A Conversation with Bill Blauvelt ’63

As an alumnus; son of former and celebrated Head of School, Larry Blauvelt; former English and drama teacher; and National Alumni/ae Board member, Bill Blauvelt ’63 has a unique and long relationship with Friends Select School. He recently visited to see the updates to the Blauvelt Theatre and reflected about his time at Friends Select with Donna Romero—upper school English teacher, upper and middle school drama teacher, and theater arts coordinator—with whom he has much in common. 

Donna Romero: What was your learning experience like at Friends Select?

Bill Blauvelt ’63: It was the kind of learning experience everyone should have. That was long before people talked about learning styles, but my recollection is that most of the teachers were open to different ways of responding to the material. There was a give and take between teachers and students. 

DR: What teacher had the greatest impact on you?

BB: Do I have to pick one? Miriam Houseman was a great teacher. She opened all kinds of doorways into information. Certainly, Olive Tatman, who put up with me in various science and math classes from eighth through twelfth grade. Margaret Sheets, of course. There's not much to say except that she was Margaret Sheets! She was a fine teacher and, among other things, expected students to write and think effectively. I also liked Tom Doulis, another English teacher, who published his first novel while teaching at Friends Select. He taught me the importance of editing one’s writing. 

DR: How did Friends Select prepare you for college and beyond?

BB: Very well. I was somewhat shocked my freshman year of college, when several of my new friends had to take remedial English. I guess I had been a little sheltered because I hadn’t realized kids were able to slip through high school without learning how to write. And a Friends school education taught me to be open to people and to look for the good in people. I like that concept, and it helped me in the transition to college, as well as to the rest of life.

DR: How was it teaching at your alma mater? 

BB: I felt very comfortable teaching at Friends Select because the tone of the school was one that I found conducive to learning. It was very easy to come back as a teacher, and it was interesting to me how natural it seemed to have my former teachers—people like Margaret Sheets and Howard Rigby—as colleagues.

When I started as an English teacher, I was also charged with creating a major film and drama course. I had ambitious plans that were hard to fit into five periods a week. In the beginning, it was trial and error to some extent. The students’ ideas and reactions helped create the direction for the course.

DR: What is one of your most memorable productions?

BB: Carousel. The opening number calls for an operating carousel, so I figured we'd better have one. I always like technical challenges! The crew created a revolving, human-powered carousel. Dick Hoffman, Bob Harnwell, and two students provided the power that made it turn. 

DR:  Why do you think it is important for alumni/ae to stay involved with Friends Select?

BB: I believe it’s important to stay connected with the significant parts of one’s life. Friends Select has been a very significant part of my life. Anyone who feels Friends Select has had an influence on who he or she is today should stay in touch with that source. It’s good to stay connected with one’s roots. And it is nice to be able to give something back. 

DR: What do you enjoy about your visits to the school? What are some of the things that have remained constant at Friends Select?

BB: When I visit for National Alumni/ae Board meetings, I am struck by the energy, excitement, and potential of the students I get to meet. A characteristic of the school that is the same today as it was when I was a student is the caring and commitment of the faculty. The teachers and the spirit of the school really inspired me, both when I was a student and when I was a teacher here. I may not have realized that as a student, but certainly do when I look back.

DR: Why did you and your wife, Lisa, contribute to the Blauvelt Theatre renovations?

BB: Lisa and I worked together on many shows in that space. The space reminds us of the important personal connections we made with the students and faculty members who worked so hard on those productions. And the space reminds us of the kids we witnessed coming into their own in those productions. 

DR: What do you think of the new space? What would your father think?

BB: Goodness, it’s fabulous! My father would be so impressed and pleased at the way the whole school has evolved, and proud that he played a role in its history.