School

When I Was 17: Ms. Halsey

By Vincent Langan ’20

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Ms. Halsey at St. Paul’s School Graduation Day

Set the Scene:

I was in high school, for sure, and I went to Saint Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. I was one of the first girls. In fact, my class was the first class that had girls from ninth grade to twelfth grade. That was in the fall of 1972. When I was seventeen though, I was in France on School Year Abroad (SYA). I chose to spend my senior year in that program, where I lived with a French family and studied French, and that’s where I learned to speak French. I was a terrified and pathetic student of high school French, and SYA opened the door for me.

Sports and Extracurriculars:

At St. Paul’s, I skied on the ski team. Before I went away for prep school, my older brother, Mr. Vickery, and I were competitive skiers on a local team. My moment of glory was when I made the New York state final. I did race on the St. Paul’s ski team for three years, and played girl’s varsity soccer. Girls sports at the time were nascent; the programs were growing. Anyway, when I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a ski bum and thought I would live my life on the slopes, but that changed when I discovered the world of books and intellect.

Did you imagine yourself as a teacher?:

(she shakes her head) Actually, I also played guitar, and my mom taught me how to play when she was in her late twenties, and she developed a teaching practice and played professionally outside our home. Her teaching roster just grew and grew, and I had been playing for several years. I think I was 12, and my mother had asked if I had wanted to take on some beginning students. I also had a summer job for four years, in which I was the music coordinator at a bilingual summer camp, in which they spoke English and French. We put on a musical at the end of each session in which we would convert a children’s story into a musical in French. We would teach the kids phonetically; all their lines were in French. I did a lot of teaching of little kids, but never really imagined myself as a classroom teacher. I loved being a student, and went to college after high school. I actually got married my freshman year of college, which turned my focus to having children. So I finished college and had my first baby a couple months later. We were at Andover, and I got a job tutoring students in English. I later got a teaching job at a boy’s school outside of Boston, and that was first full time teaching job. I always loved to teach, but it was never my life ambition.

How was your international experience?

I had dreamed of going to France for a long time, and my grandfather had promised that he’d take me when I was sixteen, even though he never did. I enrolled at St. Paul’s, which was one of the three founding schools of SYA, and I had sort of an epiphany one day, that I could maybe go to France via SYA. In the years and decades that have gone by, I have often told students who are fearful of going with SYA that they can imagine all that they’d lose from their home school, but can’t imagine all they would gain from being immersed in another culture and language. We sometimes see that our culture is the only culture, and SYA truly opens up a person’s soul to other cultures and people. SYA changed my life dramatically. I ended up marrying a man who worked for SYA, a Francophone, and I lived in France also working for the program. All of our children also went through the program. So SYA truly changed my whole life, and inspired me to travel, as I spent my sabbatical in South Africa, where I worked in a program that focuses on the mother to child transmission of HIV.

Advice for current students (academic or social):

It may be impossible for me to settle on something, because there’s so much and advice is a delicate thing. It varies with each person and situation. If there were one thing for me to settle on for students, it’d be to keep trying and be true to themselves in any way possible. It seems cliché, but embrace who you are and work with the people around you to open the multiplicity of human experience. The irony is that we are all distinct and different, and there’s so much more and so much common ground that we share and that can be lost. If we worry that we have to hide our differences, we become inauthentic. So strive to be authentic and engaged.

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Ms. Halsey on St. Paul’s Student Council

First kiss or love:

When I was a ninth grader, I was madly, madly in love with a twelfth grader, and we, you know, had some romance, as teenagers do.

Final quote/mantra or funny story?

I was kinda 12 going on 35. Looking back, I didn’t fit in easily, and I navigated through my teenage years, you know, with just a handful of friends that I was close with. I wasn’t super social because I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t feel like a teenager. They’re complex reasons for that. But I didn’t really have a teenage mantra. I didn’t come to consciousness of who I am as to who my family was, until years later.

Categories: School, Uncategorized

1 reply »

  1. just one small edit: the organization that i volunteered for in cape town worked in the PREVENTION of mother-to-child transmission of HIV… check them out: mothers2mothers. m2m.org.

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