I didn't want to get up. I've never been a morning person, and even as a fifth grader, getting up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning seemed like a tremendous waste of valuable sleeping time.
My parents poked and prodded me. "You said you wanted to go to this," they told me. "It was your idea." So I drug myself out of my very warm bed right into one of the innumerable drafts our house had collected over the past two centuries, and was bitter in that way that only fifth graders can be.
I slept in the car.
It was only a 20 minute trip, and before I knew it, we were there.
Even before I got out of the car, I knew.
This was the place for me.
The Tandem School. Perched high up on a hill near Route 20, it didn't look like any school I had ever seen. Bedrooms had become classrooms, the kitchen cabinets were lockers, and there was big sunny room where people met every morning to get the day started.
They were starting a middle school the next year, and this excited me, too. I felt adventurous and free there, although i didn't exactly understand that then. I just knew that I felt very ... happy.
Over the next seven years, I was constantly challenged, delighted, supported, and thrilled. Tandem gave me many gifts: introductions to Borges, Bishop, Hurston, and Faulkner, the experience to have confidence in my own intellect and abilities, an incrediably valuable (and divese) set of knowledge as a base for future learnings, the encouragement to develop both the creative and intellectual aspects of who I am, and the chance to work and think and study with an astonishing collection of individuals.
I can still remember the pleasure I got in a music class or in the chorus with John D'Earth, who never once let my obvious inabilities get in the way of great music. This extraordinarily talented man and mentor treated me as if I had all the talent of my actually-talented classmates. He took each individual and nurtured their abilities in such a way that everyone left feeling good about themselves.
For many years, the incomparable Luise Phillips taught Spanish with flair, wit, and intelligence. In addition to being extraordinarily fun, the lessons were long lasting. Today, I can still rattle off odd phrases in Spanish, translate in Spanish restaurants, and read Spanish poetry (although a dictionary helps).
Luise opened up the world of Spanish culture to us, in addition to the language. Even better than her classes was the woman herself. A splendid linguist with a fascinating life, she had the gift to make any language sound enticing - even English!
Pru Huddleston, beloved by all, was the queen of the Basement. I agonized over my schedule to be able to fit in as many art classes as I could - everything from silkscreen to mosaics, painting, and drawing, because a simple "Yes." from Pru as she looked down at whatever you were thrusting in her path was enough to set the world shining.
She was really the first person to ever set me to coloring outside the lines, encouraging me to do it in my own way in my own time, showing me to trust in my instincts and to believe in what I produced.
The students were as extraordinary as the faculty and staff. As a puny sixth grader, I got to listen to Heather Burns work through her poetry in the car in the mornings, and really learned the connection between the poet and the poetry. It was overwhelming and exciting and very educational.
That same year, there were superballs and spam t-shirts for all because of a few enterprising seniors. The school is filled with talented musicians and artists, thoughtful writers and funny guys, people who were too divergent to be successful in the public schools, and people who were seeking more than the public schools could give them.
On paper, I am credit to Tandem: a graduate of Smith College and UNC-Chapel Hill, employed by Ernst and Young in the cutting-edge Center for Technology Enablement, and a successful member of the community.
But what really speaks for the impact Tandem had on me started to become evident in College, where it was noted that I had unusually mature writing skills and handled the transition to college life well (those years of freedom balanced with responsibility prepared me well). Tandem has influenced me most in the ways I act, think, and work.
I emerged from Tandem with the confidence to ask questions and to think against the flow. I learned to write critically, appreciate greatness, and honor individuality.