Tradition Spring 2021
Tradition Spring 2021

Advancing Cranbrook Schools

Harold Brown, Cranbrook Schools Director of Advancement

Reflections on My New School

A comforting breeze flows through my windows in Hoey Hall. The Oval, PAC, and Alumni Court are in clear view against a sparkling blue sky. Three lacrosse players are stretching near the east goalpost where an array of balls frame a lacrosse net. It is the middle of spring break, a time for students and faculty to recharge and prepare for the activities that will culminate at commencement. On this glorious day, I find myself reflecting on my first fifteen months at Cranbrook.

Harold Brown

If it is true that the character of a person is revealed during hard times, then it is equally true of the character and quality of a school community. During most of my tenure at Cranbrook the pandemic, “sheltering in place”, PPEs, and “social injustice” dominated conversations and disrupted living patterns here and worldwide. One could surmise that times like these would evoke complementary emotions, such as anger, despair, frustration, or sadness. However, the emotions that dominate this reflection and what have been so present within me these months are appreciation, gratitude, and pride. Appreciation, for the welcoming and nurturing community that is Cranbrook. Gratitude, for the people of Cranbrook, its founders, faculty, alumni, students, parents, and staff. Pride, for the pervasive and palpable “can do” spirit of Cranbrook that serves as salve, inspiration, and motivator. 

“Cranbrook is a sweet drink from a fire hose.” That is how I described Cranbrook in my early days. The schoolhouse and its people were as warm in December as when I first toured the campus in September. The holiday concerts, student caroling, Senior Pageant, special school meals, and the lore and reverence of The Friendship Circle, are just a few of the rich traditions and multi-layered dimensions of Cranbrook that contributed to my transition to this community. 

When spring came in 2020, along with the ominous winds of a pandemic, the sweetness and strength of Cranbrook were no less apparent. The care, creativity, and imagination of the faculty were demonstrated first by a near seamless transition to the “virtual schoolhouse.” That was followed by an intense effort and resolve to open the schoolhouse in September. When I ask students in Stevens Hall where I do duty, how things are going, they all say they are happy and proud that their school is open. No doubt those sentiments will be added to their Cranbrook memories. 

Over these months, I was not surprised to hear similar sentiments from alumni as they shared their feelings and memories of Cranbrook. All conversations revealed a high level of appreciation for the quality of the education they received as well as the lifelong friendships that began on campus. “Freshman year was a breeze after Cranbrook.” “Who I am as a person was shaped by Cranbrook.” “The place wasn’t perfect, but I’m glad I went there.” “I met my best friend at Cranbrook”. Sound familiar?

I was surprised to learn that despite the high degree of love for Cranbrook Kingswood expressed by alumni, their participation in the Schools Annual Fund was only 11%. During my conversations, I have asked alumni to guess the participation percentage. Their answers ranged from 30% to 80%. Shock, surprise and embarrassment describe the range of their reactions to the actual participation percentage, especially after I informed them that the participation rates of top performing schools, Cranbrook’s peer group, range from 35% to 40%. 

You might ask, “Why is alumni participation in the annual fund important?” One of the criteria that accreditation and rating agencies use to determine the health of a school is alumni participation in the annual fund. It is one indicator of the viability of a school. If alumni do not support the school, why should other potential investors? To me, it is the “pay it forward” quotient. Do alumni value the educational experience they received enough to support the education of students that follow them? 

I do not believe that 11% participation reflects the alumni affinity for Cranbrook. However, I do believe that the quality of a Cranbrook education that we aspire to cannot be sustained with alumni participation at 11%. Your gift, in any amount, reflects your desire to “pay it forward” for this generation of students. It is your personal commitment to provide them the opportunity to strive for excellence, to “Aim High” and “Go Forth to Serve”. Faculty participation in the Annual Fund has been 100% for nearly two decades, reflecting their commitment to Cranbrook. Will you join them in support of our school?

Harold Brown (left) meets alumni at the Florida regional event in 2020