This address was given by Dean of Faculty Corinne Fogg ’99 at Williston’s 181st Convocation.
Thank you, Mr. Hill. I want to also extend my gratitude to my esteemed, new colleagues, the faculty and administration of Williston Northampton for inviting me to rejoin this community and especially for giving me the joyful opportunity to address you this evening. It is my absolute honor to rejoin Williston Northampton as a proud alumna of the School. Returning to Williston, a place I hold core to my formation, will allow me to humbly extend my service to a school that gave much to me. I stand here and confidently assure you that you are about to begin a phenomenal year of school, and I am eager to embark on this year’s journey with you. It has, indeed, been a journey to our beginning anew; and you’ve certainly earned it, haven’t you? En masse, we’ve just traversed a year that tested our limits around two life-threatening crisis – one of racial reckoning in our country and one of a global pandemic – we have arrived at this moment. 2020 brought us loss, and kept us distant from one another, tried our will, and tested the breadth of our understanding of the human condition; and we return – today – to begin anew.
Carrying my own nostalgia for this place and the community, I remember 25 years ago when I was given my first tour of campus. I could even tell you what I was wearing — head to toe yellow with chartreuse sandals. I know this because I’d had a debate with my father about whether open-toed sandals were allowed on the drive out here, and my advisor would later affectionately nickname me “bananas.” That number is a little tricky to throw out there, although I am thankful for the time and lessons I have garnered since I was a teenager on this lawn. I will say, there’s something in the water here because these adults seem ageless to me.
Truthfully, I was not happy to be headed off to boarding school. My father dropped me off on these very steps; orientation was much shorter then, and I may not have even unpacked a bag before I was off to my afternoon activity and then dinner. Unafraid to admit it today, I may have pouted through my first week of school. I was homesick; I did not know anyone well enough, did not belong. I felt instantly forced to acclimate to an unfamiliar environment, and nothing felt familiar. If you need a visual, I encourage you to stop by my office at some point and lay eyes on the bitter, maudlin expression of one angsty adolescent Corie Fogg. It is a sight indeed. I hopped in the pool that afternoon to “splash and swim” according to my father, playing a sport I knew absolutely nothing about, water polo, and left with a black eye from an errant ball. An excellent start, for sure. It was also that day that I met a friend standing in front of the Schoolhouse who would become someone I now call my sister, whose daughter is my godchild. It was the next day that I met more Williston Northampton women and men I now call immutable family, the friends who have celebrated life’s highs and lows at every turn. Later that week, I realized what an unyieldingly compassionate asset I had in my Advisor, Pil, who mixed consistent humor, genuine understanding, and tough love in a recipe that brought out the best in each student – in me. Suddenly doubling down on my own learning, I watched educators – some of whom you also have the great fortune to call your teachers today and some of whom have gone on to well-deserved retirement – bring history to life through the stories of trial and triumph, reflect the complexities humanity through literature and art, challenge me to write with courage and conviction – to cite and revise and rewrite and rethink and stand by ideals, and model what it was to have passion for learning and to live with purposeful balance. In that way, this is a true return home for me. And, for the record, I was thriving and downright gleeful when my dad returned for Parents’ Weekend. While my experience is not yours, I do hope that you share in some of what I felt as a student here, in this space, with these people who ardently believe in your potential and are longing to see you flourish as yourself here.
… And what a year to join you. Vulnerably, I share that the last 18 months have been wholly challenging for me personally. In my own writing and reflection, I have ruminated this year in liminality. Cultural anthropologists Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner brought this concept to fruition, focusing on its etymology in Latin, “limen” meaning threshold. It is a crossing of boundaries and borders. It is the space between. Scholars of psychology and philosophy, including Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzsche, have expanded the understanding of this concept to include a time of separation and individuation, a transition, and a distinct return. The complexity of this for me was precisely the Jungian notion that I could not go back to who I was, but I did not yet know who I was becoming.
To expand, and I will employ levity here, I went through as many transitions as humanly possible in 2020; at this point, I am essentially a great country song. Having spent several years discerning becoming a parent on my own, I had a child in 2020, Marigold. Simultaneously, I learned that my father, who had survived two bantam bouts with cancer, now had metastatic carcinoma in his pancreas and liver. COVID-19 struck, and I instantly went indoors like many of you. I departed my office to take parental leave in February of 2020, and I did not return until the end of the year. There are still colleagues and friends that I did not get to see in person, birthdays we missed, celebrations of life that ubiquitously moved to Zoom, and so much physical contact and connection that was lost. I was in between – a new mother with all the accompanying doubts, joys, and fears – a daughter, welcoming her father to come into the safety of her home and live. So we did just that, embracing the liminality. My dad moved in and shared in the first year of my daughter’s life. His passion for life, even as he battled multiple cancers and the ravages of chemotherapy, was contagious, and it was something he tried to intently impart to me as I became a mother. Growing up, he would shout down the driveway as I drove out, “make today your best day yet,” and he quoted Thomas Carlyle when he drove away from my dorm that August, reminding me that “here hath been dawning Another blue Day: Think wilt thou let it Slip useless away.” With the birth of my daughter, that translated into “find the joy.” He kept reminding me over this last year to find joy, seek it out with a wild and open heart; do not miss these moments in her young life. So we did find joy and tried to live the best out of each day that remained. He was ecstatic when I accepted the role at Williston, and he beamed with pride at what lay ahead for me. We had agreed that he would come with us, and the notion of winding down his life back in New England, in the surrounds of a school that brought so much to us as a family 25 years ago was of great comfort. His return to Williston, however, was not to be. In the final moments of his life, I was singing to him, reading to him. I never took my eyes off of him, holding his hand. But for one moment, when I said, “let me play you the video of Marigold giggling once more.” In that one moment, he left. There, in the silence of that room, I heard even clearer – find the joy. Live fully, for here hath been dawning another blue day…”
I’d arrived four days earlier in Florida, ushered by the loving and generous hands of my friends on a one-way, same-day flight with Marigold in my arms to be at my father’s side. I went straight to the hospital that evening, sat with him, and then headed to his home. With the sunrise, I went out to the backyard, where a wind chime from his mother danced with the air, echoing music across the grass. As I surveyed the scene of a hurried departure from the house, I saw multitudes of seed packets laid out on the lanai table. He had been planning his garden, readying himself and the seeds. My father loved to garden, a passion instilled in him by his own grandmother, the great grower of iris. His knowledge of flowers was unmatched; he never missed a chance to share the names of flowers and trees, Latin and common, with me. Walking out onto the grass in his backyard on that morning, I saw his gardening stool seated in front of multiple marigolds. He’d planted eight already, and four remained yet to be put in the ground. Seamus Heaney’s Digging comes to mind, “[my father] among the flowerbeds – Bends low, comes up twenty years away – Stooping in rhythm – Where he was digging… By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.” He believed in tomorrow. That’s what planting a seed in the ground is at its simplest. But the work of his life was done.
I share this story because it has been a tremendously hard year for me, perhaps for you as well. I have watched life begin and end under one roof in 2020. I left a job, friends, and a community I loved in 2020, and moved into a new home. I inherited two lively schnauzers in 2020. I began a new job in 2021, and perhaps most importantly, I have arrived here at this moment with you. I have crossed boundaries and borders, metaphorically, and now stand at another limen, a threshold. And while there is hardship in this, there is also tremendous promise.
Returning to Williston has been just that for me. One week ago, while milling across Mr. Hill’s lawn celebrating the start of the year with this incredible faculty, I watched this community welcome us as a family. My daughter was instantly nurtured and brought into the fold, and we feel a renewed sense of belonging. Reflecting that evening, I was certain that my dad was comforted by the compassion of this community and proud of the welcome this Williston Northampton woman found in her return.
As a female-identifying alumna, now serving as the Dean of Faculty, I am also welling with pride to reflect on and celebrate the 95th anniversary of the founding of Northampton School for Girls and the celebration of coeducation on this campus. To witness the instillation of a new Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Belonging, an aligned and visionary strategic plan, and to now know firsthand the gift this community has in the presence of Ms. Chambers in her role feels historic in and of itself. What a year for the Williston Northampton woman! To borrow from a letter shared by Mr. Hill, “today’s female students – and indeed all our students – strive to embody the qualities that the founders imagined… [and we are] proud that the school supports all our young women in academics, the arts, athletics, and student leadership. Following in the footsteps of their Northampton School for Girls predecessors, young women who graduate from the Williston Northampton School today go on to do great things.” Williston Northampton women are scholars, athletes, artists, physicians, engineers, journalists, political activists, volunteers, Deans of Faculty, and more. Thank you for indulging me one uncharacteristic moment to be braggadocious. Fittingly for this celebratory year, the Williston Northampton School’s history is inseparable from strong, visionary women: Sarah Whitaker and Dorothy Bement, as well as Emily Williston.
I share my story of this year, of the space I’ve traversed in the middle, to impart what I hope you will glean in this new year and in your time as a member of this community. You will assuredly learn algebra, recite epic poems, master rhetorical analysis and DBQs, make hypotheses, grow in strength and creativity, and come into your own scholarship while here. That said, it is my hope that you will take more from this space, from these people. Learned by examples at Williston, my learning was never confined to the classroom. Cultivating a life lived with purpose, passion, and integrity in all aspects of the student experience was a calling clearly embodied by the faculty. It was Williston Northampton that galvanized me to think critically about my learning, to curate a deep understanding of the world, and to foster a burgeoning motivation to serve others through knowledge and action. It was Williston Northampton that gifted me the integrity, presence, and purpose to navigate this past year. It is my sincerest hope that this year brings you similar gifts of heart, reminding you of the strengths yet unknown within your chest as you cross this threshold and begin.