Written by BVR Contributor J.J. Gilmartin
On May 7, 2021, Beaver alumni from across the country—and as far away as Australia—joined our first ever Virtual Reunion.
Out of necessity, the event was very different from years past. Still, graduates from multiple decades were able to join faculty, staff, and current students in a celebration of the things that make our school unique and our community so strong. The entire event took place on Zoom and, like so much of life during the pandemic, was filled with a mix of the familiar and the new.
Learn like a Beaver student: What are SDPs?
The day’s programming began in earnest with one of our most popular Reunion events: Learn Like a Beaver Student. This year Kader Adjout, Director of the Upper School, hosted the session. As always, the stars of the show were students presenting their own work.
The focus of the session was Student-Directed Projects (SDPs), the current incarnation of Independent Studies that have been part of the Beaver experience for years. SDPs empower students to do an in-depth exploration of a topic of interest to them. The student designs, plans, and leads their research project in collaboration with, and with guidance and support from, a coach (faculty advisor). It allows students to delve deeper into a personal passion and be the designer of their own learning. SDPs are multi-disciplinary, non-linear, and most importantly, student-created and led. That’s what makes them so interesting.
- Kayla Vinh ’22 (whose family is from Vietnam) and Isabel Perez-Albuerne ’22 (whose family is from Cuba), dove deeply into their own family trees and explored global economics and politics as they worked together on a project called Modern Communism and Its Effect on Society.
- Ella Marcus ’22 directed her attention closer to home, enlisting several other Beaver students to help the Brookline Food Pantry better serve their clients as Covid restrictions made food distribution more difficult and more necessary.
- Abby Burgess ’21, with a very-2021 Zoom cameo by her cat, and Max Schrieber ’22 walked the audience through their joint project to organize and host TEDxBeaver 2021.
- Amaya Calderon’s ’24 SDP was a multi-term effort to teach herself Korean, both to learn more about language learning and to prepare herself for studying abroad during college.
- In a project that Mr. Adjout said was like “a Netflix documentary about the future of everything,” Thomas Dies ’21 wrote, produced, and spent more than 130 hours editing a film about the positive impact virtual reality is having in the world of education and medicine. Once he secures the rights to use certain music in his project, he will post the final project to YouTube.
BVRLit: A book club for the alumni community
For the inaugural meeting of the virtual book club, participants were invited to read There There, the best-selling debut novel by Tommy Orange, a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, and one of the Ten Best Books of the Year in 2018 according to the New York Times Book Review and many other publications. The book has been part of several Beaver courses over the last couple of years, including 10th grade Honors English.
It’s not an easy read. The story traces the lives of a dozen American Indians in the Oakland area as they gather for a community powwow. There is violence, addiction, spirituality, joy, rage, and cultural conflict. There is no way to read it without experiencing the world from a new perspective.
That’s what makes it such a great book, and what made BVRLit so interesting. Hosted by Shamikhah Baker, Director of Enrollment; Lisa Brown, Head of the English Department; and Yolanda Wilcox González, Head of the Global History and Social Studies Department, the session engaged alumni in a conversation that revealed the interdisciplinary, intercultural, and inquiry-based approach at Beaver.
Nelson de Witt from the class of 2000, who is currently writing his own novel about family, culture, and identity, summed up the educational value of the book well when he said, “Just because we’re privileged enough to be at Beaver and have this great community doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is so forgiving. At some point in our lives, we run into really complicated situations. It’s good to have some experience wrestling with them at a young age.”
Presentation from Kim Samson, Head of School
This idea of challenging students to provoke deeper learning and prepare them for life has been at the heart of Beaver’s pedagogy since its founding 100 years ago. This approach is not easy, requires courage to pursue it in earnest, and innovation to get it right. It’s also so important, Samson considers our willingness to lead in this capacity a moral imperative.
During her remarks toward the end of Reunion 2021, Kim emphasized Beaver’s role at the vanguard of global education, committed to using our time, money, and talent to inspire educational innovation around the world. To that end, Kim noted, during the past year, Beaver has presented work at educational conferences in London, Madrid, California, and elsewhere.
(Kim also shared advice we hope nobody will need again: “If you ever have to lead a school in a pandemic, make sure it is a school like Beaver.”)
Our efforts are making the difference that we see every day. More students are applying to Beaver than ever, graduates are attending prestigious colleges throughout the country, and more than 200 alumni showed their Beaver education by donating a total of more than $77,000 on Founder’s Day, December 8, 2020.
BVR100 Lifetime Achievement Awards
Fittingly, Kim concluded a day celebrating student projects, alumni engagement, and the Beaver community as a whole with the BVR100 Lifetime Achievement Award.
The award recognized two trailblazing alumni who embody the Beaver mindset, Jane Quigley Alexander ’57 and Bruce Berkowitz ‘76.
Jane began acting in Bradley Hall and has since earned two Emmy Awards, a Tony, four Academy Award nominations, and three Golden Globes. She was also a director of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Bruce grew up in Chelsea and came to Beaver in 1974. He spent an hour commuting each way to Beaver on public transportation and on foot. In the late 1990s, he founded Fairholme Capital Management. Bruce is featured regularly in Forbes, US News & World Report, and other media outlets for his unique (and Beaver-like) investing philosophies. These include “be yourself,” “ignore the crowd,” “do what you like,” and “be what you want to be.”
While Bruce was unable to join the event, Jane appeared via Zoom.
I owe it all to Beaver. When I was, I think, a junior, [Mrs. Smith] took me aside after a rehearsal of one play and she said, ‘Jane, I want you to think about becoming an actress because I think that you can make a living at it.’
We hope that everyone who was able to join us for Reunion 2021 enjoyed celebrating these values and connecting virtually with our incredible alumni community.
We can’t wait to see you all in person for Reunion 2022.