After thirty-two years at George School, Pippa Rex will retire in June. She reflects on the traditions she’s seen come and go, those that have remained constant, and how all traditions are created to bring joy and meaning to the lives of George School students.
The twenty-first of September is a cool day with crystal-blue skies. Students are hanging out on Red Square, talking in small groups. Suddenly, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” is blasting from speakers, the dancing begins, and there is Pippa Rex P’13, Dean of Students, throwing up her hands and joining in the fun.
For Pippa, the purpose and meaning behind school traditions is student-centered. Whether it is a long-standing, official tradition like Commencement, or a more spontaneous one like playing “September” on September 21 on Red Square, traditions are meant to remind students and adults alike that part of the George School experience is about simple, shared fun and making memories together.
“Any time you can break down the barriers between teenagers and adults so they can see the grown-ups having fun and being silly, it helps give them license to do the same,” she said.
Part of breaking down those barriers comes with the first-name tradition at George School. Since 1974, students have called teachers by their first names. To Pippa, this tradition is deeply meaningful.
“What our practice of using first names says is, ‘I may be older than you and have more life experience, but I can still learn from you, and you can learn from me,’” she explained. “We call each other by our first names because there is a common ground, not an uneven ground.”
Pippa will retire from George School at the end of this academic year. In her thirty-two years on campus, she has seen many traditions come and go, while some—like Holiday Meeting for Worship before Winter Break or Commencement—have remained constant. One of her favorites? Harvest Weekend, a long-standing George School tradition that celebrates the changing of the season with hayrides, apple butter making, pumpkin carving, and s’mores by the fire pit.
“My son is grown now, but I can remember carving pumpkins and taking him on the hayride with students when he was only three or four years old,” she recalled.
Some traditions are sustained by individuals connected to them. She remembers a couple who lived and worked at George School and would host pizza parties in the communal garden. One of them was a devoted gardener and would teach students gardening and work with them to maintain the space. Using the wood-fired stone oven in the garden, her partner would sometimes cook pizzas for students on weekends. Over the years, there have been midnight breakfasts held in the dining room on the Saturday before exam week, Kwanzaa celebrations where students would honor and speak about their ancestors, macaroni and cheese cook-offs between faculty and students, and so many others. Whether driven by the students, individual faculty members, or the school, all of the traditions center around filling student needs and creating life-long memories.
Of course, there have been a few student-led traditions that Pippa was happy to see fade away. She will not talk much about those so as not to encourage their resurrection. George School students are teenagers, after all. But even so, she can look back and smile.
“One of the most rewarding parts of this work has been to see students—who begin their George School career as young teenagers and make some silly mistakes while they are here—grow into responsible, successful adults who contribute to their community,” Pippa said, “They come back to visit, and we can laugh about our memories together.”
Recently, Pippa shared laughs with alumni who returned to campus for a new tradition: Homecoming. For the first time, students, parents, alumni, and faculty and staff joined together in a spirited celebration of George School. Students created themed dress-up days like “Teacher Tuesday” throughout the week and held a class float contest (the senior class won), and a pep rally on Friday night. Saturday was a full day of athletic contests followed by the Hall of Athletic Honor induction ceremony, celebrating athletes and coaches who have impacted George School over generations, and a Hollywood-themed Homecoming dance organized by and for students.
“It was so wonderful to see the alumni come back, and to share in the enthusiasm and excitement of our students experiencing Homecoming for the first time,” Pippa said. “Homecoming is a new tradition I’m grateful we started; I hope we’ll continue to build on it in the coming years.”