What would be your response to, “Do you like old people?” I was recently confronted with this question from LBJ during a publications class, and I would say it caught me off guard. I asked why she was wondering, and that’s when she presented me with the opportunity to join associate head of school Jenifer Blake for an interview with a 97-year-old alum of Rowland Hall named Bette Jeanne Decker who graduated nearly 80 years ago.
Bette Jeanne graduated in 1943 after spending her junior and senior years at Rowland Hall. She originally came from East High, and, fun fact, before Rowland Hall owned it, the Lincoln Campus was her middle school. What brought her to Rowland Hall was a desire for an intimate academic environment that would give her a learning experience like no other; Rowland Hall ended up being the perfect place for her.
Rowland Hall looked much different back then than it does today. But some tried and true traditions and practices have stuck around. Here are some similarities and differences between Bette Jeanne’s experience in the 40s and students’ experiences today.
If you think Rowland Hall is small now, imagine your graduating class having only 13 people and being the largest graduating class up until that point. This was the case for Bette Jeanne’s class. The school, which only enrolled girls at the time, was very small and tight-knit. With such a small class size, the demographics were pretty homogenous. Most of the girls came from the Federal Heights/Avenues area, and Bette Jeanne lived farther into Salt Lake. Since she wasn’t from their neighborhood and came from public school, she said the girls viewed her as an “outsider.” This caused Bette Jeanne to experience some hazing when she first arrived. The hazing she experienced included “girls pulling your legs out from under you while you went up the stairs and luring you in to push you,” she said. “They would engage you in a conversation and, unbeknownst to you, one would come up behind you and push you over,” Bette Jeanne described. Despite the hostility the girls showed to her, she eventually became close friends with them. “If you could survive the brutality then they would finally accept you as one of them.” Thankfully, new students don’t experience this behavior anymore. When I look back at my transition to Rowland Hall, everyone was open and welcoming and there was certainly no hazing. When I asked Maddi Stufflebeam about her transition to Rowland Hall from California she said, “t took a little while before I was fully integrated into the Rowland Hall community but when I found my people, I found that they were the most accepting people out there. It made it so differences weren’t even considered.” She also vouched that there was no hazing involved.
Structure of the day
Another major difference was the class schedule. Bette Jeanne didn’t remember the exact order of classes, but she remembered very clearly that the day started with Chapel. From what she could recall, they had Chapel in the morning, then study hall and classes such as English and French afterwards. Chapel was one of the reasons Bette Jeanne enjoyed Rowland Hall so much: “I just loved having that little quiet time in the morning.” Bette Jeanne’s love for chapel inspired her to join the Altar Guild. Members of the Altar Guild helped with the rituals and procedures during chapel every morning such as holding the crucifix. Chapel has preserved the part Bette Jeanne loved the most: valuable time to reflect, relax and be mindful of your day; however they are a lot less frequent, no longer occur in the mornings, and aren’t tied to a specific religious practice and rather explore all kinds of religious ceremonies and celebrations. And Chapels are not nearly as adored by today’s student body as much as Bette Jeanne.
Academic rigor and curriculum
Bette Jeanne emphasized how much she loved Rowland Hall’s academic rigor. For her, it was a learning environment like no other. In our interview with her, whenever she talked about her academics, her eyes would light up. “I was really truly spoiled academically at Rowland Hall,” she said. Bette Jeanne had the best teaching materials at her fingertips. When talking about her art history class, she noted that the books they used were the same books being used at the University of Utah at the time. Today, Rowland Hall still exposes students to college-level course material and continues to prepare students for higher education by giving them college experiences at the secondary level. With the addition of Advanced Research classes, this tradition of academic rigor is still holding strong.
Close relationship with teachers
When I asked Bette Jeanne about her favorite class, she said it was English. However, it wasn’t just the material she loved. She loved the teacher, Helen Mang, just as much. When Bette Jeanne talked about her memories from Rowland Hall, it wasn’t the lessons or materials that stood out to her as much as it was the experiences and relationships she formed with her teachers. She adored how her French teacher was from France and how many of her teachers came from places all over the country. Her teachers certainly made a big impact on her considering she could remember their names almost 80 years after she graduated. When asked about what he’ll remember about Rowland Hall, senior Omar Alsolaiman said he’ll remember their enthusiastic teaching styles, and “the lessons they tried to impart.” Omar said that he believes the reason why Rowland Hall’s teachers have such meaningful impacts on their students’ lives is because teachers care about their students' success and students reciprocate that by their care for the class. That was certainly the case for Bette Jeanne and will continue for generations of alumni to come.
Despite the differences in campus, rules, social norms and world events, Rowland Hall still remains the same at heart: a place for deep relationships to be made and an environment for lifelong learning. Bette Jeanne looked back very fondly at her time at Rowland Hall despite the highs and lows. How will you look back at your time 80 years from now?