Head of School’s Notebook — At our best …


We called off classes today in the wake of Gwendolyn Pierce’s passing early this morning. We had alerted students in advisory meetings on Tuesday that Ms. Pierce had entered end-of-life care, so perhaps we were all as prepared as we could be for this news. But we are never really ready.

I watched as students and faculty left the chapel where we began the day, facing a Thursday that would be dramatically different from the one they might have anticipated. We have visiting families here who came to interview and meet the school. For them, too, it was an unexpected day.

But it was also remarkable, touching, powerful. Student tour guides showed up in force at the Admission Office, determined to honor Ms. Pierce by giving a tour or chatting with a visiting family. Faculty were there, too, offering assistance to the Admission staff or insight to our guests.

A junior, perhaps driven by the need to communicate one last time with Ms. Pierce, brought several pads of post-it notes and some pens to the common area outside Ms. Pierce’s office, and students and faculty have been stopping by, writing notes and affixing them to Gwendolyn’s door. Remembrances now completely cover the entrance and the surrounding walls. Several freshmen came by this office with a card they made and wanted everyone to sign.

A number of our teams have games today, so they met with their coaches after our gathering in the chapel to determine what to do. Most are playing, all with armbands in honor of Ms. Pierce, because they feel that is the best way to express their appreciation for a remarkable teacher, advisor, admission officer, and friend. Gwendolyn would be delighted by their decision. In fact, she would be amazed by the gestures of kindness that distinguished this day: the love, the resolve, the care, and the strength. Gwendolyn fought mightily to stay out of the limelight at Cate, to distinguish this place with gentle unassuming gestures and unblinking attention to the highest standards of community membership. One of our most graceful and gracious ambassadors, she made everyone and anyone feel welcome.

So on this day when for the first time in nearly two decades she can’t be here in person to continue her work, this community—students, faculty, and staff—did it for her, just as she taught us.

“Si monumentum requiris circumspice.” If you seek her monument, look around.