By Evangeline Delgado ’11, Alumni Association Chair
Think back to the person or reference, the experience or performance, that brought you to Walnut Hill all those years ago or, for recent alumni, more recently. Do you have that image in mind? We all have a moment that changed our trajectory and somehow brought us to walk the path from Eliot to the Dance Center, or from Highland to the ATC, or from Clark to Keiter.
Jean Huang, a violinist and graduate of our Music Department, has the honor of continuing to work with the woman who brought her to Walnut Hill for the first time.
In the summer of 2005, Jean came to the Hill to attend a Music Festival through the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts, a program led by Walnut Hill Board of Trustees member Dr. Catherine T. Chan. Since 1990, Dr. Chan’s Foundation has hosted a three-week music festival for young artists on our campus, and Jean now works with the incoming musicians, giving back her time and love to an opportunity that changed her life.
In that initial three-week period at Walnut Hill, Jean learned from master teachers, made friends, looked up to Dr. Chan as a mentor, and enjoyed her time so much that she decided to audition for the school-year program—without conferring with her parents about it. She had been preparing to start high school back home in Taiwan, backpack and supplies already bought and ready for the year ahead. But she felt that she had two homes now, one in Taiwan and the other on a green hillside in Natick.
As she stepped off the plane in Taiwan at the end of her summer program, she told her parents with tears in her eyes that she wanted to come to Walnut Hill. “My parents were surprised, but they gave me the night to think about it.” Even with time to think and the comforts of home around her, Jean’s mind was still made up. Walnut Hill is where she wanted to be, and her parents supported her decision, but they knew that it would change her life.
"This was the first decision I made on my own for my life,” Jean says, remembering her 15-year-old self. “I was too young to worry about the details. It’s good to be fearless sometimes.”
She returned to campus weeks later to start her sophomore year at Walnut Hill. Nervous and speaking little English, Jean remembers very well the day she met her first roommate, Hannah Kapsak ’09, in their room in Stowe. “Hannah is very tall! She came into the room and couldn’t see me right away because I was short.” Hannah and Jean are still friends and keep in contact, and like so many of us whose families grew exponentially when we entered Walnut Hill, Jean is grateful to the Kapsaks for making her a part of their family. “They took me in and brought me places with them over school breaks.”
Jean found close connections across the School, and the memories she still has of the sillier moments had us laughing together this summer. “I remember all the music majors hanging around on the old sofas down in the practice rooms. One day a squirrel got into the Dining Hall and all the chefs started chasing it. And who can forget Charge Home!” Jean remembers her classes, which she loved, though they were sometimes painful to slog through at the time. “I learned how to light a match in Chemistry with Ms. Liu,” she remembers. “I was afraid to do it myself, but she told me, ‘If you don’t do it yourself, I’m going to fail you!’ So I had to learn.”
Jean and I are lucky that we have both been able to return to Walnut Hill often to see the things that change as well as the things that stay the same. What never changes are the moments of bravery we each had in coming to Walnut Hill, overcoming our challenges, and pursuing life beyond this special place. “I don’t know if I would have the courage to make the decision [to come to Walnut Hill] now,” Jean said. “But I don’t regret for a day that I made that decision.”