Carolyn Graham Tsuneta

My Roeper Story is about how Roeper was the perfect fit for me.

I attended Roeper from 1970 through 1978, from the fifth to the twelfth grade. One of my first memories of Roeper was during what was called “Out Time” (the Roeper name for “Recess”). There was a huge tree with a tree swing where I loved to play. I wasn’t a very sporty kid and I hated running around, so this was my safe zone during a time when other students were busy kicking balls or playing “Tag.” The tree swing seemed to attract fellow non-sporty types, and we took turns pushing each other on the swing while chatting about various things.

One day, a boy named David Bloom was pushing me on the swing. He remarked that I must be new to the school as he hadn’t seen me before. He said, “You will like it here. We have a lot of freedom. If you wanted to, you could even come to school wearing your pajamas or a bathing suit. Nobody would stop you, because it’s your right to wear whatever you want. You couldn’t come to school naked, because there are actual laws about indecent exposure, but anything else goes.”

This advice was given to me by a boy who was only 9 or 10 years old. It never occurred to me to be amazed by his knowledge of school policy or the law. I wasn’t impressed by his use of the very adult words “indecent exposure.” That sort of conversation seemed natural to me. I remember feeling a little “click” of perfect connection, the same satisfying feeling of tiny triumph that one experiences when placing a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It was refreshing to have a conversation with a peer.

Between 1965 and 1970, I attended five different schools in three different countries (and two different states in the United States). During that time, I had to become a chameleon, adapting my attitude and accent to accommodate British Cockney in London, England; Standard British in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and American Southern and Midwestern accents in two different schools, in North Carolina and Michigan respectively.

No matter how quickly I adjusted to my new environment, I always ended up feeling that I was very much an outsider. In England and Africa, I was always “the American.” In North Carolina, I was “the girl with the British accent.” In Michigan, I was called “the Southern Belle” until I adapted my accent to be appropriately nasal and learned to pick up the pace of my speech from slow Southern drawl to rapid-fire Midwestern patter.

By the time I arrived at Roeper, my identity in public school had become that of “the smart girl.” After returning to the United States, I had skipped first grade and been placed in a second-grade class. The European educational system at that time was much better than the one we had in the United States, so I was far ahead of my first grade classmates and second grade was more interesting for me. However, this meant that for the next four years, I would always be the youngest in my class. Because I loved school and was an enthusiastic student, I was labeled “the smart girl,” and “teacher’s pet,” I hated it. I never felt that I was truly accepted into the school community. It made me feel lonely.

Roeper provided me with not only an education, but a feeling that I was a part of a large community of people who understood me, who challenged me, who loved me. I was allowed to repeat fifth grade so that I could be in an age-appropriate class, which was a relief for me. I was no longer “the smart girl.” I was one student in a classroom full of smart kids, most of whom were objectively smarter than I was. It was inspiring. When I arrived on the Roeper campus each day, I felt that I was HOME. That is a wonderful way to feel about going to school. Roeper gave me permission to be exactly who I was, without apology. That sense of belonging in the Roeper community has translated to my sense of belonging in the larger world. My experience at Roeper gave me a central core of confidence, security and faith in myself which cannot be taken away, no matter how difficult or challenging life may be. For that, I am infinitely grateful.

Carolyn Graham Tsuneta, Class of 1978
Educating and inspiring gifted students to think as individuals and to engage as a community with compassion for each other and this world.

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