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Drifting Back to the Island on Reunion Weekend

“Island Life Forever” was what one alumnus chose to have etched on his glass with the Loomis Chaffee crest. Reunion Weekend 2024 was in full swing, and he and others came to the Pearse Hub for Innovation (PHI) for the “Fun in the PHI” activity, which included the opportunity to etch a souvenir from the weekend with help from Scott MacClintic ’82, the director of innovation. 

Island life for the weekend of June 7–9 was all about alumni who returned to campus to reconnect with classmates, dine, dance, and catch up on the school today.   

This year classes ending in 4s and 9s celebrated their reunions, including a large turnout from the Class of 1974 for their 50th.  

The pull to come back is strong — and more than 700 attended. Reunion co-chair and Trustee Keith Cowan ’74, addressing those gathered for Head of School Sheila Culbert’s state of the school address in the Norris Ely Orchard (NEO) Theater, noted that three alums traveled from Thailand, giving them the distinction of having come the farthest, about 8,500 miles. Others came from places such as Hong Kong, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, and the West Coast of the United States.  

“Island life,” yesterday and today, has always been about opportunities. Today’s academic programs consist of 250 courses, including 70 at college level. There are more than 75 academic, artistic, social, cultural, and athletics clubs and organizations. So, it comes as little surprise that when folks gathered on the Island for Reunion Weekend, there were many opportunities. One could get up early for a Saturday morning run on the cross country course or stay up late and hang around the Friday night firepit. Or both if you had it in you. 

Reunion 2024  animal-balloon marking

An animal balloon as well as face-painting ... what a day to be a kid!  

The Alumni Parade of Classes traveled through the center of campus on Saturday, ending in Grubbs Quadrangle, which was a gathering place at various times throughout Reunion Weekend, whether it was the all-class dinner on Friday evening or dancing under the tent on Friday and Saturday nights or face-painting, animal-balloon making and mini-golf for the children of alumni while food trucks served up Saturday’s lunch.  

There was tennis, golf, an alumni lacrosse game, and other sports. There were class photos and a photo exhibit by six alumni who are professional photographers — Bruce Hamilton ’74, Peter Kagan ’75, Just Loomis ’75, Ted Morrison ’75, Keith Raphael ‘74, and John Sutton ’74. The exhibit in the Sue and Eugene Mercy Jr. Gallery honored late faculty member Walter Rabetz, who greatly influenced those students 50 years ago.  

Sheila, who retires June 30 after 16 years as the head of school, was at the center of two presentations. At her farewell state of the school address, a portrait of Sheila by Robert Anderson ’64 was unveiled. Bob has painted hundreds of commissioned portraits, including the official portrait of President George W. Bush for the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  “I am incredibly honored,” Sheila said of her portrait. Then with a smile, she added, “I especially love the dogs,” referring to the two dogs depicted by her side in the portrait. Throughout her 16 years, her loyal walking companions, besides her husband Richard, have been her various dogs.  

In his introduction of Sheila, Keith said that if he listed all her accomplishments in her years here, there would be no time for her to talk. 

And there was plenty to talk about, including a recently announced $100 million gift to the school from Henry R. Kravis ’63, co-founder and co-executive chairman of KKR, a leading global investment firm. The gift to the school’s endowment is the largest single gift ever made to the school and one of the largest made to an independent school. Sheila also spoke about the $175 million in new construction on campus during her tenure, including three new dorms and the Scanlan Campus Center. And she spoke of the success of the athletic programs, which this year won five New England Prep School Athletic Conference and six Founders League titles.  

Reunion Weekend 2024 candid

You don't say ... there's a lot of catching up to do on Reunion Weekend.

A few hours later Saturday, Sheila made a presentation on her passion for birding and wildlife photography, with the Island providing a rich habitat for more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife, including white-tailed deer, opossums, beavers, muskrats, coyotes, foxes, and squirrels. Sheila opened her conversation with a photo of a great horned owl she saw while walking her dogs, and she encouraged those gathered to take an early morning walk in the Meadows by the Connecticut River on Sunday morning. They would be richly rewarded, she said, not only for what they might see, but also in their spirit. She also spoke about the importance of Loomis Chaffee’s being a steward of its land and the environment in which all this wildlife flourishes among wetlands and grasslands and tree cover. 

Matt Johnson, associate director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching and academic technology coordinator, held a Saturday session on the impact of generative artificial intelligence on education and the LC approach as AI moves swiftly along.  

Food was a theme of another session on Saturday, in which panelists Jamie Kennedy ’74, Corby Kummer ’74, and Terry Jacobs Walters ’84 talked about the relationship between food and well-being among other things. Deborah Sudarsky ’74 moderated the panel, which served as an appetizer, if you will, for what was to come on Saturday night: class celebration dinners, late-night s’mores, and small bites. As well as memories etched in the mind. 

Food trucks in Grubbs Quad at 2024 Reunion

Grubbs Quadrangle was a gathering place at various times throughout Reunion Weekend, including the food truck fair at lunchtime on June 8. 


 

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