2017 Founders’ Day and Night: Celebrating TA’s 198th Birthday

2017 Founders’ Day and Night: Celebrating TA’s 198th Birthday

We celebrated Thetford Academy’s 198th birthday on Friday, Feb. 3, and it was terrific in every way.

It seems hard to believe, but this was our 74th annual Founders’ Day, and next year, as we close in on our Bicentennial, it will be our 75th.

A TA parent volunteer told me that words and photos simply can’t describe how special this day is; she said parents must attend the event to experience it for themselves. There’s just nothing like it anywhere else, she said.

A new employee, experiencing the event for the first time, observed that the traditions of Founders’ Day harken back to an era long past, but that remarkably our students find these traditions authentic and meaningful and fully embrace them.

This post is designed to show you, the reader, what this event is all about, to enable our Founders’ Day festivities to resonate with you, as it does with our students every year.

TA’s Founders’ Day is always an immensely creative affair, at times serious, even somber, at other times competitive, boisterous, and irreverent. And this year’s was, by all accounts, one of the best in memory.

With the White Building’s cupola bell pealing, students crowded into the Vaughan Alumni Gymnasium for our Founders’ Day opening session, and we began, as we always do, with an introduction to the year’s theme: Greek mythology, a topic chosen by the Student Council.

Junior Clifford Ransom then narrated a short history of Thetford Academy, a history of inclusiveness in which girls have attended classes alongside boys since the school doors opened in 1819, in which African Americans and Native Americans have been welcome since well before the Civil War.

The annual candle lighting ceremony followed, emphasizing TA values like Dedication, Cooperation, Courage, and Responsibility, while painting vivid pictures of light and flame to illustrate how the school overcame the 1942 fire that destroyed three of the school’s original buildings. This year, senior Reshma Rambersaud read the text for the ceremony, with the class presidents of TA’s six classes each lighting candles of a different color. To conclude the ceremony, the senior class president passed on a burning candle to the junior class president, symbolizing the passing of all TA traditions to the next generation of students. Our students’ response to this serious side of Founders’ Day was respectful and reflective, as it always is.

Several weeks ago, each class chose a subject from Greek Mythology on which to focus their efforts:

7th grade: Achilles, Hector and the Heroes of the Trojan War
8th grade: Theseus and the Minotaur.
9th grade: The 12 Labors of Hercules
10th grade: Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece
11th grade: Adventures of Odysseus
12th grade: Gods and Titans

Over two weeks of preparation, including an entire school day on Thursday, Feb. 2, students prepared their cakes and centerpieces, costumes and crowns, murals and banners, snow sculptures and floats, songs, skits and dances to the sub-theme of their class, researching their myth and connecting the design elements of their projects to the characters of their story.

When students organize in small teams to design/make/build/write/create their project, they brainstorm, argue, collaborate, compromise, and create. They work with students with different interests and abilities, they come to appreciate what their team members bring to the table, they learn that it takes the contributions of all to complete their project. I saw all of these things at work when I moved from group to group over the course of the prep day on Thursday.

When the element of friendly competition is added into the mix, the students do their very best work—and the final product, once again, was amazing to behold. This year’s projects and skits were among the best I have yet seen.

As the Founders’ Day morning program continued, students made a circuit around the gym, in a parade of cakes, centerpieces, costumes, and floats. The other projects are not “paradable”; the murals are on display across the back wall of the gym, while snow sculptures dominating the school’s lawns and banners hanging in the White Building hallways will remind students of Founders’ Day for days to come.

Then came the skits, songs, and dances, with each class performing short plays written, directed, choreographed, costumed, and acted/sung/danced by students. Tradition has it that the skits not only follow the sub-theme each class chose, but also lightly mock their teachers. Mr. Neiderhauser is the perennial favorite for students to parody, but Madame Heinzmann and Coach Weigel (and I as well, I must confess) aren’t far behind.

Afterwards followed volleyball, tug-of-war, and a variety of races: flag-waving students running a relay around the basketball court, boisterous floats on skis completing a loop around the softball field, shopping carts maneuvering down the hallways of the Arts Building, student runners jumping through tires in the snow.

An all-school banquet completed the day. Senior president Raphi Orleck-Jetter presented a welcome, and senior Student Council representatives Reshma Rampersaud and Ian Mitchell delivered a toast.  Special guests were in attendance from among our alumni and parent bodies, and music was provided courtesy of Greg Mellinger and the House Band. The family-styled banquet meal consisted of pork roast, turkey, veggie burgers, mashed potatoes (grown by Casey Huling’s Why Foods Matter class and prepared by the Culinary Arts classes), buttered peas, cole slaw, dinner rolls, milk, and … Founders’ Day cake.

Our 2017 Founders’ Day judges, coordinated by Wendy Cole, spent Thursday afternoon and all day Friday at the school, and we greatly appreciate their efforts: Marshall Van Norden ’63, Bridget Dugan-Sullivan ’06, Thetford Police Chief Michael Evans, Judy Yocom, and Joette Hayashigawa.

At every step of the way, points awarded by the judges accumulated for the winners, and victors were determined. By the end of the day, the seventh grade defeated the eighth, the sophomores edged the freshmen, and the juniors upset (double meaning intended) the seniors.

Founders’ Day 2017 was made organized by a committee of faculty members, led by the tireless efforts of Karen Martin: Karyn Neubauer, Chris Schmidt, Len Whitaker, Rose Dedam, and Melissa Perry. But every faculty and staff member had an important role in this special day; a special thanks to all of them.

Later in the evening came the relatively new tradition of Founders’ Night, complete with bonfire, laser tag, dancing, board games, karaoke, and chocolate fondue. A team of faculty and staff put on this event: Wendy Cole, Chico Eastridge, Jennifer Gernhard, Casey Huling, Siobhan Lopez, Karyn Neubauer, Kate Owen, Blendon Salls, Chris Schmidt, Mark Pichette, Mark Weigel, Kelly Welsh, and Leonard Whitaker.

All day, the assistance of Buildings and Grounds staff John Brown, Rich Young, Mark Gurney, Dean Kellogg, Scott Smith, and Mike Wells was instrumental in ensuring the day’s success.  It was quite a day for Thetford Academy.

For a series of pictures from the day’s events, see TA’s Flicker page.

—William Bugg, Head of School