ASL then and now: Graduation
The countdown is on: the Class of 2023 will soon become the newest Eagles to join the 16,000+ ASL alumni network. With less than two weeks to go before their long-anticipated commencement ceremony, we look back on ASL’s first high school graduating class from 1960.
Then: The Class of 1960
“I can only urge you to go forth and accept whatever the future offers you with enthusiasm, with confidence, and with a gladness born of the knowledge of what you are and the unparalleled gift of life bestowed upon you. Use this gift with gratitude and the humble desire to replace more than you have taken.” —Stephen Eckard, ASL founding headmaster
Nine years after he founded the American School in London in his Knightsbridge flat, where 13 young boys learned in the basement rooms of 17 Hans Place, Stephen Eckard (ASL 1951-71) saw the first high school graduating class of ASL earn their diplomas. In less than a decade, the School had expanded K-12, outgrown two former locations and found a temporary home at 14 Gloucester Gate, NW1, near Regent’s Park. Twelve students comprised the Class of 1960: seven young men and five young women. All except one were American and hailed from Texas, California and New England (Paul Steele was the sole representative of Canada).
1960 marked several firsts for ASL. The first yearbook, dubbed The Gateway, was published with a special section for seniors. “The School is divided into three parts: the teachers, the SENIORS and the rest,” declares the smug introduction. “The most influential sector is the Seniors.” Eagle became the mascot, and the first prom took place, too.
Peter O’Meara was in that senior class and recalled to former head of school Bill Mules (ASL 1998-2007) during a visit to campus in 2001 that he transferred several traditions from his American high school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to the evolving high school program at ASL. Peter and his family moved to London during his father’s posting as the naval attache. The Monogram Club, in which big-knit, red and white letter As were sewn onto sweaters to become spiritwear, began during Peter’s tenure. He also helped get the school carnival off the ground and served as Student Council’s first president.
Speaking by phone to the alumni office in May, Karl Jauch recounted fond memories from his senior year at ASL—the only year he spent at the School. His father’s career as a physics professor brought the Jauchs to several labs and university cities throughout his childhood: Iowa City for the University of Iowa; Geneva, Switzerland for The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); and then London for the Office of Naval Research. The legendary Mary Bradley (ASL 1953-71), dean and English teacher, interviewed Karl and reviewed his ASL application. “She looked at my class work from my international school in Geneva and decided to put me in the twelfth grade instead of the eleventh,” he shared. “Grade 11 was full, so it all seemed by accident that I graduated from high school a year early.”
Karl finished as the valedictorian and was invited by Miss Bradley and Mr. Eckard to deliver a speech at the school’s inaugural commencement exercises. The ceremony was held in the assembly hall at Gloucester Gate; a year later, it would be moved to the newly built US Embassy on Grosvenor Square, which opened in 1960. Susan (Savage) Cavenagh ’61 recalled that the girls all wore white dresses to their Embassy graduation, which was followed by lunch with strawberries and cream back at school. Karl described a similar dress code for his year’s graduation: dresses for girls and coats and ties for the boys. “Mr. Eckard wanted us to look nice and comparable to the blazer uniforms worn at private British schools,” Karl explained. “We did not wear caps and gowns, however.” Karl’s first and final year at ASL was a memorable one: in addition to becoming valedictorian, he played on the American football team and served as the yearbook photographer, a role he continued at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
He returned to Geneva to finish his undergraduate studies and then a master’s, eventually becoming an electrical engineering professor. Now retired, he and his wife live in East France, not far from Geneva. They stay busy with five grandchildren. Looking back on his ASL experience, more than 60 years ago, he feels the most gratitude for Miss Bradley and her formidable influence. “She took us under her wing,” he shared. “She was steeped in tradition and encouraged us to profit from London’s culture: its theater, its libraries. We accepted the requirements imposed on us, and we flourished.”
Similar to Karl, Jim Spalding '60 was a Navy brat who spent only one year at ASL, his senior year, when his father was transferred to NATO. "The year I spent at ASL was by far the happiest of my youth," Jim recently emailed. Academically, Jim initially struggled in his classes and was particularly behind in math.
Jim's senior photo from the 1960 yearbook
His teacher, Mr. Curry (ASL 1959-63), changed his life—helping Jim develop first a solid grasp, and then a love of the subject, which informed his career. After studying physics at university, Jim taught math at the Naval Postgraduate School before earning a PhD in application of math to molecular biology from Princeton. Opting to return to teaching, Jim spent 27 years as the science department chair at a private school in Southern California. "None of that would have happened without Mr. Curry," Jim remarked.
Now! The Class of 2023
On 10 June, 136 seniors will become ASL graduates. 22 seniors qualify as Lifers—students who have been at the school since kindergarten or Grade 1. 51% of the Class hold passports from two or more countries, and they collectively speak 31 languages. With 70 clubs on offer, the high school’s oldest students stay busy participating in everything from Brushstrokes and Beats, a club for creating art while listening to music, to Every Mind Matters, a safe space for addressing stress and anxiety.
When asked to name her favorite memory from her senior year, Elena ’23 was torn. “I can’t decide between Senior Sunrise on Primrose Hill and our volleyball team winning ISSTs in November,” she said.
Members of the Class of 2023 were admitted to higher education opportunities in six different countries: the US, the UK, Canada, Israel, Italy and Spain. Two students were appointed to US service academies, and several students were recruited to be athletes at Division III colleges.
ASL’s commencement exercises will be held at Central Hall Westminster, London—a stately, baroque assembly hall where the first-ever United Nations meeting took place. In addition to addresses from the selected valedictorian and salutatorians, the chair of the Board of Trustees and Interim Head of School Coreen R. Hester, alumna and CIA veteran Amaryllis Fox ’98 will deliver the keynote address.
Anticipating the capstone moment of her ASL career, Grace ’23 expressed both eagerness and gratitude. “Two weeks away from my graduation, I am unbelievably excited to walk across that stage and know that the lessons I've learned and the memories I've created at ASL will stay with me far beyond this June,” she enthused. Senior Emma ’23 shared a similar sentiment. “I'm trying to remind myself that it is just as much a time to say, ‘See you later’ as it is to say goodbye—a time to think about all we are yet to become.”
Congratulations, Class of 2023! And thank you, Class of 1960, for setting in motion the ASL pomp and circumstance that generations of Eagles continue to enjoy every June.