Leading an independent school—especially one the caliber of University School of Milwaukee—is a huge responsibility, but also a tremendous honor. In working with our incredible teachers, committed parents, proud alumni and parents of alumni, skilled administrators, and dedicated Trustees, I have been privileged to build upon such a strong foundation of excellence. That foundation was evident at our Commencement ceremony in May, as we graduated the Class of 2017 and welcomed back alumna Elisa (Tharps) Basnight ’87 as our speaker.
Even though I was already aware of Elisa’s planned remarks to our graduates, her message struck me as I heard her deliver it, as it represented all that is professionally possible when a child launches from this strong educational foundation. Elisa went on to each degrees from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Boston University-Brussels, Rutgers University of Law-Newark, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is also professionally accomplished, to be sure, most recently serving as the Cheif of Staff at the U.S. Mint, but also previously serving as the director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veteran Affairs and as corporate counsel at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. She also founded Girls Action Network Inc., a nonprofit with the mission to shatter stereotypes and expand opportunities for girls and young women, especially those from underserved communities. Yet it was her personal stories that resonated most with me.
Elisa shared that she had begged her parents to re-enroll at USM to finish her education after they had to withdraw her due to a family financial situation. She had been upset about having to leave USM, but it wasn’t until she was able to compare that experience with one at a local public school—oine with a strong academic reputation of its own—that she really began to understand just how transformational and important her USM education could be for her life ahead. That story reaffirmed for me just what a unique and special experience USM is for our students, alumni, and their families.
Her message could not have dovetailed better with the unveiling of our brand new Portrait of a Graduate statement, which I shared for the first time at Commencement. Our community has been hard at work this past year developing this statement, which is intended to capture the School’s aspirations for its students as they leave and continue on in college and life. The Portrait of a Graduate summarizes the qualities of our graduates in the categories of students as learners, leaders, and citizens. It articulates the very essence of what we do, and what we aspire for, here at USM, and is exemplary of the “who” we hope to graduate. As with Elisa, it is truly wonderful and humbling to stay connected with our alumni and hear about their journeys and amazing stories, and all of us look forward to following the Class of 2017—as well as future graduating classes—as they embody the ideals of our Portrait of a Graduate in the future.
Editor’s note: You can view USM’s Portrait of a Graduate at www.usmk12.org/portrait