The Thayer Academy Alumni Association held its annual Recognition Luncheon Saturday afternoon during Reunion Weekend and honored six women — one retiring faculty member and five alumnae award winners — for their outstanding contributions both to Thayer and the world beyond its walls.
The combined nature of this year’s reunion, the biggest in school history, brought all classes ending in 0, 5, 1, 6, 2, or 7 back to campus to enjoy celebrations that may have been postponed in recent years due to the pandemic and subsequent need for physical distancing. The alumni association recognized Grade 6 Faculty Member Sarah Corey P ‘15, ‘18, who will retire this spring after 18 years of teaching at the Middle School. The association also presented two alumni achievement awards this year, one to Erin Lyall ‘97 and another to Lis Tarlow ‘66, and two alumni humanitarian awards, one to Tanisha Sullivan ‘92 and another (awarded posthumously) to Beatrice Ruth (Aldrich) Nelson. Seana Kelley ‘80 P ‘07, ‘09 received the alumni loyalty award.
“I’m so delighted to welcome you back and welcome you home to Thayer,” Head of School Chris Fortunato said in his opening remarks at the May 7 luncheon. In addition to welcoming guests to Cahall Dining Hall, Fortunato offered a brief “State of the School” address where he touched upon some of the bigger happenings around campus, including a new wellness center and a new Middle School, both set to open this fall, and the continuation of the Upper School’s Scholar-in-Residence program.
Corey, who began teaching at Thayer in 2004, was first to receive kudos. She was praised for building authentic connections with her students, be that as a teacher, a field hockey coach, or an activities advisor helping students in the intricate decoration of Pysanky eggs. Four of her uncles, two of her aunts, her mother, and two of her children all attended the Academy. In fact, Corey wore a mother-of-pearl scarab bracelet to the recognition luncheon, the same bracelet that her mother, Barbara (Cunningham) Corey ‘45, wore to her own graduation. During her teaching career at Thayer, Corey has worn the bracelet to every Thayer graduation except for the years her children wore it for their own graduations.
“It’s been remarkable, and I’ve truly loved my time here,” said Corey before adding: “I bleed black and orange.”
A London-based producer for CBS News, Lyall received the achievement award in recognition of an award-winning career reporting on major world events in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. For the past eight years she has been CBS’s lead producer in Ukraine and has spent much of this year covering Russia’s invasion of that country.
“Thank you for giving me such a good excuse to come back,” said Lyall, who was joined at the event by her husband, Oliver.
She thanked Thayer for the honor but quickly pointed out the Thayer teachers who made such a difference in her own life. For every achievement award given, Lyall said, there are a dozen caring teachers who made an impact on that Thayer student.
“All of you,” she told the teachers in attendance,” are the ones who are changing the world.”
For Tarlow, whose academic career in the field of Soviet/Russian studies included 20 years as associate director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, the achievement award offered her the opportunity to thank not only her dedicated teachers but also those who went to school with her.
“I feel like I’m really up here with all my classmates,” she told the crowd. Tarlow did, however, single out Peter Benelli P ‘75, ‘80, ‘81 GP ‘09, a former head of school and Tarlow’s former English teacher, for encouraging her to embrace her passion for Russian history and culture.
Beatrice “Bea” (Aldrich) Nelson ‘62 was posthumously awarded the humanitarian award in recognition of her lifetime of contributions in support of her Abenaki Native community. Her tireless work fostered within Vermont and beyond an appreciation of Abenaki culture, and at one point Nelson was the “Go To” person for state and federal projects such as roadways and river projects when consultation was needed to assure the protection of Abenaki concerns and interests.
Nelson’s family members could not attend the luncheon but were able to watch the proceedings via Zoom; at one point those in attendance gave a standing ovation in honor of Nelson.
Tanisha Sullivan ‘92, a well-respected civil right leader and dedicated public servant, received her humanitarian award for, among other contributions, “championing policies that advance racial, economic, and social justice in communities across Massachusetts.” She is currently serving her third term as the volunteer president of the NAACP Boston branch. An attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the life sciences industry, Sullivan was appointed to serve on several state and city task forces, including the Massachusetts Health Equity Task Force, City of Boston Health Equity Task Force, and the City of Boston Policing Reform Task Force. She is also running for secretary of state here in Massachusetts.
“In my life’s work, I am truly grounded by Thayer’s aspirational mission of contributing to the common good,” said Sullivan, who also thanked her parents for their unwavering support. She urged those in attendance to dedicate themselves to doing at least one thing to protect and advance democracy, whether that means running for office, serving on a nonprofit board, joining the military, coaching youth soccer, or something else.
“We all need to do something at this moment,” Sullivan said.
Seana Kelley ‘80 P ‘07, ‘09 was the sole recipient of the alumni association’s loyalty award. A current alumni board member who has served in that role since 2013, Kelley is also a longtime class agent. She was recognized for more than 30 years as a dedicated volunteer at such events as Homecoming, the General’s Council Reception, Founders Day, and the Academy’s annual Professional Women’s Networking Event. Kelly generously hosted several Thayer reunion events when she owned Durgin Park, one of Boston’s most famous restaurants, and has many family members who’ve also attended Thayer. She is currently the owner/managing partner at Coastal Marine Construction.
“I am thankful for everything that Thayer has given me and my family,” said Kelley, who at one point broke into an impromptu round of “Thayer, Thayer, Forever.” “It’s made it so easy to be loyal.”