Reunion 2021: A Virtual Celebration

For the second consecutive year, the COVID-19 pandemic drove Loomis Chaffee’s annual Reunion celebration online. True to the school’s motto — ne cede malis — alumni and alumnae from the Loomis, Chaffee, and Loomis Chaffee classes ending in 0s, 5s, 1s, and 6s reconnected in virtual class gatherings and took advantage of a month of programming leading up to the “official” Reunion date of Saturday, June 12.

Reunion festivities kicked off on May 12 with “An Unforgettable Year on the Island,” a webinar discussion with faculty and current students about their experiences at school during the pandemic. Student deans Jess Matzkin and Mike Donegan moderated the discussion between panelists Neil Chaudhary ’05, head of the Science Department; Rachel Nisselson, language teacher; and students senior Elizabeth Chapman, junior Isabela Spina, and sophomore Louis Hernandez. Faculty and student panelists agreed that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, as they noted that one of the highlights of the year was simply the return of students and faculty to campus for in-person classes and life in the dormitories.

Stephanie Rogers ’85, an award-winning singer, songwriter-producer-author, and actor who founded Story Jam Studio, shared her love of storytelling with fellow alumni in a May 19 Zoom meeting. She led participants through a two-hour workshop on crafting the perfect 99-second personal narrative and invited participants to share their narratives with each other.

On June 9, alumni joined Maya Shanbhag Lang ’96 on Zoom to learn more about her work as an author and her 2020 memoir, What We Carry, the story of her experience caring for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. During her talk Maya shared an excerpt from the book that included the following observation: “Alzheimer’s is devastating because it annihilates one’s story. It vacuums it up. Even the name seems greedy to me. What gets me is the apostrophe, that possessive little hook. It drags your loved one away from you. My mother no longer belongs to me, she belongs to her illness.”

On May 24, more than 150 alumni joined former faculty member Jim “Grim” Wilson on a Zoom call for his presentation “Life Lessons I Tried to Impart as a Teacher, Coach, and Dorm Head.” Grim, who taught and lived at Loomis for 49 years, found that his experiences as a mountain climber provided many of the life lessons he tried to impart as an educator. To be successful on a mountain, he shared, requires a huge amount of preparation and an understanding that a person cannot succeed alone. Most importantly, he realized that the goal of the enterprise is not to plant a flag on the summit (or get an A on the test or win the championship). The goal is to embrace the experience, the camaraderie, and the process.

On June 2, Head of School Sheila Culbert delivered her annual state-of-the-school address via webinar, inviting alumni in attendance “to imagine you’re in the chapel and it is a gorgeous day on campus.” She talked about a year that was framed by the “dual pandemics” of COVID-19 and racial injustice. Sheila also shared that despite an admission recruitment cycle that did not allow for campus visits by prospective students, applications to Loomis Chaffee increased by 25 percent and the school met its total enrollment target, increased the racial and geographic diversity of the incoming class, brought the percentage of girls and boys closer to parity, and offered need-based financial aid to more than one-third of the student body.  

Reunion’s culminating programming featured Sheila and former heads of school John Ratté and Russ Weigel in a lively discussion about their collective four decades of leadership at Loomis Chaffee. The session, moderated by school archivist and history teacher Karen Parsons, started with each head of school reflecting on an accomplishment of which they were most proud. John chose the construction of Carter Hall in 1986, noting that the project was the physical expression of a commitment made by the Trustees and faculty in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a “permanent” planning attitude regarding everything about the school, from the curriculum to the expansion of financial aid to the buildings necessary to support the program. Russ noted that leading the school through the Our Best Selves capital campaign, which raised more than $100 million, was an important accomplishment during his tenure and built on the legacy of planning that John had referenced. Sheila agreed that Loomis plans well and noted that in the past few years the school realized the goal set more than 40 years ago to transition from a school with approximately 60 percent day students following the merger of Loomis and Chaffee back to a boarding school with more than 70 percent boarding students. Recordings of all of the Reunion webinars are available on the Virtual Reunion webpage.

In addition to the formal Reunion programming hosted by the school, various reunion classes planned their own virtual gatherings, with conversation, trivia contests, presentations by classmates and faculty members, a wine tasting, and many other highlights. Read some highlights from those events