Panelists’ stories speak to the enduring quality of a Shady Hill education
As part of Thursday’s CentennialCelebration of Creativity event, five notable SHS alumni spoke about the influence and impact Shady Hill has had on their personal and professional lives. Head of School Mark Stanek posed a series of questions that drew thoughtful responses and shed light on the impact that a positive, nurturing school experience can have on a person’s life.
Reflecting on what accounted for her strong connection to Shady Hill, professor and author Janie Ward ’70 said, “The intensity of the Shady Hill experience is the cement that has held our class together all these years.” Panelists also spoke of how the meaningful relationships that faculty had forged with them kept them connected. “As a student, I needed a lot of management,” recalled Joia Spooner-Fleming ’93, R&D engineer and researcher. “I benefitted from the coordination and consistency among the faculty. My teachers provided the stability and constancy that I needed.”
Thinking about the ways Shady Hill instilled fundamental habits-of-mind, business owner and entrepreneur James Whitters '88 said, “I learned to think dynamically and developed a fearlessness about learning. There’s power in not being afraid to dive in or to make mistakes—in being confident that you can figure things out.” Picking up on this thread, venture capitalist and consultant Arthur D. Little ’59 added, “Here, I got used to the idea that it was okay to fail. It’s helped me feel secure because I failed so many times. Not having an absolute fear of failing has been absolutely critical.”
Ekua Holmes ’70 spoke of how Shady Hill fostered her creative talents. “Shady Hill gave us the confidence to express ourselves. Not only that, but that it is absolutely essential to express one’s self.” She also appreciated how teachers challenged students and focused on the effort and process rather than on the end product. “Everyone felt that they had something to offer. Everyone was an artist.” Janie concurred, “The bar was high, and students touched that bar each time in their own ways.” Joia drew a laugh from the crowd recalling how special it was not to be judged. “I really can’t draw. But when I was here, I was definitely an artist.”
Mark asked panelists for advice they would give today’s parents about taking advantage of the opportunities at Shady Hill. Ekua jumped in, saying, “Here, you get to appreciate the many different ways there are to be bright.” Janie valued the opportunities to give back. “Giving back was in the air all the way through. From an early age, we learned about social justice and civil rights. But we also learned that doing what is needed at the time makes a difference.” Arthur’s advice reflected practices that he has come to value. “Listening to others will serve them incredibly well in their lives, as will learning things from multiple points of view. We also want children to understand that it’s the team effort rather than the individual effort that’s important.”
As the evening drew to a close, all heads nodded in agreement when Janie spoke of what she saw as a critical contribution that Shady Hill made to her life. “Here, I received the building blocks that let me go out and build fortresses.”