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.