Through traditions, Lab fosters community


Matt Petres

At the end of their final year, U-High seniors walk through the school as younger students cheer and celebrate their journey.

Victoria Washington, Audience Engagement Manager

A tetherball pole is planted in the Blaine Courtyard. Colorful streamers rustle in the wind as lower school students dance around the pole, covering the metal with dazzling ribbons. In an old Rites of May tradition, students would come together to celebrate the end of the school year and enjoy three event-filled days. 

For the past 30 years, traditions have been centered around immersing students in all things academic, which Camille Baughn-Cunningham, a graduate of the Class of 1984, believes has been shifting.

“Spirit was always something that I think we as a school have felt differently about,” Dr. Cunningham said. “It wasn’t necessarily shared in a collective way. Spirit was more about this pride in being a ‘Labbie.’”

Dr. Cunningham has been a U-High counselor for 16 years. She remembers ArtsFest and Rites of May as celebratory times at U-High.

“Certainly in my recollection, Rites of May rose to the top. It was one of my fondest memories both as a student as well as a faculty member,” Ms. Cunningham said.

Erica Cheung, middle school math teacher, was a student at Lab from third grade through U-High. Her family has had a presence in the school community since 1982.

In Ms. Cheung’s memory, events like the middle school roller skating field trip created a lasting impression on students. It’s one that current seventh graders have brought back with their annual roller skating trip.

“It used to be that the entire middle school would go roller skating on Halloween, but I think the school is too large now to do that. Now the seventh grade has done it for the past two years, but it used to be the whole school,” Ms. Cheung said.

The expansion of Lab over the years has contributed to a community involvement disconnect. The level of engagement depends on the grade, in contrast to a schoolwide effort.

“I don’t know if there’s that closeness that we had when we were a smaller school,” Ms. Cheung said.

To Dr. Baughn-Cunningham, regardless of its growing number of students, U-High has always been supportive of students’ individuality and finding their group in the school community.

“People are doing their own things,” Dr. Baughn-Cunningham said. “As a school we have been very supportive of people finding their niche, particularly if it’s off the beaten path.”

Although community involvement surrounding school wide events has been different since Ms. Cheung was a student, she doesn’t believe the shift is an area for concern.“Everyone’s going to have a different level of comfort in how they engage with the community. I think that if people can find their level of comfort, then it’s OK,” Ms. Cheung said. “We have some common experiences that run through time, like Rites of May, that pull the community together, and we all have a similar opportunity to share that collective memory.”

Several U-High faculty members are satisfied with the level of community involvement and spirit they see in the school. As a former student, Dr. Baughn-Cunningham feels torn between a past and future version of Lab and feels optimistic about blending the old and new.

“We’re hesitant to change,” Dr. Baughn-Cunningham said, “but sometimes those changes and those pushes to do things a little bit differently can be so rewarding. As much as I feel satisfied with the way in which things are run, I feel like we always have to keep an ear and eye open for what we haven’t opened our minds to consider.”