My Fellow SJS Alumni,
I understood nothing. Surrounded by future masters of the engineering universe, including an especially precocious freshman, I was lost in Doug Sharp’s Calculus-BC AP class during my senior year. Despite Mr. Sharp’s brilliant mind and endless effort to keep me with the pack, I clearly did not belong. But to this day I vividly recall one tactic that he employed to help explain a concept. He paused mid-lecture to quote from Atlantic City, Bruce Springsteen’s ode to organized crime: “Now everything dies, baby that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” I may not have comprehended the mathematical concept, but I had enough sense to realize that he was teaching me a more valuable lesson.
When I walked off the Quad as a graduate in the spring of 1995, you could have knocked me over with a feather had you told me that I would return 22 years later as the President of the Alumni Board. After 12 long years at SJS, I was eager to expand my horizons and put the School in the rear-view mirror. The last place I thought I’d end up two decades later would be back on campus, helping to connect a diverse, dynamic, vast alumni community with the finest independent school in Texas.
So why I am in this position? Even if our time as SJS students inevitably must die, why shouldn’t our bond to the place someday come back? If you’re reading this, you already made the choice to be connected to SJS. Maybe it’s because you recognize the unparalleled value of the education you received. Or you cherish the impactful, lifelong friendships you made. Perhaps you’re on the return trajectory of a boomerang path that catapulted you away for college and graduate school but pulled you back to Houston to make roots for your career and family. Or it might be less tangible—the recognition that “place matters,” and there is something exceptional about SJS that draws people back. For me, it’s all of the above.
This is the part of the story where I tell you what’s happening on campus that, hopefully, will motivate you to be more connected with SJS. For those of you who haven’t set foot on campus in ten or more years, you’d recognize little about the physical plant. But you’d be astounded by the architectural integrity of the additions. There is a clear, genetic link to the original Quadrangle. College campuses should take a page from how we’ve grown with aesthetic character and consistency.
Our expanded geographic footprint will protect the campus from encroaching development and provide more educational opportunities for students and faculty. Last year, we completed construction on a parking garage that makes up for parking spaces lost as we’ve developed the campus, and will allow us to continue to repurpose how we use the space we have. We also finished a state-of-the-art multi-purpose athletic facility that should have us feeding prospects to the Astros for years to come. We’ve begun construction on an addition to the fine arts complex in the Molly Smith Courtyard. This project reflects a continued commitment to providing the best facilities for students to explore their artistic passions. Importantly, even as the physical landscape of the campus evolves, the Alumni Board will work with SJS to ensure that the essence of the school endures. Because place matters.
This is the part of the story where I remind you how the Alumni Association fits into the SJS community. Founded in 1968, its purpose is to strengthen relationships within the alumni community, as well as between alumni and the school. SJS is built on a foundation of these strong relationships and excels because of them. A full-time staff works continuously to improve our alumni program. They are available to field your questions anytime. We want to build the most robust, active, satisfied alumni base of any independent school in Texas. We have work to do.
The Alumni Internship Program is the most tangible way for alumni and current students to connect. It was designed to give students a meaningful, summer work experience in a potential field of interest. Alumni hosts benefit from brilliant, ambitious, energized students who labor for two weeks at no cost. Having participated in the program since its inception, I can assure you that everyone wins on this deal. For the summer of 2017, over 100 students applied for internships, and 50 were placed. The demand is there from the students, but we need more local alumni willing to host these young geniuses. Contact the Alumni team in the Advancement office at 713-850-4034 if you’d like to host an intern next summer.
Last year we launched the Student Alumni Ambassadors Program. Student-led, the program connects alumni with current students. The alumni ambassadors organized an alumni panel and hosted two stewardship days on campus, in which more than 200 students participated. The program needs alumni speakers for lectures and club meetings. Contact the Alumni team in the Advancement office if you’d like to volunteer as an alumni ambassador.
We have to embrace the technological revolution. Another initiative coming this year is an online alumni networking portal. We want to make it easier for alumni to build new relationships and maintain existing ones. Call the Alumni team in the Advancement office to update your contact information so you can receive communications from SJS and participate in this new networking opportunity.
This is the part of the story where I promote the parties. The Alumni Association hosted several Houston events—including football game watch parties, a young alumni happy hour event with Kinkaid and Episcopal alumni, a competition-style fundraising Alumni Phonathon, and the highlight of the social calendar, Reunion Weekend. For those of you who don’t live in Houston, we try to bring the action to you. SJS hosted regional events last year in Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Faculty members Barbara DiPaolo, Gara Johnson-West, Bill McDonald, Brenda Mercado, Richie Mercado ’79, and Dwight Raulston ’71 were in attendance. More events are scheduled for the 2017-18 school year, so keep your eye out for details.
Reunion Weekend, held each April, has come a long way over the past few years, and it’s only getting better. Over 250 alumni launched the festivities on campus Friday evening. Alumni Award recipients were recognized followed by the Spring Fling with a BBQ buffet and live music. The event is free for all alumni to attend, and the spacious Great Lawn outside Flores Hall can accommodate hundreds more of you. On Saturday, the Class of 1967 celebrated its 50th reunion at the Mid-Century Rebels Luncheon, followed by a carnival for all alumni families on the South Campus. Classes ending in ’7s and ’2s celebrated milestone reunions with individual class parties on Saturday night. Reunion Weekend is a celebration of the fact that we graduated from a school whose standards are now so high that it probably would not admit most of us today. I invite all of you to show up next year to revel in that pleasure.
This is the part of the story where I let you in on the secret that you play a substantial fiscal role in making the magic happen at SJS. As the campus and enrollment grow to provide the best education to as many qualified students as possible, the Annual Fund never has been more important to that mission. Thirty-one percent of you generously donated to the 2016-2017 Annual Fund, representing over 1,420 total gifts. Membership in the Red & Black Society, for young alumni leaders, has increased every year since its creation, with 129 members generating over $225,560 last year. Its members enjoy an exclusive wine tasting event in the spring that most of us unfortunately are too old to attend. The Alumni Phonathon was moved to the fall and produced record-setting results, generating $68,850 and 258 total gifts, 43 of them from first-time donors. These numbers on a page equate to enhanced students programs, which is the entire point of the endeavor. But, of course, we can and must do better.
This is the part where I wrap things up and try to send you off feeling better than ever about being an SJS alumnus. It’s our responsibility as Alumni Board members to represent and serve you. The Board wants your feedback, questions, and criticisms. If you don’t know where to direct them, give me a shout (firstname.lastname@example.org
), and I’ll steer you to the right place. The Board members are honored to call SJS our alma mater and want you to share that feeling.
Each spring, more than 150 talented and unique graduates join the Alumni Association, elevating a well-established, impressive community to newer heights. The School’s founders would be proud, but probably not surprised, to know what its alumni have achieved. All of you are welcome members of the Association, even if you have not set foot on campus, attended an event, or donated a dollar since graduation. Like my Calculus class, you may not remember much about your time here, but don’t forget that you benefit constantly from being an alumnus. Maybe it’s an enhanced professional opportunity, the chance to test your child for admission, or possessing a more astute way of understanding our increasingly strange, evolving world. Whether you’ve been involved with SJS since graduation or haven’t touched base in years, we welcome you with open arms and invite you to connect with us. Because, just as Mr. Sharp taught me, everything that dies someday comes back.
Josh Schaffer ’95
Alumni Board President