AlumnaeJan 25, 2021
— updated Jan 25, 2021
Sam ’22 and Valorie ’71 share their love of MHS
Valorie Guthrie ’71 spoke with Sam ’22 about her life at Miss Hall’s in the 60s and 70s, and her path since then
On January 19, 2021, Sam Kangethe ’22, Horizons intern in the Miss Hall’s office of marketing and communications, sat down with Valorie Guthrie ’71 to talk by Zoom. Curious about Valorie’s experience as a student at MHS in the late ’60s and early ’70s and her pathway to becoming a Trustee and beyond, Sam brought a set of probing questions in the first of a series of intergenerational conversations that make true blue (and gold!) connections.
This conversation is being shared during the launch of the Legacy Trustees, a new affinity group of former trustees of Miss Hall’s School.
The full video of their conversation is below.
Tell me about your background and journey to finding Miss Hall’s.
Valorie: I grew up in the segregated South, in a small rural town in North Carolina. My freshman year of high school I rode a bus to the black school 30 miles from home. By my sophomore year, the schools were integrated and I was one of a few black students to go to the nearby white school. It was a lot of change and people were not really ready for it. My parents wanted us to have more opportunities than they did, and they hoped this would bring that, but it was not a friendly experience.
That was kind of my defining moment for me, because I knew how to be strong. I knew I had to show them that I was capable, and that I could be a success story even without the help that others were receiving.
I buckled down and worked very hard on my studies. My mother had a friend who told her about “A Better Chance” (ABC), a program that placed minority students in New England prep schools which had very little diversity. The way it worked was that you applied to the program, and then the schools that were participating chose the students.
So I like to say that I found Miss Hall’s but Miss Hall’s found me, too. Because I went looking, but they picked me. And then, I was an integrator again. Being hardened, disappointed, and hurt by my previous experience, I came in thinking, I don’t know what to expect but it’s a great opportunity. And my mother always said “You never turn down a good opportunity, you at least try it out. Nothing beats a failure but a try.” That was my journey to Miss Hall’s. And it was my ticket to the world. It opened up so many possibilities for me.
What are your favorite memories from your time as a student?
Valorie: So many firsts! Flying on an airplane for the first time to get to Miss Hall’s. Leaving my family pod and learning who I was as an individual, not somebody’s sister. Going to the movies for the first time. Just having a white roommate and knowing that I could share the space and feel like we were equal. That was really huge.
One of my favorite things that totally opened my eyes was going to the ballet with Mrs. Kalischer. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I literally cried! I didn’t know people could do this. And so for the rest of my life I have been a huge ballet supporter and my daughters took classes.
I remember going into New York City for the first time and seeing a real city, going to a real restaurant. It was really magical.
Many of the girls had never had any social interaction with black kids. It was really a learning process for both sides — for us as well as for them.
“That was my journey to Miss Hall’s. And it was my ticket to the world. It opened up so many possibilities for me.”
Why do you value single-sex education?
Valorie: For me, it was a chance to get to know who I was. I had a large family with brothers, and in the South, the boys were always prized a bit more.
At a girls’ school, it’s like “Who is going to be President? Who is going to be Treasurer? Who is going to run this committee?” And you run the show!
So you are allowed to develop to your fullest potential without having that male counterpart which can sometimes overshadow.
Regarding your time as a Trustee (2011–2015), what did you learn about Miss Hall’s with this new perspective? What did you learn about yourself?
Valorie: The Trustees and the Head of School have a beautiful partnership. A partnership that is necessary and essential to the health and growth and well-being of the school. Being a Trustee taught me that no matter how fabulous a Head of School might be, she still needs that Board with her to make things come to be. The work is hard, but I think the work is important.
What is the biggest difference you see in Miss Hall’s today compared with when you were a student?
Valorie: When I arrived as a student, the school was going through a transition because a lot of the girls were not terribly happy, candidly. They were made to go to Miss Hall’s by their parents. In some cases it was a family tradition. A lot of the girls felt that their parents put them there because they didn’t want to be bothered with them. One good thing about that was that once the girls came to Miss Hall’s, they really bonded with each other in a very healthy way and they made new family. And, I was just happy to be there.
But now students come to Miss Hall’s because they want to be there. They are making the choice and driving the decision, not their parents. That was very healthy and exciting for me to realize.
Also, when I was there, diversity meant me and one other black girl from West Virginia. We were it! Now, I see so many students from all over the world which is amazing.