Written by Kaitlin Hill / Photos courtesy of Wakefield School
“It has been a labor of love for everyone that has been involved, all the way back to our beginning,” shares Wakefield School Board Chair Eileen Quenell of the school’s 50th Anniversary celebration in early February, and more broadly the Wakefield experience overall.
Opened in 1972, the school was originally called the Wakefield Country Day School and located in Huntly, Virginia. Over the past half-century, the school has seen its share of changes, enhancements, and innovations. In 1982, the name was officially changed to Wakefield School. In 1996, it moved to its new home in The Plains, Virginia. From there, the school set its sights on expansion, completing construction on an upper school in 1999 and various campus add-ons including a Science and Technology Building in 2006, squash and golf facilities in 2010, and an Arts and Music Building in 2022. In 2018, Ashley Harper was inducted as Head of School, a position she still holds today.
Like Quenell, for Harper, 50 years is a marker of the school’s successful mission of “Virtus et Sapientia” or “Virtue and Wisdom.” Harper shares, “Over the course of the past 50 years, I think what really strikes me is the commitment to excellence in education. Both the education of our minds and the education of our hearts is incredibly important at Wakefield.”
“Our mission is to build character and foster curiosity in our students, building on our values of respect, empathy, and integrity,” explains Quenell. Dedication to this mission has helped the faculty and staff of the school produce well-rounded alumni ready to take on the world, many of whom came back to enjoy the 50th festivities or participate in organizing the weekend.
Wakefield alum and Middleburg Life photographer Gracie Withers is on the school’s Board of Trustees and Alumni Committee. A 2010 graduate, Withers was instrumental in the planning of the weekend to honor the school’s legacy. “A big goal of mine was to increase alumni engagement however that looks, whether it’s virtual or in person,” explains Withers. She continues, “We were really happy with the turnout that we had for the 50th Anniversary.”
In addition to numerous Wakefield staff, Withers worked with fellow alum and Board of Trustees member Brenton Lewis (’09) to conceptualize celebratory events with broad appeal for past and present students. On Friday, February 3, Wakefield hosted a celebratory trivia night at The Farm Brewery at Broad Run to the delight of many. “The turnout was awesome. The trivia was hosted by Matthew Zontine, who has been an English teacher at Wakefield for so many years. He was the perfect person to have as host because everyone knows him and so many alumni were taught by him.” Withers says, “The [school] really turned to Brenton and me to come up with different events that would encourage people to join.”
Many of the activities had the added excitement of attracting students and staff representing the whole life cycle of Wakefield. “On Friday, when we had the all-school birthday party, we had an assembly and three of our ‘lifers’ led the entire school through their memories. It was so sweet to see junior kindergarteners hearing stories of traditions that have been around for years and seeing themselves in these 18-year-old students standing in front of them.” Harper continues, “Former faculty and current faculty were in the room on Saturday with alumni. Imagine being 35 years old and seeing your fifth-grade teacher. What an amazing experience.”
The Cocktails & Conversations event at the new George L. Ohrstrom Jr. Theater & Auditorium saw the return of former Head of School Peter Quinn, who shared a trip down memory lane via Q&A with Harper, now in her fifth year of leadership.
Though more than fun, games, and long-awaited reunions of students and staff, for Harper, Quenell, and Withers, the 50th Anniversary celebration offered the opportunity to reflect on the school’s past and look forward to its future.
“I think Wakefield, especially at our 50th Anniversary, represents this idea of legacy. There is a legacy on this beautiful hill that means people are connected to something larger than themselves,” shares Harper. “We are proud of our last 50 years and the foundation it has created for us.” Quenell adds, “We work hard every single day to think about the value we bring in education and character building and the support we provide to families… To me, [the 50th] is evidence that our mission is on point. … It’s a great punctuation to all we’ve worked toward.”
As for the future? Quenell says, “You can’t always see around the corner [in terms] of what the world has in store for the future, so our challenge is to be ready and agile for whatever that may be and be able to prepare our students for whatever lies ahead. And, most importantly, we need to teach our students how to be agile and resilient in the face of change. … How do we help them have the conviction, the confidence, and the voice to articulate themselves? Because that’s what the world really needs, right?”
Harper finishes, “It is a really special time to be a part of the school as we look toward the next 50 years. I think the growth and change we’re going to see [will be] in really positive ways as we become more aspirational. It’s going to be exciting.” ML
Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.