On May 23, Winchester Thurston’s 125th anniversary culminated in true WT fashion: by looking forward. Seven distinguished alumnae/i returned to WT for an array of festivities held throughout the day, crowned by an exhilarating evening forum that enthralled a crowd filling the Upper School’s Hilda Willis Room.
Entitled “Leadership in an Unscripted Future: Dialogues on Preparing Students to Innovate,” the forum featured WT’s seven alumnae/i guests and the school’s dynamic Advisory Board.
“We are in the midst of an educational revolution, preparing our students for a world marked by vast unpredictable change,” said Head of School Gary Niels. “A rigorous academic learning environment is certainly essential to developing the next generation of scholars, citizens, and entrepreneurs, but so is an environment that instills critical dispositions and habits of mind that develop visionary, ethical…effective leaders.”
Applying a kaleidoscopic range of perspectives, the panel rose to the challenge of defining and dissecting foremost elements of leadership exuberantly and with passion. Kathleen Buechel, Vice President of Winchester Thurston School’s Board of Trustees, served as moderator. The two-hour dialogue touched on three key themes: “Vision When There Is No Roadmap,” “Knowledge Building for Frontier Shaping and Problem Solving,” and “Moral and Ethical Leadership in an Unscripted World.” Drawing the discussion to a close at the end of the evening, Buechel spoke for many when she observed, “If the indication of the quality of this conversation is a measure of what’s gone on here during the last 125 years, then…Winchester Thurston is a rocket on its way to making new paths…in this very much unscripted world.”
Reflections from the Panelists
Elizabeth Baker Keffer ’80, on The Atlantic’s turnaround from deficit to dynamism: “It’s a story of needing to run toward change. We realized…if we were defending, we would be losing, so to defend the print property wasn’t going to be a strategy that would be successful for us. We defined ourselves at that point as a digital-first media company, and…catapulted ourselves into the 21st century.”
Audrey Russo: “The piece about confronting, rather than running away, is woven into everything. Don’t be afraid of these transitions.”
Catherine Widgery ’71: “Picasso…was a monster….and yet he created work that we wouldn’t want to be without. We see a kind of darkness that touches us deeply and maybe in part we see, in fact, something we’ve disowned in ourselves. And let me tell you, the dark is where there is tremendous energy, tremendous creativity.”
Nathaniel Doyno ’01, on being welcomed by established business and community leaders: “[Their message was], ‘It’s OK to be scared and it’s OK not to know…We want you here because that’s fresh perspective and you don’t have to unlearn as much.’ I think that’s absolutely one of the most important things about emerging leadership and what WT does…that we could come and ask questions, that we could be uncomfortable. I think there’s a real power in being functionally uncomfortable.”
Zoë Malka Leinhardt ’94, on testing hypotheses about the formation and evolution of planets and small bodies. “This whole process took about four years to do from inception to publication, and the reason this was successful was because we had a long term vision and a big picture that all of us got into, and we had the tenacity to see it through…It’s very important to think outside of the box, but it’s also very important to think around the box…it may not be a solution to that problem, but it may get you to your goal in a different way. I think it’s also very important to teach how to make a community successful…so if somebody is falling behind, then somebody needs to help that person…everybody has to succeed, not just a select few.”
Angela Ambroz ’01: “As Yoda said, ‘you must unlearn what you have learned.’ And I think that’s perfect for the work I do. The ultimate lesson is approaching a problem with the assumption that you’re probably the dumb one, and that you need to learn what’s going on… Angela Ambroz ’01: “I think there’s been an obsession on success based on conventional dimensions…and so as a general philosophical [approach] we need to teach that failure is a good thing, or [can] lead to good things…there are many alternative paths that are also very cool and fruitful.”
Nancy Kamin Schlossberg ’47: “I think the most important thing that a school should do is to keep hope alive and to remember that there is a lifetime of possibilities.”
Jonathan Mahone ’95: “To me, leadership is about coming together and finding the strength in each other and our callings and bringing that all together for one thing!”
Aradhna Dhanda: ““I did not get a lot of creativity in school. I learned how to memorize and spit it out…What artists do is capture the visionary aspect of leadership so wonderfully. All leaders throughout history dream big…delicious, ferocious dreams…but…the best dreamers, the best leaders, also act.”
Jim Roddey, “All leaders are great communicators…There could not be two more different people ever created than Patton and Gandhi, and yet both were great communicators.”
Janera Solomon: “Slice that fear right out of your body. Leadership is evolving. You’re not a great leader all the time in every moment… People see something, but don’t ask the question about why it is the way it is, or how it came to be that way, and definitely not ‘what can I do about it?’ I’d love to see kids just be encouraged to be disciplined about being curious.”
John Keeler on Abraham Lincoln: “He selected the right people; he had a passion; he had vision; he had the strategic ability to put things together; he persevered, and there was some luck.”
Judith Hallinen: “[All children] need someone to help them find their passion, and to support them in getting to that passion no matter what, and to believe in them.”
Claudine Schneider ’65: “It was my father who told me I could do anything I wanted to do, and it was my husband who came up with the idea that I should run for Congress—and you’re talking to a feminist here. But I think it’s important to understand the roles that daddies play in little girls’ homes, and I think the same holds true for mothers and little boys.”
Patrick Dowd: “Provocation. I think it’s important that every day students be provoked—provoked to figure out what they care about, what it is they’re passionate about, provoked to think not about themselves but about a larger community, whatever that might mean…provoked in lots and lots of ways. And also for instructors to recognize that they should be provoked back.”
Distinguished Guests, Dynamic Panelists
Angela Ambroz ’01
Research Manager, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab’s Global Offices at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Elizabeth Baker Keffer ’80
Vice President, The Atlantic and Atlantic LIVE
Dr. Zoë Malka Leinhardt ’94
Astrophysicist, STFC Advanced Fellow, School of Physics, University of Bristol
Jonathan Mahone ’95
Performance Artist, Actor, Diversity Educator
Nancy Kamin Schlossberg, Ph.D. ’47
Professor emerita, University of Maryland, author, consultant, expert on adult transitions
Claudine Schneider ’65
Former Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives (RI), consultant, Emmy-winning producer, author, and lecturer on energy issues and other global challenges
Catherine Widgery ’71
World renowned installation artist
Winchester Thurston School Advisory Board
Heather Arnet, Executive Director, Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania
Carol R. Brown, Founding President and CEO, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Esther L. Bush, President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
Ronald Cole-Turner, H. Parker Sharp Chair of Theology and Ethics, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Aradhna Dhanda, President and CEO, Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.
Patrick Dowd, Member of City Council, Pittsburgh City Council District 7
Nathaniel Doyno ’01, Director, Business Development, AllFacilities Energy Group
Lee B. Foster, President and CEO, L.B. Foster Company
Judith Hallinen, Assistant Vice Provost for Educational Outreach; Director, Leonard Gelfand Center for Outreach and Service Learning, Carnegie Mellon University
Tori Haring-Smith, President, Washington and Jefferson College
John T.S. Keeler, Dean and Professor, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
Jim Roddey, Chairman, Allegheny County Republican Committee, Former Chief Executive, Allegheny County
Alan J. Russell, Highmark Distinguished Career Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
Audrey Russo, President and Chief Executive Officer, Pittsburgh Technology Council
Lisa Schroeder, Executive Director, Riverlife Task Force
Steven Sokol, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh
Tom Sokolowski, Arts Innovator, Former Director, The Andy Warhol Museum
Janera Solomon, Executive Director, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater
Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Juniors Dialogue with Distinguished Alumnae/i
The junior class took full advantage of the opportunity to meet with WT’s distinguished alumnae/i guests. They listened raptly as the alums candidly shared struggles and successes, and offered sage advice peppered with reflection, encouragement, and dollops of humor.
Responding to a question about research, University of Bristol astrophysicist Zoë Malka Leinhardt ’94 said, “I’m working with…collaborators from Japan, England, and the U.S.…investigating how planets form around binary stars.” Citing differences in both cultural and scientific backgrounds, she said, “The most challenging thing is not the research, but trying to get the team to work together.”
Elizabeth Baker Keffer ’80, who remembers WT for being challenging and for encouraging close relationships with teachers, revealed that the two qualities she prizes most in prospective employees are force of intellect and spirit of generosity. The Atlantic Vice President also urged students to gain international experience: “Take opportunities when they present themselves!”
Angela Ambroz ’01 gave students a philosophical nugget rooted in Buddhism—“Fake it till you make it”—and advised them to “become illuminati.” The research manager of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also counseled students not to panic about the college process and encouraged them to find their own path, perhaps taking a gap year to discover their passions.
“I learned more at Winchester Thurston than I did in college,” said Claudine Schneider ’65, the first woman from Rhode Island elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, adding that WT instilled in her the drive to set her sights higher—a quality that has shaped her life. The key to leadership, Schneider told students, is optimism.
Nancy Kamin Schlossberg ’47, an expert on adult transitions, forged a long and respected career as a professor of counseling psychology. Now a Professor Emerita, she has authored nine books on adult transitions. Schlossberg spoke about working through “non-event transitions”—when expected events don’t happen—and counseled them to remember that one’s goals change throughout education and life.
“For every time you’re accepted, you are rejected 10 times,” said world-renowned installation artist Catherine Widgery ’71, stressing the importance of passion, persistence, and resilience. In answer to students’ questions about how WT prepared her for her career, the Yale graduate credits WT for giving her the tools to be rigorous and to constantly seek to improve herself and her work.
Jonathan Mahone ’95, a performance artist, actor, and diversity educator, told students, “People will see you through their lenses, so what’s important is how you see yourself. The choice is always there. You have a choice…every day.” The first African American male to graduate from Winchester Thurston, Mahone—who shelved law school aspirations to pursue his passion for art and working with children—told students, “You only live once. Some people want to start living when they retire. That’s the craziest thing. Live it now. Don’t wait—your life is happening right now.”
City as Our Campus Celebration
WT’s distinguished alumnae/i guests joined a standing-room-only audience of City as Our Campus partners, WT trustees, students, and faculty for the second annual City as Our Campus Celebration. Faculty and students involved in City as Our Campus community-based learning programs shared the work they have done in the 2011-2012 school year.
A select group of seniors presented an overview of the work they’ve completed in the new Research Science course, taught by Mr. Graig Marx, in which students design and implement independent research projects in close collaboration with community mentors. Maya Muenzer detailed her work on viral oncology at the Hillman Cancer Center; Devin Kalanish and Emily Onorato discussed working with local experts to explore the potential effects from Marcellus Shale fracking.
Seniors Lisa Fierstein and Elizabeth Friedman—working together with a local artist to oversee the creation of a mural in the Hill District as part of their project for Dr. Michael Naragon’s Urban Research and Design course—shared their findings about art therapy and community process.
Seniors Michael Booker, Maya Muenzer, Michael Curry, and Rebecca Greenhouse talked about their hands-on learning through the organization and participation in service opportunities in Braddock, PA, and how it circles back to the scholarly investigations of urban renewal in the classroom.
Other featured projects included the Lower School’s Immigrant Stories with the “Saturday Light Brigade” radio show; a third grade community service project in Braddock; the sixth grade Fiber Art Tree with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts; a Middle School Marine Biology elective with the PPG Aquarium; Never Will We See Another Butterfly, a video on genocide that includes the eighth grade study of the Holocaust, in collaboration with Global Solutions Pittsburgh; English teacher Patrice Alexander’s new course, “Memes, Music, and Language” with Hip Hop On L.O.C.K; 3-D Animation with Pittsburgh Filmmakers; and the Upper School’s “Bad Idea Bears,” two of the puppets designed and created by students for the Upper School musical, Avenue Q, under the guidance of professional puppeteer Jim Martin and his wife, Crystal.
Director of City as Our Campus Teresa DeFlitch says, “Indeed, the number of projects continues to grow as we look toward another successful City as Our Campus year. In fact, not all projects were featured during the event; what looks like an exhaustive list is merely the tip of the iceberg. In the Fall of 2012, look for the launch of a City as Our Campus website that will highlight and archive information about all projects, including photos and summaries, as well as resources for educators.”