Sterling’s 60th year celebration culminated with a Sterling School Alumni Reunion, held October 12-14, 2018, in Craftsbury Common. More than 45 alumni and partners attended the reunion from all over the country, hailing from Arizona, Florida and Tennessee, as well as Massachusetts and Maine. Although they were not recent familiar faces on campus, the campus was familiar to them.
Sterling School was founded as a boys’ preparatory school in 1958. Students attended the school through 1974, when the institution became known as the Sterling Institute and instead began to offer a year-long program known as the Grassroots Project.
The reunion kicked off with a private event at the recently restored Highland Lodge in Greensboro, where many alumni stayed for the weekend. The alumni reception was followed by dinner, when the group was joined by the College’s Board of Trustees and Leadership Council and welcomed in an address by President Matthew Derr.
A typical October day of cool temperatures and overcast skies greeted alumni to campus on Saturday morning for a pancake breakfast, which was followed by the unveiling of a new historical marker commemorating 60 years of Sterling. “There have been significant changes in Sterling over the past 60 years, but what has always existed, and continues to exist, is an excellence in education for all of the students,” remarked trustee emeritus and alumnus David Behrend ‘60.
David Linck, faculty emeritus and Craftsbury resident, led a historical tour around the Common and campus. Some attendees opted to view a screening of a National Geographic Explorer episode that profiled Whitney Azoy’s Quest for Blue Mountain. Azoy was a Sterling School faculty member in 1963-65, and is an expert on the culture and politics of Afghanistan. Azoy was unable to attend the October reunion, so he filmed an introduction to the segment when he visited campus in August 2018, addressing the alumni and sharing some memories. A tour of campus led by Dean of Admission Tim Patterson rounded out the morning.
Current students, staff and faculty joined alumni and trustees for a lunch honoring former staff and their families. Sterling Kitchen Chef Paul Sweeney shared some memories of his grandmother Reena Sweeney, who was remembered fondly for her kitchen leadership by the Sterling School alumni and faculty. After lunch, a current student panel discussion was held so alumni could find out what it is like being a student at the Sterling of today, a four-year private college dedicated to educating environmental stewards.
The blustery afternoon wind was no match for hearty Sterling School alumni and College trustees as David Behrend and President Derr addressed the crowd gathered outside the exterior doors to a recently renovated classroom in Simpson Hall. “This is an important space. Many of you had exams in this space. Over the years it has had deep meaning as a place to gather, and a face to the Craftsbury Common community and beyond when nationally-known speakers have presented here,” Derr said. “The new name of this space, The 1958 Room, reminds us of that history.” Behrend, who received an honorary doctorate from the College in 2015, added, “The renovations make this room state-of-the-art. More importantly, it opens up Sterling to the community.”
After their remarks, Behrend and Derr cut a blue ribbon that spanned the double doors and led the way into the warm and welcoming space, where large black-and-white photos were displayed from the Sterling School-era. Some alumni were able to identify themselves in the photos. A newly installed dedication plaque reads: Since 1958, this room has been at the heart of the Sterling Education. In this room we acknowledge 60 years of excellence in education: the dedicated faculty and the passionate students who have passed through its doors. Together they have created meaningful change in the communities in which they live.
The group settled in and listened intently as Charlie Ryland, Faculty in Environmental Humanities, presented on the changes in a Sterling student’s first semester experience in regards to Expedition. He explained that A Sense of Place remains as a student’s first course, and now includes an Expedition component, which is a service-learning backpacking trip on the Long Trail that students depart for almost immediately after arriving on campus. Bounder and Winter Expedition are optional experiences, available through a course now called Expedition II. Ryland reported that 16 first-semester students are enrolled in Expedition II, which builds off of Expedition I and introduces winter camping skills. A passionate discussion around challenge ensued before the group departed for a reception at former board chair and retired trustee Bob Shelton and Mark Flynn’s home, known as the Slawson House. This house was familiar to many of the Sterling School alumni, who came to visit the Slawson family for Stamp Club and tutoring in the evenings.
Sterling-raised meat and vegetables were on the menu for the John Hessel Memorial Dinner held in Dunbar Hall later that evening. John Hessel was a founding faculty member of the Sterling School, who passed away in April 2018. While at Sterling, John was the Director of Athletics and Head of the Science Department. He taught biology, math, chemistry and physics and was the head coach of the basketball and baseball teams. Trustee emeritus Peter McKay ’63 gave a heartfelt tribute to John, and Jack Hessel, John’s grandson who attended the dinner from Ithaca, NY, shared his recollections of his grandfather.
The weekend was filled with stories, memories, and discussions of future plans as the Sterling School alumni reconnected over their shared history in Craftsbury Common. Keep in touch with fellow alumni and find out about future alumni events and gatherings at: https://sterlingcollege.edu/alumni/. To make a gift, please visit: https://sterlingcollege.edu/make-a-gift/