Traditions

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by Lark P. Palma, Ph.D.

Traditions connect us to each other in ways that last forever. Common experiences bond our current students to generations of students that came before, and those who will follow. Celebrating our 50th anniversary as Catlin Gabel School invites a look into where some of our school traditions originated.

When the Gabel Country Day and Catlin Hillside Schools became one, many traditions and educational values were preserved. In some ways it was easy to combine the schools because of their many shared qualities. For example, shop class (formerly called manual training) was an important component of both schools. It was unusual to find girls in shop classes in most schools, but both the Gabel and the Catlin Hillside Schools taught shop without regard to gender.

Theater, music, and drama were also prominent programs in both schools. Holiday pageants and tableaux hold important memories for alumni of the Gabel School. Similarly, the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas evoke nostalgia for Catlin Hillside alumni. Community service was an essential aspect of school life on both campuses -- as true today as it was in the war-torn 1940s.

Some traditions unique to each school were brought to the newly merged school and continue today. Pet Day, carried on by the Lower School, and Campus Day are Gabel traditions that are important today. The annual production of St. George and the Dragon, now performed by eighth graders, and the Maypole dance, a first grade rite of passage, are rituals we inherited from Catlin Hillside School. New customs have been added to the old, giving Catlin Gabel School a culture of its own, a culture rich in tradition.

Catlin Gabel people bring alive those traditions as we live them. Alumni tell me that their warmest memories are most often about people – teachers and classmates – and adventures and traditions such as school trips, performances, and Rummage contests. Everyone who has ever worked or shopped at the Rummage Sale, for example, has a favorite story about a kooky customer, a great purchase, or finding a long-lost favorite tie among the bargains.

Mention of the annual 8th grade Gilbert and Sullivan musical provokes comparisons of which Modern Major General in Pirates of Penzance sang the fastest, or which Katisha in The Mikado generated the most revulsion. Likewise, current students look forward to finding out which first grader is Wee Willie Winkie in the winter Revels concert, whose dog will win the funniest prize on Pet Day. It is fun to imagine which first, third, or sixth grader will play St. George in eigth grade, or which of the freshmen will read the school chapter when they graduate.

This time of year makes us think about the people in our lives. When I think about my mom, I’m awed by what a great person she is and what an influential parent she was, organizing softball teams, and Girl Scouts, and many parts of our lives. Now that I’m a grandmother I think about what kind of mother she is, and what kind of grandmother she is, and now about her role as a great-grandmother.

Our school represents that sort of multigenerational resonance. We can still hear stories about how somebody’s mother ran Rummage, or their father helped build the Barn, or they lived in the Dant House before we moved here. These are deep connections. Our school traditions serve as a reminder of the power of a school community that is larger than any one of us. They humble and inspire us with an understanding that Catlin Gabel will continue to be a vibrant part of children’s lives long after we leave.