It was bound to be an Installation like no other, because it was virtual—the first time in 92 years when the sound of live applause would not fill a shared space.
And though Head Prefect Leighton Symons acknowledged the strangeness of Branksome Hall’s March shutdown and the many alterations and uncertainties that have accompanied students’ return to school this September, she delivered an unforgettable, inspiring speech in which she urged all to adopt and share responsibility for “a forward-focused mindset.”
Indeed, it was a historic night of many firsts, and not just for the unprecedented format. The centrepiece of this celebration of girls’ and women's leadership and community was a pre-taped conversation that shone a light on the authenticity and humanity that lies at the heart of leadership.
Moderated by Dr. Mira Gambhir, the riveting line-up included “CK” PURKS Hoffler’80, CEO of The CK Hoffler Firm, the trailblazing Atlanta-based law firm; Torie Williams'17, a past President of the Black Students’ Network at McGill University, where she is majoring in economics; and Grade 11 student Maria Muiruri, a founding member of the Diversity Council at Branksome and its Diversity Council Student Life Representative.
There were common themes among the three panelists’ voices, as they spoke about our shared humanity, their insights into leadership, history, and current events, and reflected powerfully on their lived experience as Black women.
“I find myself in positions where I’m called upon to speak on behalf of my community, because I’m often one of the few Black people in the room,” said Williams. “I try to use my platform to bring others to the table.”
She also challenged Branksome Hall to “create more spaces where young Black women can be fully themselves, so they can be both Black and a woman in this space.”
While Muiruri was heartened that important conversations are now being surfaced and conversations about race are “being brought home in a way not seen before,” she is nevertheless “tired of explaining the narrative, looking for justification of [police brutality]; the police are not supposed to kill you.”
It was “CK” PURKS Hoffler’80, who most powerfully articulated the lived experience of racism—not in her role as a pioneering lawyer, but from the personal perspective as a mother of Black teenage sons. Despite her incredible success—she has represented and is also counsel to Civil Rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson—she described how it feels to live with constant fear for the safety of her sons.
Several weeks ago she received a text message from one of her two teenage sons saying that he had been stopped by the police because he was in a high-end car and “driving while Black,” she said. “I’m ferocious in a courtroom,” said Hoffler, “but I have told my son that if he is ever stopped by the police, you put your hands on the dashboard and you do not move. This is not the time to show how intellectually strong you are. This is the tragedy of where we live now.”
In addition to this sharing of lived experience, it was also the sense of promise that shone through in the evening’s program. Muiruri’s take-home message was “Just go for it,” and her remarkably mature and deep insights suggest she is doing just that.
Another student leader recognized was Brooke Shaugnessy, who received the Ruth Cavan Memorial Medal for Scholarship and swept the Green Carpet Celebration last June, receiving prizes for her exceptional performance in an impressive range of IB subjects, including Biology, Math Analysis, Chemistry, Latin and Classics.
After recognizing Grade 6 leaders and Graduating Year representatives, the Campbell Clan led by Chieftain Izzy Boriss, were announced as the 2019-20 winning clan, and this year’s Prefects were installed.
Finally, the Ceremony of the Flags, the symbolic handing over of leadership responsibility to this year's leaders, featured five employees who are also alumnae: Hayley Avruskin’87, Hannah Hersh’11, Denise LISCIO Smith’94, Tracy Dalglish’81 and Kristen Cuthbert’02.
“I am so proud that we are all part of an institution that has recognized women’s leadership as foundational to its mission, vision and values,” said Principal Karen Jurjevich. “This Installation was truly special. I’ve heard from members of our community that they laughed, they cried, and I think we all were provoked to reflect and to want to do even more to ensure we are fully living out our shared values of sense of community and inclusiveness.”