Profile: Generational Connection
Susan ’83 and Dana Emery ’83 see the School with fresh eyes through their daughter, Katherine ’18
Jana F. Brown
It was on Leap Day in 1992, when Susan Barto ’83 and Dana Emery ’83 reconnected at a party in New York’s West Village. Four years later, in 1996, they were married in the Chapel at St. Paul’s School. The SPS alumni had known of one another during their mutual years at St. Paul’s, but only from a distance. “During our four years here together,” says Dana, “I don’t think Susan and I ever exchanged a single word.”
On Anniversary Weekend 2018, the Emerys were back on School grounds, this time to celebrate their 35th reunion and the graduation of their daughter, Katherine ’18. It was one of those full-circle experiences for this St. Paul’s family, as Susan and Dana witnessed the conclusion of their daughter’s own SPS experience and theirs as parents of a current student. Though both of her parents had gone away to school and Dana’s father, Ethan Emery ’55, and stepfather, Edward Tuck ’45, were graduates of St. Paul’s, boarding school was not necessarily on the radar for Katherine, but she had fallen in love with the beauty of New Hampshire on summer trips and Christmas holidays to visit her grandparents from her home in Larchmont, N.Y. When the time came to consider her educational options, Katherine decided on only two: Remain at her public high school in New York or, if accepted, attend St. Paul’s.
“We did not put too much pressure on her decision,” says Susan. “We presented it as an option.” One year later, in the fall of 2014, Susan and Dana found themselves back in the familiar surroundings of St. Paul’s School, this time to drop their daughter off to start her Third Form year. They were both pleased and surprised that Katherine did not experience homesickness, while she soon discovered that her parents’ caveat about the rigorous academics at the School was warranted. As parents, the Emerys noticed some differences in their own experiences versus those of their daughter.
“In 30-plus years, times have changed,” says Dana. “I remember calling my parents collect once a week and hoping they would not be home to answer. With cell phones, e-mail, and texting, there is now constant communication, so we know what’s going on all the time. That makes a huge difference in the experience.” Both Dana and Susan noticed a boost in their daughter’s independence, self-confidence, and curiosity as she settled into life at boarding school. Susan, who grew up in New Hampshire, admits she was shy during her SPS years, a trait she attributes to why she never spoke to Dana, even though she admired him from afar. Dana had spent much of his youth in England and spoke with an English accent for the first year of his SPS tenure.
Both parents see an enormous difference in the way girls are integrated into School life today. When the Emerys arrived in the fall of 1979, co-education was still a relatively novel idea at St. Paul’s. “In retrospect,” says Susan, “they didn’t have it figured out yet. Girls were not fully a part of the community the way they are now. It is a much warmer place today.” While Dana recalls glory on the soccer field and late nights with The Pelican team and Susan the camaraderie of her interscholastic crew and good times in the dorm, both Emery parents left St. Paul’s with lifelong friendships. Nothing has changed there; Katherine leaves the School with similar bonds, crediting the all-boarding model of SPS with facilitating close kinship. Katherine has maintained a connection to her family while she’s been away, too, rubbing the names of her parents and her grandfather on the carved panels of graduates in the Upper.
“No one could have told me how close you become with the people you live with,” says Katherine, who is headed to Bucknell in the fall. “The friendships formed here are strong. I have gained much more world perspective because I have friends from all over, from different cultures or religions. The sense of community at St. Paul’s is something that can’t be replicated.” Relationships with faculty members, too, is something Katherine Emery shares with her parents. Both she and her mom are particularly fond of longtime teacher Jennifer Hornor, who served as Katherine’s adviser for four years. Hornor, Katherine says, “feels like family.” The recent negative spotlight shined on the School has not impacted their daughter’s SPS experience, note Susan and Dana. They point to the extraordinary community, the excellence of academics, the caring teachers, and the vast resources that help students thrive.
“If we didn’t have Katherine here,” says Susan, “there is no way we would feel as connected to the School or be as knowledgeable about what it’s like today. We would be reliant on media and probably would be feeling much more concerned.” Adds Dana, “Having a daughter at St. Paul’s has enabled us to revisit how amazingly lucky both Susan and I were to have had this experience as students.”