In preparation for this evening, I spent some time thinking about the first Annual Meeting & Dinner my husband and I attended ten years ago. The first thing I realized (and this is no reflection of the deep respect I feel for my predecessors) is that I couldn’t particularly recall anything the Board President said that night. That took the pressure off a bit as I was writing these remarks.
What I do recall is how that evening felt. I remember looking around and feeling the strength of this place that has meant so much to so many. I came into the evening not having ventured far beyond the Thacher building’s Piazza, but I left feeling connected to something bigger, part of this village that is Country School. An institution with a long tradition of excellence that it owes in large part to a forward-looking orientation, a spirit of continuous improvement. And I felt the power of this community, built on generations of trust and partnership between the school and families who recognized that when it comes to childhood, Country School just gets it right.
So, to our new families especially-- you may not remember the words we say tonight, but I hope you will leave with a deeper sense of connection to this community, to your child’s experience and to Country School’s story. Because it’s all of you who will write the next chapter.
Tonight, I’m pleased to share that Country School is strong and well-positioned to continue its tradition of excellence. On numerous levels, the challenges of the last few years have provided new evidence of that strength and the gratitude this community feels for everyone who helped our children successfully navigate them. We are truly thankful for your generosity, and for all our faculty, staff and administration, whose extraordinary talent and dedication inspired it. By putting your students first, you inspired so many of us to put Country School first.
Last year represented the culmination of our Boldly Forward Capital Campaign, which raised funds to construct our new Dining Hall and community gathering spaces, grow the school’s endowment in support of financial aid and academic programming, and build the wonderful space we are gathered in tonight -- our new Athletics and Wellness Center.
Thanks to this remarkable community and the tireless efforts of our fundraising volunteers, we reached and exceeded our Campaign fundraising goals. Suffice it to say that during an uncertain time, this incredible outcome isn’t something we take for granted. Your extraordinary generosity will be long remembered.
On behalf of the school and the Board, I would like to recognize Capital Campaign Chair Sharon Teles ’88, a trustee, for leading this phenomenal effort. Huge thanks to Sharon and all members of the Advancement Committee for their extraordinary work in helping to bring our Campaign to a successful completion.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of Ryan Smith, Holly Donaldson Casella, and Diane Briggs, whose work was instrumental to our success.
I would also like to recognize some of the many volunteers whose work sustains our school:
Our Parents’ Association, who support the school’s mission, strengthen our community, and raise funds that contribute significantly to our school’s success. Thank you, PA.
A special thank you to Gwen Golden, last year’s PA President, for her leadership, extraordinary dedication in yet another interesting and challenging year, and the important PA perspective she brought to our Board. And thank you to Jen Kline for taking on the role as the President of the Parents Association this year.
To Sarah Young Kilcullen ‘98, also a trustee, for her continued service as the President of the Alumni Council, and for serving as our Alumni Annual Fund Chair.
Thank you to the Chairs of the 2021-2022 Annual Fund - Ryan Nally and Kurt Nelson - for their energy, enthusiasm, and leadership. Thanks to Ryan Nally for renewing his commitment again this year, and Kristie Godina for joining him as Annual Fund Co-Chair.
The generosity of our community was also on full display through our collective support of the Annual Fund. Last year, 100% of the Board of Trustees supported the Annual Fund, nearly 100% of our parents, and 100% of our faculty and staff made their own donations. We are enormously grateful. And I want to point out that these levels of participation are very rare— something most schools simply never see. They tell a powerful story about who we are as a community.
Each year, we ask the Board of Trustees to lead the way with early participation in the Annual Fund, and it is my pleasure to announce tonight that 100% of our Trustees have once again pledged their support. And once again, 100% of our faculty and staff have also committed their donations to the effort– a remarkable show of support from the teachers and staff members who impact our children’s lives each day.
As Annual Fund volunteers begin to reach out, we hope that each of you will make a meaningful contribution to this critical effort. Please be on the lookout for a Giving Day on October 20, as we hope the community will come together once again in enthusiastic support. I’m also excited to share that we will have the opportunity to come together in person again to continue a wonderful tradition here at NCCS—our biennial Auction. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 29. Many more details to follow, but I encourage you to save the date.
The theme of this year’s Annual Fund is “Firsts” -- celebrating those amazing moments and milestones that all our children experience everyday here – and in that spirit, we ask that you make the Country School Annual Fund your first philanthropic priority. Please know that when you give to the Annual Fund, your gifts make the Country School experience possible-- they directly support every NCCS teacher, staff member and student.
One thing I’ve noticed about “Country School firsts” is that almost every NCCS family can pinpoint the exact moment they first knew this was the place for their child. Something they experienced here matched the hopes and dreams every parent holds for our kids, and Country School just pulled them in.
For my family, it was the first time we set foot on campus. Like most of you, my husband and I were considering all options-- and as you may have noticed, lots of schools use inspiring language to describe what they offer-- so we didn’t grasp the Country School difference until we came here and felt it.
Immediately we knew something truly different and special was happening here-- a mission that went beyond words and came to life around us. We saw students of all ages learning with purpose and joy, alongside teachers who were just as engaged. I’ll never forget standing in the circle as a prospective parent, watching a group of students gleefully drop parachute-clad eggs from the top of Grace House. It was impossible to tell if the students or the teacher were having more fun. In that moment, Country School’s mission in action grabbed us and pulled us in like a magnet.
That moment paved the way for so many powerful firsts-- for our children, whose growth has been fostered by gifted teachers from Mrs. Ingraham’s Beginners 3 classroom all the way to the early days of Upper School— and for us as parents in this special community.
Along the way, I’ve seen how community is built in ways large and small. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in many different capacities over my years here and have been in awe, time and again, at the range of skills, backgrounds, knowledge, and expertise this community has to offer. I’ve learned an enormous amount, benefited from the wisdom of families that came before, and been fortunate to develop wonderful friendships. Our kids need those sturdy foundations, but we parents do too. So, I hope you’ll consider embracing your own Country School firsts along with your kids-- sign up for that first shift at the Book Fair, volunteer for Horizons or engage in any way you can.
One of the best things about my role is getting to meet younger families; I hope to do even more of it this year. And I think I speak for many families who are nearing the end of the journey when I say how much I would love to be able to go back and live it all again.
But we get the next best thing-- because we know what is ahead for you. We see where all of this is going. The way the ups and downs, the challenges and the joy along the way are the real preparation. We get to see our kids fulfill the promise of those early firsts.
If you’re anything like me, you might watch a 4th grader lead Lower School Assembly and have a hard time picturing your own child up there. You might hear those 6th grade speeches and not be able to project forward to that day. Just trust.
What your kids do will astound you. You will see your child find and step into their voice. And in those moments, you’ll look up at the teachers who got them there and see all the pride you feel reflected on their faces. You’ll look around and see fellow families there with you, rooting every child on together.
The growth that happens on this campus is fostered with deep intention. Nowhere else will your child be more known and loved. A lot of schools use these words, but they come to life here. They especially come to life in the times when it isn’t easy, when we as parents need the guidance and partnership of experts who not only know, but deeply care about your child as a whole person.
And it doesn’t just happen in the classroom. From drop-off circle to the dining hall, auditorium or playing field, a helping hand, moment of connection or extra push always seems to arrive right on time. Be it an encouraging word from a teacher or high-five from a beloved Facilities team member, it all adds to that deep well of confidence that will fuel them for lives of purpose and impact.
As adults, I think every one of us has a story from our own lives that we carry around in our hearts-- a story of the right teacher at the right time, the one that made a lasting difference. Country School is full of those teachers. The first time your child experiences that will not be the last.
Recently, one of my kids said something that has stuck with me:
“Country School teachers just make you feel special, like your ideas matter. Like you, specifically, matter.”
Now, Country School isn’t done with our family yet.
There is so much more for our kids to absorb— a lot of growth left for them and, no doubt, for us as parents.
We have three years before we hear the Class of ’25 deliver their “This I Believe” speeches.
But in the meantime
This, I believe
You, specifically, matter.
Country School pulled you here for a reason. This place leaves its mark on all of us-- children, educators, families-- and we leave our mark here too. When we put Country School first, we honor and sustain the greatness of a school that truly puts children first-- and delivers an education that stands the test of time.
So, if you happen to remember one thing from my words tonight, I hope it is this:
Everything you give and bring joyfully to Country School-- your partnership, your talents, your unique background and perspective, your resources in any way you are able — will enrich your life every bit as much as it strengthens this community.
And, like its students, in the years to come, Country School will lead, thrive, and make an impact in the world in ways we can only begin to imagine today.
I thank you for the privilege of serving this special community.