has made an immediate impact on the boys on his hall, the girls on his team, and the students in his classes. The spring issue is, of course, when we celebrate the careers of retiring faculty members, and the task is all the more interesting when the subject is an alumnus whose career at the school is as varied as Chip Spencer’s (page 24). And there is so much more to share with you. Every page of class notes finds something to pique my interest. Thanks, too, for all the books and photographs you’ve sent, and, please, keep those letters coming. —Julie Reiff, editor
We welcome Letters to the Editor relating to the content of the magazine. Letters may be edited for length, clarity, and content, and are published at the editor’s discretion. Send correspondence to: Julie Reiff • Taft Bulletin 110 Woodbury Road Watertown, CT 06795-2100 U.S.A. or to ReiffJ@TaftSchool.org
Alumni S P OT L I G H T
In Brief Benefit Concert Jay Gandhi ’00 gave a benefit concert of classical Indian music and dance with master teacher and performer Rachna Ramya Agrawal in February at the Litchfield Community Center. Proceeds benefited the Litchfield Montessori School.
Dan Senecal ’60 during a 1,300-mile motorcycle trip through the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, and eastern Saudi Arabia.
Dan Senecal ’60 recently motorcycled for ten days with nine Germans and two Austrians on a 1,300-mile route from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates through the Sultanate of Oman to the “backdoor” of Eastern Saudi Arabia. Dan rode a BMW 1100GS along the Gulf of Oman to Muscat, capital of the Sultanate, then inland over the Jabal Abu Da’du Mountains on dirt and gravel to desert oasis villages such as Al Hazm, Al Rustaq, and Nakhl. “It was amazing,” says Senecal. “When we’d reach these oases in the Omanese desert, the kids were fascinated with us and we with them. We’d give them rides out into the desert.”
He found this group of motorcycle enthusiasts through the Austrian company Edelweiss, which arranges for experienced motorcyclists to go all over Europe and on scouting expeditions like his. “Most Americans are afraid of that area, especially now,” he says, “but I was received fabulously. People were amazingly friendly toward me and extremely welcoming. It was an incredible trip.” Senecal first hiked through the Southern Desert 25 years ago and has been across the Sahara five times. He has visited over 101 countries, but this was his first motorcycle trip. For his next adventure, he plans to motorcycle the coast of South Africa.
You can usually catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Matzkin Smith ’88 on TV while she’s working at Duke basketball games; she’s the only female sitting on the men’s bench. Liz, who received her M.D. from Tulane, is a research fellow in sports medicine surgery at Duke.
Word on Asthma Paul Ehrlich ’62 appeared on the CBS Early Show’s health watch segment in December, talking about his recent book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Allergies and Asthma. Ehrlich told co-anchor Hannah Storm that parents should pay attention to the nose. “Physicians tend to concentrate on the lungs and forget about the nose. So a stuffy nose has to be taken care of and not be taken lightly.” Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
On the Mall with Tennessee Williams Framji Minwalla ’83 is just finishing a four-lecture series for the Smithsonian’s “Campus on the Mall” program. Each of the talks explored a different period of Tennessee Williams’ work. Starting with a look at Williams’ own life and youthful writing in the first talk, Minwalla explored two of his major works—The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire—in the second; how Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was set in the prosperity of the postwar years in the third; and looked at Williams’ later plays in the fourth. “Desires and dreams are explored by no American playwright as brilliantly as they are by Tennessee Williams,” Minwalla explains. “His plays and short stories show us minds and bodies fractured by the pressures of an indifferent world intent on shaping individuals in its own image.” Minwalla also recently directed Bertolt Brecht’s one-act play The Baby
Elephant at D.C.’s Arena Stage during their recent production of Brecht’s A Man’s a Man. “Since Brecht wrote this short piece to be performed in the lobby during intermissions for productions of his longer anti-war play,” said Minwalla, “Arena Stage, at my instigation, invited area colleges to participate by staging different versions of the short piece. They also held a series of symposia on Brecht, and asked me to participate.” Earlier in his career, Minwalla spent five years as an actor and dramaturg with The Brecht Company at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Minwalla is an assistant professor at George Washington University—teaching theater history, dramatic literature, and dramaturgy in the departments of English and of Theater and Dance—as well as an instructor with the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program. He earned his
doctorate in fine arts at Yale School of Drama and taught in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College for five years before moving to Washington. He is coeditor of The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater (NYU Press, 2002) and is working on a new book tentatively titled History, Performance, Politics: Queer Essays on Making and Teaching Theater. He also serves on the advisory board for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
Last Boat to Cadiz Barnaby Conrad ’40
Employment with a Human Face John W. Budd ’83
Capra Press, 2003
Cornell University Press, 2004
Europe 1945: Hitler is dead, the Third Reich is an open wound…. Amid the chaos, a man like no other makes his way south through France and into Spain. No one will stand in his way and live. Only idealistic young Wilson Tripp, American vice-consul in the city of Seville, stands to discover the man’s true identity and the stunning threat he poses. That is, if Tripp can survive. Author Barnaby Conrad was himself an American vice-consul in Seville during World War II. As an amateur bullfighter, he performed in Mexico, Spain, and Peru over a period of 15 years. He is the author of 32 books, including Matador, The Encyclopedia of Bullfighting, and Name Dropping, and is the founder and director of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference.
John W. Budd contends that the turbulence of the workplace and the importance of work for individuals and society make it vitally important that employment be given “a human face.” Drawing on scholarship from industrial relations, law, political science, moral philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, and economics, he argues that the traditional narrow focus on efficiency must be balanced with employees’ entitlement to fair treatment (equity) and the opportunity to have meaningful input into decisions (voice). Only through a greater respect for these human concerns can broadly shared prosperity, respect for human dignity, and equal appreciation for the competing human rights of property and labor be achieved. Budd is Industrial Relations Landgrant Term Professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
“A master storyteller has done it again with a great tale about the very end of the world war set in a country he knows and loves so well.” —William F. Buckley Jr.
“Employment with a Human Face will quickly be viewed as a classic statement of the first principles underlying the study and practice of modern human resources and industrial relations.” —Thomas A. Kochan, MIT Sloan School of Management
Designing Daughter “This book was born of necessity,” writes Leslie Banker ’88 of The Pocket Decorator (below). “About five years ago I started working at my mother’s interior design firm, and although I had a general knowledge of decorating—gained through a lifelong proximity to my mother’s work—I was less certain of its specifics. Fortunately, I had a treasure trove of information available in my mother.” Banker began asking questions and keeping a notebook to record what she learned; The Pocket Decorator is a polished version of that overstuffed notebook. This visual primer of interior design is small enough to slip into your pocket. With chapters on fabrics, floor treatments, furniture, hardware, lighting, trimmings, upholstery, walls, and windows, and sidebars on such topics as how to buy a lampshade or decorate in the country style, “It’s like having your own personal decorator in your pocket wherever you go,” says Banker.
Leslie Banker ’88 and her mother/mentor Pamela Banker
“A lot of design books are big and heavy,” she says, “not the sort of thing you want to lug around to a meeting with an architect, an upholsterer, or while shopping.” The pocket-sized volume includes vocabulary, some history, and stylistic ideas
along with beautifully detailed illustrations. “For me,” writes Banker, “writing this book was a unique opportunity to learn and understand more about what my mother has been doing since before I was even born.”
Fordham University Press, 2003
“Cort crafted Dreadful Conversions to be as much philosophical primer as autobiography, as much intellectual journey as recollection of days past…. He always eyed a life of political activism through the lens of his Catholic faith, but not until the mid-1970s did this focus prompt a second conversion: to socialism.” —Lee Hudson Teslik, Harvard Magazine
The Pocket Decorator Pamela and Leslie Banker ’88 Universe Publishing, 2004 (see above)
Dreadful Conversions: The Making of a Catholic Socialist John C. Cort ’35
For more than 50 years, John C. Cort has been at the center of most of the social movements of our time, fighting good fights in dozens of campaigns for justice, peace, and human rights. Labor leader, community organizer, writer/editor on The Catholic Worker, here is his story—the measure of an exemplary life and a vivid chronicle of American activism. At its heart, this is also the story of what it means to take seriously the distinctively radical Catholic vision that informs American political and religious life in this century. Cort is now coeditor of Religious Socialism, a quarterly he hopes to revive, and author of Christian Socialism: An Informal History.
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
AROUND THE POND
pond School Acquires Historic King James Bible The newest archival acquisition for Taft’s Sacred Texts collection is a 1616 King James Bible. The first edition of the King James Bible to be printed in a “lectern folio” size and intended for use at Cambridge and Oxford, it was published only five years after the original King James Pulpit Bible. The 1616 first edition corrected any printing errors and includes additional research material not found in the 1611 version. An Anglican Book of Common Prayer, an illustrated genealogy of Christ, a standard Psalter, a metrical Psalter (with musical notation), and a map of the Holy Land “distinguish the academic provenance of this very rare first edition,” says Chaplain Michael Spencer. “Its acquisition underscores Taft’s continued commitment to religious diversity and interfaith understanding.” “This nearly 400-year-old Bible is probably the most significant archival addition the school has made,” Headmaster Willy MacMullen said. “Together with the purchase of the historic Torah last year, I think Taft has done something powerfully symbolic and unprecedented among private non-sectarian schools.” The acquisition was made possible by the generosity of Alan and Ann Blanchard, parents of James ’03. A detail of “The Tree of Life” from the book of Genesis in the school’s newly acquired 1616 first edition King James Bible dedicated in Walker Hall on April 15. 8
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
AROUND THE POND
SAMUEL DANGREMOND ’05
No Need for Global Warning Retired geologist and professor emeritus Lucian Platt ’49 came to campus to talk with environmental studies students in Laube Auditorium in January. “I’m trying to improve science teaching in city schools,” Lucian told classmates at his last reunion, “and give talks aimed at reducing alarm about global warming, which has been going on for centuries.”
Susannah Walden ’06, Mariel Montuori ’04, Camden Flath ’05, and Lily Cowles ’05 performed the farcical play-within-a-play Noises Off for audiences on Mothers’ Day weekend. SAMUEL DANGREMOND ’05
PETER FREW ’75
A Little Bit of Scotland Comes to Life in Walker Hall The Baltimore Consort—a sextet of musicians renowned for their revival of the popular music of the Renaissance— performed in Walker Hall in March. The lively concert focused on the early music of Scotland, including songs from their latest CD, Adew Dundee, and the earlier On the Banks of Helicon. They played a variety of period instruments— lute, viol, flute, cittern, bagpipe, early guitar, rebec, recorder, and crumhorn. Founded in 1980, the Baltimore Consort has toured extensively in the U.S.A. and Europe. Their numerous recordings have earned a place on the Billboard Magazine Top-Ten list, and Billboard named the group one of the Top Classical Crossover Artists for 1993. For more information, visit www.baltcons.com. Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
AROUND THE POND
Wilson Quartet Wows Jazz Fans
PETER FREW ’75
“The Matt Wilson Quartet was so utterly inspiring,” said instrumental music director T.J. Thompson. “Rarely have I heard a group pour so much energy, emotion, and imagination into their playing. They have almost completely redefined the genre of jazz, and they are quite hilarious to boot!” In addition to the Walker Hall concert, the quartet held a workshop for students on the following morning. “Their workshop helped the kids find ways to make the music fun and to play with much more conviction and enthusiasm,” Thompson said. “It was the perfect cure for an early Saturday morning class in one of the coldest winters in decades. They were terrific.”
Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.
As Rockwell Visiting Artists, Pilobolus Dance Theater members Emily Kent and Rebecca Jung presented a special half-hour lecture demonstration in School Meeting in January and worked with dance classes throughout the day. Pilobolus is a major American dance
company of international stature that originated in a Dartmouth College dance class in 1971. The group is acclaimed for its mix of humor and creative invention, its members choreographing, dancing, managing, and publicizing their own programs. PETER FREW ’75
Michael Ficarra, the founder of Equality for All Races, was the featured guest speaker on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The mission of EFAR is to take “an aggressive approach to eliminate the ignorant belief that an individual’s character, integrity, and human rights are based on the color of his or her skin or ethnic background.” His visit and all of the activities on the following Monday were sponsored by the Diversity Committee. Instead of classes, students were treated to the Gospel choir SIII and the Truth, followed by an African Dance Workshop and a poetry presentation by Spoken Word. The highlight of the day for many was an International Food Festival in Armstrong Dining Hall, followed by a salsa, tango, and merengue performance in the Choral Room after dinner.
AROUND THE POND
Alumni on Ice Forty alumni returned on January 24 to play in the alumni hockey game. The near-record turnout was thanks to
Jake Odden ’86, who spearheaded the event when early responses indicated there might not be enough interest.
Ironically, circumstances prevented him from attending, namely the birth of his second child.
La Bottega II (A Family Portrait), oil on linen, 26" x 52"
Langdon Quin: Paintings and Works on Paper For many, Langdon Quin’s rich landscapes and colorful still lifes brightened up a long Watertown winter. Quin ’66 returned to campus for the opening, presenting a talk that morning at School Meeting about his decision to pursue art as a career, and the influence of the later Mark Potter ’48 on his work.
A graduate of Yale University’s M.F.A. program, Quin is represented by Kraushaar Galleries in New York and HackettFreeman Gallery in San Francisco. Currently teaching at the University of New Hampshire, he has also taught at Boston University, Cornell, Vassar, SUNY, Skidmore, and Washington and
Lee, among others. His many honors include a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, a Fulbright Hays Grant for study in Italy, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award. Quin’s work was on exhibit in the Mark W. Potter Gallery from January 29 to March 6.
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
AROUND THE POND
Art Honors Antonia Fraker ’04 received an honorable mention in the Connecticut Scholastic Art Awards for one of her pencil drawings, which was on display at the Hartford Art School Gallery, University of Hartford, from January 18 to February 6.
Onward to All-State Festival Eleven students attended the Connecticut Music Educators Association Northern Regional Festival in January, culminating in a concert in New Britain. Each was chosen after auditioning in November with other high school students from the Northwest corner of Connecticut. “It is an honor to be selected,” said Art Department head Bruce Fifer. The regionals are the first step in the process leading up to the All-State Music Festival held in Hartford in April. Six singers from Taft’s Collegium Musicum: Lila Claghorn ’04, Joanna Quayle ’05, Lauren Malaspina ’04, Paul Sorokin ’05, Jon McDonald ’05, and Arden Klemmer ’05 sang with the Northern Regional Choir. Taft Chamber Ensemble musicians Caroline Berger ’06 and Christina Lewis ’04 performed with the Nor thern Regional Concert Band; Jason Kim ’06, Vivian Chiang ’04, and Doris Kim ’04 performed with the Northern Regional Orchestra.
Coaching All-Star Congratulations to Will Orben ’92 who was selected as coach of the year by Connecticut Soccer Coaches Association. 12
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
SAMUEL DANGREMOND ’05
Treasure Maps Frank Runyeon, a nationally renowned speaker in the area of mass media and ethics, spoke at School Meeting on “Treasure: Life After Prep School, What They Don’t Tell You.” He also visited philosophy and public-speaking classes and was available to students throughout the day as an artist-in-residence. Runyeon has worked in television, film, and radio for over 25 years. He is best known for his work on TV, appearing in more than 1,000 television programs as diverse as Melrose Place, Falcon Crest, LA Law, and his starring role opposite Meg Ryan for seven years in As the World Turns. His talk, sponsored by the Paduano Lecture Series in Philosophy and Ethics,
combined his knowledge and experience in Hollywood with his academic background. He attended the Hill School, Princeton University, and studied at Fuller Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and General Theological Seminary in New York.
In Tune with the Yale Symphony The Chamber Ensemble traveled to Yale to perform for Yale Symphony Orchestra conductor Maestro Hahm in February. “The workshop involved us playing, getting some feedback, and then
hearing and talking with some of the orchestra members about what it takes to be a musician at the college level,” said instrumental music director T.J. Thompson. “It was a great opportunity for all of us.”
SAMUEL DANGREMOND ’05
Canine Rescue Makes Local Headlines A walk according to Garp A teacher walking her dog is a familiar enough sight on any campus, but for history teacher Rachel Ryan, one Sunday morning walk went seriously awry. At the end of winter break, Ryan’s five-year-old yellow Labrador, Garp, turned their outing into a halfday affair when he decided to explore a narrow drainpipe by the tennis courts and couldn’t get out. Ensuing efforts to dislodge him involved the local animal control officer, the fire department, school security, and members of the grounds crew. “I’ve received many phone calls at home over the years regarding the failures of heat, water, et cetera, but this has probably been the most bizarre,” said Jim Shepard, head of the Facilities Department. Garp emerged four and a half hours later, soggy and muddy but un-
harmed, and ran into the arms of Ryan and husband Greg Hawes ’85. Garp, who had crawled 250 feet in from the pipe’s entrance, received a thorough bath after his grimy experience, which is for him “the closest thing to a punishment,” said Hawes. Ryan and
Hawes, however, were doomed to relive the experience throughout the week, as the Waterbury Republican, Town Times, and Taft Papyrus all carried the story. Sources: Waterbury Republican; Town Times; Samuel Dangremond ’05, Taft Papyrus
PETER FREW ’75
Squash Finals In an interesting turn of events, the finals of a January U.S. Squash Rackets Association tournament, which began at Choate, were held on Taft’s courts since the finalists were all Taft students. In the Under-19 draw, Tucker George ’04 (1st seed) faced Gordon McMorris ’03 (3rd seed). In the Under-17 draw, Michael Shrubb ’06 (1st seed) faced Peter Irving ’06 (2nd seed). The day presented a rare opportunity for Taft fans to cheer for all participants. Tucker George and Michael Shrubb won out in their respective divisions; Alastair Smith ’05 won the consolation bracket of the Under-19s. (For more on the squash season, see page 14.) Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
sport By Steve Palmer Girls’ Basketball 16–5 With double wins over rivals Hotchkiss and Loomis, the girls earned a tournament seeding for the fourth year in a row. Despite losing two key players mid-season, this team distinguished itself with outstanding overall defense. All Founders League guard Keri Gritt ’04 was the best outside shooter, and forward Sha-kayla Crockett ’05 was a New England Class A All Star. However, offensively and in nearly every category, senior captain Katie McCabe led the way, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. She also became Taft’s first ever 1,000-point scorer. A member of the varsity for all four years at Taft, she was named a First Team New England Class A All Star for her junior and senior years.
Boys’ Basketball 2–21 The team began the season with five new starters after the apparent season-ending injury to All-League guard Brian Baudinet ’04. Senior guard Tyler Whitley led the team through a season of close games against some very talented teams, especially from Berkshire, Trinity-Pawling, and Loomis, who all made the New England tournament. In fact, the Rhinos battled #3 ranked T-P down to the final minute late in the season. When Baudinet did 14
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
return to action, Taft blew out Avon 69–49 for only their second win and then nearly upset a strong Salisbury team behind his 37 points. Whitley and captain-elect David Halas ’05 were Founders League All Stars, and Sam Smythe ’05 finished 2nd in the league in 3-point shooting (39.1 percent). Despite missing 19 of their 23 games this year, Brian Baudinet still finished his remarkable four-year career as the boys’ all-time leading scorer with 950 points.
Ski Racing Competing in the Berkshire Ski League and the New England Class C Division, the boys’ and girls’ teams battled Loomis, Berkshire, and Suffield on a regular basis. Middler Wiley Johnston and captain Will Rickards ’06 provided leadership for the boys’ team, while newcomer Harry Weyher ’07 and Nick Wirth ’06 placed highest at the NEPSAC Slalom championships— 18th and 19th respectively out of 70 skiers. The team placed 8th out of 15 and, combined with the girls’ team, finished the season in 5th place in the BSL. Maggie Seay ’07 led the girls’ to a 7th place finish in the NEPSAC C Championships with a 12th place finish in the slalom. Uppermid Mercer Wu and captain Hillary Lewis ’04 were 20th and 21st out of 50 skiers.
Boys’ Squash 12–2 Once again the Taft squash team distinguished itself with stellar performances and first-rate sportsmanship, finishing 3rd at the New England Championships. Though they were not able to repeat as New England champs, the Taft players did dominate the Founders League as they have for over a decade. They earned the New England Sportsmanship Award for the third time in the last four years—an impressive honor for coach Peter Frew and this whole program. Captain Tucker George ’04 led the team all season at the #1 spot, but this team was strong all the way down the ladder. In fact, Ben Macaskill ’05, Sam Beatt ’07, Peter Irving ’06, and Alastair Smith ’05 all made it to the New England finals in the 7th, 6th, 5th, and 4th draws respectively while senior Gordon McMorris placed 3rd in the #3 spot and Michael Shrubb ’06 won the #2 consolation bracket.
Girls’ Squash 10–2 If last year’s team was the best in school history, this year’s squad would have battled them to the final point; the girls finished tied for 2nd at the New England Championships and defeated every opponent aside from eight-time champion
Greenwich Academy. Once again, senior Supriya Balsekar won the individual New England title (that makes 3) to complete an undefeated career at Taft—her individual match record stands at 48–0 and the team never finished lower than third in New England in her three years. In the words of coach Bogardus, “Supriya has brought Taft squash to a new level.” Such success was again duplicated by Sydney Scott’s repeat championship in the #2 spot. In fact, Scott powered through the season without coming close to losing a single game. Highlights include a 6–1 win over Deerfield and two exciting 4–3 wins over Hotchkiss, where captain-elect Margot Webel ’05 fought back from 0–2 down to win both matches.
Girls’ Hockey 13–7–4 Founders League Co-Champions Having graduated several Division I recruits, this was the youngest girls’ hockey team in many years. Their success rested heavily on the seniors; Kerry Kiley, Katherine Simmons, and Emily Morris formed a rock solid defense, while Jaclyn Hawkins provided the critical goals in all those close games on the way to an 8th seed in the New England Tournament. They lost the 1st round game to Nobles, who repeated as New England champions, but to get there this team pulled out several unexpected triumphs, including tying the top three teams in New England
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETER FREW ’75
Supriya Balsekar ’04 won the individual New England title (for the third year in a row) to complete an undefeated career at Taft—her individual match record stands at 48–0 and the team never finished lower than third in New England in her three years.
(Berkshire 2–2, Cushing 3–3, and undefeated Nobles 1–1). Their most exciting win came at Choate, down 2–0, with three third-period goals for a 3–2 victory and a share of the Founders League title. Hawkins was the team’s high scorer and a New England All Star. Blueliners Morris and Kiley, along with forward Tucker Marrison ’04, were Founders League All Stars.
Boys’ Hockey 17–6–1 Founders League Champions For the 7th time in eight years the Taft boys’ hockey team entered the New England Tournament ranked near the top. Their season included powerful wins over Salisbury (5–2) and Hotchkiss (6–1). In what has turned into a spectacular rivalry, Taft again drew Salisbury in the first round of the tournament. This year’s game proved to be one of the finest prepschool contests in recent memory, and Mike Maher’s squad found themselves down 2–0 on Salisbury’s home ice. A perfect man-up goal late in the 2nd by senior Keith Shattenkirk and an early 3rd-period goal from middler Luke Popko created the scene for Matt Smith’s game winner with two minutes left. The Rhinos had every chance to win their semifinal game, but it was Tabor who scored late in the 3rd period to break a 3–3 tie and go on to the finals. Senior TJ Kelley began the season injured but
ended up as the leading scorer (24 goals), due in part to the fine play of linemates Popko and co-captain Tom Maldonado ’04. Seniors Will Reycraft, Sam Driver, Brendan Milnamow, and J.D. McCabe anchored the defense. With 14 seniors moving on to college hockey ranks and Coach Maher finishing up after his 18th season, Taft hockey will start something of a new era next year. In his time here, Maher has built a legacy of excellence on and off the ice. His teams have brought honor to the school with their success, their spirit, and their sportsmanship. For the second time in his career, Maher was awarded the National Ice Hockey Officials Coach of the Year Sportsmanship Award. The boys’ record for the past five years stands at 100–16–7.
Wrestling 8–10 Posting key victories over Avon (35–34) and Suffield (37–36), the squad was a young one, with underclassmen starting 8 of the 14 varsity spots. Leading the way were senior co-captains Jon Acquaviva and Alex Bisset. Acquaviva came back from a second knee operation to place 6th at the Western New England Championships; Bisset led the team with a 21–6 record, a 2nd place finish at 215 lbs. at the Westerns, and his tough, no-nonsense leadership all season. Freshman Dante Paolino and middler Toren Kutnick also placed at the Western Championships. Captain Katie McCabe ’04 averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game this season and became Taft’s first ever 1,000-point scorer. Linemates Luke Popko ’06 and co-captain Tom Maldonado ’04 in a win over Lawrenceville
LESLIE MANNING ARCHIVES
Making All the
Difference Fitting in, conforming to the norm, can be among the most difficult pressures teens face. For students of color, alumni say, those pressures brought additional feelings of loneliness and isolation.
By Bonnie Blackburn Penhollow â€™84
Though he successfully lobbied to remain a mid, Jackson said he was an oddity. He recalled one Mothers’ Day, passing a mother and her son in the corridor. “When I turned around, the mother had stopped dead in her tracks and was staring at me, probably in dumbfounded disbelief,” he said. “Being made to feel separate and different, and sometimes inferior, together with the consequent loneliness and ostracism—these were the worst,” he remembers. “I was tolerated,” he said. “But in fairness, my presence at Taft was new, something in the whole previous history of the school they had not dealt with before.”
Although the first black student, Jackson was not the first minority. From the school’s earliest days, students from other cultures have attended Taft. One was Julio Rodriguez ’45 from Puerto Rico. The Beta tennis team in 1957 The cover of the Bulletin from the fall of 1964 assembled students and faculty who brought with them “a personal knowledge of life in foreign lands,” even if only for a summer. Clockwise from left, Roland Simon, Phillip Young, Alex Chu ’66, Thomas Baldwin ’65, George Dunlop, Stephen Armstrong ’65, John Esty, Leslie Manning, and Sam Kinuthia ’65. A similar “diversity” photograph today would include more than half the campus. LESLIE MANNING ARCHIVES
aturday nights at Taft have long been a chance to blow off steam, watching movies and socializing with classmates. For Wayne Jackson ’57, they were torture. “I would go outside alone and sit on a bench on the sideline of the soccer field, where I played varsity soccer for the school. It was freezing cold, and tears would roll down my face. That’s how isolated and alone I felt.” As the school’s first black student, Jackson endured catcalls of “nigger,” disbelieving stares and condescension. A native of Bermuda, where he still resides, Jackson entered Taft as a middler in 1954, just after the historic Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of American public schools. When Jackson arrived at Taft, he was told he would have to start as a lower mid, that he would have no roommate, and that he would have to be chaperoned when visiting girls’ schools. “Can you imagine how I felt—and still do,” he recalled. “This was the first day of what would be the loneliest three years of my life.”
“Taft opened the door to the wonderful world of education and career opportunities that have characterized my adult life.” Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
LESLIE MANNING ARCHIVES
Afro-American Congress at Taft (ACT) from the 1972 Annual, seated from left, Aaron Williams '75, Elizabeth Dixon '73, Kevin Jones '73, Karen Stevenson '75, John Hare '75; standing, Carl Taylor '74, James Holloman '73, Michael Rubin '74, Moses Marshall '73, Zachary Highsmith '73, and Russel Jones '75. President Lee Keitt '72, Claude Williams '73, and Charisse Rivera '74 were not pictured.
“I felt like others wanted me to assimilate rather than to learn about me and my culture.” 18
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“I’m very proud of my time at Taft,” he said from his home on the island. “I enjoyed my time there.” Rodriguez, who is now retired from the military, said his father, a commissions broker, thought Taft would be a good place for him. “I was pretty wild,” he said with a chuckle. “They tamed me. I made the honor roll, and I was very proud of that.” Rodriguez said he didn’t recall any racial incidents or any overt acts of discrimination. When Manuel Rocha ’69 entered the school in the fall of 1965, the country was in the grip of racial unrest that spawned riots in Harlem, where Rocha lived with his mother and siblings. “I was born in Colombia and moved to the States after my father died, when I was 10 years old. My mother, sister, brother, and I moved in with my uncle who lived in Harlem. Hence, my first exposure to the States was ghetto life. My mother worked in a sweatshop sewing factory, while we attended public school and made do with welfare and food stamps assistance. I was a Hispanic living in a predominantly black cultural environment.”
In 1964, Harlem burned in a race riot, prompting an attempt to lift children of the ghetto into a different world. Rocha was one of them. “In 1965 I won an ABC (A Better Chance) scholarship to attend Taft,” he said. “Taft was the best thing that happened to my life. Taft opened the door to the wonderful world of education and career opportunities that have characterized my adult life. I went to Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown because of Taft. Without Taft opening those doors, I would not have had the incredibly successful Foreign Service career I have had.” Rocha served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia prior to his recent retirement from the U.S. State Department. He also served in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, and Honduras. An internationally known expert on Latin American affairs, Rocha now works for a law firm in Miami. Only one racial incident at Taft still stands out in Rocha’s mind. “My closest friend from my lowermid year refused my offer to be roommates because he felt that if his sisters visited and saw who his roommate was, they would not think twice later of dating a black man,” he said. “I was devastated and considered suicide. Mr. Small, my Latin and track coach, listened to me and helped me overcome the only significant rejection I have ever experienced in my entire life.” Though he was Hispanic, Rocha was named head of the school’s black student association. “My ghetto experience and my ability to deal in that world made me acceptable to all the black kids,” he said. During that time, Rocha said he proposed helping white students understand what it is to be a minority by putting one white student in a group of black students. “Then, for the first time, they’re the minority,” he said. “I was told to drop the proposal, that it would create problems for (students’) families. I tried to explain that it was a way for the majority to understand how the minority would
feel. The school was walking very lightly through those years.” By the time Karen Stevenson ’75 entered the school, being black wasn’t as strange as being one of the first females to attend the previously all-male school. “We kind of went through this initiation,” she recalled. “We had the experience of the school getting used to girls and the girls getting used to the school.” Stevenson and Rocha both noted that coming from an inner-city environment—and a lower economic background—was another factor that separated them from their classmates. “My experience and these kids’ experience were very different,” said Stevenson, who grew up in Washington, D.C. “I had no idea where Boca Raton was. I was much more aware of the fact that these kids have such a sense of entitlement to the best of everything.” Stevenson also felt Jackson’s sense of apartness. “It was tough,” she admitted. “There was an incredible sense of loneliness. There was no interracial dating. I didn’t have boyfriends in high school. Nobody
was going to date me. I got a lot of grief from the black kids for being smart. I felt I wasn’t really fitting in either place.” Stevenson—a Rhodes Scholar—still said Taft “was an amazing experience intellectually. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me to get me out of the inner city.” She now is an attorney practicing business litigation in Los Angeles. Alex Chu ’66 came to Watertown from Hong Kong after spending a year at a parochial school in Massachusetts. His immersion in the high-stakes world of Taft academics left little time to notice any slurs on his background. “There was name-calling, caricatures, nothing really drastic,” he said. “The normal pranks that one would play. Do you take it in jest or in a more serious, undermining way? Your own personal makeup [determines] how you take it.” Chu, now president of Eastbank in New York City and a former Taft trustee, credits headmaster emeritus Lance Odden, then a history teacher, with helping him keep up with modern Chinese history. Chu said younger teachers, such as
Odden, helped him academically, while watching to see how he would integrate into the Taft student body. “The younger faculty were interested in my thinking,” he noted. “They were curious about how I would handle things. A lot of the faculty had not visited foreign countries in those days.” As the only Asian student, Chu saw himself as a role model. “You’re the ambassador. You somehow have to have enough confidence in your values and your culture,” he said. “Nobody does when you’re 14 or 15.” Still, “I was able to influence a number of my classmates, [and provide] a refreshing look at the Chinese language, and through me the Chinese culture,” he added. Cassandra Chia-Wei Pan ’77 was the only Asian female student on campus, coming to Taft for her senior year from Hong Kong. “I was brought up in a traditional Chinese family with strong belief in academic excellence. I was your typical naïve and hardworking student from Asia,” she said.
Pardo de Tavera brothers: School’s first international students The school’s first experience with diversity began with William Howard Taft’s appointment as governor of the Philippines in 1900 after the Spanish-American War. Among his chief advisers there was Dr. T.H. Pardo de Tavera, head of one of Manila’s more prominent families and a member of the Honorary Board of Filipino Commissioners. In 1904, Pardo de Tavera sent his two sons, Carlos ’09 and Alfredo ’11, off to Watertown, Conn., to study at the school run by Governor Taft’s younger brother. Although the boys did not graduate, they stayed for three years, returning to Manila in 1907. Little is known about their time here.
They were, however, already world Alfredo Washington, where William was now secretary of war, and travelers, coming to the U.S. from a stay in Paris and spendvisited again in March. ing other summers in Tokyo. Writing to Dr. Pardo de Tavera, Taft said, “I In August 1904, William am glad to say, my dear Howard Taft writes, “I sinDoctor, that your sons cerely hope that you will find the Tavera boys all right. are looking well…. I Of course, it is something of think they both are improving in their English, and an experiment, but we have all while they continue to look made some experiments with the Filipinos and there is no reason why pale, they seem to me to be in good you should not have your share. Your health. Carlos has grown more than Alfredo, but I thought both were in affectionate brother, Will” Young Robert Taft ’05, William’s a happy frame of mind.” older son, was in his second year at the school when the Pardo de Tavera boys Sources: Taft Biography Book, 1912. arrived, and they spent the Christmas William Howard Taft Papers, Library of holidays with the Taft family in Congress Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
The isolation, loneliness, and occasional slurs didn’t stop many of these groundbreakers from sending their children to Taft.
LESLIE MANNING ARCHIVES
A graduate of the University of South Africa and Columbia, Richard Pieterse became the first faculty member of color in 1969.
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
Pan said it was hard to make friends, but faculty members, including Roger Stacey, helped her get over her homesickness. “My biggest challenge was English language proficiency. Although I had an English education in Hong Kong, it did not prepare me for the rigorous program at Taft. Extremely fortunately, I had Mrs. Blackburn, now Ms. Osborn, as my English teacher. To this date, I am still deeply grateful for her teaching and all the extra hours she spent with me to improve my English.” For Joseph Dillard ’84, coming from inner-city Minneapolis, “It was a big, lonely school at first. The classes were challenging, but the teachers were supportive. I especially remember Bill Nicholson, Stephen McCabe, and Ed North. “I thought Taft would be a coed version of the Facts of Life television show. I thought it would consist of a bunch of rich white kids. Other than that, I did not have a clue. “The worst part of my experience was feeling so different and feeling like I was the only one,” Dillard said. “Although there were other African-American students, at times, I felt like I was the only one who was truly Black. I questioned why I had to go to Taft to be accepted by society. I questioned why I had to be away from ‘my people’ and ‘suffer’ in order to advance. I felt isolated from others and consciously isolated myself from white students. I felt like others wanted me to assimilate rather than to learn about me and my culture. But I knew I needed to get a good education, so I tolerated the experience. What an internal struggle!” He expected some racial problems, but says there were few. A fellow student once told Dillard, now a banker in Minneapolis, he was lucky to go to Taft on a scholarship. “I told him that Taft was lucky to have me because I was such a good student. After that, I think I was a little more conscious as it related to income.” The isolation, loneliness, and occasional slurs didn’t stop many of these
groundbreakers from sending their children to Taft. Pan, the managing director of the Greater China Region for the British firm the Fenner Group, sent her two sons to Taft. Victor graduated in 2001, and Nicolas is an upper mid. Chu’s daughter Lauren graduated in 1999, and he said he’s seen a continued emphasis on the importance of having a diverse blend of students and perspectives. “Taft is more nurturing of the awareness, the richness, the interconnectedness of all the academics and cultural values,” he said. “I believe it’s a very important thing to bring in students from different cultures, [for] the teachers [to] have different perspectives in dealing with children of different races and cultural values.” That change in attitudes led Wayne Jackson’s daughter Alisa Jackson DeSilva to enroll at Taft, becoming in 1989 the first child of a black alumnus to graduate from the school. Despite—or perhaps because of—her father’s struggles at Taft, DeSilva said she was determined to enroll at Taft. “I desperately wanted to leave [Bermuda] to be able to attend Taft because my father had been there and I had a certain pride toward it,” she said. But growing up in Bermuda “color was never an issue no matter what you did or where you went. We all just saw each other as friends, classmates, teachers, or people on the street.” When she arrived at Taft, she didn’t notice much of a color divide, she said. It wasn’t until later that someone pointed out to her that white students would eat with other white students and black students would only eat with other black students. “Because I come from a place where I have never experienced it, I didn’t know what was going on or see what was going on until someone spoke up about it. … In other settings we were all friends, we all got along, no one was singled out.” DeSilva, an accountant with the Bermuda Alarm Company, Ltd., said she believes that divide persisted because of miscommunication and distrust.
However, she said, things are improving. “I know that there has been much change from when my father attended. It hurts my heart to know what he was subjected to, what he had to endure. Anything that I may have been through is nothing in comparison.” As with the others, it was the “pursuit of an excellent education” that brought Ernest Kwarteng ’98 to Taft in the fall of 1997. “In fact, education was the only means of achieving a better standard of living for my family and me.” Born in Ghana but raised in Botswana, Kwarteng describes himself as outgoing and curious to learn. His parents were both teachers and always stressed the importance of obtaining a great education. “I found most of the students were friendly. I made lot of friends right away, and kept most of them. Students were competitive, in or outside the classroom. Teachers were a lot closer to the students, and were a lot more accessible than my previous schools. “I liked the school’s emphasis on building character and having students guided by an honor code. My Taft experience made me tougher, competitive, confident and grounded in my core values.” Kwarteng, a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, said, “I think my Taft experience gave me the confidence to live and compete in a global society. The small, discussion-oriented classes helped me to develop my own voice even in situations where I was in the minority. The interaction I had with diverse groups of people helped me appreciate our differences, and more importantly made me comfortable working with people from different backgrounds. That is essential to succeed in our global society.” What differentiates Kwarteng’s experience from those of earlier alumni is in part a changed culture at the school. Over the years, various support groups for students of color and international students have also emerged: the AfroAmerican Congress in 1970, followed by United Cultures at Taft in 1982, and Taft Afro Latino Student Alliance in 1990.
2002 Classmates Ted Emerson, Harry Jones, Jenny Zhang, and Catherine Brayton
And although a welcoming faculty has always been a key factor for students, the school created a new position in recent years, director of multicultural affairs, specifically to help students of color feel at home. “What I do isn’t necessarily anything other faculty don’t do,” said current director Felecia Washington Williams ’84, who succeeds Lynette Sumpter ’90 and Menette DuBose-San Lee ’87. “I let students know that my door is always open, that I have a sympathetic ear, the way my adviser, Monie Hardwick, did for me when I was here.” Connecting with an adult in the community is important, says Williams, but for most students of color the biggest difference is simply that she’s here—a role model, someone who’s been in their shoes. It’s another reason why she’d like to encourage more alumni of color to visit the school. Despite the improvements, being a non-white student at Taft carries extra challenges, most agreed. It takes a special kind of strength to endure the loneliness and isolation that can come from being perceived as different. But stay true to yourself, advised Stevenson.
“You don’t have to become anybody else. You don’t have to be somebody else. Believe in yourself. Remember, if you’ve gotten into Taft, you belong at Taft.” Bonnie Blackburn Penhollow ’84 is a freelance writer living in Fort Wayne, Ind. This article is the second in a series, following “Sculpting a Diverse Community” by Jon Willson ’82, on diversity issues at Taft.
“You’re the ambassador. You somehow have to have enough confidence in your values and your culture…” Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
In the TRENCHES, Born in Saigon during the war, English teacher Steve Le spoke only Vietnamese when he arrived in the United States at 10 years old. An Annapolis grad and former U.S. Navy lieutenant, Le says he has found his calling in teaching.
By Chris Torino
Not Standing on Desks Since arriving at Taft last September, Steve Le has worn, on his shirt or the lapel of his coat, a pin of the American flag. “I wear it to remember my close friends from the service who are forward deployed in a war zone,” he says. “Ever since 9/11, at least one friend has been away; in fact, as one returned yesterday, another—my best friend—leaves Thursday.” “The way Mr. Le interacts with students,” upper middler Ben Macaskill says, “shows that he doesn’t take things for granted; his flag pin shows how much he values the small and large significances of daily life. His willingness to share amazing pictures of his military experience reveals part of what he brings to the Taft community.” Steve has arrived at Taft with purpose. At the center of his story—undeniably his family’s story—is the purpose with which he teaches: the desire to touch lives. Like all great English teachers, he is a storyteller; and in sharing his stories, he interests not only his students, but also anyone listening.
Having grown up around books, Steve’s father, Dieu Le, studied journalism in Vietnam and Cambodia in the early 1960s. Eventually, he took a job in the Department of Communications for South Vietnam, leaving temporarily during the war to serve as an officer in the army. After four years, he left the military with the rank of lieutenant, the rank equivalent to Steve’s in the U.S. Navy—and returned to the Department of Communications, this time as director. Less than two months after Steve, the youngest of three children, was born, Saigon fell to the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975, and with it the communications department.
Two days later on May 2, Steve’s parents held five reserved seats on United States helicopters to leave the country. But Dieu, confident that South Vietnam would soon regain power, relinquished their seats. Dieu evaded the Viet Cong for a few months, but was eventually imprisoned because of his military background; separated from his family, he suffered through four or five different labor camps in the next six years. “They didn’t kill him,” Steve says, “because they didn’t know he was a high government official; they thought he had only been a military man.” In 1979,
Steve’s story begins with his paternal grandfather, a man who valued service, words, and resolution. Phan Le served in the French-Vietnamese Army in the 1920s and ’30s before fleeing to South Vietnam from North Vietnam when Ho Chi Minh established a Communist government in 1954. After settling in Saigon, he bought a bookstore that established the family’s livelihood, until he was forced to close after the Vietnam War because the bookstore’s existence—its words—gave voice to Western culture.
when Steve was four years old, he “met” his father for the first time, in a concentration camp. While imprisoned, Dieu eventually advised his wife, Diane Le, to flee to the United States. She tried to escape by boat four times. Each time, the Viet Cong returned Diane and her three children to prison, thus costing them another year’s wages. In prison, Diane taught Steve to hide Dieu’s identity by claiming that his father was a negligent and abusive drunk. Steve says that his mother still jokes about his feeling too at home in prison; she tells stories of his retrieving errant ping-pong balls for the guards. Once, after being
“…he doesn’t take things for granted; his flag pin shows how much he values the small and large significances of daily life.”
returned, Steve ran to greet the guards with open arms. By 1981, Diane stopped trying to emigrate, ironically, just as her husband was released from prison. Punished and “reeducated,” but undefeated, Dieu began to teach English—vital words— to potential emigrants in spite of the risk of re-imprisonment, classes which Steve observed. Steve’s elderly grandfather received political asylum in France for his immediate Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
family, but he did not live long enough to emigrate with the rest of his family. After two years in Paris, the Le family left for Westminster, Calif., where his father joined a high-school friend, also an emigrant, who had started and was struggling to maintain a Vietnamese newspaper, Nguoi Viet, in Orange County. With Dieu’s journalistic expertise and leadership, Nguoi Viet became the first daily Vietnamese newspaper outside of Vietnam. Eventually, he helped develop a media corporation which owned the newspaper, two periodicals, two television stations, and Viet Nam California Radio—a corporation that communicated Dieu’s native words in the United States. During the process of emigration, Steve missed fourth grade, and, as a tenyear-old, his English was limited to what little he picked up listening to his father’s English classes. He enrolled, finally, as a fifth grader in California, but spoke only Vietnamese in school. Dieu and Diane wanted Steve and their other two children to assimilate into American culture, so they moved the family away from the somewhat insular Vietnamese-American community in Westminster to Los Angeles County. There, school officials enrolled Steve in regular-level courses and in English as a Second Language. By the ninth grade, Steve rose from ESL to Honors English. He cites his Honors English teacher, Mrs. Brady, as the catalyst for his passion to read, write, and, consequently teach those endeavors. “Taft students,” Steve said, “are much more inquisitive and intellectually aware than I was at their age.” As a high-school senior, Steve came to believe education should not be entirely selfish. With a desire to serve, he resolved to enter the military and attend the U.S. Naval Academy. More specifically, he decided he would fly “because it was the most 24
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
romantic option.” His college counselor told him that he would never get into the academy. Then, disqualified by the academy because of a misplaced medical file, Steve still turned down acceptance to the University of Southern California because, as he said, “Once I enrolled there, I’d never leave.” Instead, he enrolled at Cerritos Community College, took as demanding a liberal arts program as the college offered, ensured his medical information was submitted early, and was accepted into the Class of 1998 at the Naval Academy. At the academy, from which every graduate earns a B.S. in Engineering, Steve rounded out his education with a major in English and as a member of the academy’s volleyball team. Set to begin his senior examinations, in May 1998, Steve learned that his father would have surgery to remove a malignant tumor; his father had entered the terminal stage of cancer and was given two years to live. Immediately, Steve returned home to California to discover that the surgery was unsuccessful and that his father would begin chemotherapy. Dieu made it to his son’s graduation from the academy; but, one year later, after Steve earned his master’s in English at the University of Maryland, while completing the first phase of flight school, Dieu died, with Steve and family bedside. At Dieu’s wake, Steve listened to journalists, Tibetan monks, movie producers, and lawyers tell stories about his father; and every story revealed how Dieu had touched their lives as a friend, colleague, mentor, and teacher. Steve asked himself, “Am I doing that?” He described how, “in aviation, you work with an airplane, not people.” After his father’s funeral, in a process that echoed Henry David Thoreau’s—whose works he teaches to Taft upper middlers—Steve traveled to
Charleston, S.C., to isolate himself from all family and friends and reflect. And, like Thoreau, Steve codified his personal resolutions in words, in a nine-page letter to his family, explaining his reasons for leaving the aviation community to join another in which he would work more closely with people. Following his metephorical “walk into the woods,” Steve resolved to join the Special Operations community rather than complete flight school. In November 1999, he reported to the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida; and for the next four years, he served one and a half military deployments. Knowing he wanted to teach after the Navy, Steve considered boarding school at the suggestion of a roommate, a Kent School graduate, who said, “If you really want to affect lives, live with your students.” “At that point,” Steve said, “the only knowledge I had of boarding school was from Dead Poets Society, and I wasn’t going to stand on desks.” At Taft, though yet to stand on a desk, Steve weaves together his story and the stories of colleagues and students. “I chose boarding school,” he says, “because life’s important lessons are taught outside the classroom, often in the teacher’s living room or around the dining table. I have enjoyed the challenge of exposing my private life for their inspection, and living on the hall with students has increased my own sense of personal accountability.” Recently, I stopped by his apartment to find Steve and senior Willy Oppenheim engaged in a heated, philosophical debate about truth, goodness, and beauty. “At night, I sit in his apartment drinking green tea and discussing the cosmos,” said Willy in somewhat Whitmanesque rhetoric; “we never agree, but it doesn’t matter—he gets me thinking every time.”
“The most challenging part of teaching is connecting with students, especially those who do not particularly enjoy English,” Steve insists. “It’s tough, sometimes, to get a lower mid excited about Shakespeare or an upper mid about Emerson. So, when the students find that window and discover the literature for themselves, a teacher fulfills his hopes.” With focused intensity and using the Socratic method, Steve asks pointed questions and challenges students to think and speak precisely. Beyond the classroom, he demands similarly precise thinking and action in the athletic arena. “After spending five years working only with men, I found it challenging at first to coach eleven teenage girls in the fall,” he says. “By the end of the volleyball season, however, it was a different story: as the girls like to say, ‘We broke you.’ They mean I now actually smile occasionally.” On Super Bowl Sunday, Steve invited some faculty members to his apartment to watch the game. During the first half,
I left my seat from before the television to get a refill of wings and peruse Steve’s bookshelves. A stack of Whitman books caught my eye because Steve and I were about to begin teaching “Song of Myself.” After two boys poked their heads into his apartment, proudly pronouncing that they were laboring over their essay on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” for Steve’s class, Steve and I discussed Whitman and then his favorite novels: Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. He pulled Moby-Dick from the shelf and quoted Melville: “Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man!” He added his words to Melville’s, “To search too long for your calling will blind you.” Eyes wide open, Steve has stared into his fire and, then, has acted with purpose. Chris Torino is in his second year in the English Department after teaching for seven years elsewhere. He lives in Cruikshank dormitory with wife Dena, three-year-old son Cole, and his forthcoming daughter.
“At that point,” Steve said, “the only knowledge I had of boarding school was from Dead
Poets Society, and I wasn’t going to stand on desks.”
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
AT 30,000 FEET
A Tribute to Chip Spencer ’56— Gentleman, Iron Man, Comedian— Retiring in June By Barclay Johnson ’53
lass agents in reunion years like to drop by Chip’s office for a pep talk and a few laughs. But he’s usually on
the phone. If he isn’t in and the lights are off, he’s probably in the air, traveling for Taft.
One day this winter three of us bumped into each other in Chip’s doorway. “Mr. Spencer will be back next week,” said his secretary, “but only for a day.” So we told Diane what we had heard about his having been ready to retire last year, until some of you told him he looked too young to quit. “That was last year,” she said. Before we left, one of us noticed in the window light on his desk that old gold pen. Dull with disuse, it stood on a pine stand with a plaque attached. We all had seen it before and read the spare inscription:
as a student, there was literally nothing. Mr. Cruikshank had all he could do to pay off the school’s debt, which he did. When Chip returned to work with John Esty, the endowment was precariously low. Nevertheless, with the help of key alumni and trustees, the total climbed to more than $30 million. By the end of the recent Campaign for Taft, the team of Odden, Romano, and Spencer had led the drive to a recordbreaking $134 million in only five years. Lance Odden and Jerry Romano had asked Chip to return from the business
world to direct the Planned Giving part of the campaign. Needless to say, they were fortunate to find the person with the exact combination of experience, character, and spirit for the job. Chip, whose connection with the school spans six decades, knew the school from an unprecedented number of vantage points: student, alumnus, teachercoach, parent, and director of development. Furthermore, he knew, by name, alumni in the hundreds. Looking back at Chip’s career, we tend to see his work outside of Taft as interludes. Quite possibly, however, his nearly 20 years in financial management has accounted for much of Chip’s effectiveness. To be sure, a sketch of his resume could suffice for two people: After graduating from Taft in 1956—lettering SCHALER PHOTOGRAPHY
Clayton B. Spencer Alumni Office 1964–1970 But this time the whole thing looked less like a memento than it did a talisman of destiny. Chip’s career had brought him full circle. In fact, he had been director of development twice—with 40 years between titles. (Of course, the size of the job in our time requires a high-tech staff of 14 and alumni networks nationwide.) Equally providential, the remarkable growth of the endowment parallels Chip’s career at Taft. During his time A young director of development, circa 1964 With wife Susan and sons Oliver ’85 and Jonathan ’88 at Jonathan’s wedding in 2001 Never missing an opportunity to lead alumni in the right direction, Chip is an annual presence organizing the reunion weekend parade. PETER FINGER
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
in three sports, with an extra letter in cheerleading—then from Yale in 1960, he served as an officer on a minesweeper in the Pacific before earning his master’s in history at Trinity College. He returned to Taft, the first time, as director of development, history teacher, and assistant varsity soccer coach. In 1970, Chip left Taft to become headmaster of McTernan School for boys in Waterbury. Shortly thereafter he led the merger with St. Margaret’s, which his daughter Jennifer attended, and the capital drive that made the merger possible. In 1977, Chip left academia to work for Advest in Hartford and pursue a career in business, but during those years away, Chip kept in touch through parenthood: son Oliver ’85 arrived on campus in the fall of 1981, and Jonathan was a member of the Class of ’88. Chip returned to Taft to direct Planned Giving in 1994. Then, after Jerry Romano retired in 2001, he became director of development—for the second time. So much for experience. The crux of Spencer’s success is the man himself.
First of all, very few people can do this kind of work. We class agents know. That’s why we’re happy with our day jobs. Big time fund raising takes too many qualities of personality and character, like moxie, resilience, and delight in near-strangers. But for this very special job, Chip had to have other strengths as well. What, then, did Lance and Jerry see? His humor and wit? But the whole world knew about that. Chip is a natural comic. He has that rare sense of humanness, including his own. (Can’t anyone drive off with one’s cell phone on top of the car?) Also, his remarks in sports are memorable. When Chip leaves a putt short, he reproaches himself with “Hit the ball, Alice!” Then, in tennis, if he smashes an overhead for a winner, he hoots, “Take that, Alice!” Who is Alice,
we’d like to know. Chip’s close friends often serve as targets for his playful sarcasm or as an audience for his lusty jokes picked up in his travels like sky miles. Under the humor, however, we have seen another quality. This man is tough. His rivals, amused by his footwork, often fail to see just how competitive he is, until it is too late. Moreover, Chip is as durable as he is determined, taking the whirlwind traveling in stride. But apparently not without a few moments of alarm. Chip’s affiliation with the school started as a student in the ’50s, continued on the faculty in the ’60s, as a parent in the ’80s, on the faculty again in the ’90s, and as a parent to Jane, pictured in 1986, who graduated in 2003. The team of MacMullen, Romano, and Spencer did more together than just raise money. Chip created a special rapport with Mr. Taft’s Old Boys, here with Jim Loomis ’31 at an Old Guard Dinner.
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
Chip is “old school.” Believe it or not, he still has the old school spirit of his cheerleading days. He is the Connecticut Yankee patriot and quintessential family man who embodies every traditional value espoused by Horace Taft. And the greatest of these is loyalty. Like many alumni from the thirties, Chip is the self-possessed patriarch, proud of all that is his, not the least of which is his solid independence. Friends don’t take care of him; he takes care of them, regardless of the distance, and serves his community every way asked of him—patron, deacon, vice president of the historical society, etc. He and his wife Susan (daughter of the late Bill Fischer ’33) love their historic colonial home on Litchfield’s Chestnut Hill. But they seldom sit down in it. There is too much to do—including at least two sports a season. First, of course, they have to dig around in their terrace gardens, prune the fruit trees, chase myriad squirrels out of at least 20 birdhouses, make their own wine, host
another dinner party for friends or classmates. The Spencers could have been happy 200 years ago—especially after their daughter Jane ’03 brought them up to date by inviting 40 seniors home for her graduation party. Taft may well be Chip’s extended family. The campaign took off on schedule and landed ahead of time, well beyond its original goal. With apologies to Admiral Nimitz (from his tribute to the Marines in the aftermath of Iwo Jima): Uncommon generosity became a common virtue. Chip will be back, if he ever leaves. Certainly the endowment stays on, like destiny’s gift to Taft, and who has more friends of all ages. One of Horace Taft’s “Old Boys” was heard to say, “I liked that Spencer chap so much, I thought I was giving my gift to him.” English teacher emeritus Barclay Johnson ’53 lives in Watertown, Conn. He and Chip have been close friends since 1964. PETER FINGER
“Chip and I spent several years traveling around the country,” former Annual Fund Director Olivia Tuttle told us. “Alumni functions morning, noon, and night, and in between Chip would call on alumni, always searching for the ultimate gift to the school. He did it all—once breaking into my hotel room in Chicago in search of the Campaign for Taft movie when I was caught in traffic. He was the first to arrive to help with name tags and lists and the last to leave, closing the bar and turning off the lights. Quick with a smile and a firm handshake, he has the remarkable ability to welcome most of the alumni by name, putting them immediately at ease.” Headmaster Willy MacMullen says that traveling the country with Chip was more than fun. “It was inspiring. And for all his leadership success, he never sought credit.” “As a Planned Giving officer, Chip knew that seeing people and spending time with them would serve Taft well,” said Jerry Romano. “He single-handedly raised one-third of the Campaign’s $134 million, largely from Mr. Taft’s Old Boys. Lance had had the idea that Chip would be great at Planned Giving; I had the notion it would be nice to have another man in the office, given that I was outnumbered by women 14 to one.” Then the ladies in the office told us about a birthday party they threw for Chip to test his famous good nature. Each of them wore a striped shirt, preferably with cuff links, a navy sport jacket, and one of a variety of Taft neckties. With hair slicked back Gatsby style, each wore a name tag slightly different from the others—to honor this host of countless alumni events: Poker Chip, Chip N. Dale, Potato Chip, Computer Chip, Tortilla Chip, among others. They said that he grinned a lot and took a chocolate chip cookie or two, but for once he was speechless; his quick wit was put on hold. Suddenly this picture of Chip at the party revealed his obvious advantage: Beyond all his experience and virtues,
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
The Naming FEMINIST of a
By Debora Phipps “It was still rare for a girl to like science and math, but I really liked both.”
Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
If I were to fill out one of those sticky-backed name tags with “I am” at the top, after “Debora Phipps” I’d list mother, friend, and teacher. But shortly after that, I’d include a word that has become uncomfortable for many: feminist. I first became aware of the strong reaction to this word in talking with Erica O’Neill ’04 about her Senior Seminar project last fall. She’d sent a survey examining people’s responses to the word feminist, and asked whether the respondents she questioned considered themselves feminist. She discovered that feminist seemed almost a dirty word, one with which few of her interviewees wanted to be associated. Then, not long after, while I was on duty in Congdon, a mid girl alluded to someone as a feminist in the same deriding tone. I was shocked. I suspect these negative associations derive from some stereotype of feminists as angry, embittered, militant, hairy, unfashionable manhaters. And this is too bad. The dictionary defines feminism as “the principle that women should have political, economic, and social rights equal to those of men.” That doesn’t seem too militant, and it certainly doesn’t prescribe a certain hairstyle or misanthropy. Perhaps now that women have more rights, the word feminist has become dated, like socialist, a word whose connotations are far more negative than the literal meaning of the word would suggest. Yet naming myself as a feminist remains important to me. I want men and women to have the
same rights; I want all people to have the same choices, whether or not they choose to work outside the home or raise children or vote their conscience or be paid the same wage for the same work. Talking with students, I wonder how much of the difference in our responses has to do with my own experience as someone who graduated high school in 1979. I went to a large high school and quickly perfected the art of being quiet. It was uncool for girls to be smart, and really uncool to distinguish oneself from the masses. In order to succeed socially, girls pretty much had to play dumb. I learned to flip my hair over my shoulder and giggle at whatever any boy in a football jacket said. I think I might have gained some assertiveness had I played sports, but few options were available to girls—this was way before Title 9. I swam on the coed swim team for awhile, until the 5 a.m. commute put a dent in my social life. Wanting something active to do after school (when all the boys were in practice), I did what was left: cheerleading. I was a terrible cheerleader, and—though I learned to yell loudly—I was also quite aware of being on the sidelines of the real action, a different form of quietness. At the time, it was still rare for a girl to like science and math, but I really liked both. In deference to my curious interests, my school lessened (meaning evaporated) my language and history requirements to let me double up on math and science. (Don’t try this at Taft; the academic dean won’t allow it.) Not very many people I knew elected
“I think part of the reason I’ve stayed in teaching is to try to encourage you all…to speak up for yourselves, to exceed others’ expectations when they try to limit you, to follow up on your interests whatever they be.”
the same courses, so this let me take the subjects I wanted—quietly—but still avoid the “smart girl” label by playing dumb at the lunch table. By my senior year, I found myself the only girl in Advanced Physics. For this, and because my teacher was sure I didn’t belong there, I received extra pages on each of my tests, but no extra time. I’d furiously work through the problems, trying not to cry, and I refused to let my parents intervene. I made it through the course, but not without believing that girls really might not belong in science, that really, physics was a boys’ field. Still, my Advanced Chemistry teacher was different; he had long hair and wore Frye boots, and, as our class adviser, observed me in both modes: chemistry student and social butterfly. He took me aside, shared a few thoughts on my split personality, and urged me to follow up my goal of becoming a chemical engineer in college. His encouragement was all I needed, I thought. Even in college, I discovered I was part of a minority in my science and math classes—one of two girls in my college calculus class—a course for which I was sorely unprepared. A pitying professor suggested at midterm that I should drop the course and make up the credits later rather than fail. (He didn’t make the same suggestion to a boy who was in the same academic peril.) I refused his suggestion, and for the few days before the exam, locked myself in a music practice room, living on honey buns, Sno-caps, and Tab, until I knew I could make some showing on the test. I passed, but that was the last math course I took. And in chemistry, I was the only girl in my lab section. I had enough spirit to persevere, but not enough steadiness; everything I touched broke. I started small—test tubes, beakers—and gradually moved up to vials of chemicals and, eventually, a dessicator, a highly expensive piece of equipment that shatters with an embarrassingly large sound. I burst into tears, realized I could not financially manage to remain in Organic Chemistry, and stopped taking science at the end of the semester. After stints in economics and art history, I arrived in the English Department. Now, I love what I do, and I learned a lot from my failures, but sometimes I wonder how my world might have been different if I’d spoken up for myself more—if I could have lived in one of those adolescent fiction “Choose your own adventure” books with a little more of a voice. And I think
part of the reason I’ve stayed in teaching is to try to encourage you all—both boys and girls—to speak up for yourselves, to exceed others’ expectations when they try to limit you, to follow up on your interests whatever they be. A number of years ago, I did a study of coeducation at Taft, and part of what I examined was the ratio between the amount of class time during which girls spoke versus the time in which boys spoke. I also looked at whether the stereotypes of student behavior—boys more typically yelling out, or talking over someone; girls raising their hands and waiting quietly to be called on—held true at Taft. Hoping others would let me into their classrooms if I did, I offered myself up as the first guinea pig. As a former quiet girl, I thought I did a pretty good job balancing discussions, but I discovered I was way off. Boys dominated my classes. Several girls never talked. I had to learn to pay attention, every day, and evaluate my progress after each class, before I got better at helping everyone— not just loud or confident students, boys or girls—to speak up. And I still have a long way to go in meeting this goal on a daily basis. In the same way, we all have to pay attention to what happens around us. Our class committee elections are run the way they are in response to earlier years when few girls were ever elected; girls simply weren’t considered leaders, and because boys didn’t vote for girls, and girls voted for girls but even more boys, the way to change the composition of class committees was to mandate separate elections. The right to the same opportunities is what feminism is all about. Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw writes an editorial about the difference between should and could. I think feminism believes there are no shoulds. Instead, the same coulds should be available to anyone. I hope that feminism reminds us that you can do anything, regardless of who you are, depending on how you choose. Maybe, if we can work through the negative stereotypes associated with the word feminist, then being called a feminist by someone will not feel like being called a name. Instead, it will be a way that you, too, might name yourself. Debbie Phipps succeeded former faculty member Bill Morris ’69 this year as academic dean. She has previously served as head of the English Department and dean of the middle class. The remarks above are excerpted from a School Meeting talk she gave in January. Taft Bulletin Spring 2004
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