How our alums influence current students

Apr 24 2024

How our alums influence current students

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone mountains, but what is woven in the lives of others.

Members of the Class of 1974 with Mr. Handmaker

The timing could not have been better if we had actually planned it.  As seven alumni from the Class of 1974 toured campus on the Friday of the Keystone Food and Drink Festival, we stepped in on a 9th Grade Wellness Class.  The students, Dr. Shapiro, and Mr. Ciaravino had just begun a discussion on legacy and the way we can leave behind a favorable impression.

Seizing the teachable moment, the 50th Reunion celebrants shared humorous anecdotes from their time at Keystone. Perhaps more importantly, they described all they have done since being here on campus. They explained what they did professionally and the path that took them there. Their stories were both informative and heartwarming, and they provided the students with important lessons to take to heart.

One of the most inspiring moments occurred when some of the students sought out the former Cobras to discuss possible internships or career opportunities. Observing the young adults connect with their forebears from the 1970’s captured one generation of Keystone students learning from and working directly with another, and demonstrated the sense of connection and continuity that are so crucial to communities.

I recently chatted with 9th grade students Andrés and Nidhi, who spoke with two of the 50th anniversary celebrants. After Dr. Charles Mobbs offered an internship with his biotech company to all of the 9th graders, Andrés tracked him down in the library. Andrés explained in our conversation that “it was nerve wracking speaking with Dr. Mobbs since he’s doing exactly what I want to do. But Dr. Mobbs gave off a real confidence, and I liked it when he thanked Ms. Vilagi for being a librarian since librarians made such a difference in his life.”

Nidhi eagerly approached Karen Cheyney since she perceived the two of them to share interests. Karen attended Smith College, and Nidhi wishes to study in an all women’s college. Nidhi appreciated when Karen explained the benefits of an all women’s school and then studying law at UT-Austin. She said that Karen was “living the life I want to live.” Nidhi also enjoyed hearing Doris White describe her time at Keystone, her service as the Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts, and her affinity for poetry slams.

Nidhi found the alumni remarks encouraging and inspiring, and said that it was great that Keystone could teach someone to speak with the passion and energy of Ms. White. She also had a special appreciation for Karen’s twin brothers visiting Keystone for their reunion, since she and her sister Neerja are twins.

In a similar manner, when Keystone upper school students in January spend days with alumni still in college and then with those in the professional world, they understand on a deeper level how they are part of Keystone’s tradition of accomplishment. Alumni offer current students a sense of time and place, reassure them that they will be ok, and they will grow and learn just like their predecessors.

In the last few years, Keystone Director of Development and Alumni Relations Adriana Villafranca has worked mightily to connect with former Keystone students. She and I traveled to cities all over the United States, and we held and continue to hold Zoom reunions. We have met people in groups and individually. We have attempted to create professional networks among current and former students, whether they focused on education or professions. Just last weekend, Upper School Bill Spedding met with alumni in the DC area following the Academic World Quest competition.

Even with all this work, we have much farther to go. Candidly, Keystone has not always done well keeping in touch with alumni. Over the years, we have lost contact and people have dropped off our radar. We can do better, and we are endeavoring to connect and reconnect with former Cobras.

In the bubble that Keystone can be sometimes, it’s imperative that our students witness the great accomplishments of those who went before them.

When they hear from a world-renowned violinist who went to their school, children envision that with practice, that could be them one day. Listening to a scientist-entrepreneur describe his research into the causes of aging validates the work that current Cobras do on their science fair projects. A former Assistant Attorney General of the State of Massachusetts discussing the way Keystone prepared her for the rigors of college and law school reaffirms the students’ efforts today. As Nidhi explained, “when you can connect with someone who graduated from Keystone it provides inspiration for your future and reassurance that everything will be ok.”

Perhaps it’s the historian in me but I deeply appreciate the way alumni contextualize the Keystone experience for students today. When yesterday’s Cobras who walked these hallways, sat in this classroom, and perhaps even had the same teacher, share a life story with current students, there’s a moment of possibility And ultimately, opening the eyes of children and young adults to the possibilities before them is what education is all about.

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