Usually I look forward to the start of the year—the anticipation of starting something new, welcoming students, connecting with colleagues, sharing stories about summer vacations, and planning for a new school journey. However, this September, I started the year flat-footed and sad, having lost a dear friend, Grace Rodriguez on Labor Day.
Grace was a gifted attorney, devoted mom, stellar athlete, and animated storyteller. She was someone I admired greatly for her ability to balance a time-intensive career, family, and friends with total grace; she was aptly named in that way. As her friends and colleagues responded to her death with a collection of tributes and memories, it became abundantly clear the legacy she left behind: she was a mentor to all and one who took time to get to know people well. She prioritized relationships and making meaningful connections with people. As one of her colleagues wrote, “Grace was real. Highest quality work. Guided us to be better at everything we do. Made a difference every day. She was the best person to confide in, share with, strategize with, and celebrate with. I’ve never met anyone remotely like her—she touched countless lives in a dramatically positive fashion.” Grace used her gifts and talents to help others, and in turn, she inspired others to pay that positivity forward. It is her life and legacy that inspired this chapel talk today.
At Grace’s funeral, her husband John spoke about her immense talents; she reminded him of the female version of the school motto he grew up with: “Being a brother for others.” It’s a similar value that we hold dearly on our own campus. “Pro Ecclesia et Pro Patria,” which translates to “For God and For State.” More loosely, this means using our gifts to serve the broader community. When John spoke about Grace in these terms, my mind immediately connected back to a cold January day on the St. Albans campus last year.
Mr. Chandler and I had just heard Hugh Al-Jurf’s mom, Bridget O’Connor speak to the C Form. She described her pro bono case in North Carolina and the years she spent using her expertise as an attorney where she successfully challenged North Carolina voting restrictions to protect the voting rights of all citizens in that state, particularly those in marginalized communities. Directly after that guest visit, we had our super fun, but frigid hymn sing outside. One of you requested as per usual, “Men of the Future, Stand,” and I couldn’t help but turn to Mr. Chandler and say, “Well based on what we heard from Hugh’s mom, I would say women of the future stand, too.” And so today, in honor of Grace and in the spirit of Women’s History Month, I would like to highlight some of the gifted women we’ve heard from, who use their talents to help the broader community.
Declan Power-Sunstein’s mom, Samantha Power, presented to our Form I and II students about her work leading the USAID and the agency’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid and assist Ukrainian refugees, primarily women and children, impacted by the Ukrainian war. Clark Reynold’s mom, Nichole Francis Reynolds who is an attorney, former Capitol Hill chief of staff and currently vice president of Global Government relations at Service Now shared her experience crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., with the late Congressman John Lewis. And in her chapel talk, she encouraged students to “Live your life on purpose, with purpose, and begin doing that NOW!”
First Lieutenant in the Air Force, Sloane Menkes, Ethan and Jacob’s mom spoke to us on Veterans Day about the commitment and sacrifice of U.S. Veterans. Caden and Tristan Sciutto’s parents Gloria Riviera and Jim Sciutto presented to Form I about their experiences as journalists and the ethics needed to do responsible reporting. Currently, Ms. Riviera is spotlighting the childcare crisis in the United States through her podcast, No One is Coming to Save Us.
I would also be remiss not to mention, Dr. Lucy McBride, mom to Henry and George, and Dr. Tara Palmore, mom to Simon, Teddy, and Charlie, for their expertise in infectious diseases as they guided St. Albans with medical advice during covid. They worked tirelessly and donated valuable hours of their time along with other gifted doctors in our community.
Of course, these are just a few of the many talented parents that contribute to St. Albans and beyond. I would like for each one of you to take time to acknowledge the gifts that your parents have and how they contribute to your life and others on a daily basis.
Finally, I would like to highlight one of our very own faculty here at St. Albans, who is just one of the many amazing women on our campus. Suzanne Woods, the first woman to hold the position of Associate Head of School at St. Albans, brilliant attorney, Upper School teacher, NCS field hockey coach, colleague extraordinaire. She has a wicked sense of humor, and she knows how to use it wisely. Ms. Woods works tirelessly everyday on our behalf, and I can’t emphasize enough the tremendous lift she pulled getting us all safely back on campus during covid. Sifting through endless data of air quality ratings, the number of desks per room, square footage of teaching spaces, PCR testing, tent rentals, food trucks, and zoom meetings. It felt like she took a crash course in epidemiology as she expertly navigated D.C. health policies and all things covid. She kept St. Albans afloat and helped us weather a global pandemic. She loves this community, the boys in it, and you should all get to know her well and say, “Hello and thank you” when you see her. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to sit at her lunch table one day or take a class with her in the Upper School. Ms. Woods is someone worth knowing!
And now I have a task for all of you—Men of The Future—there are other people on this campus that are really worth knowing. Get to know your neighbors on the Close at NCS. I’ve been here long enough as both a teacher and a parent to know that sometimes there can be tension between the students at the two schools, but there shouldn’t be. St. Albans and NCS students have so much in common. Take advantage of the coordinate programs, attend the school plays, watch an NCS athletic game, participate in the joint chapel we have planned in the spring, make the most of the shared learning opportunities. Get to know the girls, their interests, and their talents just like you do your classmates at St. Albans. One day you will be standing side by side with them, shoulder to shoulder, in your workplaces and communities, using your collective gifts to face together the challenges of tomorrow. Stand strong with the women of the future to make this world better.