Tonight we are holding our annual alumni reception in New York at the Harvard Club, thanks to the generosity of Douglas Freeman and Salim Ramji, class of 1988. About 25 people will attend, members of an active core of alumni in New York whose composition changes slowly over the years as their careers change – usually in advertising, finance, law or professional life. Some of our New York alumni are transplanted Canadians, some are Americans born and bred. We have had memorable evenings with this group. One of the most memorable occurred four years ago, on a night – again at the Harvard Club – when there was also a baseball Championship Series game (the Yankees were in the playoffs), and a Presidential Debate. That night at the Harvard Club, one large room was full of people watching the playoff game, and another, larger room was full of people watching the presidential debate on a big screen.
The most memorable of these gatherings occurred in 2001. We always have our NY reception on Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, because it means I am away from school for fewer school days. Prior to 2001, my wife Joan and I had built a fond relationship with a number of our alumni in the city. That year, on September 11, the heart of New York suffered the blow of the World Trade Centre destruction. The question for us was whether or not to travel to New York. In telephone conversations with those we had come to know, it was clear that they would just love a visit from “home”, so to speak – from a place where, despite the shock and dust in their streets, other streets and sidewalks pulsed with a more “normal” cadence to their traffic. One of these alumni, Renee Duggan, came fresh from her third or fourth memorial service. At that time she had a fascinating job at New York University; now she is Director of Admissions at a boarding school in Jordan, not far from Amman. Another young man, a student at New York University, told us in the most laconic terms how he had seen the second jet hit the tower. For those who are interested in more details of this visit, I wrote about it in a School Ties article, called A Personal Essay in spring of 2002: http://www.smus.ca/publications/smus_sch_ties_spring02.pdf
The School has a long history of American ties. Tom Rigos, class of 1961 and starting his ninth year on the Board of the School, tells of entire planes packed with boarders returning to Seattle at end of term. In addition to keeping up with our grads in New York, we do the same with grads in Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and southern California. This past August, in Oregon, we had the Annual General Meeting of the American Friends of SMUS, a Foundation of our alumni, whose purposes are to support the school; we are the beneficiaries of millions of dollars that have come to us through this foundation in the last 6 or 7 years. We have more than a few families who are recent arrivals from the US and whose sons and daughters are now day students in the school. We also have boarding students from Port Townsend, Sequim, Bainbridge Island, Seattle, and a couple of other places in Washington State; from Portland, from San Diego, and from San Francisco. While the motivation for boarding at SMUS varies somewhat from family to family, the general spirit of their quest is quality education, that pursues both academic success and the development of the whole student. Another motivation is a belief in the broadening and fulfilling effects of moving beyond familiar environs. This notion of broadening and fulfilling ourselves beyond familiar environs works both ways: SMUS is the only Canadian member of the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools, an association we belong to in order to provide professional development for our teachers and administrators, to get to know the American boarding market, and to shift our own gaze from Victoria and Canada to the wider world.
In other countries, as here in Canada, people frequently exhibit an anti-American reflex, which they justify with many rationales. Most people I know don’t have that reflex. To many people – even in the US – an American cloud hangs over the current state of the world; if that is so then certainly our particular attachment to our Americans is a silver lining. Repeatedly I discover that the considerable and complex ties we have with our American alumni, students, families and professionals are very fertile ones for our school – rich in both ideas and relationships. The story of every country – including the US, including Canada, but also including Russia, France, Germany, China, Japan (and all the other 20 countries who are represented in our student body) – is a history of good and bad, and in some periods of very much good or very much bad; at times too, other countries have a prominence in the world or with their neighbours such that their good or bad spills outside their borders. So I expect no different a past, present or future from the US. In a school we are always seeking the best in our students (and in everyone); we want the best future, because these boys and girls and young men and women are the future. I feel fortunate that in our recipe for the best, the American ingredients add so much flavour.