Walking under a huge arch of gold, red and black balloons and through the middle-school office on Friday, May 22, I can feel the festive vibe of the “Together We Are Golden” event, part one of the 50th Anniversary celebration.
On the walls, there are signs pinned up listing the trustees, PA presidents and school logos throughout the years.
There’s also a display focusing on what was happening and what was cool in the United States when the school started in 1964: major events, popular TV shows and music, Oscar winners and sports milestones. (An important note: for people wondering who won the Super Bowl, the major football event did not exist in 1964.)
After picking up some 50th Anniversary pins, pens and Post-its, I head out of the office and into the middle-school quad, with different booths on the periphery and tables in the middle.
Alumni, former and current teachers and their families, parents and students catch up over lemonade and beer. The wind is the least of anyone’s worries, as excited hugs and happy handshakes dominate the scene.
Among booths with complete sets of the Medallion, the Octagon and the Glass Knife, there’s also a booth for Country Day soccer with a photo album of team pictures from the early Country Day years (There were cheerleaders back in the day!).
As fellow junior Emma Brown and I explore the quad, we come across parent Sue Johnson setting up her easel.
Johnson tells us each caricature will take only three minutes and convinces us to get ours done now before a huge line forms.
We oblige. Brown poses while Johnson’s daughter, eighth grader Heidi, makes faces and tells jokes to keep Brown smiling.
True to her word, in record time, Johnson whips out a caricature the spitting image of Brown.
“I feel like a movie star,” Brown says.
“Your mom is so talented,” eighth grader Chardonnay Needler tells Heidi.
Three minutes later, I’m holding my own caricature. It does look just like me, complete with my dangly earrings and the wisps of hair that fell out of my bun.
“Now you can enjoy the rest of the booths,” Johnson says with a smile.
While Brown and I were getting our caricatures done, we noticed kids with cookies, so we set out to find the source of the sweets.
We head to the back of the school where there are more booths and tables set up. On the blacktop, there’s a bouncy house.
The food trucks haven’t arrived yet, but we find the cookie booth. We’re given a plain sugar cookie that we decorate with white or gold frosting and an array of toppings including little gold-covered chocolate balls and sprinkles.
Annabelle Loomis is a fourth grader who will attend Country Day next year. Already dressed in a Country Day sweatshirt, she decorates a cookie with her sister, Chloe.
“I liked when the lady drew my face,” Annabelle says.
“I liked the food,” Chloe says.
Brown and I also spy lots of people wandering around with some sort of ice cream.
Not worrying about our sugar intake (it’s Friday afternoon, after all, and this is a celebration!), we find the freeze stand from Carmichael called The Hagen’s Original Orange Freeze. For $3, we get half-mint chip, half-cookie dough. This hits the spot on a Friday afternoon.
After we finish the freeze, we check out the art room, where former art teacher Maya (Kay) Schweizer has her art on display. In the dimmed art room, which seems like a professional art gallery, there’s a whole table of Schweizer’s art done on brown paper lunch bags. Other works hang on the wall.
More booths behind the school include a wooden-owl decorating stand, where children are using markers to color in an owl that comes with wooden pieces so that it’ll stand up.
There are plush Baxter owls for sale as well as Country Day clothing and gear.
Young girls in cute skirts and sparkly shoes flit around Baxter, the owl mascot.
One little girl in a blue dress finds the owl, who gives her a hug. In return, she gives him her decorated owl and he playfully runs away.
I ask her if she liked seeing Baxter. She nods shyly and runs away.
While current students are used to seeing Baxter making appearances on campus, Lenelle Kwong ‘77, isn’t.
“Who’s Baxter?” she asks me, as we look at the Country Day “artifacts” in the traveling history museum – a trailer full of Country Day T-shirts through the years and other memorabilia.
Despite not being familiar with the new mascot, which was named in preparation for the 50th anniversary about a year and a half ago, Kwong clearly recalls items from the ‘70s.
“I remember this wallpaper!” Kwong exclaims, referring to the owl-patterned paper covering the walls of the trailer.
“I got one of these!” Kwong looks excitedly at an old silver award. She remembers the homemade diploma covers and Country Day binders, too.
Kwong flew from Hawaii into the Bay Area and then took a train to Sacramento for the anniversary celebration and to visit her mother.
She said it’s surreal to be back on campus.
“It’s a little bit like those existential plays,” she says.
Outside the trailer, Kwong points out something in the middle-school quad .
“I see my locker over there,” she says. “That’s a trip!”
Next to some of the same lockers that used to be Kwong’s, different middle-school and high-school music groups perform.
Though the freeze and the cookie were tasty, they didn’t fill us up, so Emma and I decide to check out the food trucks, which have arrived. There are two choices: Mama Kim On the Go, where we could get tacos or Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, where we could get grilled cheese or other sandwiches.
We decide on Drewski’s.
Jessica Vando ‘92 and one of her young sons ask the woman taking their order what she’d suggest off the menu.
“I’d probably get the Lexus,” the woman tells her. “It’s a nice, sandwich on a night like tonight.”
For $9, the Lexus was made of Asian marinated beef, pickled veggie slaw, jalapeno and “awesome sauce” on a French roll.
When it’s our turn, I choose mac ‘n’ cheese while Emma opts for a pulled pork and mac ‘n’ cheese sandwich.
We take our dinner back to the middle-school quad, where the jazz band is playing. While we’re eating, I spot a man pulling out a huge plastic bag of rubber ducks. I point him out to Brown. Neither of us has any idea what he’s up to.
We soon find out when we wander over to the area between the maintenance building and the science wing after finishing our dinner. He and a handful of young kids are tossing the ducks in the air: he’s teaching them to juggle.
Meet Eric Herberholz from the class of ‘78. He can longboard and juggle rubber ducks all at once.
Brown and I stand by, watching him interact with the kids and tell them how to slowly add a new object to juggle each week.
“Is this good?” a boy with a green gecko painted on his face asks Herberholz as he shows off his new juggling skills.
Herberholz said he learned to juggle when he was just a young boy and his mother bought him a how-to book.
He tells me that he’s talked with PE teacher Michelle Myers and that juggling and longboarding are going to be incorporated into the curriculum next year.
After we finish talking, he hands me a rubber duck and says it’s my turn to try my hand at juggling.
“It’s not just for kids,” he tells me.
Not terribly good with hand-eye coordination, I can barely juggle one little rubber ducky.
“(Juggling) gets you in a very spatial mode,” Herberholz says.“It’s therapeutic for me.”
Herberholz says it’s nice for him to be back on campus.
“It was a whole different campus back when I was here,” he tells me.
And he’s right. All around the campus, there are laminated signs, part of the History Walk and Museum to orient alumni with the changes on campus. Each sign points out what used to be on that particular site.
About where we’re standing juggling (or valiantly trying to juggle) used to be the Snack Shack, also known as Neukom Hall (an ironic name because teacher Daniel Neukom so disliked the unnutritious snacks it offered to the students).
By 7:30, the celebration is nowhere near dying down. People are still mixing and mingling.
Alumni and current students alike are still poring over old publications, reminiscing about former classmates, finding pictures of themselves in their younger days and looking for their published pieces.
And current students are still flashing their silliest grins for the instant photo booth complete with an elaborate set and school-themed and silly props.
Myers, the PE teacher, asks me to take a picture of her with Marcia Brand, a former head of the PE department, who hired Myers part time in 1986 and left the school a year or so later.
“So you were Ms. Myers’s boss?” I ask her.
Brand shakes her head, and Myers laughs.
“We worked together,” Brand says. “One of the reasons we initially hired her is I knew she’d be great.
“She’s carried on what we started.”
Brand says that for her, it’s amazing returning to Country Day.
She’s seen so many former students, some with children of their own.
“It’s so much more than I expected,” she says.