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An Epic Reunion on Williams Hill

More than 500 alumni converged on campus June 10-12 for the largest multi-class reunion in the school’s history. Westminster welcomed back classes ending in 2 and 7 and those classes ending in 0, 1, 5 and 6 that had missed an in-person reunion in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Alumni reconnected with classmates, teammates, former teachers, coaches and advisors, and joined in a gamut of activities from lawn games to dancing under the stars.
 
Activities kicked off Friday afternoon with the annual Alumni Art Exhibit in Baxter Gallery in Armour Academic Center. The exhibit featured works by Sarah Ali Brahimi ’16, Alex Boyden ’82, Adriena Baldwin ’01, Gretchen Cummins Hupfel ’82, Jennifer Keene-Bleeg ’95, Tricia McLaughlin ’82, Tori Pizzuto ’10, Ali Reboul ’01, Susie Wilcox White ’74, P’05 and Yilun Zheng ’17.
 
Later that evening, alumni from all classes gathered for a cocktail reception on Commencement Lawn, where Head of School Elaine White welcomed them with a toast: “To good friends and good fun, to old and new Martlet memories, may this reunion weekend bring you joy and happiness.”
 
It feels like home,” said Bianca Tennyson ’97, who returned for her 25th reunion along with classmates Lauren Bontecou Reichart and Carolyn Cordner LePage. Carolyn explained that there were only 87 students in her class, and only 15 girls were boarders. Westminster was like family to them, a sentiment that was echoed by many alumni over the weekend.
 
Following cocktails, alumni celebrating their 50th reunion dined in Adams Dining Room in Armstrong Dining Hall, while the 25th reunion class gathered on Keyes Porch. On Commencement Lawn, the remaining classes dined al fresco choosing entrees from wood-fired pizza, barbecue and Mexican fare from food trucks.
 
While members of all the classes enjoyed live music under the Commencement Lawn tent, Eric Fris ’60, took advantage of the clear night sky to stargaze in the Barnes-Bristow Observatory. “I am a techno geek, and the observatory is the most amazing piece of technology I’ve seen on campus,” commented Eric, who visited the facility with several Seventh Formers –– the title of a newly-minted group of alumni who graduated 50 years or more ago from Westminster.
 
On Saturday, reunion continued with the Memorial Service in Andrews Memorial Chapel. Head of School White shared remembrances of longtime faculty member Ann Gilman P’78, ’80, a beloved member of the Westminster community, who died last spring.
 
Director of Alumni Relations Cris Gomez ’10 and Director of Advancement Newell Grant ’99 read aloud the names of 81 alumni who have died since the last in-person reunion in 2019.
 
Chapel speaker Priscilla Ameyaw ’22, a recipient of numerous school awards, spoke about how Westminster became her second home after she arrived on campus as a scholar-athlete from Ghana. The disruption caused by the pandemic instilled in her the value of her connections with classmates and teachers. “The entirety of my senior year taught me how to cherish every moment of my life and not take anything for granted,” she said.
 
Following the service, a bagpiper led the Grand March to Werner Centennial Center for the dedication of the Booker T. Bradshaw Jr., Class of 1958 Stage. Bradshaw was the first Black student to graduate from Westminster. He went on to have a famed career in music production and management, and in the performing arts.
 
After the dedication, Head of School White spoke about how she spent much of her first year at Westminster learning about the school’s past. Given the impact of the pandemic on Westminster, she felt compelled to ensure that students understood the school’s background and conventions. “We found our grounding in history and tradition this year,” she said. “It is one way in which we chased away COVID. Our students needed to be schooled in tradition, in the rhythms and patterns of chapel, assemblies, family-style meals and study hall, in the connection and commitment of faculty to students, and in the ethos of grit and grace.”
 
“I inherited a school that is in great shape,” she continued. “But it is a tricky balance to hold on to everything that has defined Westminster and still evolve to meet the needs of current and future generations of students.”

To older alumni, much of the campus looks different, she noted. But she assured them that the “school that they knew and loved is still operating under the same promises — run by incredibly dedicated faculty and teaching the lessons of grit, grace and gratitude to the next generation of Martlets.”
 
Throughout the weekend, alumni had an opportunity to pore over yearbooks in Hinman Reading Room, meet in affinity groups, attend classroom lectures, relax in lawn chairs on the Sixth Form Lawn and repair to the archives, where they sleuthed out souvenirs from their school days.
 
There, Arch Montgomery ’70 unearthed a box of his athletic trophies and photographed them for his own personal archive. “My kids see me as this old guy, and they don’t believe I was once a scholar-athlete so now I have proof,” he said with a laugh.
 
Nearby, Matt Swenson ’17 and his brother, David Swenson ’15, studied the architectural model for Armour Academic Center, completed in 2009, and browsed through a shelf of quirky collection of Westminster water bottles.
 
Other alumni trickled down to the athletic fields to watch the alumni lacrosse game or partake in coed soccer before they attended the final evening of dinner and dancing.
 
Whether they were recent graduates or Seventh Formers, alumni expressed gratitude for the enduring friendships and connections they formed during their time on the Hill. “We’re like a band of brothers,” Jim Mendillo ’67 said of his classmates. “When you spend four years of your life in an intimate setting you form a bond, and I think that is something that translates across every class.” 
 
 
Dedication of The Booker Bradshaw Jr. Stage
 
During reunion weekend Westminster held the dedication of the Booker Bradshaw Jr., Class of 1958 Stage in Werner Centennial Center, honoring the first Black student to attend and graduate from Westminster.
 
In 1953, Booker Bradshaw arrived on Williams Hill as a 12-year-old and quickly made his mark by exceling academically and athletically. After matriculating from Westminster, he graduated from Harvard University in 1962, and from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London in 1964.
 
As one of the few Blacks in show business at that time, Bradshaw broke many barriers in the industry. He was a record producer and folk singer, served as an executive at Motown in Detroit, and acted in film and in television, where he starred in the original “Star Trek” series as Dr. Mbenga. He was a screenwriter for several television series, including “Colombo,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Richard Pryor Show.”
 
“As we looked around campus and contemplated ways to honor Mr. Bradshaw’s legacy, it seemed fitting that we place his name on the stage in Werner Centennial Center, where we not only celebrate and enjoy artistic performances at Westminster, but where we also gather as a community to have conversations, meetings, assemblies, guest speakers and performers,” said Director of Advancement Newell Grant ’99.
 
Bradshaw’s daughter, Alaiyo Bradshaw, a painter, print maker and professor of fine arts at the Parsons School of Design in New York, attended the dedication. In her address, she thanked the school community for its recognition and special acknowledgement of her father, who died in 2003.
 
“It gives me an enormous amount of pride to attend this event and stand on the stage dedicated to a trailblazer said Alaiyo. “I truly admire how this former Westminster student was given the opportunities to succeed.” 
 
As a young man at Westminster, Booker distinguished himself as an honor student, president of the choir, captain of the debate team, editor of the school newspaper, manager of the tennis team, and captain of the hockey and football teams, she said.
 
In doing so, “he created a path for Black youth at Westminster and others who follow in his footsteps,” said his daughter. “I know he would be proud and touched by this honor, and I am sure that the theater will be enjoyed by generations of talented students including people of color.”

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