Tag Archives: alumni

Delivering on My Promise

In December, I vowed to restock my sense of boundless hope and optimism. I pledged that the global, domestic and campus-related challenges of 2016 would not deter my aspirations for a better tomorrow.

As a man of my word, my initial First Monday of 2017 will highlight Parish-related initiatives which buoy my spirit, especially when I consider their imminent positive impact.

Gene E. Phillips Activity Center is on its way
I love watching construction projects. The architects, project managers and construction workers possess such admirable skills as planners, problems solvers and artisans. I find witnessing the incremental and tangible results of their work to be immensely satisfying. As you can see in the image series below, in just four months tremendous progress has been made in bringing the Gene E. Phillips Activity Center to life!

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By summer the Center will offer our students an additional 24,000 square feet for learning, competing and performing. This space will seat close to 500 and feature lighting and acoustical attributes which make it an attractive option for music, dance and community events. Already, we are planning for how it can be utilized most efficiently to best serve the community. Jennifer Wilson, Head of Lower School, leads a committee presently investigating opportunities the Phillips Activity Center might offer, such as:

  • alleviating the need for early morning athletic practices and/or allowing Middle School teams to practice more often;
  • shifting when Physical Education classes meet thereby liberating key instructional time in the morning for 3rd and 4th grade students;
  • serving as a site for select ParishArts music & dance performances;
  • hosting key community events such as when we partner with The Perot Museum of Nature & Science to host FIRST LEGO® League robotics competitions in December and February.

I am confident the first new facility added to our campus in over a decade will have a dramatic and positive impact on our community when it opens this August (2017).

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Momentum for the Performance & Community Center build
Amidst the excitement of the Phillips Activity Center taking shape before our eyes, I am equally enthused about the progress this fall toward making the Performance & Community Center (PACC) a reality. As you may have read in our special announcement, we have received several major gifts in the last few months, putting us over $7 million in pledges since July 1, 2016, including an incredibly generous $5 million anonymous commitment. Our development team, comprised of Diana Sobey, Carrie Burton and Daniel Novakov, and led by Amanda Meter and Marci McLean, has positioned us for success. Our Board of Trustees has pledged close to $3 million to our two venue projects while providing thoughtful and responsible direction to our construction and fundraising effort. My optimism peaked by these tangible signs of support, I am even more energized to bring our dreams for the PACC to broader segments of our community this year. We want to put this second vision-supportive facility to the service of our dedicated faculty and talented students within the next four years.

parishconnect_lowParishConnect launches
As I wrote in November, our young Parish Episcopal alumni (remember, having had only 10 graduating classes, they are all still young!) represent a great source of excitement and hope for me. We have an immense opportunity before us as a school: to define, in richly distinct terms, what we want our relationship with our alumni to be. Beyond annual homecoming events and reunions, might we impact and enrich the lives of our graduates once they have reached the “complex global society” as meaningfully as we did when they were students at Parish?

alumni_lsThis question fueled the creation of ParishConnect, which we launched softly last summer and announced more broadly in our most recent Pantherbeat. It will assume a much more public identity in our community this year. Overseen by Advancement & Alumni Coordinator, Lauren Henderson, ParishConnect links our graduates – both those proceeding through the final years of college and graduate school and those who’ve recently entered the workforce – with professional contacts from our parent body, both present and alumni. Less a job center and more a Parish “LinkedIn,” ParishConnect helps our young alumni explore the professional topography in their chosen field of interest. It also helps our graduates develop their skill constructing powerful networks, a vital conduit for making things happen in today’s interconnected world. As you can see from Lauren Sandstedt’s ’13 feedback at right, the value of ParishConnect has already been realized.

ParishConnect represents just one component of a more comprehensive plan to engage our alumni. As day-to-day school operations shift more distinctly to Michelle Lyon (after July 1 in her new role as Assistant Head of School), I will enthusiastically engage in a more coordinated way with our alumni – through ParishConnect – by offering an ongoing series of “Purposeful Lives” seminars & workshops, and by staging a variety of campus and city-based social events.

Indeed, my supply of hope and optimism overflows! I am blessed to have been called to the work of school leadership, especially at time of such dynamic change in our world and especially at a place like Parish – a community which has always embraced a sense of what’s possible.

Parish Alumni: Boundless Thinkers in Real Time

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The Apostle Paul faced quite a challenge.

A dutiful follower of the crucified Jesus, and a leader in his own right, Paul had discovered a fractured and fickle community of early Christians. Those Paul sought to lead to the teachings of Jesus kept falling back into old habits. Paul penned the people of Ephesus a letter meant to grab their attention. In it, he urged them to “take off” their old self, consumed as it was with worldly attitudes and actions, and put on a “new self” tailored for a relationship with God – one which reflected Jesus’ dispositions of compassion, kindness and meekness.

My First Monday letters and chapel homilies typically emerge from a theme. This year, that theme is “boundless;” more specifically, what it takes to embrace a mindset of possibility, hope and growth. I used this verse from Paul in my opening chapel talk to students in September, imploring them to envision how they might put on a “new self” by the conclusion of school in May. Successive homilies have extended the theme, looking in part at how boundless thinking reflects an attitude and how it requires us to forge a working relationship with fear.

My First Monday letters have offered complementary riffs on the boundless theme. In August, I shared insights derived from my summer reading. Each book reminded me why unleashing limitless possibilities for each child is a center-point of our Reimagine initiative. In September, I wondered what milieu produces individuals who lead boldly around and through obstacles. And last month, I highlighted a handful of the boundless thinkers who inspire our entrepreneurial work.

homecomingOur recent homecoming presented me with the precious opportunity to engage firsthand with living examples of the boundless theme: our alumni. As I move deeper into my tenure at Parish, spending time visiting with, learning from and continuing to mentor our graduates represents one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. In their emerging life narratives, these young people (remember, the oldest Parish Episcopal graduates are only 26!) demonstrate what leading lives of possibility and growth look like. Quite often, they can trace their boundless disposition to their time at Parish.

Beginning with this piece on a recent graduate still in college and continuing later this spring with the profile of an “older” alum already tackling the “complex global society,” I’ll highlight how our alumni have answered Paul’s challenge to “put on a new self.”

Parish graduates presently in college share common experiences. Navigating new relationships – whether with a freshman roommate or through the fraternity/sorority system, for example – present opportunities for self-definition and value identification. Of course, the exploration of new ideas and exchange of perspectives with bright classmates and thought-provoking professors expand their horizons as well.

But increasingly, the most differentiating and liberating experiences for Parish graduates in college happen outside the classroom. Particularly in their choice of global travel opportunities and the verve with which they pursue internships, our alumni demonstrate their acumen as boundless thinkers.
colej14_textFor Cole Jones ’14, global travel has amplified his learning experiences post Parish. Cole spent the final three months of his sophomore year at USC studying in New Zealand. Of course, studying abroad represents a rite of passage for many college students. Cole, however, differentiated his global experience by embracing a boundless mindset. He constructed a self-directed excursion for himself and a travelling companion which took them to Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia in the weeks preceding their arrival in New Zealand.

Cole’s unique experience, one in which he charted his own journey, chose what he would see when and who he would meet along the way, proved to be formative. By stepping adventurously and curiously beyond the known, Cole discovered a worldview he will carry into his future as an impactful leader. “Understand first, judge second,” is how Cole explained it to me; his journey, he noted, “shattered the preconceived notions created by the boundaries of my own city and country of upbringing.”

colej14mtntopIf his horizon-broadening experiences beyond Parish have taught him anything, it has been the very relevance and applicability of the “balanced, thoughtful” mindset which Cole says Parish instilled within him. He sees now how “daily chapel and mentorship opportunities,” both with adults within the community but also between students in activities such as Legacy, sharpened his reflectiveness and relational skills. Such attributes, Cole is already learning, will benefit him in a complex global society fueled by collaborative thinking and flattening hierarchies.

Cole returned from his global travel to an internship experience at Stanford University this past summer. He leveraged his USC network – once again demonstrating the importance of the relational capacities cultivated at Parish – then learned how to “communicate with scientists who were a lot smarter than me” as he did heat and structural testing on the largest digital camera in the world. It will be used in the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope which will deploy in Chile to study the transient night sky.

We are so proud of Cole and our other alumni whose journey and discovery of becoming their new selves unfolds before us in such inspiring, exciting and boundless ways!

The Greatest Holiday Gift

One can see the signs of the holidays everywhere on campus. Our Christmas tree is up in Kleinert Commons at Midway; wreaths now adorn the main entrance on our Hillcrest campus. Tacky sweater day has come and gone in the Upper School, and next week our Christmas pageants will take place at the Church of the Transfiguration – an annual rite of passage for our youngest students and celebration of the season at Parish for decades.

Ask any of us who have committed our lives to school work, though, and I think we would agree on one of our favorite signs of the season: alumni returning to campus. These visits are joyous in so many ways. Memories are rekindled and favorite stories are retold. But, most significantly for we teachers, the return of our graduates offers both affirmation and a powerful reminder.

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Gathering of young alums at my home, Nov. 2015

 

It affirms that our investment in our former students has yielded dividends. We see how they have constructed meaning from our classes or leveraged skills honed on our campuses to succeed in collegiate and graduate studies. We can feel in their desire to return that our presence in their lives – though relatively fleeting in the scope of a lifetime – has informed and enriched their journey to adulthood. It is among life’s most indescribable joys to have former students tell us – either in word or through their presence – that we have had an impact on them.

Sitting with a graduate also reminds us to clean the lenses with which we view our present students. Occasionally, in the intense work which is teaching and mentoring young children and adolescents, we teachers see the shortcomings of a challenging student as intractable. We may also be fooled by our superstars, presuming their talents and accomplishments mean an unimpeded path to success in college and beyond. Our graduate reminds us that with a student, as with a stock, past performances do not guarantee a future result. As such, through our alumni, we are called to stay in the moment with our present students. Who they are today is not who they will be tomorrow and the relationship we have with them today can be a powerful shaping agent.

We are also reminded that this journey is uniquely personalized. I marvel at how the journey of self-discovery continues, and usually accelerates, once students leave the safe haven of our campus and protective nests of their parents’ homes. Key moments of self-discovery and maturation occur for each at distinct times. Pivot points offered by new networks of friends and mentors, exciting and unforeseen life and learning experiences, and sometimes even setback and pure happenstance add texture to the personal narratives of our graduates. I never tire of hearing these stories as those we once knew as little children and ungainly adolescents return as young adults finding their way toward a purposeful life in the real world.

At Parish, we’ve reached a thrilling juncture in our history. Alumni of Parish Day’s 6th grade abound dating back to the late seventies, but Parish Episcopal distributed its first high school diplomas in 2007. A critical mass of Parish Episcopal alumni are now out of college and, in strong numbers, returning to Dallas. They are all in their twenties. They are accomplished yet seeking, wondering what life after college portends for them and eagerly exploring new opportunities. It is incredibly exciting for us to see this first generation of our alumni entering this life phase.

We know how schools like ours have historically engaged alumni – annual events like homecoming and reunions, career days and distinguished alumni awards, and legacy events as children of graduates become students themselves. All of these are wonderful and will have a place at Parish.

But true to our spirit, we are wondering. Given that this is our first generation of “adult alumni,” we are posing questions like these:

  • How might we rethink the relationship between Parish’s graduates and our school moving it beyond that defined by traditional alumni activities?
  • How might we engage alumni meaningfully as mentors and sources of enrichment for our present students and programs?
  • How might Parish continue to impact favorably the lives of our alumni and continue to serve them as a source of enrichment, learning, and opportunity?

In this season of presents, we look forward to the gift which comes in the form of a visit from one of our graduates. We also embrace the opportunity before us to position Parish as a gift which keeps on giving to its graduates well after they have left our campus.