Coeducation celebration closes with a powerful 'Voice'

Exeter culminates a yearlong commemoration of coeducation's 50 years with a grand finale.

Patrick Garrity
June 9, 2021

The finale of Exeter’s commemoration of a half-century of coeducation unfolded this week in the same fashion as the entire yearlong celebration that proceeded it: virtually and powerfully.

“Our Voice at the Table,” the culminating event observing the impact of coeducation at the Academy, featured conversations between alumnae and former faculty, musical performances and remarks from Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 and three former or current trustees. The 90-minute online event was hosted by Gloria Riviera ’92, a former ABC News correspondent and founder of It Must Be Said Media.

“In the past year, we have recognized the pioneers of coeducation, explored the journeys of alumnae today, and discussed the hope of tomorrow for gender equality and agency for all,” said Chloe Gavin ’72; P’01, a former trustee and co-chair of the Coeducation Engagement Committee.

“The virtual celebration of 50 years of coeducation allowed us to engage alumni across the globe, spanning nine decades. Reaching such a broad audience underlined the committee's idea that the celebration of coeducation should involve the entire Exeter community and reflect the big impact that coeducation has and continues to have on the Exeter experience.”

Our Voice at the Table Finale Event from Phillips Exeter Academy on Vimeo.

The planners did not envision having to conduct the dozens of events in the yearlong celebration wholly via Zoom teleconference.

“I remember an early steering committee call after much of the country had shut down in March of 2020,” recalled Jackie Hayes ’85, committee co-chair. “I confess to having the thought, ‘Here is yet another wonderful thing that COVID is going to ruin.’

“But thanks to the efforts of so many members of our community, this celebration has proved to be a fitting monument to the resiliency of that first class of young women and of so many since then, and has provided a much-needed bright spot in an enormously challenging year,” Hayes said, “an opportunity to bring us together, even if virtually, for introspection, for connection and for a celebration of the promise and power of including our voice at the table.”

Principal Rawson opened the finale with remarks from Assembly Hall, where he sat amid portraits of former Principal Kendra Stearns O’Donnell and Dolores Kendrick, the Academy’s first faculty emerita.

“By adding their voices to conversations at the Harkness table, both of these women were integral to the important changes that have taken place at Exeter over the last 50 years and they have shaped who we are today as an institution,” Rawson said. “Those early years of coeducation were far from perfect — as paradigm shifts of that magnitude rarely are — but to this day, the school owes much to the foundation set in place by women like Kendra and Dolores.”

Rawson called the arrival of girls in 1970 and the evolution of the school that followed no less transformational for Exeter than the advent of the Harkness pedagogy 40 years earlier.

The final event took place on the same day the class of 2021 celebrated commencement. Fittingly, senior class president Ursie Wise delivered remarks that honored the first generation of girls at the Academy and the full class of 2021 was led into Phelps Stadium by four class marshals, each a girl.

“This year’s seniors are leaving the school a better place for those who come after them,” Rawson said. “When they return for their 50th reunion in 2071, they will have the opportunity to reflect on the transformation of the next half century and perhaps be able to trace some of those transformations to changes that they helped initiate during their time here.”

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