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MCS Alumni Talk About Life After MCS

Friday, March 18, 2016

What happens after students leave Manhattan Country School? How do they fare in high school? What colleges do they attend? What kind of professional lives do they create for themselves? Answers to these questions and more were shared Tuesday at MCS’ annual meeting for trustees, parents, faculty and staff.

The event, titled “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Alumni Talk About Life After MCS,” featured a panel of impressive MCS graduates:

  • Gisele Shorter ’91, Vice President/Executive Director, New York & New Jersey, Turnaround for Children
  • Ricky Castillo ’92, Head of U.S. Equity Capital Markets, Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP
  • Caitlin Naidoff ’00, Assistant Director, NYU Law Clemency Resource Center
  • Stefan Blair ’12, High School Senior
  • Kai Williams ’12, High School Senior

After showing a short video highlighting MCS alumni, Monica Amaro, MCS director of admissions, kicked off the discussion by asking: “Looking back at your time at Manhattan Country School, how did your educational experience here impact your life after MCS?”

For many on the panel, MCS represented a safe space where they would come into their own. Gisele enrolled at MCS in sixth grade, a time when she says she was struggling to define her identity. “MCS helped me figure out who I was in the larger world in a place where I didn’t have to qualify and I didn’t have to use commas, semicolons or hyphens to define Gisele.”

Ricky said his time on 96th Street and at the MCS Farm gave him the confidence to succeed on predominantly white Wall Street. “MCS gave me the values and confidence to feel like this is a world that is dominated by white men but I feel ok with that because I know who I am. I know that I can compete with these people.”


Caitlin said the skill of critical analysis, which she honed in English class at MCS, has shaped the way she approaches her work. “It’s important to understand people if we’re going to tackle a social problem…. It was at MCS that I started to interpret English as social change. My work [as a civil rights attorney] is narrative. It’s not about what someone is entitled to legally, it’s really about telling the story of someone’s life and showing why they are human.” 

As a high school student, Stefan realized that MCS instilled in him the value of friendship: “You learn that you should value a few close friends over having many, many acquaintances. Going into a big school, you see people going into cliques and not understanding how the people they’re making friends with impact their life.”

Kai noted that at MCS she developed the courage to be an activist, a quality she said she doesn’t see among many of her high school peers: “MCS gave me values and the drive to fight for them. It’s impossible to be apathetic at MCS. It’s impossible not to be passionate about something…. From the 4-5s on, you’re taught that if you believe in something, even if it goes against the grain of your community, you have to speak up for it.”

After hearing the panelists praise their MCS experience, an audience member inquired about what the alumni would have changed about their time at the school. Ricky reflected on his experience in seventh and eighth grade, a time when the two classes come together to share a physical learning space on the fifth floor of the school and to learn from and collaborate with each other. He says he wished that experience was possible in the lower grades and commended the school’s plan to expand every class from one to two per grade.

Another audience member inquired about the role MCS played in preparing the panelists to take risks and face the possibility of failure. Kai, who said she attends a high school where there many students fear failure, offered the following response: “MCS instills in you the value of recognizing the whole person and understanding that you are measured by more than what society will measure you by. You are not your grades or your GPA or how many extracurriculars you do. It’s about character and it’s about passion and it’s about the development of a human being.”

The alumni on the event’s panel represent just five of the hundreds of students whose lives have been forever changed by attending Manhattan Country School. To learn more about more the impact of a Manhattan Country School education visit the alumni page of the MCS website.