Founder’s Day Weekend Celebrates Legacy, Leadership, and 150 Years of Girls' Education
Hundreds of Agnes Irwin students, families, faculty and staff, alumnae, and friends gathered for Founder’s Day Weekend Sept. 20-22 — the start of a yearlong celebration commemorating The Agnes Irwin School’s Sesquicentennial and 150 years of empowering girls to learn, to lead, and to live a legacy.
Two days of family-friendly events led up to Founder’s Day Convocation on Sunday, Sept. 22 — 150 years, to the day, that Miss Agnes Irwin first opened the doors to her school.
The excitement kicked off at Friday’s Founder’s Day Festival with face painting, bouncy houses, music by Dee Jay Howard, and an AIS-themed scavenger hunt through the school, before fourth and fifth graders brought school history to life in Agnes Irwin: The Musical. Written by Murray Savar, Agnes Irwin music teacher of more than 40 years, the Hamilton-style performance provided a retrospective on the life of our founder and the history of our beloved institution, with students embodying important figures such as Agnes herself, her sister Sophy, and even Benjamin Franklin, the Irwin sisters’ great-great-grandfather.
Saturday began with activities celebrating 150 Years of Girls in Action — including yoga led by AIS parent Kim Coulson ’89, before families and alumnae cheered on the Owls in tennis and soccer competitions against The Baldwin School. In the evening, current and former members of the Board of Trustees, as well as Head of School Dr. Wendy Hill and former Heads Mary Seppala and Penney Moss, gathered for a special reception honoring 150 Years of Leadership.
The entire AIS community and guests — in all, representing 10 decades of Agnes Irwin girls — gathered on Sunday for Founder’s Day Convocation, highlighting the life and legacy of our founder and those who continue to embody her values. Ginny Sharp Williams ’88, chair of the Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience on this momentous occasion and highlighted the character of girls past and present.
“Just as our founder intended, you can tell an Agnes Irwin girl in the classroom, in the workplace, or out in the world,” she said. “She is smart, confident, [and] ready to tackle the next problem and make a difference — not just for herself but for others.”
Students from each division were invited to share their experiences here. Fourth grader Shaina Bijlani spoke about the many opportunities available to students, saying that “I think Miss Agnes Irwin would be really proud to see all the Lower School girls leading.” Middle School Student Council President Clara Laveran ’24 remarked, “When I came to Agnes Irwin, it changed my whole perspective of school. Agnes Irwin is filled with kindness and positivity.” Senior Cheney Williams highlighted how the Core Values are embodied each and every day at AIS, adding that “Agnes Irwin has something for everyone, and I hope that never changes.” Upper School Student Body President Taylor Carter ’20 praised the supportive community and its emphasis on girls’ leadership and confidence, declaring that “I would not be the girl I am today if I did not attend Agnes Irwin.”
A highlight of the ceremony was the awarding of the inaugural Agnes Irwin Medal, given by Head of School Dr. Wendy Hill to Dr. Mary Patterson McPherson ’53. This award recognizes individuals who have placed the same emphasis on inspiring or empowering girls to become leaders in a global community, continuing the legacy of the school’s founder. Dr. McPherson, who served as president of Bryn Mawr College for nearly 20 years prior to serving as vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “has done so much to advance girls and women in the field of education,” Dr. Hill remarked. “Through her leadership, dedication, and many accomplishments, she is an inspiration to us all.”
As she accepted the award, Dr. McPherson recalled influential figures during her time at Agnes Irwin — including English teacher Ms. Marietta Lent and history instructor Florence Irish — as well as her respect for “the rare, admirable, and very brave women who insisted on the right of girls and women to have a serious, fulfilling, and pleasurable education that men had enjoyed for so many decades.”
As keynote speaker Ann Vauclain Klotz ’78 took the stage, she led the audience in a cheer for The Agnes Irwin School’s 150th birthday. As applause died down, she began:
The first thing I want to tell you is that underneath this academic robe, I am wearing a dress that has a pattern of morse code on it that says 'the future is female' — because, it is. And you, ladies, are the future. And Miss Agnes knew it, and I know it.
Ann V. Klotz ’78
During her remarks, Ms. Klotz, now in her 15th year as head of The Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, recounted the story of Agnes Irwin, as well as her own years as a “lifer” at AIS and the impact of her time here. “An Agnes Irwin education has never been limited to a girl’s college acceptance,” she noted. “It is a way of thinking and being that spools out, conferring benefit throughout its graduates’ lives.” Ms. Klotz encouraged the community to continue building on the strong foundation that Agnes Irwin established. “Agnes Irwin’s pulse is thrumming through us all, inspiring us to learn, to lead, and to leave a legacy.”
Before closing the ceremony with the singing of the alma mater, Dr. Hill took the stage, reflecting on Miss Agnes Irwin’s commitment to girls’ empowerment and education, as well as the powerful heritage and mission that the school continues to draw on. “This is a time … to think imaginatively and courageously, tapping into the collective wisdom of our community — a community that has been a source of strength for our students and alumnae,” she said. Dr. Hill also challenged faculty, staff, parents, and students to “embrace your inner Agnes — to think boldly and creatively as we work towards The Agnes Irwin School that is yet to be.”