A rich history

Each Thursday we dedicate Liggett Life to our alumni, who are such an important part of life at Liggett.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are a lot of people connected to our school, who do not know as much about the history of University Liggett School as we do in the Alumni Office. I received a great question a while back on Facebook about our alumni crest, and why it includes such intricate artwork. That is a wonderful question, but challenging to answer in a quick post on Facebook, as the explanation involves 135 years of history.

The alumni crest was designed in 2010 to incorporate the four distinct predecessor schools that make up University Liggett School. Each individual piece of artwork on the crest is the logo of one of those predecessors. I thought it would be fun to share a bit about each in this week’s blog post. So, here it goes!

The logo seen on the upper left of the crest is the original logo of the Liggett School. The Liggett School is the oldest of our predecessors dating back to 1878. The school was founded by the Rev. James D. Liggett and originally called the Detroit Home and Day School. He opened the school with the full support of his family. The Rev. Liggett was the principal, daughter Ella taught math, daughter Frances taught science and English, and daughter Jeannette directed the primary school and drawing classes. The school was founded as a school for girls, although with the need being great, admitted boys for the first few years. Only one boy, Harry T. Lincoln, ever graduated from the Liggett School. The school remained in Detroit until the 1960s when it built the Briarcliff campus in Grosse Pointe Woods. Several years later, in 1969-70, it combined with Grosse Pointe University School to form University Liggett School.

The logo in the upper right is that of Detroit University School or DUS. This school was founded in 1899, and is the second oldest predecessor school. It was originally a school for boys. The school was first housed on Elmwood in Detroit, and later on Parkview Drive after a fire in the original building in 1916. It was the building that DUS moved into in 1916 that led to our current school mascot, the Knight. The building on Parkview was an unusual one that featured cone-shaped towers, and thus was affectionately dubbed the Castle. As a result the young charges were called the Knights! DUS moved to the current University Liggett School campus in 1929 and later combined with Grosse Pointe Country Day School to create Grosse Pointe University School.

The lower left logo on the crest is that of Grosse Pointe Country Day School, or CDS. This school opened in 1915 and was established as a co-ed institution to serve the growing population of the Grosse Pointes. At the time there were no private, primary or secondary schools in the Grosse Pointe area, so the need was great. The school was first housed temporarily in a white frame home at 301 Roosevelt and then moved to a building specially built on Grosse Pointe Boulevard. The school first enrolled 50 students and later saw a huge growth in the kindergarten and primary school.

Finally, the lower right logo, is that of Grosse Pointe University School, which was founded when DUS and CDS combined in 1953. The new school, GPUS, was housed in our current building with an expansion designed by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki. Yamasaki later won national recognition for the design. The school opened as GPUS for the 1954 school year as a co-ed institution.  The first year was a bumpy one as many aspects of the building were still in progress. Students ate lunch in the library, and there were no sidewalks. GPUS thrived however under the leadership of a new headmaster John Chandler, Jr. The school remained GPUS until it combined with the Liggett School in 1969-1970.

So, these four distinct and impressive schools finally blended together to make University Liggett School in 1970. It draws from the strengths of each of these previous institutions. We felt it was only fitting our alumni crest represent this rich and varied history, and there you have it!

Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

A whale of a migration

Lower School students are thinking about big things. Really big things. Whales, to be exact. And, under the guidance of Lower School Spanish teacher Vanessa Rivera, they’ve turned their eyes west to study the world’s longest known migration, that of the gray whales.

The gray whales, or las ballenas grises, travel 10,000 to 12,000 miles each year from the feeding grounds of the Arctic seas to the warm San Ignacio Lagoon off the Baja California where they have their calves. Because the whales stick close to land, people on shore can — and do — watch the migration. Observations posts are set up all along the route and observers count the whales, sending information to Journey North, an educational website that tracks, among other things, the whales’ migration.

Rivera looked into this project because it was similar to one she had done before through Journey North, which tracked the migration of the monarch butterfly to an area of Mexico. Liggett Lower School students wrote to students in the area where the monarchs end up and discussed what they learned in both Spanish and English. This year, she chose to have the students follow the whales because of the Lower School’s theme for the year, Every Drop Counts. She has incorporated it into her teaching to various degrees, depending on the grade level and the project has been embraced by Lower School science teacher Kristie Jones.

To get help the kids fully understand the size of these animals, Jones and Rivera decided to show them. Students drew the outline of a baby gray whale — they’re 15 feet long — on gray paper and cut it out. Then it was stuffed, first with wadded up paper, but that made it too heavy to display. So they tried inflated balloons, which did the trick. Members of Liggett’s maintenance department hung it in the Spanish room and it dominates the room, as one might expect a gray whale might do. Students named it Burbujas, or Bubbles.

The kids watch whales online and explore the live maps of whale sitings. They learned Spanish songs about whales and other creatures that share the waters and created artwork  inspired by the oceans. One Liggett family was so inspired by the project, they spent part of the Christmas break in Mexico and brought back video of the whales playing in the waters of Mexico.

The project shows the strength of the Curriculum for Understanding, which recognizes that one cannot study a particular discipline on its own without showing how that subject can weave its way through so many other areas of study, and inspires so many topics of conversation.

For those who want to join the conversation, check out the Journey North website.

By Ron Bernas

Mrs. Gast: Alumna honors her teachers by teaching

It’s easy to see why Becky Gast’s students love her. She has an easy laugh and a friendly smile that makes you immediately feel like you’ve made a friend. She’s encouraging, supportive and knows her stuff. Her stuff being history: She teaches American history to seventh graders and ancient civilizations to sixth graders.

Gast was recently honored by the Louisa St. Clair Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as its Outstanding Teacher of American History. She was nominated by Adam Hellebuyck, chair of the Department of History and the Social Studies, who says there were many reasons he did so.

“Becky is dedicated, an expert in her field, dynamic in the classroom and civic minded,” he said. “All of those are criteria the DAR chapters used to select their winners.”

Gast also had to submit a philosophical statement about teaching which includes:

  • A sense of humor and a sense of fun keep events in perspective and they greatly enhance the classroom environment.
  • Storytelling is a guiding principle for me. Students remember facts in stories more than they just remember facts.
  • Teaching your subject is important, but teaching your students is paramount.

Seeing how she interacts with the students proves she practices what she preaches. A quick game of trivia was a way to see how prepared her seventh-graders are for tomorrow’s test on the Civil War. Students enthusiastically raised their hands to answer questions and show off their knowledge. She was impressed and told her students so.

Gast has been teaching at Liggett for 14 years. She also is an alumna of Liggett, having spent 13 years here from kindergarten to graduation. She earned a B.A. in history from Hillsdale where she graduated magna cum laude with a minor in English and a secondary teaching certificate.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and I knew that I wanted to come back and teach here,” she said. “I really loved my middle school experience here — we learned a lot, but we also had a lot of fun, and that’s what I try to do for my students. I want their experience to be as great as mine was.”

“Teaching has to be student centered,” she said. “I want to act on what is best for the students and I want to instill in them a love of American history.”

On February 9, Gast will be the guest of honor at a Louisa St. Clair DAR Chapter luncheon where she will have to talk about teaching.

She hasn’t fully fleshed out what it is she will say, but she knows it will be, in part, about the special place that Liggett holds in her life.

“I think it says a lot and speaks pretty well about the school that they so inspired me that I wanted to come back and do the same for these kids,” she said.

It does.

By Ron Bernas

Demystifying the college process

One of the many jewels in Liggett’s crown is our college guidance program, which began today for our junior class with a program that’s perhaps close to 30 years old. The program is designed, says Director of College Guidance Elizabeth Jamett, to introduce students to the range of educational opportunities available to them once they graduate.

It begins with students filling out a questionnaire about themselves and what they want from college. It’s not necessarily, at this stage, what they want to study, but more what kind of person they are. Questions include a mix of topics from “What kinds of schools are you interested in,” and “What schools have you visited” to “Tell of an experience in which you were very proud of yourself and why.” It’s a way for the college guidance counselors — Jamett and Upper School English Teacher Walter Butzu — to get to know a little bit more about the students.

Students then were introduced to six varied institutions of higher education by those schools’ top admissions officers. This year we had representatives of Smith College, Boston College, Hendrix College, Swarthmore College, Butler University and the University of Michigan. All different schools with different atmospheres, needs and offerings to students.

The admissions representatives discussed with the students how a college chooses its freshman class — using a pretty complicated matrix in some cases. Then, they talked to the students about how to find a college, or better yet a range of colleges, that might appeal to them. Finally, students and the college representatives went through a mock admissions decision in which students gave their opinions on who should be admitted to a school after reviewing their application.

“This last exercise exposes students to the common application, which is something they will have to use and it also shows them what the admissions officer sees on the other end,” Jamett said. “That way they know what goes into the admissions process and it can be overwhelming. Once students see what the process is, it’s less daunting.”

That’s also the reason they start this process in the junior year; it gives the kids a chance to digest everything that goes into the college application process.

Tomorrow, these students’ parents will go through a similar process, guided by a pretty thorough booklet. Their half-day program is meant to give the parents the tools to help guide their children as they embark on this major journey.

Other schools in the area and across the country present college applications information nights, but very few have a program as deep and as comprehensive as Liggett’s. It’s why we have so many impressive college placements year after year and millions of dollars in scholarships offered to our graduates. It’s a big decision, but by taking students through it step by step, that final decision — where to go to college — is a whole lot easier for the student to make.

By Ron Bernas

Our alumni share their lives

Every Thursday we devote Liggett Life to news about our alumni, because they are such a major part of life here at Liggett.

Alumni connect with University Liggett School in many ways. They attend events, volunteer for projects, join our board, send their little legacies to our school, and many others.

One of my favorite ways to connect with and learn about alumni is by organizing class notes. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, I contact my network of University Liggett School class secretaries and ask them to reach out to you, their alumni classmates for notes. These notes can be stories, photos, wedding and birth announcements, professional achievements, and anything else that alumni want to share with their old friends, teachers and schoolmates. Our alumni are doing so many amazing things!

I receive messages from alumni all around the world, and it is exciting to “meet” them and help them share their news with everyone. I have received artwork, photos from amazing trips, old memorabilia (someone sent me their GPUS class ring for our archives!) and much more. Yesterday, I received an adorably creative class note in the form of a video, and I so wanted to share it with our alumni community! Unable to include it in Perspective magazine, where our class notes are cataloged for everyone to read, I decided to include it in today’s blog post for all to enjoy.

Leython Williams ’03 and his wife are expecting their first child! To chronicle this most special event, Leython has put a video together with messages for their baby and a big on-camera reveal as he and his wife learned the gender of their baby. Check out this special video class note here.

I hope that Leython’s video inspires you to share your own notes with me to pass on to your class! You can send notes directly to Savannah Lee at slee@uls.org or share them with your class secretary. Don’t know who your class secretary is? Check Perspective magazine for a listing of class secretaries. Unfortunately, some classes have vacant class secretary positions. I would love to fill them! If you are interested in contacting your classmates twice a year to collect notes, and share them with University Liggett School, please contact the Alumni Office at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415.

Interested in seeing your story in a future alumni blog post? Periodically, I look for unique alumni stories to share! Currently, I am looking to interview alumni couples for a future blog post. Contact me if you are interested in being considered!

In the meantime, keep on sharing your news with us! Our University Liggett School community wants to hear from you.

Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

A taste of our ethnic makeup

All Upper School students will gather tonight to break baguettes — and tortillas and wontons — together with the eighth-graders at the schools annual Modern and Classical Language Dinner.

It’s the 13th time a gathering like this has filled — and we mean filled — the cafeteria with hungry kids and foods from around the world. There will be tacos and pasta and hummus and stuffed grape leaves and pierogi and other foods to represent the various ethnicities of the Upper School foreign language students. There is so much food it’s hard to overstate the size of the feast. At least there’s a really appreciative audience.

“It’s a celebration of food and culture,” said Upper School Latin teacher Liz Hastie. “It’s also gives the eighth-graders a taste of Upper School life.”

The cafeteria has been transformed with Chinese lanterns and flags from many nations for the event, which will be attended by more than 250 kids, once all is said and done. Logistics about getting all those students through the food lines were discussed well in advance, and it’s expected to go more smoothly this year. Posters, designed for a contest, adorn the walls, extolling the virtues of the various languages.

The event has changed in its 13 years, said Kriste Karolak, chair of the Modern and Classical Languages Department. There used to be skits and songs but that became unwieldy, she said. Now there are stations at which, for instance, Latin students in togas will teach the eighth-graders about Roman life and Chinese students will showcase Chinese culture. This is only the third year that it’s been an event centered on the eighth-graders and it’s been very successful, she said.

It’s a great night for the Modern and Classical Languages Department, and a great night for students. See for yourself.

By Ron Bernas

So many alumni, so little time

Every Thursday, Liggett Life devotes this space to our alumni, a large part of the life of Liggett.

Earlier this week the Alumni Office headed to Washington D.C. (Check out our earlier blog post about regional alumni travel.) It was a whirlwind trip from Sunday to Tuesday, and we had a great time meeting up with our alumni!

Did you know that we have alumni from around the country who serve remotely on the Alumni Board of Governors? These individuals help us connect with alumni in areas with large populations of Liggett graduates. Our Washington, D.C. representative is Bill Canfield ’64 GPUS. Staff member Cressie Boggs and I had breakfast with Bill on Monday morning to update him on the school and discuss future plans for D.C.-area alumni. Our regional alumni leaders really help us provide exciting and relevant programming to Liggett alumni all over the country.

Monday night, we held an event for alumni at Susan Thoms’ home at the Watergate apartments. There were about 20 alumni in attendance. Everyone was very intrigued to be at a venue that has such an infamous history. It was a lot of fun to hear Susan and her husband David discuss the apartment complex and how it played into the Watergate scandal. Even longtime D.C. residents were excited to get a look inside!

Perhaps even more intriguing than the Watergate, was meeting such a diverse group of alumni at the event. We had graduates from 1941 through the early 2000s. Everyone was also excited to have Lowell and Nancy Davis, both former faculty, attend the event. Fellow guest Walter Olson ’71 remembered having Lowell as a teacher in the Upper School, and the two reminisced for a long time about classes.

The evening ended with a few updates from Dr. Healey and a lot of yummy food prepared by Susan and David. It was a great success, and we learned a lot about the alumni in D.C. Check out the photos from the event on Facebook. To those who attended, I hope you enjoyed the reception! We loved seeing you!

We are back in Michigan today, but the Alumni Office won’t be stationary for long! We still have a lot of travel ahead of us this year, and a lot of alumni to get to know. Up next, we will be doing a week-long tour of Florida. If you’re interested in joining us at an event, contact Savannah Lee at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415, or via email at slee@uls.org. We would love to meet up with you! Here’s the Florida events schedule:

Naples Reception
Monday, March 4
5 p.m.
Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club – Chickee Terrace
851 Gulf Shore Blvd, Naples, FL

Vero Beach Reception
Wednesday, March 6
6 p.m.
Vero Beach Hotel & Spa – Shoreline Room
3500 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach, FL

Palm Beach Reception – Hosted by Tom Henry ’61 GPUS
Thursday, March 7
6 p.m.
Four Seasons Palm Beach – Banyon Room
2800 South Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, FL

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Officer 

Black and Green

It looked a bit like a heavy metal concert around here today. Nearly every student wore black. Leggings, T-shirts, tights, polos, pants: Almost everything everyone wore was black. And it wasn’t just what was on the people, either. Classrooms and offices kept the lights low or off and even the hallways were lit only by light streaming in the windows.

Students dressed in black to kick off the Green Cup Challenge.

The event was Blackout Day, Liggett’s way of kicking off the Green Cup Challenge, a friendly, nationwide, environmental competition in which schools compete to reduce their electric usage for a month.

Upper School science teacher Russ Glenn’s Environmental Club is spearheading the effort and, between now and Feb. 13, will be parceling out tips on cutting electric usage. Today, students went a bit cold turkey with the lights off in many classrooms, but they’ve been urged, as time goes on, to turn lights off and unplug electronics when they’re not in use, because electronics use electricity when they’re plugged in, even if they’re turned off.

“It’s a nationwide challenge,” Glenn said, “but we’re just competing against schools in the Great Lakes region.” Liggett’s participated in the past but, despite our best efforts, we’ve only succeeded in increasing our electricity usage.

We have a big advantage this year, Glenn said, and that’s the closing of our Briarcliff campus. We don’t need to heat it or light it except for the parts we’re using, which is primarily only the gym. “Many people don’t realize that one of the best, most sustainable ways of cutting energy usage is to renovate, not rebuild.” And that’s just what we did when we brought the Middle School over here.

Liggett participates, Glenn said, because — like our tree planting and other environmental efforts — it’s a part of our greening initiatives. It also brings awareness of the issues of environmental caretaking and sustainability to our students.

“When we reduce our electric usage, we reduce the amount of coal burned — because most of our electricity is generated by coal — and we put less carbon dioxide and less sulfur dioxide into the air, which helps because they contribute to global warming.”

The overall goal of the challenge, which is sponsored by the Green Schools Alliance and energy companies, is for all the participating schools to collectively drop 7 percent. And even if they don’t, everyone wins when we use less electricity.

We’ll let you know how things go. For more information on the Green Cup Challenge, click here.

By Ron Bernas

Debating the future

There was a big debate in the Middle School today. Four groups all with their own viewpoints came together to debate the future: Should the colonies break away from Mother England?

The debate was part of the Revolutionary War section of seventh-grade social studies and was moderated by teacher John Farris. The Patriots, Loyalists, Moderates and even the British Parliament and King George III had their say during what Farris said was a pretty strong showing by all parties.

“I was really impressed they did such a good job of knowing their own group’s point of view,” he said. And it’s especially important because, for instance, the Loyalists in the colonies had the same endgame as the British Parliament, but the two groups had different arguments.

He was also impressed at how they got into the spirit of the debate with costumes and props. He probably shouldn’t have been surprised, he says, because his seventh-graders love to debate issues; Farris simply added structure to the process.

What makes something like this such a valuable teaching tool? Farris says it’s akin to asking a student to use new vocabulary in a sentence to see whether they really know what it means. By having students discuss the issues, and defend their viewpoints when challenged by another, it strengthens their knowledge of all sides. It also helps them become more comfortable speaking their mind.

Also, many students are asked to present ideas that they may disagree with: “I don’t want to be King George, he’s the bad guy in this.” But having them research and offer viewpoints that are different from their own is in and of itself a valuable learning tool.

But don’t tell any of that to the students: They just know they had fun.

By Ron Bernas


Alumni Thursday: On knowing when it’s good

Liggett Life devotes each Thursday to Liggett’s alumni, because they are such an important part of the life of Liggett.

Patrick Monahan appreciates what he has at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is studying sustainable development.

The member of the Class of 2012 lives in a 200-year-old dormitory that overlooks the Old Course, the place where golf was invented. He has classes four days a week and on Wednesdays he plays with the school lacrosse team, which will take him across the UK to play other colleges and universities. He takes weekend trips around Europe, as the flights are really cheap. He lives just down the street from the apartment Prince William and Kate Middleton shared while they were students at the same 600-year-old legendary institution. And St. Andrews itself “is a little like going to Liggett,” he said, “you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” he said, smiling at the understatement.

As a way of giving back, he will be participating in a school-sponsored fundraiser he calls “a charity hitchhike to Prague,” though he says his mother isn’t thrilled with that description. Still, he says, that’s what it is, even though it’s called the Race 2 Prague.

It’s become a tradition at St. Andrews, though the destination is different each year. Hundreds of teams of two or three – his teammate is a student from New York City – are taken to one of three places in England and dropped off. They then have three days to travel the 1,200 miles to a designated spot in Prague, in the Czech Republic. They are allowed to get there any way they can – though pre-booked flights aren’t allowed – but Patrick and his partner are going to do it old-school, using their wits and the kindness of strangers. And probably their thumbs.

The teams must raise at least $200 to enter the race and the funds go to six charities in the UK. And while he’s doing something good for others, he’s also intending to have a little fun. After getting to Prague – which he’s expecting to do in the three days allotted – he’ll spend a few days exploring the city before heading back to St. Andrews for his second semester and his dorm room overlooking the birthplace of golf.

By Ron Bernas

For more on the Race 2 Prague, click here.