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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Intangible Spirit

      June 18, 2014 marked 40 years since I received my diploma from my high school alma mater. Literally translated, alma mater means “nourishing/kind mother.” During my years at Philadelphia High School for Girls, I am not sure I would have necessarily agreed with that translation.
                In a happy coincidence, the June 21 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a heartwarming story of Imani Bullock.  Ms. Bullock is the fifth generation of women to graduate in white dress and red flowers:  as her mother, great-grandmother, and two great-aunts before her.  Ms. Bullock is a graduate of the current class, 258.  Because Girls’ High once graduated classes in both January and June, alums usually refer to their class number rather than their year to avoid confusion.  Not without some drama.  At a recent Career Day, I told the roomful of bright young women that I was Class  of 218.  Their response:  a collective gasp.  But I digress…
                While it took me 20 years before I truly appreciated the “intangible spirit” that I carried with me into the world on June 18, 1974, Ms. Bullock apparently has a clue. I quote her quote from the Inquirer:
We just have a family filled with strong women who strive for academic excellence.
I know she was speaking of her own family, but I can’t help thinking she included her extended Girls’ High family, as well.
                I admit I was closer to middle age when I began to understand what Imani Bullock already knows.  My National Merit Scholarship to La Salle, my commitment to mentoring other women, my ability to overcome obstacles:  I came to realize my alma mater deserved some of the credit. I started attending reunions.  And annual alumnae luncheons.  And presenting at Career Day (to this day, only 10% of appraisers who hold my advanced designation are women).  For me, it was a way to reconnect with those strong women at a time when I was starting my own business in a mostly male environment.  The only real asset I had at the time was myself.
                Now, add another 20 years. My 40th reunion luncheon (and I almost didn’t go, but the lure of Gloria Allred, 204,  was too much to resist).  Once again, I reconnected with friends and hung on to every word of gutsy Gloria, our luncheon speaker.  A healthy dose of that intangible spirit reminded me that I’ve been a Girls’ High Girl all along.
The author with Gloria Allred
                Oh, I’m no Gloria Allred, Esquire.  In fact, Gloria Allred might not have become Gloria Allred as we know her today.  During her presentation, Ms. Allred candidly admitted she tried to transfer out of Girls’ High. She didn’t think she had the right stuff.  Imagine!
                And I’m no Judith Rodin (first woman President of the University of Pennsylvania).  I’m no Constance Clayton (first woman and first African-American Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools).  I’m no Julie Gold, a fellow 218 alum and songwriter whose credits include “From a Distance,” that Bette Midler hit.  I’m not even Patricia Giorgio Fox, Deputy Police Commissioner for the City of Philadelphia.  But I am proud to count myself among them.  And proud they count me, too.
                Any of us who have grown up in Philadelphia have seen incredible changes to our alma maters.  Schools closing, both public and parochial.  Budget cuts decimating programs and faculty.  Resources dwindling.  Girls' High is no exception: loss of guidance counselors, woefully outdated lab equipment.  I feel fortunate that those marble halls are still open to embrace young women like Imani Bullock. And, I hope, her daughters.
At my alma mater, the misson statement is:
To provide learning experiences in a safe, nurturing environment that prepare our students for success in college and leadership in their chosen fields. We do this by challenging the intellect, embracing diversity, celebrating leadership, honoring ethical behavior and encouraging participation in the extracurricular program.
                Right now, in the School District of Philadelphia, the average cost to educate one student is $12,351. 
That is quite a bargain for a Girls’ High Girl.
Check out the link below to hear the alma mater of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.


  1. Mary,

    I think you are spot on that our high schools are the incubators of what we will achieve in life.

    I went to an all girls Catholic high school (class of 1970) and I remember believing back then that I could do anything I wanted in life. I never dreamed that marriage and a family would be my only destiny. Perhaps it was the times -- Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine. But I think it was the school that made us realize that women could have the same power and influence in the world as men.

    I'm glad Girls High has endured, as my high school Little Flower, also has made the cuts despite its location near the Badlands in North Philly.

    Girl power!

  2. Hi Mary, I'm one of those people whose alma mater, Cardinal Dougherty is no more. I was almost a Girl's High Girl, too. My uncle worked for the school district and really wanted me to go there. I won out and went to CD because I wanted to be with my friends. Ah, the priorities of a 13 year old :)

  3. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for writing this post. I have recently reconnected with my high school classmates through an all-school reunion and realized one of life's lessons... I wish I'd gotten to know more of them better way back when! Chalk it up to youth and insecurity, I suppose, but it's a pleasure to reconnect with them now in social media and in "real" life. Also, my youngest (a daughter) just graduated high school with honors and is headed off to college--and it brings back so many memories of the naiveté we all experience at that age... not to mention the specter of becoming an empty nester. Like the 4 broads on this website, I have thrown myself--full-body--into writing and blogging, so I'm thankful for that. When it gets too quiet around this house, I'll have something to do. And by the way, don't sell yourself short. I'm sure you have virtues Gloria Allred is missing. :-)