Last Word – Jim Cifelli
The director of the Performing Arts Department writes about the spirit of renewal he feels at the beginning of each academic year.
By Jim Cifelli
Name: Jim Cifelli
Recently Read: 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music
Favorite Trumpet Players: Clifford Brown, Maurice Andre
Favorite Quote: “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”—Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress
Favorite Movie Genre: Science Fiction
Desert Island Recordings: Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley; Maurice Andre, Haydn’s “Trumpet Concerto”; Clifford Brown & Max Roach, “The Blues Walk”
One of the things I like most about teaching is the people you meet. I know it’s cliché, but the students and colleagues I have gotten to know or at least talk with over the years have made the experience of teaching so much more than conveying information, planning assessments, and attending meetings. And yes, attending meetings is on the lower end of the “satisfaction” scale for a teacher and probably for most folks whatever their job.
I think the mission statement has it right when it puts “conversation between student and teacher” at the heart of our school. In other words, people matter most.
For school people, every September is the time we are reminded that these conversations we say are so important, really are important. They can lift up adult and child alike. It’s a great job benefit that I sometimes miss during the summer. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer break (are you listening powers that be?). After nineteen years on the job, one might think I am being a little too Pollyannaish about September but no, I mean it. My guess is that every one of us, teachers and students alike, look at the start of school as something full of possibility for new and renewed human connections. Teachers get to rethink how they will teach a given course, how they can be a better adviser and colleague. Students get an automatic reset on grades, behavior, study habits, and relationships, and we all get to see folks with fresher eyes and minds than we had when we said goodbye in June. Yes, the early days of the school year are crazy, but they are also sweet.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had school-related dreams that begin around the second or third week of August. Some were straight up anxiety dreams about being unprepared. The number of times I dreamed that I failed to wear shoes on the first day of school is beyond counting! On the flip side, it has been years since I had the dream where I did not really graduate from high school. Once the start of school gets a little bit closer, the more the positive aspirational dreams kick in. As a teacher, that has usually been the one where a student tells me how into jazz music they are and how much they are looking forward to learning as many diminished seventh patterns and drop two voicings as possible to expand their vocabulary as an improviser. (I said it was a dream). The point is that summer break gives us all a time to wonder, dream, disengage a little, and put the previous year into perspective before we jump back into the metaphorical rapids in September. We—teachers and students—are lucky that way. Every fall is a fresh start, a new beginning. This year, of course, is the new beginning of new beginnings. The massive multiyear construction and renovation project that we have all experienced in our own special way is coming to an end. I know that for the Performing Arts Department, the idea that there is now a suite of beautiful ensemble spaces, a production studio, two dedicated classrooms, practice rooms, instrument storage, and a big office for all of us to share is gleefully overwhelming. But what excites me most is not how many chairs and amps we can fit into these spaces but how these spaces will change the thing that’s most important in school: human interaction (or, as musicians like to put it, “the hang”). That really is our business after all. Being with each other—students, teachers, and colleagues—working together to learn from each other. Truthfully, I am excited and a little scared. How will the “conversation” be affected by this new facility once the dust has settled? (Sorry, could not resist that one.) The Upper School student lounge is right around the corner from the music suite. Will physical proximity to music rooms mean more kids are playing music during the day? I hope so, but there is no guarantee. On a school-wide level, will the enhancements to the facility, program, and schedule encourage more kids to explore subjects that may seem a little bit off the beaten path of college resume building? Maybe, but we don’t know and may not know for a while. All the more reason to commit to the “hang.” To be with each other, listen to each other, figure out where everything fits, and keep the conversation going no matter what our new desk looks like.
Welcome back everyone.
Change, Growth, and New Beginnings
By Katherine Lee and Kevin D. Ramsey
In this edition of the magazine four alumni share their stories of change and growth, of new beginnings at various stages of their lives. William Miller ’49, a former ambassador to Ukraine, is now deeply involved in the effort to restore US relations with Iran. Dale Crawford ’61 retired after serving nearly thirty years as an elected judge in the state of Ohio, only to return to the bench as a visiting judge taking on new and varied cases throughout the state. Lisa Valkenier ’79 recently moved to her grandparent’s home on Cape Cod after thirty years of teaching undergraduates in Oakland, California, and now teaches entirely online. Damaris Hernández ’97, the first in her family to attend college, went on to NYU Law with the goal of working in public service. Eight years later in 2016, she became the first Latina partner at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Read on to learn how all four of these alumni decided on new trajectories in their lives and thrived in their new beginnings.
The Past and the Present
William Miller ’49
Though Bill Miller’s work as ambassador to Ukraine during the Clinton administration may have been one of his more visible positions, he contends that his current work with Iran for the US-Iran Program, Search for Common Ground, is not as much of a departure from his expertise as it may seem.
“I’ve been working on Iran, particularly, because of the long-term relationship with the country that I’ve had over many years,” he says. “In a strange way, the experience I had in Moscow much later, with the revolutionaries under Mikhail Gorbachev and Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and human rights activist, was informed in many respects by my experience in Iran in the 1950s.”
After attending Williams College and Oxford University, Bill entered the United States Foreign Service in the late 1950s and considers himself very fortunate to have been sent to a somewhat remote post in Isfahan, a city in the center of Iran, which he describes as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
“I felt I knew European culture quite well from my years at Oxford, and I was struck by the profoundly different experience of living in the Middle East,” he says. “I urge all Trinity alumni to visit when they have a chance. They will enjoy it and be enlightened by the experiences they find there. I was very taken by the difference between Iranian civilization and the West, and the opportunity to experience life in a city like Isfahan was a great gift.
“I was sent to Isfahan on assignment and by chance I had the opportunity to experience a very advanced civilization under its own terms and to be a witness and a student that prepared me for the thinking and the policymaking that’s required now.”
Recently, Bill traveled to Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and Shia religious leaders. “I found myself in a situation that was reminiscent of the Garden of Eden in biblical terms,” he says. “We had a dinner in the Grand Ayatollah’s garden in Najaf, which is in the heart of Mesopotamia, and the heart of the Shia world. The garden has been in his family for many generations. It had date palms, and there were nightingales singing in the trees, and there was flowing water and very good, serious conversation.
“The Grand Ayatollah, who was our host, described the date palms as having Christian roots and Islamic leaves. And I knew then that I was in the birthplace of civilization.”
In particular, the setting brought to mind scenes from the classic texts he’d encountered years ago in his studies. “The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden that’s recounted in the Bible and retold in Paradise Lost by Milton,” he says. “There it was in the present reality.
“The biblical story was being retold in the possibilities of living in paradise or in war, death, and devastation.”
Being able to view the intermingling of past and present helps to give Bill perspective as he works to find common ground among different cultures.
“It’s a challenge to understand in the first instance what is happening to create political frameworks that will work to the benefit of the peoples in the region,” he says. “It’s in places like Iran, Iraq, Mesopotamia, Isfahan, Persepolis, that we see beginning and present realities and can make comparisons based on history, philosophy, poetry, and art.
“The institutions that I was a part of shaped me,” Bill says. “The values that I learned—at Trinity School, at Williams College, and from C.S. Lewis, my tutor at Oxford—matter. And they matter to this day. I’m a product of a serious kind of education, and the values that began at Trinity School were real. They’ve stood the test of time and experience.”
Dale Crawford ’61
“People will sometimes take a different path after they have retired, a totally separate path that leads them away from where they’ve been because they didn’t like it or they got sick of it,” says Dale Crawford. “I never planned on retiring.”
Dale served as an elected judge in Ohio for almost thirty years. He was a municipal court judge for about three years before moving to the upper-level court, where he presided for twenty-four years over rape, murder, robbery, and death penalty cases. When he reached retirement age, he was offered a lucrative position at a law firm and thought he would try it out.
“When I ‘retired’ from my elected position and went in with a law firm, I thought that I would like representing people in disputes as opposed to being the one adjudicating those decisions. After about a year, I realized that that was probably a mistake.”
Around that time, he was asked to come back to the court as a visiting judge, and he embraced the opportunity. “It’s always been my belief that even new beginnings have their foundation on historic pathways,” he says. “Then, I was appointed by the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court as a judge on the Court of Claims.”
The visiting judgeship allows him to take many different roles. He gets to take on cases that local judges can’t. He’s tried elected officials, including a judge who was charged with ethics violations, and a state representative who was charged with theft.
“And then I do mundane things like I’m doing right now,” he says. “I’m sitting down taking a judge’s docket who’s ill, having short meetings and doing her paperwork.”
By his estimate, Dale has presided over 900 jury trials, the most of any judge in the state of Ohio. “It has a little bit to do with my judicial philosophy,” he says. “There are judges who don’t like to go to trial. Trials are time-consuming, and judges can make mistakes during them and even have their decisions reversed on appeal.”
Over the years, he became renowned as a fair trial judge. “I don’t mind going to trial. I enjoy it,” he says. “There were a lot of people who didn’t settle out of court because they thought they could get a fair shake from me in the courtroom.
“I’ll have defense lawyers come into my office and say, ‘Judge, if you don’t give this guy probation, we’re going to go to trial,’ and I will say, ‘I don’t negotiate sentences.’
“When you have a judge who makes mistakes or who doesn’t give someone a fair shake, they’ll end up with a bad result,” he explains. “We have to have an independent judiciary and I’ve been happy to uphold that important part of our system of government.”
Lisa Valkenier ’79
An archaeologist trained at Yale University and University of California Berkeley, Lisa Valkenier spent a number of years teaching community college students, several of whom transferred to University of California Berkeley Underground Scholars Initiative. “Underground Scholars is a program created expressly to support the formerly incarcerated, to help them succeed at Berkeley and avoid some of the stigma that’s associated with their backgrounds,” she explains.
When she first began teaching, she felt an acute divide between her own learning experiences and her students’ approach to education. “The first few years were very difficult, because I was teaching based on an old model—the model of how I had learned—where you just sat down and pored over your books and listened to a boring lecture, and you just put up with it. Now I enjoy trying to make science or current events or the various aspects of anthropology appealing.
“When we talk about the scientific method, a lot of my students are suspicious of science. I’ll ask them, ‘Where do you use this method on a daily basis—where you have an idea, you test it out, your idea is either confirmed or rejected, and then you come up with a new idea? What are some examples of this?’
“And then some of them say, ‘Well, I come into a room, and I switch on the light, and the light doesn’t turn on.’” She grows animated, describing the interaction every teacher hopes for—that light bulb moment. “That’s your observation. You’ve formulated a question. What’s the reason for that? Why isn’t the light turning on?
“Every semester there would be a student who’d say, ‘Because you haven’t paid the electricity bill.’ Moments like these were stark reminders of the circumstances of many of my students.”
After teaching community college students in California for twenty years, Lisa was given the opportunity to relocate to a Cape Cod family home following her uncle’s death in 2014.
“It’s a special spot, here in Dennis Port. My grandparents bought it in 1935,” she says. “It’s three acres, which is practically unheard of now, an 1850s house. Uncle Paul lived in the barn like a hermit, monastic, and used it as his artist’s studio, so everything’s sort of old-fashioned and completely outdated. But I’m on a bluff overlooking a tidal pond.”
Now, two years after the move, she laughs, describing the difficulties in clearing out the house.
“I had this idea that I would have a lot more free time to putz around!” Lisa says. “To suddenly become a homeowner at age fifty-five and not know very much about it has been a challenge.
“I’m finding all kinds of Uncle Paul’s things. He was a very odd man, and he had a hard time throwing anything out,” she continues. “For example, I’ve found the formulas he used for mixing paints for his paintings and some copious notes he’d taken back in the 1940s about all the critiques he received about his artwork.
“I feel as if I’m excavating the family history in doing this, and that’s why it’s so hard for me to clean out the house. I feel compelled to look at everything very closely,” says Lisa. “This all ties in with being an archaeologist and being absorbed in details and thinking about minutiae and so forth.”
Lisa continues to teach after her move to Cape Cod. Her courses are now held online and give her the opportunity to work with students while working on her home.
“I learn from my students every semester, even teaching online, and I’m always discovering new ways to help them understand the material,” she says. “I’m interested in the different student perspectives and finding out why they think the way that they do. I like the human interaction.
“Not only am I trying to show them an appreciation for anthropology and to help them hone their academic skills, but, in a number of cases, I am helping them beyond the classroom.”
Damaris Hernández ’97
Damaris Hernández made history when she was named a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in 2016. She is the firm’s first Latina partner.
“My desire to become a lawyer began when I was nine. Being able to speak English went far in my ’hood, and my grandmother, she used to call me abogadita, the little lawyer, because I translated for her in every aspect of her life. I filled out her medical forms, Social Security forms, all that stuff. She spread the word around and soon I was filling out federal forms for my neighbors as well.”
Though Damaris recognized her calling at a young age, she wasn’t sure how to make her dreams come true. “I was the first in my family to go to college, so I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “When I went to Trinity for high school it was the first time that I had left East New York.”
The summer before her senior year at Trinity, Damaris’s father passed away. When her college counselor, Larry Momo, approached her about college applications, she hadn’t given them much thought at that point.
“Mr. Momo said to me, ‘Well, I think you should apply early decision to Harvard,’ and I laughed at him,” Damaris says. “I thought he was kidding.”
When she was accepted, Damaris and Larry Momo both talked with her mother about the possibility of her attending Harvard. Her mother’s initial reaction was an emphatic “no,” as she wanted Damaris close to her and their family, but in the end, the vendors who provided stock for the family’s bodega changed her mother’s mind. “These are people she works with, and they were very impressed. They emphasized what an incredible opportunity it was for me to go to Harvard, and that really helped her to support my going there.”
In the middle of Damaris’s sophomore year at Harvard though, her mother lost the family’s bodega to the city’s Housing and Urban Development refresh program. “My mother sold all that she had in the store and started looking for work, and my sister was about six or seven back then,” Damaris says. “To help my mother, I decided to take time off. It was supposed to be a six-month stint out of school, but it turned into a two-year hiatus.”
Eventually, Damaris made the decision to go back to Harvard and she relocated her mother and sister to Massachusetts. “I worked forty-hour weeks doing various jobs that ranged from washing dishes to maintenance to walking dogs,” she says. “I would go to class on syllabus day and grab my syllabus. I’d read books at night and I would submit papers to my professors by e-mail.”
Upon graduating from Harvard with a degree in literature, Damaris spent a year teaching in Buffalo while applying to law schools in New York City. She went on to receive the prestigious AnBryce Scholarship from NYU School of Law, which provided full-tuition funding, mentorship, and support. At the end of her first year in law school Damaris won a fellowship to work at a firm over the summer.
Surprised by how much she enjoyed the law firm environment, she relished the experience. “The training was amazing, and the cases were fast-paced and high stakes.” After that summer, Damaris says, “I knew that I wanted to be at a firm. I could support my family and I would get the best training to be the best lawyer.”
Despite her initial interest in not-for-profit work, her experience brought her to Cravath. Evan Chesler, then presiding partner at the firm, interviewed Damaris as her last conversation of the day. “He looked at my résumé and asked, ‘Why are you here? It looks like you want to do not-for-profit work,’ and I said, ‘You’re right, I probably do, and I probably will be doing that one day, but right now I need to feed my family, and I want to get the best training.” She recalls that she went on, saying, “I want to be the best litigator, and you’re the people who say you can do that.”
She laughs. “In hindsight, maybe not the right thing to say. But I was being me because I don’t know how to be anyone else. Unapologetically Latina, confident and willing to do my work and unabashed about where I come from. At the time I thought, ‘Okay, it’s either going to work or it isn’t going to work.’”
Eight years later, as an associate at Cravath, Damaris was on maternity leave with her second child when she received the telephone call offering her the opportunity to become a partner in the firm. “I was the first person who ever made partner without being in the office, so I came in, and I got to my floor, and in front of my office there must have been twenty to forty people, and they started clapping. Of course, I started crying. I’m losing all my street cred.
“I walked into my office, and there were balloons and streamers, and there were eight bottles of champagne, expensive champagne—I don’t know who paid for them—one bottle for each year that I had been there. We popped some champagne, I said thank you to people and then I went back home to feed my kids. In the meantime, I kept getting e-mails—from my partners, my clients, the associates. Some of the ones that ended up being the most meaningful were from students in high school. Then there were e-mails from aspiring law students or students in law school who wrote, ‘I grew up in the Bronx, I’m the first in my family. I didn’t think I could do this and you’re an example that I can.’
“I also got messages from a lot of our firm’s support staff who said, ‘I went home and told my daughter yesterday that she could be whatever she wants to be.”
“I didn’t realize what the achievement meant to other people,” she says. “I knew what it meant to me, what it took to be the first. Now I want to make sure that I’m not the last.”
“My new beginning in retirement has been based upon my foundation as an elected judge,” says Dale Crawford. “I was elected six times, and so in retirement I took that pathway, because that’s comfortable for me, and that’s what I’ve done, and I think I do it well, and people keep asking me to do it, so I am pleased to have that opportunity.”
Though he enjoyed being elected, he notes that in many states, judges are appointed rather than elected. “Judicial election is a tough game,” he says. “Every elected official has a temporary job. You look at it and say, ‘Well, okay, I’ve got a six-year term,’ and you kind of plan your life with the understanding that in six years you might not have this job anymore. Somebody’s always there wanting to take your position, and there’s always a risk.
“We go on different paths with different risks and different rewards, and my reward has been a great family and knowing that I have done something that needs to be done in this country. We have to have people strong and smart enough to interpret the laws of this country and for them to not be influenced by political or any other outside forces. Sometimes there are people in the judiciary who don’t understand that and sometimes there are. Somebody’s got to do it, and I’m glad it was me.”
Dale seems to have touched upon a common set of values all four of these alumni share—a willingness to take risks in pursuit of their dreams and a commitment to serve others.
Damaris notes that “I’ve definitely been afraid of the unknown, but that hasn’t kept me from moving forward. My daughter—I call her fearless because she had to fight for her life. She was born at twenty-five weeks, extremely prematurely, weighing just one pound, three ounces. If you met my daughter now, she’s a firecracker, but she has had a much harder fight than me.
“Coming from where I came from, you have to be a little fearless. So my lack of fear, or what may look like a lack of fear, is due to the fact that I wasn’t working hard for myself. I was doing it most immediately for my family, and—though I didn’t realize to what extent at the time—for a bigger community. I knew that I had to do it for them.”
Bill Miller hopes that all of us take the commitment to public service to heart.
“I was a child of the nuclear age,” he says. “I have lived all of my life in a state of war. We all have lived in a state of war, and when we understand that reality, the necessity to have moral and ethical standards that make sense in the chaos of the world that we find ourselves—many of the values that I learned at Trinity School and were deepened by further education and experience led me to the decisions that I’ve made. But I have to say that having been born into the world that I was born into, I had no other choice.
“The time that I spent in Iran was formative in the deepest sense,” he says. “My sons were born in Iran, and many friendships that began there for me in the late 1950s and the early 1960s continue to this day.
“But going in, I had no preconditions or expectations,” he says, “except that I was prepared for, and open to, a new experience—the experience of societies in transition, revolution, breaking out from oppression of various kinds. It was a revelation and a welcome experience that I did not expect.”
The experience prepared him for his work in the United States Senate, working to end the Vietnam War through legislation, and for his work as staff director on the Church Committee, a Senate Select Committee that studied government intelligence operations. Years later, as ambassador to Ukraine, Bill felt the global interconnectedness of his experiences.
“The involvement of Russia in the Middle East is a consequence of oil politics and the historic belief on the part of the Russians that they have a mandate in the leadership of the world. They occupy the most territory of any country on earth, and they have a role to play. We hope it’s a civilized role—they’re quite capable of high civilization as well as low brutality.
“We all have that capacity. We can be a scourge to mankind, or we can contribute to improving the Garden of Eden,” he says. “I’m an optimist by nature, and I believe that it’s far preferable to being a pessimist. The experience that I’ve had compels me to keep going and doing what I can, even at my great age. I enjoy it. I relax, too, when I can, but as long as I have the capacity to make a contribution, I will.”
“I do feel a need to serve others,” Lisa Valkenier agrees. “So that ties into the next stage of my life. Here I am, still connected to California with online teaching, but what can I contribute locally in the future?”
On the Cape, she works to support the local economy by reclaiming and restoring her family home. “I know my grandparents were very happy here and I want to make this a happy place again,” Lisa says. So she takes concrete steps toward that abstract goal.
“I resuscitated my grandparents’ vegetable garden, which has lain fallow for probably forty years,” she says. “I live on a giant blob of sand, but there is an area with fertile soil. I have way too many zucchini and summer squash and some other vegetables, and it turns out you can give them to the Family Pantry of Cape Cod.”
As for the unexpected, she is at peace with the present moment. “I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now, what things will be like.”
She adds, “How many of us really do?”
Last Word – Mario Maullon
By Mario Maullon
The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
The Shawshank Redemption
“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
– Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption
“1.21 gigawatts! 1.21 gigawatts. Great Scott!”
– Doc Brown in Back to the Future
“So, we’re going to need more space.” My wife and I reached this conclusion rather quickly when we happily learned that our little family of two would, in a few months’ time, be increasing by one. While our nice one-bedroom apartment had served us well, we understood that it would not be enough space for a growing baby. So we set out and found a big two-bedroom apartment with room for a child to roam and play.
Perhaps it was a case of new parent naiveté, but after excitedly bringing home our new daughter, we found that we didn’t want or even need all the space we now had. We parked the bassinet in our living room, and because we were up and down every few hours for feedings, diaper changes, and rocking her to sleep, we found it easier to camp out on the couch than to navigate between our bedroom and her nursery. Sure, we would leave to do things like shower and get the mail, but we never ventured very far. We were completely content occupying that eight-by-ten-foot island during those early weeks, but this didn’t last long. As she grew and learned to do things like roll over, crawl, stand on her own, and (gasp!) walk, we swiftly realized that our initial inclination for more room was very real and very necessary. It’s over a year later, and her ever-growing radius of interest leads her into every nook and cranny of our living space.
As parents it is our responsibility to give our child the space to develop and explore the world around her while also establishing safe boundaries. I have a very similar responsibility as an educator. The tricky part is determining when someone needs more or less space. As our daughter becomes a more proficient walker, we find ourselves hovering close by and intervening when her curiosity takes her to the edge of a safe space and to potential dangers like staircases and the “big kid” jungle gym at our local park. As a teacher, I find myself grasping for a similar balance with my students—allowing them the freedom to investigate a topic in whatever way is meaningful to them, but guarding against them straying too far from the educational path we are traveling together. It is not that I need to keep them away from some dangerous “sharp corner” of information; rather, it is my responsibility to encourage them to put one foot in front of the other as we push off from the known and traverse the unsteady terrain of the unknown.
Caring for and nurturing one’s growth—physically, emotionally, or academically—is also about stepping back and creating space. In our apartment, we give our daughter all the space she wants to explore, comforted by the fact that we baby-proofed everything from wall to wall. The level of freedom she has in our home has helped her develop a sense of autonomy and independence, as displayed on a number of occasions…including the time she dragged a footstool from one room to help her climb onto the couch in another. I notice similar moments in the classroom. There are times throughout the year when the material we are covering is best learned through independent exploration and discovery rather than direct instruction. During these times, some students might prefer to have me next to them, providing step-by-step guidance as they travel down a dark hallway of new information. But students often understand much more—about the topic and about themselves—once they learn to work in the uncomfortable space of not knowing if their approach will yield the desired result or if they’re even going in the right direction. As their teacher, I nudge students just far enough into this uncertain area that they discover new information and gain the confidence to venture further next time.
Every day is as much a learning experience for my wife and me as it is for our daughter. As she continues to grow and learn at what seems to be an exponential pace, she teaches us how to manage the space around her. Similarly, my students help me understand the kind of space they need in order to learn. Teaching is a field in which the educators’ management of space is crucial to their students’ growth. Give too much space and students may feel lost on their educational journey; too little space, however, may hinder their ability to learn independently and to head out into the unknown. I continue to be struck by the connections between parenting and teaching. The lessons I learn in one domain informs the other, and I am confident that what I learn will help me navigate the unfamiliar territory of a new year of fatherhood and of school.
Alumni Describe Trinity’s Times of Change
Expansion and Change—Alumni Describe Trinity’s Times of Change
By Katherine Lee and Kevin D. Ramsey
Physical expansions and changing environments have always been part of the fabric of the Trinity experience. Before Trinity built its current, permanent location at 139 West 91st Street, the School was housed in eleven different locations in Manhattan—beginning at Trinity Church Wall Street, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of New York in 1776, and including a four-story walk-up owned by William Astor on Seventh Avenue and Broadway decades before it became Times Square. At Trinity’s Madison Avenue and 59th Street location the ground floor business was home to a reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac. The sound of battle between ironclad warships was, by all accounts, a distraction to the students. Trinity’s lack of a permanent home often meant less-than-optimal facilities for learning.
The School’s arrival at West 91st in 1895 was largely a reflection of the shifting demographics in the city. The Upper West Side had only recently become available for development and families were flocking to the newly available homes…far from the bustle of the city. Having finally arrived upon a permanent location, the School was able to offer students a full complement of activities: organized sports, theater, and school publications in addition to college-oriented academics. Despite its early nomadic history, Trinity found fortitude in an enduring and continually refined educational purpose.
The commitment to construct a school-specific building, for only the second time in its history, meant that Trinity was finally positioned to act on a longstanding goal of expansion, which included acquiring St. Agnes Chapel in the mid-1940s, repurposing the Annex and outdoor athletic facilities as the student body expanded, building the Hawley Wing and Trinity House in response to West Side urban renewal, and creating a distinct Middle School at the end of the twentieth century.
As Trinity embarks upon its most recent capital-building project, it seemed appropriate to talk with alumni about their experiences during other, similar periods of expansion and change, and to get a sense of what their experiences were during these periods in the School’s history.
St. Agnes Chapel
In response to a rapidly changing demographic and influx of immigrants in the early 1940s, St. Agnes Chapel was acquired from Trinity Church and torn down to create a larger campus for the school.
“The chapel building did seem to disappear very quickly,” says Tracy F. Wichmann ’47. “I don’t recall it being around for very long—just a short period of time when we used it as a playground.”
He remembers exploring the chapel before its demolition, and playing with friends in the building after school. “We would go through the chapel and…play hide-and-seek in the pews and things like that. It was fun to chase around in the big building,” he says. “It was a spooky kind of place, but it had its share of stained glass and was very pretty inside when the sun was out.”
After St. Agnes was demolished in 1944, the resulting open space was used as an athletic field. “I remember going out onto the athletic field, and you could see on the east wall of the Annex the outline of where an older building had been,” says Francis “Frank” J. Sypher Jr. ’59, who started at Trinity in 1947, just three years after the demolition of St. Agnes Chapel. “You could see the difference in the brickwork. Below the outline was just coarse brickwork, and the brickwork beyond it, above it, and toward the street side was finished, decorative stone. So it was clear that some building had stood there, but there was no clue as to what it was and why it wasn’t there anymore. I was quite puzzled by this for many years, until I found out about St. Agnes Chapel.”
“There hadn’t been any major changes to what was originally the parish house of the chapel, called the Annex,” Frank explains. “The two buildings were separated by an alleyway, and in order to get from one to the other for some of our classes, we had to go outside and into the weather, whatever it happened to be, and cross a few steps to get inside the Annex.
“Of course, I wasn’t aware of any of these details, at the time,” he says. “There was just this open space and the building called the Annex. Nobody talked about what it had been before. Nobody ever mentioned St. Agnes Chapel. Nobody ever mentioned that there had been a church on the property. It was as if the whole idea of it had been completely forgotten.”
In the summer of 1948 a structure was built connecting the Annex and the main building of the School. Frank continues, “When we went from 139 to our art classes in the Annex, we had to go outside in order to get through the door to the Annex. And then they put up this makeshift sort of zigzag brick passageway. It was nothing more than a brick wall with a roof over it and a few steps constructed so that you would go out through the School, make an abrupt right turn, then an abrupt left turn, and then into the Annex.”
Over the next decade, Frank observed many different uses and configurations within the Annex, including the Trinity Exchange, a secondhand store stocked by donations from parents and families; office space for the Trinity Times; miscellaneous classrooms; and St. Agnes Hall, a theater and performance space.
“St. Agnes Hall was an open space, completely flexible, and they had dances in there sometimes, too, and parties,” he recalls. “The Annex was my favorite building, actually, because it had so much atmosphere to it. The structure of it was very solid, and there were dark halls and passageways that were interesting because they seemed kind of mysterious, and the St. Agnes Hall at the top also had a mystique about it that was very appealing to me.”
West Side Urban Renewal and the Hawley Wing
“Since the mid-eighteenth century when it moved from the shadow of Trinity Church to Varick Street, Trinity recognized at least the challenge of changing neighborhoods and the need for some response…. The West Side Urban Renewal Area located just a few blocks north … enabled Trinity to piggyback its private institutional needs on the public cause of neighborhood renewal, drawing, in part, on public resources.”
—Charity & Merit: Trinity School at 300 by Timothy Jacobson
“The Trinity House/Hawley Wing project was trustee-driven and trustee-managed at its core, and presaged a future where activist board members, bigger budgets, and higher standards for administrative performance would be the rule, while the internal educational life of the School would be more and more faculty-managed with periodic episodes even of student influence.”
—Charity & Merit: Trinity School at 300 by Timothy Jacobson
Outside school walls, students like Frank noticed that the neighborhood was still changing. “There were tenement buildings right smack up against the tennis courts,” he says. Sometimes, objects from within school walls, “often a tennis ball, soccer ball, etc.,” would accidentally fly over the fence and out into the street. “As there were no gates that could be opened, and the fence was pretty high, it would have been difficult for us to retrieve anything on the other side,” Frank says. “Somebody would have had to go back inside the school and out the front door and—if the ball had gone out on the 92d Street side—around the block to find it. However, if there were neighborhood kids watching us, as there usually were, one of them would cheerfully run and get the ball and toss it back to us.
“Unfortunately, this was, for the most part, the total extent of our interaction with the neighborhood kids. Looking back, one realizes that this was one of the many missed opportunities that surrounded us. There could have been productive interactions with neighborhood people in connection with sports and perhaps much else. I doubt that the thought ever even crossed the minds of people in the administration—or of the boys. We simply accepted our situation—as if in a castle on an island in the Upper West Side, surrounded by an iron fence and a social moat.”
In the following decade, productive interactions between Trinity and its immediate community became essential and frequent as plans for the Hawley Wing were developed.
Jay Lewin ’71 remembers the tension between Trinity and its neighbors, though most students felt personally unaffected. “I think we were aware of the neighborhood conflict, and mostly did not care about it. We all understood that this was all going to become a very large project, great for Trinity, although we weren’t involved in any way,” says Jay. “We saw that there was a grand scheme of things to emerge eventually with or without community support. Though there were a number of community forums held at the school, hosting the community to come in and get questions answered and see drawings of what it was going to look like and for them to understand that there were going to be a number of low-income houses in the tower.
“I was the only one who ever mentioned anything about litigation and related stuff going on because I had taken over, in my own parents’ household, the landlord/tenant fights. So at a very early age I was tasked with some of the responsibility, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I guess it was the origin of my legal career, starting out in landlord/tenant law.”
Giving the Middle School Its Own Home—The Henry C. Moses Building
“More space generally makes possible more flexible scheduling, double periods, more elective classes at better times, less fragmented school days, [and] a more congenial atmosphere. However it finally got parsed, the upshot was three unified school divisions. Unity brought a heightened sense of place and belonging, especially important in early adolescence.”
—Charity & Merit: Trinity School at 300 by Timothy Jacobson
Annunziata F. Sahid ’02 was in the Upper School by the time the Middle School building was complete, so her experience was of the split Middle School. “When I was in fourth grade I couldn’t wait to wear a kilt, which we got to wear in fifth and sixth grade.” She recalls. “Shedding the jumpers and wearing a kilt made us feel like grownups and was a sign that we were at the top…of the grades and of the building. No matter where you were in the School, if you were in a kilt people knew that you were the oldest kids in the 139.” Of course, by the time that Annunziata was in the upper grades of Middle School, the dress code goals had changed. “When I started seventh grade, and had to pass by high schoolers in the swamp, I remember thinking, ‘I cannot wait to wear jeans.’ Creating the Middle School alleviated that pressure, and gave a physical space to students in that important time of transition.
“People who experienced the Middle School building only, and not the split Lower Middle School and Upper Middle School, will tell you that was the greatest time of their life,” she says.
Elizabeth “Liz” Aab ’98, who experienced the split Middle School, also saw the importance of having a unified division as a much-needed and concrete response to student needs within the School. “I have very vivid and clear memories of what it felt like to be a fourth grader, or even a fifth grader or sixth grader, but what it was like to be a seventh or eighth grader, I don’t remember very well,” she says. “We didn’t really have an area of the school that belonged to us. We were just kind of in the hallway.
“It makes a big difference to have windows,” says Liz. “At the time, I didn’t know any better, but every day merged into the next. You’re not outside and seeing daylight, except when you’re on the ‘turf.’ Eating in the Dining Room felt as though you were underground. As seventh or eighth graders, we weren’t in a lounge that had windows. We were just in the hallways, sitting along the benches.”
Effects of Construction
Though the alumni have observed the results of improved facilities, many don’t have clear recollections of the experience of ongoing construction.
“I wish I remembered more about the actual construction that went on in the 1950s, but there was a lot of it going on, and much of it was so temporary that it didn’t make such a strong impression on me,” says Frank.
Jay found the difference in quality of life between construction and finished result to be utterly unremarkable. “I was very much aware from photographs of what had been there, but didn’t think about it much when we were let loose to the field,” he says. He claims to have “absolutely no recollection” of the actual first days in the new Hawley Wing. “I remember there were new blackboards and new chairs, but I don’t remember anything but a smooth transition.”
He laughs at the unquestioning acceptance and practicality in his childhood response. “We have classes in a new building. Those who threw erasers have longer halls in which to throw erasers,” he says.
“It may be that there were people who were affected by the construction, to some degree,” says Frank. “I certainly was not aware of anything of that kind for myself. My classmates and I would all go to the Dining Room at the same time, and whether the Dining Room was on the top floor of the 139 building or on the second floor of the Annex, it didn’t make too much difference to us really.”
Jay and Frank observed that it was the adults rather than students who were inconvenienced by the changes. In fact, though they were separated at School by a decade, both remember Trinity’s head chef and “dietician” Miss Stewart as making a much bigger impression, recalling her with enormous pleasure.
“Someone always brings up Miss Stewart and her London broil. And to this day I hunt for apple crisp that’s as good as hers,” Jay says. “Miss Stewart used to stand at the end of the cafeteria line counting exactly what everyone took, and we were limited to a little salad, the main course, crackers, and a roll—and it was the best food in the world. We all have extremely fond memories of Miss Stewart and her food.”
Jay’s memory of construction is colored by his observation of Miss Stewart’s response to it. “I remember that Miss Stewart was particularly upset by the construction activity, because she claimed that there was dust coming into her kitchen,” he recalls. “She had a chef working for her named Teddy, who said there was no dust. But I remember vividly Miss Stewart running her fingers over the plates.”
Jay reiterates that he did not feel the disruption to the same extent as the adults did and offers an explanation. “The school did a great job of not skipping a beat in terms of classrooms and utilization of existing facilities. I think we were pretty much unaffected,” he says. “The noise was not overwhelming. I’m guessing that we enjoyed the upset. There was blasting and there were whistles for notifying when the blasting would occur. Kind of an entertaining moment for everybody.”
Despite the blasting, the School provided an emotional and communal stability for many alumni.
“Trinity was so special to me because when I had a chaotic home life, Trinity was my safe place,” says Annunziata Sahid. “Teachers, administration, friends, faculty, staff…every person at every level of Trinity was there for me.”
In the 1940s, Tracy Wichmann literally called Trinity home. When Tracy’s parents divorced, he moved crosstown to live with an aunt and uncle who resided three blocks from Trinity. But when his aunt and uncle divorced, Tracy and his cousin were sent to live at the School in a building just east of the Annex that had been part of St. Agnes Chapel.
“Interestingly enough, I don’t think it bothered me in the least,” he says. “The School was three blocks from where my aunt and uncle lived, where I’d been living for about three or four years. School was so close, it was in the same neighborhood. These were my classmates. The whole high school had, perhaps, 200 people, and we all knew each other, and so it wasn’t like being isolated or in a strange place. It was just an accepted fact, ‘Oh, now you live here, too.’”
This sense of community beyond academics is what makes many Trinity alumni treasure their memories of physical spaces beyond the classroom—mealtime with Miss Stewart, playing in open spaces, or running around St. Agnes Chapel.
“There’s something about the old gym that will never be replaced,” adds Annunziata. “If an event was taking place in the big gym, it meant that someone was going to be paying attention. It was a place of significance always and it felt like an auditorium or a community center. It was a gathering place that bridged the gap between the Lower and the Upper Schools. It was like the turf, because any gym time or turf time you had meant that something was going on…something other than class.”
In recalling the physical spaces of Trinity, it’s unsurprising that alumni, regardless of class year, recall vividly the spaces where they engaged in physical fitness and activity. Liz Aab, class of 1998, played volleyball and basketball in the gym. “Volleyball was probably one of the things I remember most about my time at Trinity. I remember spending a lot of time playing volleyball, and many of my closest friends still are from my volleyball team. I have so many nice memories of the old gym as well.”
She describes distinct sensory associations. “The sound of rubber [soles] squeaking on the floor is what I think about when I think about Trinity sometimes, because we had that nice polished wood floor,” she says. “We also used the gym for dances. I remember organizing a high school dance: going to the theater district in midtown and picking the lights—like a disco ball—and making decisions about whether to have a smoke machine. When the evening came, I remember looking around, listening to the music, and seeing my classmates having a good time.
“It just felt great. Since then I’ve really liked organizing activities that bring people together,” she says. “I like recreating that community feel. It’s something I associate with the old gym, and it has stayed with me to this day.”
Of course, some memories are sweeter than others and the original gym that had been on the fourth floor of the School presented some athletic challenges. Tracy remembers that Trinity had many athletic rivalries, and of those, he found the basketball rivalry to be the most difficult, as “the basketball court we had was not a full-size basketball court.”
In order to adhere to standard court size, Trinity’s basketball court required two lines in order to represent a standard half-court. When one team gained possession of the ball, he explains, their half-court line became the line farther from the defending team’s basket. “Well,” Tracy says, “we were quite sensitive to the issue that our court wasn’t a real one.”
Frank was no more impressed by the gymnasium built during his high school years at Trinity. “Around 1956, that large space where the apse of St. Agnes Chapel had been was used to construct a large gymnasium. It went up very fast,” he says “Most of us were pretty skeptical about the quality of the construction. It was just cinder blocks. Basically, there were cinder block walls on two sides and a very, very flimsy-looking steel structure for a roof. Just flimsy girders, and then something not much better than corrugated iron slapped on top to keep the rain out.”
The gym was used as a space for exams, dances, and for commencement ceremonies as well as athletics, and though Frank notes that “there was a large wooden floor marked off for basketball games,” even that improved feature did not sway his overall opinion. “Certainly it did not harmonize with any of the other buildings at all,” he says. “It had a very temporary look.”
Decades later, Liz and her classmates initiated a project to paint a blue-and-yellow mural on the walls of that same “temporary” gym just before it was demolished at the end of her junior year. The mural had silhouettes of athletes participating in various sports. “Putting that mural on the wall felt a little bit like a parting gift,” she says. “But [it] also confirmed our feeling that this was a space we owned and could use as we saw best. By the time I was a junior, it really felt like we owned the whole building, actually. This was our space.”
This sense of ownership and responsibility set a tone for her last years at Trinity. A junior when construction of the Middle School and new athletic facilities began, Liz knew she would graduate before the facilities were complete. Yet she recalls the sense of community she and her classmates felt with regard to the project. “I remember thinking we really did need two gyms and all the other classrooms,” she says. “I understood we were building something that was going to be good for the school and good for the students who were in the years below me.
“Yeah, okay you didn’t have the gym your senior year, and then you weren’t going to benefit from it later on, but that was fine,” she says. “You felt like you were helping to build this new space.”
Liz also felt that the school welcomed and considered input from the students who were actually using the spaces. “For example, we always had a long line for the water fountain during timeouts, or during breaks between the games,” she says. “I remember asking Coach [Jan] Ryan if the new gym could have two water fountains—and now the new gym has two water fountains.”
Justin E. Lubell ’02 didn’t have a problem with the old gym, but when he experienced the new gym for the first time, he found it to be jaw-dropping. “The sense of wonderment that we had when we returned to the building after the construction was complete was incredible, because not only were we experiencing the new building—we were experiencing a big leap forward.” He remembers walking around the new gym with his friends, six of them spreading out in the expansive space, mouths agape. “This was the most impressive school gym any of us had seen.”
Transition From Old to New
Justin observed that the surprise and pleasure in new facilities is due to the nature of the memory. “You have a sort of recollection that keeps shifting over time,” he says. “When I go back to the School now, and even when I went back to those areas of the School when I was a sophomore or senior in high school, I was really struck by how much nicer they were. Not that we had a bad experience before the construction, but just because the new facilities remained impressive even relative to other spaces that we encountered over time.
“I remember vividly what it felt like to walk into the computer lab,” says Justin. “I loved computers and Miss Rowan, the computer teacher back then. And I can remember the placement of all the computers within that space.”
The pace of technological evolution during his time at Trinity gives him a sense of the magnitude of improvement in the school’s current developments. “Those types of changes happened over my time and were very productive,” he says. “So when I was presented with the current set of plans for what the school could look like and how it would shift and morph, it was great. ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ I hope that many of the people who went to Trinity hope or dream or imagine that their children will be able to go there, too.”
Jay remembers the moment he recognized Trinity’s transition from old to new. “I remember [Middle School Principal and Teacher of Science] H. John Stander winding the clock every morning, setting the class bells. There was a tape mechanism inside it that used IBM-style punched holes to signal the bells to ring.
“I liked those old classrooms. I liked the sound of the doors closing. I liked the lock sets on the doors,” he says. “When we moved into the new school, for me it felt like we were like every high school in America. Cinder block walls, modern fluorescent lighting. I did have a sense of missing the old school. I don’t think I’m inserting modern nostalgia into that feeling I had—I liked the tiled floors of the old building. I liked the dark oak doors, the single-vision glass doors, the way they closed.”
Such furnishings supported the traditions he cherished.
“I remember being a part of the glee club, and every year we went up to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine for a Christmas service. I remember the enormity, the cathedral sound of all the kids of glee clubs from all the schools getting together. Talk about uplifting. I’ve never been a religious person, but that was about as close to an annual religious experience as I’ve ever felt. That was all part of what made Trinity a great experience for me, those kinds of things.”
Sometimes the fixtures of lasting and meaningful tradition are difficult to see during transitional years. To celebrate the completed Middle School building project, Trinity erected a bell tower atop the new structure, complete with a bell salvaged and preserved from St. Agnes Chapel, the building that had originally stood on that site.
“Our class gift was the bell tower,” Liz remembers. “I recall feeling somewhat honored to have our class gift designated as something so permanent and prominent in the new building, but also feeling disconnected from it. After all, we never had a bell tower or traditions around bell ringing while I was there; the bell tower really was a gift for the next generation of Trinity students, not an item of nostalgia for our own.”
But Annunziata, only four years behind Liz, attended the inaugural ceremony for the new building. And for Annunziata, the ringing of the bell is an invaluable part of her memory of that day.
“It was a little bit chilly that day. I remember that,” she says. “I was a freshman in high school, so that was a big day to begin with—coming back from Frost Valley where you saw your grade doubled with new students from outside Trinity. But it was also really beautiful. It’s probably one of the most beautiful memories I’ve ever had at Trinity, having the entire school on the turf, completely silent, listening to Dr. Moses talk about the significance of the building.
“And then hearing that bell ring,” she says. “It felt like, as a community, we had all accomplished something, something lasting and important.”
To learn more about the history of Trinity School and its campus, see:
Charity & Merit: Trinity School at 300 by Timothy C. Jacobson, University Press of New England, 2009 (https://www.upne.com/1584657484.html)
St. Agnes Chapel: 1892-1943, Second Edition, by Francis J. Sypher Jr. ’59, Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 2014 (https://www.scholarsbooklist.com/Caravan_Books.html)
Classroom Comment – Amanda Lopez ’16
By Amanda Lopez ’16
A Grade Twelve Student Writes About a Sense of Place
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Harold and Maude
Favorite Sports Team:
New York Mets
I have been a student at Trinity for a very long time. Trinity’s renovation will be an afterthought in my future memories of school. I’ll probably think of it in an “oh right, that happened” way, the same way I think of a boring season thirteen B-plot in a television series. I will remember the construction for its small annoyances, most significantly the disappearance of the Long Hall and the Dining Room and the rearrangement of classroom and communal spaces. Trinity still exists in my mind as it did when I entered kindergarten in 2003. I am always surprised to see that the Long Hall is blocked off when I enter the Upper School lobby. My brain cannot accept that the building where I spent years of my life is missing a hallway.
I’ve heard a lot of conflicting opinions about place and home and the places that we call home. In the summer before my freshman year, I attended a week of the University of Virginia’s Young Writers Workshop. The theme was place and they sent this big packet with a great essay that centered on the phrases “you cannot step twice into the same stream” from Heraclitus and the less metaphorical “you can’t go home again” from Thomas Wolfe. We never truly return to any place because we have changed and the places we leave have changed when we go back. A place exists as a combination of the way it looks, smells, feels, and sounds at one moment in time. I’m not exactly the world’s greatest optimist, but all of that is a little too dark for me to embrace.
The idea that we can’t go home again terrifies me because I am a nostalgia junkie. I like to walk into a place and know that it has looked and felt the same for a long time and that I can relive old memories to my heart’s content. I did homework in the Lower School Library all through Middle School so that I could smell the books, sit in those nice wooden chairs at the strangely bumpy tables, and find the Paddington books in the same place as I first did in 2007. The books allowed me to share experiences with Lower School students who came before me. We never met, but I learned their names from creamy-yellow due date cards. I felt left out, so I took to writing my name next to the old ones, the latest of which have due dates in the mid-1990s. This is my earliest memory of my love for the analog. I asked Mrs. Hipkens, the librarian, to teach me how to use the card catalog. She told me it was severely outdated. But that didn’t matter; no one was using the due date cards anymore, either—except me.
The Upper School Library looms in the minds of Trinity students in Grades Kindergarten through Six as the place where the scary-cool older smart kids who call them cute do their work and marinate in each other’s intelligence and sophistication. Physically, in distance and appearance, it is as far away from the Lower School Library as it could possibly be.
Modest and cozy in a gray woolen sort of way, the Upper School Library looked a lot smaller the first time I entered it as a freshman than it did during Middle School introduction-to-research seminars. I have practically lived there for my three years of Upper School. It was where I made new friends and studied Spanish vocabulary and hoarded books (in which I wrote my name on all the due date cards) for my American History research paper. It’s where people shared viral YouTube videos with me and people with nothing better to do watched while I photocopied pages from textbooks I did not want to carry home. And it’s where my friends named the two pigeons that liked to stand outside on the library windows and look out on the “turf.” I think the brown one was called Martha.
Trinity does an excellent job of preserving beloved traditions and, even more crucially, the small details that make up the Trinity experience. When I visit my Lower School teachers in their classrooms, I find great comfort in the fact that there are still little plastic boxes of Crayola markers and crayons and tiny desks and cubbies labeled with names and covered in contact paper. The cast of characters in the Lower School has changed significantly in the past twelve years. Wonderful teachers have retired. Half of the people who were in Lower School at the time I was have graduated from Trinity and entered college. Greater diversity of all sorts now exists in the teacher and student populations. Those sorts of changes represent good and necessary progress. Continuity of place and ethos, however, hold massive value in a functional and rich culture like ours, one in which students and teachers fill the spaces (yes, even the windowless Upper School classrooms) with wonderful discourse and happy times.
Last spring, the changes in the way Trinity looks went from negligible to life-altering, seemingly overnight. I hardly remember the appearance of the new Dining Room in 2005. If you had asked me six months ago, I might have said that the most significant change I had observed at Trinity was the removal of an especially obnoxious breathing-triggered hand dryer in the second-floor girls bathroom. For years, I carried romantic fantasies of nostalgic romps through the school during my senior spring. I imagined sitting sprawled among the giant stuffed animals in the Lower School library rereading the Paddington books I loved at age seven, hopping on over to the Dining Room to eat my last toasted bagel filled with baked potato and bacon bits (my Trinity specialty), cartwheeling down the Long Hall, running a lap around the “turf” voluntarily (for the first time ever), and plopping down to rest on a sofa in the Upper School Library. Now, I do not have a clear picture of what any of those spaces are going to look like after I graduate.
Pigeons, bacon bit bagels, wooden chairs, and the smell of books and toner make up the places at Trinity I love—but when all of those things are gone, will the places be gone, too? This is where I run into problems with the “we can never go home” theory of place. I prefer a different way of looking at things. In Beloved, Toni Morrison sets forth the idea that the spirit and memory of a place stay around forever, even after all the people and buildings involved in the memory are gone. It is creepy to think about the ghosts of memories hanging in the air eternally, but it comforts me at a time of such great transition in our School and in our city. Just as I can imagine the Manhattan skyline without those toothpick monster buildings, I will be able to conjure the ghosts of the Long Hall and every tiny, memorized detail of the libraries when I come back to visit after the renovation.
Outside of School, in the subway or just on the street, I look for small moments of solitude in crowds of strangers. There is no pressure to be or do anything because no one around me cares. Those moments are a huge part of the reason I love New York. The reason I love Trinity is exactly the opposite. It is nearly impossible for me to walk through a hallway at Trinity without seeing someone I know. People know my name and notice my accomplishments. Obviously, a new building is not going to make that go away.
The nostalgia junkie in me wants to be sad about Trinity’s long-awaited facelift, but I cannot bring myself to feel so sad that I am compelled to search frantically for old photos or to mourn that I missed an opportunity to say goodbye to my beloved card catalog. The buildings will be new and shiny and big and different, but I hope that the spirit of the place will remain the same.
Trinity Fund Supporter since 2004