More than 500 members of the Berkeley Carroll community joined together to celebrate the installation of new Head of School Dr. Lisa Yvette Waller. BC Board of Trustees Chair Joe Polizzotto and Assistant Head of School Brandon Clarke welcomed the audience.
Two of Dr. Waller's former colleagues from The Dalton School spoke about her as a teacher, mentor, and colleague: Nicholas Lechich, the Assistant Director of the High School and Dean of Students, and Erica Jones, now Middle School Assistant Principal at the American School in London.
BC alum DeAndre Forde '15 gave the welcome on behalf of alumni and all three BC divisions were represented by student speakers Nilani '28, Mia '28, Isaac '28, Izzie B. '26, Franka E. '25, and Zoë P. '22. A quintet from the Upper School Strings Ensemble also performed.
From The Installation of Dr. Lisa Yvette Waller, Head of School
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Her remarks to our community:
Good evening and thank you all for being here. I would say that I'm speechless but you know that's not true. I am, however, awestruck and filled with gratitude. I want to begin by thanking the Board of Trustees as well as our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and families. I am honored, and also thrilled, to serve as Head of the Berkeley Carroll School.
To my dear friends and family (especially Sidney, and our daughters Genevieve and Gabrielle), to my parents (Thomas Waller, George Nunley, and Lula Nunley): Over the years, you have lifted me up and talked me down. I know who I am because of you.
Thank you Pam, Kay, David, Kate and everyone who has helped bring this event to fruition. I am so honored by the thought and care that went into the planning. I also want to acknowledge those who are not here with us but whose words of congratulations have warmed my heart.
Thank you Joe, Brandon, and DeAndra for your kind and gracious remarks; I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your confidence and your support.
Nicholas and Erica, watching you develop into capable, compassionate educators who have changed students' lives has been a highlight of my career. I wanted to make space at the podium for you this evening because, as the next generation of educators, you leave me inspired and hopeful. Thank you for this and for your humbling words.
I am particularly touched this evening by the presence of our students--and on a school night no less! I appreciate tremendously your being here. Thank you Nilani, Mia, Isaac, Izzie, Franka, Zoe, members of the Key Society, and our musicians for making this event so special. I wanted students on the program because you are at the heart of what we do; a constant reminder of how fortunate we are--how fortunate I am--not only to teach but also to learn from young people.
I have been the beneficiary of a truly warm welcome since joining the Berkeley Carroll family. From my interactions with the Search Committee, through time spent with Bob Vitalo, and into the wonderful whirlwind that has been the start of a new school year, I have experienced very directly the generosity of adults and students in this community. Already, I have come to feel at home.
I have been thinking quite a bit about home in the past few months. My ruminations issue partly from the fact that we have moved from our house in Harlem to a new residence here in Brooklyn. Mostly, I have been pondering how home is defined by a sense of belonging; it is a space where we create and recreate community.
When my colleagues and I gathered on our first day of school, I told them that I was grateful to have found in Berkeley Carroll a school that esteems community along with achievement. In this vein, I shared a story about my first teacher, Ms. Fullbright, who, in addition to being smart and stylish, was just and kind. I spoke of how she came to my rescue when I was the new kid. She took my part and left me feeling embraced rather than excluded. Of course I did not have these words when I was a child but, looking back, I see how Ms. Fullbright made her classroom a sanctuary where everyone felt capable and valued. This foundation allowed us to take risks, to rebound from adversity, and to achieve at the highest levels.
I am certain that Ms. Fullbright would have been right at home in our school. Berkeley Carroll prides itself on being a place where students are known, and educators here take this charge seriously. This summer, a rising First Grader expressed a bit of trepidation about her pending transition. She and her teacher corresponded during the summer, allowing her to process her concerns and feel more settled as the new school year approached.
I learned that this young student wondered if I, too, had jitters coming in as the new Head of School. Her class invited me to visit and, let me tell you, I shared all the jitters. I revealed that I had left behind colleagues and friends who had known and supported me for many years. But I also let this class of First Graders know that I have been embraced by numerous individuals who have gone out of their way to help acclimate me to BC. New colleagues have even shown me the shortcut that gets me back to Lincoln Place from Carroll Street by way of a winding passage through the Athletics Center (I know it doesn't sound like a short cut but I think it is--if you don't take a wrong turn and end up in the pool).
How touching that this child wondered about my transition as she was helped to navigate her own. How wonderful that space is made at Berkeley Carroll for students to share uncertainty along with success--to reveal their full selves--forging connections and making school their home.
I am in the midst of meeting individually with my colleagues to hear their stories, including how they came to Berkley Carroll and what holds them here. Our personal narratives inform the way we walk the halls of our school. Once shared, they have the power to bind us to one another. In this spirit, I would like to offer a chapter of my story.
Throughout my career, I have been gifted with the support and encouragement of many colleagues. One, Babby Krents, forged a special bond with my mother during drop off and pick up when my children were young. After one of their conversations outside of school my mom would often say to me, "Babby has her eye on you; she says you'll be a Head of School one day!" During the time that I worked for her in Admissions, Babby encouraged me to take center stage. She sponsored me--creating opportunities for me to learn and to lead. She helped to make Dalton my home and to set me on the road that has led to this installation. The connection between my mother and Babby was not very different from the relationships forged between families and educators at Berkeley Carroll everyday. We want to know that our children are seen, valued, and supported--that our hopes for them are affirmed by others. As a Black woman, born and raised in the segregated South, my mother took neither mine nor her own affirmation by others for granted.
My mother was raised in the countryside of Greenwood, Mississippi. Her large and loving extended family grew their own produce and raised their own livestock and chickens. Her family members were midwives, seamstresses, cobblers, and teachers. Their nurturing community on what was called the Sandy Ridge was her world; there she was steeped in self-sufficiency, self-respect, faith, and mutuality. It was also in Greenwood that my mother experienced the trauma of racial violence. She felt the acute anxiety, conveyed in hushed tones, that descended upon her community when Emmett Till was disappeared in Greenwood. Her family knew the perpetrators and she recounted to me how her father told his children never to return to the Bryant's store because of the horrible thing that they had done. This act of terrorism was designed to keep the Black community in its place but it caused my mother and scores of her contemporaries to resist--to insist on life beyond the easy reach of night riders. Not long after, my mother boarded a train called the City of New Orleans bound for Chicago. Her journey was one of many comprising the Second Great Black Migration from the Southern states to the urban North. Her family joined the exodus of African Americans chasing dreams long deferred. These elders reestablished old communities and created new ones. They forged a mighty movement--their minds stayed on freedom--and they nurtured a new generation--my generation--that would claim spaces previously closed to our forebears.
My parents' dreams for me were inextricably tied to education. I am immensely grateful for the sacrifice and determination that allowed them to send me to schools where I would be challenged and nurtured. From my all-Black, inner-city public grammar school all the way through my graduate studies at a predominantly White, private institution, I had the benefit of educators who provided me with individualized attention, who had the highest expectations of me, who believed that my success was the measure of their own. I am committed to following their example here at Berkeley Carroll--to joining forces with you, building upon the good work that has already been done at this school, to support and encourage students whose intellect, passion, and vision and are so desperately needed in these times.
Although our society is tested by racism, sexism, homophobia, and other affliction --Although, the nations of the world heave with unrest, this is not a time for despair. Our school gives cause for hope, and hope gives rise to change. Berkeley Carroll has committed to creating an environment where young people can pursue academic excellence, discover their passions, and strive to shape a just and peaceful world. Toward this end, students and adults from myriad backgrounds and with different interests come to BC each day, aiming to live and learn in a rigorous, inclusive, and transformative community. This is a complex, challenging, and all too rare undertaking. It requires patience and fervor, accountability and forbearance, respect for the past and an orientation toward the future.
Berkeley Carroll is ours but for a time. A legacy has been left to us and we will leave one in turn. I stand before you eager to face our challenges and to celebrate our successes, committed to supporting our community in becoming the best iteration of itself--a school that we can all call home.