How alumni sustain our cycle of excellence

Oct 14 2022

How alumni sustain our cycle of excellence

“Any institution’s alumni are key to its growth.”
-Shiv Nader

A day before performing with the San Antonio Philharmonic, internationally renowned violinist Nancy Zhou ‘11 returned to the stage where she gave her senior speech a decade ago. As she explained to an audience of students, parents, faculty and staff, the feeling of excitement and nervousness that accompanies public speaking and live performance never quite goes away.

Indeed, perhaps one of the most moving and reaffirming moments in her talk at Keystone came when a young student asked her if she still gets stage fright before performances. Her answer: “I’m nervous now!” She explained that stage fright is a real thing that should be acknowledged, but then “you have to work through it.” You could almost see the children’s shoulders relax with the understanding that even highly accomplished performers deal with anxiety when they perform.

We would like to offer a special thanks to Keystone alum Dr. Ian Thompson III ‘98, a SA Philharmonic Board member, for arranging her visit.

During her October 6 visit, she took questions from Keystone Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications Edmund Tijerina and audience members. Between questions, Nancy performed segments from Bruch’s Concerto 1 (also known as “The Bruch”) which she then played with the orchestra that weekend.

She discussed her favorite moments at Keystone, the beneficial impact of studying English at Harvard on her musicianship, and the importance of seeing live performances. She also answered questions regarding her favorite violinist, how long she practices, and when she began playing.

Keystone students and family members attended Friday and Saturday nights’ San Antonio Philharmonic programs, and raved about Nancy’s solo performances. On both nights, she received standing ovations and played an encore to the crowd’s delight. During intermission on Saturday night, I spoke with students and parents, and we agreed that it was an incredible evening. When I asked kindergartner Maya what she thought, she proudly proclaimed “I play violin!”

We could see how she inspired the next generation of musicians; herein lies one of the most fundamental benefits of alumni participation in the life of Keystone and other schools. Former students provide a context for current children and adolescents that others have gone before them and done amazing things in the world. Although those of us who work at Keystone can tell today’s students repeatedly that they have incredible futures in front of them, it often doesn’t yet feel real.

However, when former Cobras return to campus and talk with students or meet with them via Zoom, their comments carry a great deal of weight. Alumni validate the experience for current Keystone children and young adults and inspire them to be their very best.

For years now, we have worked diligently to bring alumni into the lives of today’s Cobras. Former Keystone students return to school in person or via Zoom on Upper School Alumni Day in January; earlier in the month, the most recent alumni come back to share their college experiences, provide guidance on how to maximize their time in upper school, and how to prepare for the college admissions process.

Several years ago, we added Alumni Relations to Director of Development Adriana Villafranca’s title to give more prominence and time to alumni outreach. Since then, Keystone has connected current students with former Cobras who attended the college in which juniors or seniors expressed interest, and Adriana has helped arrange internships for students with companies where alumni work. Previous Lower School Head and current Librarian Ms. Vilagi created times for fourth grade Leadership Class students to meet with alumni working in technology, Former Cobras have taught courses at Keystone; others work in the school’s Aftercare program while still in college. In so many ways, Keystone alumni enrich the student experience, and our school is an even better place for their contributions.

After hosting an alumni versus current Cobra basketball game for years, we now hold an annual Keystone Classic soccer match between yesterday’s players and today’s varsity team. Thanks to Coach U for getting this off the ground and making it such a great event. Starting next year, we hope to see past volleyball players square off against our current varsity team. While these games can be competitive, they offer an opportunity for good-natured fun and camaraderie.

Whether it’s networking for internship or job opportunities, discussing how to navigate the demands of junior and senior year, or just racing down the pitch to score a goal, former and current Cobras spending time together provides a sense of community. It’s as if in one moment, you can see the past and present merging and setting a course for the future. Perhaps it’s the historian in me, but when I see alumni offering advice and counsel to a present Keystone student, I think of the line from former Supreme Court justice Melvin Fuller who said, “Without continuity, men would become like flies in summer.”

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