At class meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17, Director of Admissions and administrator of both the Guerin Prize and Visiting Scholar programs Jeanette Woo Chitjian announced that the School is awarding a separate Guerin Prize to the Senior and Junior Classes. Although the Prize traditionally has been open only for members of the Junior Class, Committee members want to compensate Seniors for not holding the contest last year due to a series of pressing and high-priority events.
Former two-time trustee and donor of the prize Rick Guerin (Camille Boatwright ’75, Elizabeth Dickinson ’78, Maggie Guerin ’03) is pleased that the Prize will run this 2015-2016 school year in addition to the novelty of having two Prize winners on campus.
“I am delighted that we can do it double this year, to send two off. It seems fair to me, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Guerin said.
Started in 1998 and funded by the Guerin Endowed Fund, the Guerin Prize offers Junior Class members the opportunity to write a 1000-word essay focused on a living American whom they most admire and then meet him or her. After students submit their entries, a group of Upper School faculty members and administrators narrows down the list of participants to eight to nine finalists through a blind-read. In the last round, a panel of women with no affiliation to Marlborough interviews candidates and select the winner.
Recent winners have met businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates, political satirist of The Daily Show Jon Stuart, and former president Bill Clinton.
Assistant Head of School and Head of the Upper School Laura Hotchkiss ’86, one of the readers on the committee, admires the conviction with which the girls write their essays.
“As a math teacher, I am so impressed by our students’ ability to write and to be able to get across a point…What I find from the girls is often a really personal experience that somebody has had that they [then] see in this person. So, [it might be] a similar struggle or a similar leadership opportunity,” Hotchkiss said.
Guerin desired this sense of confidence and excitement in girls’ essays when he created the Prize in 1998 while serving his second term as a trustee.
“I think that the real gist of it is that we were hoping to inspire and motivate young girls to think of every trade there is in the world — to not exclude anything… whether that be a general or a great scientist or a great surgeon or whatever.I wish I was able to meet people when I was your age,” Guerin said.
Inspired by a similar contest at John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Missouri, Guerin brought the contest to Marlborough and worked with former Head of School Barbara Wagner to implement the Prize into the School community.
“Why Marlborough? I’ve known the School most of my life. I was born in Los Angeles in 1929. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve watched Marlborough grow, and it became a better and better school all through those early years…It’s one of the great schools in the city and probably one of the great schools as it has developed all these years in the United States. And the idea that we send out a 100 strong smart well-educated young women every year. It’s terrific,” Guerin commented.
Nevertheless, Senior Administration members opted to put the contest on hold last year due to sexual abuse allegations against former Head of English Department Joe Koetters, the civil suit against the School, farewells to former Head of School Barbara Wagner and former Director of Middle School Robert Bryan, and a search for a new Head of School among many other urgent developments.
“There was just too much going on, and, as the administrator, I had to take something off of my plate. And that’s what I chose to take off my plate, knowing that we would run it this year and have two winners,” Woo Chitjian explained.
Guerin said he agreed that it was unfortunate that a combination of events prevented the run of the Guerin Prize last year.
“Well, I thought it was too bad. There was too much confusion and everybody’s minds were on an entirely different subject. I think everybody who cared about the School [was preoccupied with] the trouble in the front office and with Ms. Wagner, and all that unpleasant situation. I just think that everybody’s mind was elsewhere. And there was no blame in doing this. I didn’t officially call it off. … I think the timing wasn’t very good,” Guerin said.
Looking back, Hotchkiss thought that holding the Prize the year prior might have lifted the mood around campus.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting things we do too. So, in hindsight, it probably would have been a great thing to do and a really celebratory thing to do and fun for the whole community,” Hotchkiss said.
Despite some disappointment over last year’s hiatus regarding last year’s Prize, seniors were grateful that they were given the opportunity to compete this year.
“I think it’s nice that they’re doing it this year [and] that they are taking the time to do both because that’s like a lot of work,” Sarah ’16 said.
Yu Shing ’16 was even relieved that she didn’t have to write her essays in the midst of a chaotic Junior Year.
“I’m really excited. Well, last year I didn’t think I would have time to write it, but this year [I will probably have time to write it]. I’ve been looking forward to this since Condoleezza Rice came in,” Yu Shing ’16 said.