The Emma Willard School community joined together on MLK Day for a series of webinars and an alumnae panel discussion in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. The day was designed to allow space for reflection and exploration of the past, present, and future of justice and equity in the United States and around the world.
Head of School Jenny Rao welcomed the Emma community to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day experience with her own reflections on one of Dr. King’s speeches, shared in 1967 to a group of middle school students. His message was one of deep belief, determination, and commitment. Ms. Rao encouraged the community to nurture a deep belief in their own dignity and worth, a determination to achieve excellence in whatever they choose to do, and a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. She then dedicated the day’s celebration to the memory of the first Black student at Emma Willard School, Anne Spencer Thurman ’50. Anne’s family was deeply connected to the King family, and her father, Dr. Howard Thurman, strongly influenced MLK’s work. (A portrait of Anne, painted by fellow student Janet Kadesky Ruttenberg ’49, is set to be unveiled and displayed in the Bicentennial Hall of Slocum on February 1, marking the beginning of Black History Month.)
Co-leaders of the Black Latinx Student Union (BLSU) Emma S. ’22 and Asia F. ’22 shared what MLK Day means to them and introduced a video of other community members sharing their own reflections.
After a virtual Soul Train dance party, the community was sent out to join their choice of eight workshops which made up the morning programming. Students and faculty shared their insight on an array of topics, from environmental racism to the adultification of Black girls.
In the afternoon, we welcomed six esteemed alumnae—Vivian Brady-Phillips ’85, Devin Van Exel Glenn ’99, Sandy Jemison ’69, Dr. Kim Leary ’78, Leslie Mac ’94, and Pascale Stain ’14—to share their journeys after Emma. In 1947, Dr. King wrote in his article, The Purpose of Education, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” In the panel discussion, we celebrated the many ways that our alumnae have aligned their lives with Dr. King’s goal by living out the Emma Willard School mission
: “To proudly foster in each student a love of learning, the habits of an intellectual life, and the character, moral strength, and qualities of leadership to serve and shape their world.”
In her closing remarks, Head of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Christine Gilmore asked the Emma community to consider this:
A quality education will bring you a small measure of ease and peace for sure, but as Dr. King says, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Let’s all strive to put the spotlight on ourselves and hold ourselves accountable for our own individual growth while simultaneously, we, together, travel our own journey to co-create the Emma Willard School we want to be.