BLAST FROM THE PAST: Laura Murphy recalls bomb threat, new headmaster, uniform debate

Laura Murphy was editor-in-chief from 2005-6 in her senior year and was a Lifer. Murphy attended Wellesley College, where she majored in psychology and economics. Murphy is a banker in New York City for M&T Bank and works in structured asset finance on commercial real estate transactions.

Q: Were there any big issues or exciting changes on campus when you were a student?

A: Mr. (Stephen) Repsher became the school headmaster my first year on the Octagon.

The arguments between the neighbors and the school were a major topic of discussion. They were really upset about us parking on the streets. They got a little crazy.

When I was in second grade, a neighbor called in a bomb threat, so we had to stand in the field for a few hours while the police searched the school.

There were also some discussions about moving campuses. We were considering moving to a campus on the river in West Sacramento, but it ended up not coming together.

Q: What are your favorite memories?

A: So many! I have a lot of great memories about the Octagon—late night paste-ups, hanging out in the cave, (Octagon adviser Patricia) Fels being Fels. The first article I ever wrote for the Octagon, Fels wrote in huge letters in her red pen, “Then is time. Than is amount. Learn the difference.” At this point, I was still terrified of her and was sure she was going to kick me off the paper. I also have great memories from classes and teachers: Mr. (Dan) Neukom quizzing us about what we had for breakfast each day; Mr. (Chris) Millsback’s calculus class; Mr. (Brooke) Wells playing his guitar in English class and telling us stories about teaching in the Mississippi Delta; Ms. (Sue) Nellis’s AP U.S. History Jeopardy exam review. Our teachers did a lot of cool things for us.

Q: What was your favorite thing about SCDS?

A: The teachers and administrators treated us like adults. For instance, when the school was thinking about getting uniforms, they involved us in the discussion. Most high-school students were extremely opposed, and I think that feedback was included in the decision. Our classes were also a lot more focused on critical thinking than rote memorization. We would have very active class discussions rather than lectures. This prepared me well for college.

Q: How did  working on the Octagon help you in college and your career?

A: Being on the Octagon made me a much better writer. My job is mostly quantitative, but being a good writer is very important to being successful in the working world. There are a lot of very smart people that come up with great ideas, but have difficulty writing memos or emails explaining their ideas to other people. Good communication skills give you a leg up.

Q: What was the best article you wrote?

A: One of the most important and controversial issues I covered was about the firewall that blocked access to the Internet. I wrote the news article, and (co-editor-in-chief) Meredith Bennett-Smith, ’06, and I co-wrote the editorial about it.

A lot of students, including me, were very upset about it. We felt like one of the best parts about Country Day was that the school trusted us to make good decisions. There was never an open discussion between the students and the administration about what was happening and why the school was doing it. It felt like one day we came to school and it was on and it wasn’t up for discussion.

Dr. (Ron) Bell was the only teacher on the technology committee that was opposed to the firewall and was willing to talk to us, so the article quoted him heavily. In retrospect, it read as Dr. Bell against the administration, which was a little unfair to him. I still think it is awesome that he was so open in talking to us.

Some parents and faculty also agreed with our premise that this was not in line with the school’s environment. The administration didn’t respond. This was one of the most frustrating things that happened, because it felt like they weren’t taking our concerns about the precedent it set seriously.

Q: Any stories about being editor-in-chief?

A: A lot of cool things happened while I was editor-in-chief from a technology perspective. We went digital for newspaper printing. Previously, we would have to print out pages and glue them to boards, and then Fels would drive the boards to West Sacramento and drop them off for the paper to be printed. The printer would take pictures of the boards and print them. Usually something was too dark or the contrast was weird. We switched to a new printer while I was editor-in-chief, where we could just email the pages to the printer. It really made things a lot easier. The other thing that we did was start the first website for the Octagon.

Q: What was it like creating the online Octagon?

A:  It was my senior project. We had been talking about it for a long time, and it was great to finally do it. We needed to get into the 21st century. We would go to the journalism conference every year, and every other newspaper would have a website. It was easier for alumni to access, and it was better than having the old paper copies in the library.

Q: What did you learn from being editor-in-chief?

A: I learned a lot about leadership. Once I had the job, it was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I was a good writer and good at editing and thought that would naturally transition into being a good editor-in-chief, but being a good leader is more difficult than that.

Q: Have you kept in touch with any other alumni?

A: I’m terrible at keeping in touch with people, so I generally just see people at the alumni event during the holidays. The world is a small place, though. Last year I was sitting in a restaurant here in New York celebrating a friend’s birthday and I see someone squinting at me from across the room and it was Meredith!

A shorter version of this column was previously published in the print edition on March 17, 2015.

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