What Does Tradition Mean at Catlin Gabel? Alumni Respond.

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From the Winter 2010-11 Caller

Jenn Stallard ’92

Ritual creates a sense of familiarity. The term “familiarity” is closely associated with “family,” so it’s not surprising that Catlin Gabel’s many traditions are what help create a sense of community and history—in other words, family. It was my home. I always loved the Blue vs. White team competition around the Rummage Sale—what a great way to promote school spirit and community, for a very good cause! I also thought the class trips (8th, 9th, 12th) were fun, not to mention extremely valuable. My class (1992) was the first to take our 8th grade musical (Pirates of Penzance) on the road. I will never forget it! It would be an understatement to say I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve often wondered whether Catlin Gabel had a part in that. It may also be why I appreciated all the tradition as much as I did. After graduation, I attended a small private college and have generally lived in smaller towns that foster a sense of community and closeness.

 

 

Jim Bilbao ’79

Some of the ideas about why St. George is important:
* It’s fun. This works for everybody.
* It’s a charade. This works for the maturity of the kids.
* It’s easy: there’s no pretense of quality about the acting, sets, or costumes.
* The audience is easily satisfied.
* 8th graders get to try on acting in broad range of adult roles from mythic (Santa, George, devil, angel) to vocational (photographer, nurse, doctor).
* 8th graders get to touch real ethical issues, without any of the tough reading.  

Jamie Bell ’92

I think Catlin-ites love a tradition because the school has tradition and ritual written all over it. I remember loathing the sophomore year position paper. We all knew it was coming, and we all knew how long it had to be, but once it was over it was sort of an accomplishment, and something that we could talk about later on to upcoming sophomores. Tradition also helps us as alumni reconnect with other students, past, present, and future. I can tell a 5th grader, a senior, or a 50-year-old that I was giant Blunderbore in St. George—those people will know what I am referring to. Traditions as I see them: writing the epic in iambic pentameter. I remember the Lower School awards assembly: I got the messiest desk award and the coveted “golden foot” award (was that its name?). Lower School Pet and Field day was a good one. Obvious ones are St. George, Rummage tonnage (student contest Blue vs White), Maypole, gingerbread men with the primary, Pumpkin Patch as a 1st and 12th grader. Random traditions: the Can Car (Sid Eaton started for Candowment), Scarlet letter day, Chaucer day, Corinthian day, playing foursquare, ringing the bell at Lower School recess, ordering lunch at the Barn, school dances in the Barn. The fact that we have places named the Barn, Toad Hall, Fir Grove, Zot Room, and Nutshell.
 

Debbie Kaye ’73

I believe that “the child as the unit of consideration” is one of the most important elements of our founders’ vision. It moves me still. Just how we act on that principle has changed as pedagogy, technology, and the culture have changed. Yet putting each child at the center of the reason Catlin Gabel offers its particular type of education has remained constant. Our alumni love ritual because it connects us to the community, over years and space. St. George and the Gilbert and Sullivan musical are classic examples of shared experience. In more recent years, the Elana Gold ’93 Memorial Environmental Restoration Project and the senior trip, whose purposes and activities are constant, fill the same role. Years later, alumni can and do recall how they participated and with whom, the games and fun and food, the camaraderie. Shared experience and ties that bind. We look back fondly, smoothing the difficult edges of fatigue and any frustration, recalling the overall experience, lessons, and skills learned and yes, carried forward into other elements of our lives. Lifelong learning through community effort. Fabulous!

Peter Bromka ’00

I think that Catlin Gabel people love rituals because they are the experiences through which we learn about the world. Plays teach us to have confidence. Rummage used to teach us how to reuse and recycle, how to see further value in an object. Epic papers, like the poet paper juniors used to have to write, teach us how to write. The 6th grade go-carts teach us about mechanical systems. Camping trips teach us how to be outdoorsy. When everyone in a community buys into an experience it becomes emotionally rewarding and cohesive. We feel a part of something and less exposed to failure, which is important when we’re trying something so new! I have not carried any of the specific traditions on in my life, but I point to those that I’ve mentioned as early examples of my confidence with public speaking, writing, mechanics, outdoorsmanship, and more. I also hold them closely as the events that taught me I could succeed at something new that I’d never tried before. That said, I believe the traditions can and should evolve. The Poet Paper died off while I was still in high school because the English teachers decided that it wasn’t the best way for us to learn how to tackle a large academic endeavor. C’est la vie. And, as someone who works in the world of design and creativity, I’m inspired by rituals that are intended for nothing more than pure fun and entertainment. It’s important to remember that life is worth laughing at, that it’s all right to laugh at ourselves and enjoy it.
 

Mason Kaye ’04

Initially, I remember being excited about go-carts due to the mythology surrounding the experience. Seeing the 6th graders driving them when I was in the Lower School was quite an experience. I was on a team with my two best friends at the time, Patrick Santa and Deni Ponganis. I’m not sure if this is still going on, but the amount of unsupervised use of power tools during that project was exhilarating. We played with the go-cart all summer.