BY ALEX GABRIEL ’23
Upon entering the TASIS campus a feeling of belonging emanated throughout my body. My chest expanded, my eyes widened. Little did I know of the shallow nature of my admiration. An early September day, a gentle breeze shifting the leaves. The blazing sun, anticipating her slow disappearance in the upcoming months, providing us with a final spectacle.
As I proceeded down the tree-lined path, buildings colored in muted shades of red, green, and yellow rose from the ground, and like them, my mind soared with expectations of afternoons spent reading and laughing in their shade. Towering structures enveloped me in the sentiment of aesthetic pleasure and made me recall scenes from Call Me by Your Name. I could nearly distinguish Elio and Oliver pronouncing their names in the murmur of the nearby fountain.
A picturesque wonderland that exceeded each and every expectation: Home.
As the days progressed, the gentle trickle of the fountain was masked by the wondrous drum of the storms. The lighting illuminated the graying sky and, like the sun once did, glorified the campus with heavenly light. The leaves still shifted. Yet, now they did so restlessly, with constant apprehension of the shrieking wind.
As darkness veiled the campus, I found solace in the intimately chaotic drama room. Due to my participation in the Fall Play, I spent many hours sifting through misplaced costumes. Upon my first visit to the drama room, I realized that I had been granted access to a magical realm. Far from the troubling world of exams and homework. A transformation to a realm where all was within reach. Wondrous gowns, countless props, and even a stuffed hen (which ended up being a significant cast member). My friends and I would spend hours there. Exploring the depths of the racks, messing around with the props (don’t tell Mr. Frazier-Smith), intertwining the timeless words of Shakespeare with the tangible, and cultivating relationships that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I watched people fall in love in that room, I’ve watched unlikely friendships being formed, and I’ve experienced what it means to truly belong to a community. Ten meters below the realm of marvelous architecture, I experienced the truest forms of beauty. The immortal words and values of Mrs. Fleming reached the depths of the campus, and in a dusty basement, I found my family.
As I was considering my own connection to the campus, I began to ponder the influence it had on others.
I asked Nina Mondin, a TASIS junior who has called this school her home for years, about her experiences on campus. Similarly to me, she had trouble distinguishing a single place that held the greatest significance to her.
Upon further reflection, we were able to relate in our shared admiration for the Palmer Center and its transformative qualities. Nina states that it is where her “most memorable experiences at TASIS occurred.” From graduations to performances, the Palmer Center has formed Nina’s identity as a member of the TASIS community as well as an individual. That brightly lit stage was a pivotal aspect of not only Nina’s development as an actress but as a human being as well. She detailed her first experience on stage: “It was the Middle School musical when I was in 8th grade. I distinctly remember being petrified of taking part in such an obligation and begging Mr. Frazier Smith for a small part.”
Luckily, Mr. Frazier-Smith was aware of her potential and cast her in a major role. She was terrified of the impending experience at first. She was persuaded to join by a friend and was oblivious to the impact this spontaneous decision would have on her life. As time progressed, she found her people through theater. "The theater community understood me differently," she said. "They accepted my crazy parts, the parts that I wouldn’t be able to show on a daily basis or that I would hide.”
Nina was able to form these memorable bonds in the Palmer Center. She does not simply see the sea of seats and high ceilings: she sees the place where she met her people. It was where she discovered her love for the art of performance. Her initial fear “vanished and turned into love and excitement,” and she “slowly fell in love with the fear and tension that built during the tension that built during the day before a performance.” Staring at the spotlit stage, the roaring crowd, the freshly painted sets—all contained in the Palmer Center—she fell in love with the inexplicable beauty of the theater.
I was not yet done with my search for answers. I felt as if the ever-present sentiment of home was prevalent on the faces of each of my peers, but I had not yet considered the people who are responsible for perpetuating this feeling.
I spoke with my dorm parent, Mrs. Dudley, who is currently in her third year at TASIS. Like me, she is constantly mesmerized by the charm of the campus. She “loved each and every aspect” of the campus the first time she visited. “Once I moved here, it was easy for me to feel like I was at home,” she said.
Among the countless aspects that connect us TASIS students and faculty, our deep appreciation and connection to the campus seem to create the greatest of bonds. Yet Mrs. Dudley provides an alternative perspective to the impressive campus. While I have only been able to appreciate my own history in each room and patch of grass, she provided me with a deeper insight into the historical significance of the monuments and objects that we each carelessly pass every day. “I find it extraordinary that a family can move over and just start something this huge,” she said, reflecting on the journey of TASIS Founder M. Crist Fleming.
But the creation of the school does not cover the extent of Mrs. Dudley’s amazement at the TASIS story. The beauty of TASIS does not only lie in its physical aspects but in the messages and values that were instilled by Mrs. Fleming. She has granted us all an incredible gift by the architectural marvels she created, but those are the least of her contributions. Her true legacy remains in the TASIS spirit. The spirit of empowerment, compassion, beauty, and inclusivity.
I asked Mrs. Dudley what her favorite place on campus was and why. She acknowledged her deep admiration of the beautiful structures on campus, yet one stood out above the rest: “the white bench” near the entrance to the school. Mrs. Fleming’s bench. “Every time I walk by it, I picture Mrs. Fleming sitting there and just enjoying watching the little kids playing and imagining them growing up—imagining them in their suits and white dresses for graduation,” she said.
Mrs. Fleming’s bench is the center of campus. From the “center of everything,” Mrs. Dudley details seeing the campus stretch to the edges of the world. “I see each and every corner of the world from that bench,” she said. She also sees herself: “A Malawian girl sitting here at the center of everything, surrounded by all these beautiful things, because of Mrs. Fleming.”
Pondering our stories I came to a conclusion. The magnificence of the TASIS campus is not expressed through the physical but by aspects that simply cannot be grasped—those moments, emotions, and relationships with which a beautiful structure could simply not compare. Surrounded by architectural perfection, we were each drawn neither to the bright colors nor curved arches. We held an indubitable admiration for each window and path, but the stories, the history, the memories behind these structures were what made the TASIS campus something beyond a merely beautiful place. I am still in the early stages of my TASIS journey, but for now, I shall simply listen to the shifting leaves outside my window and anticipate falling in love with even more hidden rooms and nostalgic benches in the place I am so lucky to call my home.