Letter: Eyes to See

Dear Alumni/ae,

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If you hold a prism in your hand, it’s just a faceted piece of glass. But position it in a beam of light, tilted a certain way, and you get rainbows. It’s a bit of natural magic. But is the magic in the prism? In the beam of light? Or in the fact that our eyes allow us to see rainbows at all?

For me, Anniversary Weekend is a prism. I think I’m not alone in this, having heard so many at our 40th exclaim surprise at the many things they never knew about each other. The prism is tilted, and the black and white memories preserved in our yearbook explode into living color, casting their glow on the present and even the future.

Every person I meet suddenly appears somewhere on this human light spectrum when seen through the Anniversary prism. The full spectrum was not fathomable when we were teenagers. If you were purple and someone else was green, green just didn’t go with purple, and neither of us was really sure about those blues. But, put us all together and you see something else; that we all belong.

I would describe myself upon arrival at St. Paul’s in 1975 as ultraviolet, “situated beyond the visible spectrum.” I had just turned 13 and had spent 10 of those years living outside the U.S. The previous April, my father had been airlifted from the roof of the Saigon embassy, and we had been safe-havened in Taipei and eventually transferred to Seoul. My arrival at St. Paul’s was one of profound culture shock, starting with having to wear clothes that seemed more practical for lumberjacks from a place called L.L. Bean, a far cry from the halter tops and brightly colored hip-hugger jeans that had been the look at Taipei American School. I was a further cry from the SPS students who seemed to know each other going back generations. I could not have been more of an outsider. Yet the School welcomed me into a settled community of dedicated educators and traditions, and, as it turned out, a student body more economically and socially diverse than initially apparent. The resulting friends made me feel “seen,” and I eventually learned to see my peers better as well. I know now not every student was so fortunate. My time at SPS was a four-year lesson in tolerance and acceptance that took me several decades to fully appreciate.

Now five, 10, or 40 years beyond St. Paul’s, many of the earlier social barriers have dissipated. Our lives have been colored by personal triumphs and tragedies that have expanded our perspectives and imbued us with an understanding of nuances we couldn’t hope to possess as adolescents. Some of us remain deeply engaged with the School through volunteering or sending children and grandchildren; others prefer to observe from afar. Although St. Paul’s has undergone challenges through the years, it has persevered because of its mission and the support of its alumni. At times, we may disagree with the School in ways that feel deeply personal, yet our friendships and shared history remain, and nowhere is that more resonant than at Anniversary, when we come together to celebrate old connections and forge new ones.

With each reunion, I am increasingly grateful for the people I thought I knew, but did not know, or simply knew little about at the time. As diverse as we are, viewed through the prism of Anniversary, our myriad colors fill in under the glow, and, as St. Paul’s alumni, we all belong.

Liz Robbins ’79
President of the Alumni Association

St Paul's School