I have a confession to make: I went to an all-girls boarding school. People think that’s weird— that my parents didn’t love me or something—but it was one of the best things my parents did for me. Boarding school was where I began to flourish as a person and a writer. In fact, I didn’t know I could write until my teachers there told me I had some talent and gave me ways to nurture it.
So I was happy to return to the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, for my mumblety-mumble (not telling how many years have passed since graduation) high school reunion. Sadly, the boarding department is now shuttered; some rooms are used for classrooms or offices, while most are simply falling into disrepair until the wing gets torn down to make way for a new building.
Shipley is now only a day school which makes me a bit sad. I believe the mix of day students who were rooted in the surrounding community and boarders who brought in a whiff of farther-away places was brilliant.
Here’s a photo of one of the corridors of the now empty boarding department:
When I see those bright orange-and-yellow walls, I remember the intense late-night conversations about the meaning of Life or the existence of God. Yes, we wrestled with those questions. We were flexing our young, inquisitive minds. Of course, we also debated the merits of various young men from various boys’ schools in the vicinity…and that was fun too. We were drunk on learning and thinking and experiencing. It was an explosive period of growth.
I felt great curiosity as I re-encountered my classmates after mumblety-mumble years. Some I have kept in touch with, but many I glimpse only on Facebook or not at all. We’ve lost four class members to death. Other classmates do not wish to be found because their experience at Shipley was not as positive as mine. But nearly half of our small class, both day students and boarders, returned.
We talked to each other for about forty-eight hours, sharing our life histories. Some classmates have suffered terrible tragedies: chronic, debilitating disease, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a child. Yet they’ve soldiered on. In fact, my overwhelming impression was of an extraordinarily rich tapestry of accomplishment, commitment, and passion. We have grown into artists, teachers, financial experts, nurses, consultants, marketers, physical therapists, writers, environmentalists, small business owners, and so much more. Many of us have had more than one career, re-evaluating and reinventing ourselves.
We’ve done all this while marrying, divorcing, remarrying–or not, raising children, caring for elderly parents, battling health issues of our own and our loved ones, and giving back to our communities.
And here we are:
I tried to decide if I could have predicted each woman’s life course from what I remembered of her as a Shipley student. Not a chance. Each story was so much larger and more vibrant than anything I could have conjured up from my imagination.
Shipley’s school motto is “Courage for the deed; grace for the doing.” It seems that those words sank into our young souls. In truth, my classmates have lived up to that mantra in spades. Shipley should be proud of the women it has launched into the world, and I am so honored to be one of them.