If you take a look through GFS’ dynamic history, you will see a series of remarkable periods of growth and education. The circumstances of World War II led the school to welcome refugee children from Europe and students from United States internment camps. In 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL, inspired GFS to launch the Community Scholars Program. And the struggle for equal rights encouraged a faculty study group in 1985, led by Joan Countryman ’58, to examine why a lower percentage of female students took advanced math and science courses, prompting the hiring of more female faculty in those departments.
This year, GFS celebrated its “demisemiseptcentennial,” or 175th, anniversary. “I have been thinking about how our 175th year will live in our collective history,” said Dana Weeks, head of Germantown Friends School. “More than masks and physical distancing, we will remember a time that opened our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking and doing, raised voices through collaborative campaigns for justice, and united us in our deep appreciation for the gift of education.”
Over the course of the school year, GFS hosted virtual discussions with special guests, including an evening with NBC Chief White House Correspondent Kristen Welker ’94; the unveiling of a portrait of Countryman ’58, one of the school’s first Black students and graduates, who also spent 23 years at GFS as a teacher and administrator; an online Alumni Week(end)—a full week of videos, panel discussions, and reunions; a written history series led by the school’s archivists; a music showcase; and a culminating celebration and virtual fundraiser to support scholarship at the school.
To kick off the anniversary, GFS welcomed Natalie Weathers Nixon ’87 for a Community Writers Series event in partnership with the Friends Free Library. Nixon, president of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work, was in conversation with Sarah Stein Greenberg ’96, executive director of the d.school at Stanford, and discussed finding and embracing creative inspiration.
In March, the school hosted a special conversation with Welker ’94, who was interviewed by GFS Director of Directed Independent Studies and English teacher Anne Gerbner. The evening was held in memory of Marilyn Frank, beloved wife of School Committee Clerk David Feldman ’76 and mother of Sarah ’06 and Michael ’10.
“I owe everything to GFS and to my parents for sending me here,” Welker mused. She answered questions covering a range of topics, including her experience as Chief White House Correspondent and her recent role as a presidential debate moderator. The hour-long chat was attended virtually by more than 1,000 people.
A virtual Music Showcase in early May included tunes from the Deb Callahan Band—a blues-soul band featuring GFS parents Deb Callahan and Allen James—as well as the sounds of the GFS orchestra and the jazz, world percussion, and chamber ensembles. Lower School music teachers led our youngest community members in a lively sing-a-long, which was followed by an animated reading of Sandra Boynton ’70’s latest title, Jungle Night, accompanied by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
The culminating virtual 175th Celebration event, which raised $330,000 for scholarship, also highlighted the musical talents of our community, and featured jazz musician Alex Levin ’93, pianist Maya Keren ’18, and G. Love (Garrett Dutton) ’91. The special evening was emceed by GFS parent and 6ABC anchor Nydia Han, and featured special appearances by various alumni and current and former faculty members.
To wrap up the evening, Grammy nominee G. Love played “Coming Home” from his second album, Coast to Coast Motel, which he wrote when he was a tenth grader at GFS. “To this day, I truly believe that being a part of the GFS community with all of you has influenced my life so positively,” he shared. “It has made me the best version of myself that I strive for every day.”