With an infectious laugh and effervescent personality, Taryn Johnson, Class of 2000, simply glows. Now that her daughter Harper is enrolled in the kindergarten class at Clairbourn, it marks five generations here.
The family history dates back to the mid-1940s when Taryn's great-grandmother, Lola Wallden, started her career as a school bus driver and retired in 1982 as the Assistant Head of School. Taryn's grandmother, Beverly Thomson, was the preschool and kindergarten teacher from 1971 until the year 2000. Taryn's mother, Jodie Robison, is also an alum of the school and worked in the finance office for years.
As you will see in this interview, the impact that Clairbourn had on Taryn is significant not only for the duration of their family legacy, but also because the school shaped her and made her who she is today.
Please tell me about your history with Clairbourn School.
I remember so much about my time here. It’s a testament to how special this place is. To grow up here, to run up and down these halls – I remember all of it. The big wheelie playground thing spinning around in it as a three year-old, I remember how the toys tasted, how the mats smelled, and I remember my grandmother as the kindergarten teacher. We basically lived here. I would get snacks out of the teacher’s lounge and hang out in the copy room upstairs, because my mom worked in that office, so the copy room was basically a playground. My dad’s sister-in-law was the nursery teacher for a while. I know my great-grandmother worked here.
My family never talked about it that much because it was our normal. It didn’t occur to me when I was a kid that there was something so special about being here on campus with so many generations having gone through here. It was just my natural situation. This was my normal. But it is an amazing gift that we can give to our daughters – our own history at their school.
Overall, what guided you to your decision to come back and send your daughter here?
I can shed the worry. I don’t need to worry about my kids. I know exactly what they’ll get here. I know that they’re going to get everything they need academically, and be prepared for lessons and deadlines, but I know more importantly, that they’re going to be loved, nurtured, and be given permission to be who they are, take up the space they need to take up – because small things can take up space – and they’ll be allowed to choose what takes up space for them.
Clairbourn kids are encouraged to have their own identity and have the love and respect to be good citizens. Knowing firsthand what I got out of it, it allowed me to have that perspective wherever I go in life. And I know my girls will have that, too.
What were your feelings when you first stepped back onto campus?
Butterflies in my stomach, it’s not 'I’m a grownup and I’m here with my kid.' It’s 'I’m back at school and transported back in time.' There’s the old copy room and that’s where I would race back and forth to get candy and it was like no time had passed. I remember having a Girl Scout meeting in first grade.
And there’s different areas of school where I’m immediately transported back to that moment. Walking to the library, I’m running to Mrs. Knight to show that I can spell ‘Punxsutawney’ correctly for Groundhog Day. There’s middle school, where I did a science project and we had to pin bugs to the board, and I was grossed out by that, and the history classroom where I did chess club and I can name all 5 people who were in that club, and the English classroom where I read The Hobbit and To Kill a Mockingbird and cried and I read it 6 more times that summer. I am a walking time capsule. Memories are so much more than what we’re thinking, but the feeling never escapes me. I remember every feeling, and they stick with me.
I remember that awkward feeling in 6th grade when I broke my arm and I remember the first time when I came to school with that cast and how anxious I felt. I remember where I was standing when I had that feeling. And when I passed by that spot, that feeling all came back. It takes a special place to allow you to remember the little things like that. Little things become big things, so you need to give them space to grow.
Do you still keep in touch with your classmates from Clairbourn School?
I keep in touch with my classmates on Facebook. Maybe we don’t talk on a daily basis, but they’ll like my photo and I’ll see someone got married or is expecting, and these are kids I went to kindergarten with, and I’ll remember how they joined the 4th
grade and they were the new kid in the class. So it’s amazing how social media can shrink our world and we can keep in touch with people from so long ago.
Harper recently took tennis lessons, and one of my former classmates was the tennis director, and I remember the chocolate cupcakes his mom would make on his birthday and it was like no time had passed at all.
What do you think makes Clairbourn different from other independent school?
At Clairbourn, we’re not pushing kids to grow up faster than they have to. There’s a certain respect for childhood that’s special here. Kids are allowed to play and to sit and study and they’re allowed to be a kid for as long as they need to. You see 7th
graders play in the sand pit. That’s incredible. Preserving childhood for as long as possible is going to help frame society. The generation that’s coming needs to know how important it is. I also think the school is special because of the parent involvement and family events.
I remember spring carnival, track meets, and so many family get-togethers. It was a chance to see everyone’s moms and dads. That was so much fun. People wanted to be here. The fact that this has been a common thread through the years - how amazing is that! This school gives students so many opportunities to be awesome. I remember doing public speaking here and all those performances - spring program, and Christmas programs. I saw the kids up there in morning assembly recently, and they were so comfortable presenting to a group of students.
What I love about Clairbourn is that this schoool makes it okay to make space for small things and make them special. That’s what it did for me. I love that we take 15 minutes in the morning to come together and acknowledge things, like we lost a volleyball game. How huge is that! Those girls fought hard. We acknowledge the fight, the performance, and that’s so amazing to them. To celebrate what is big for our kids – that’s so special. That’s not something you’re going to get anywhere else.
What activities at Clairbourn helped influence your current career path?
I do product strategy at Disney. I’m part of the think tank behind products in Disney parks and stores. Role play, Halloween costumes – everything comes through my desk. What helped me prepare for that role was Clairbourn. I remember having to come up with entrepreneurial ideas and something new here. Creative writing started in 1st
grade and I wrote my first book then. That helped my brain operate creatively.
It’s not just math or science, but how do you make it your own thing. For example, how do you create a princess costume and make it light up and infused with fiber optics? I learned to use my brain in multiple ways.
Clairbourn also helped me learn to be solution-oriented. Not every day is going to be great, and it’s not always easy, but if you can find a way to get to a comfortable place, you can have a successful day. I learned to be solution-oriented here, and you get a lot of nurturing here, but you’ve got to figure things out for yourself, too. So the teachers gave a nice balance of giving space and giving help when you needed it.
Also, I learned to operate in a professional way but with fun and youthfulness. My job is to make magic for our guests and make something small feel important and big. All of that - I first learned it here at Clairbourn.
Any inspiring words you would like to share with our students, especially our 8th graders?
It costs you nothing and it takes no time to be kind. Be kind. No matter what. Everyone here is extremely kind. Not everyone out there is. So if you can be, and others see that you are, you can create that ripple effect. That is a very important lesson I learned at a very young age here. So if every other strategy failed and you’re not getting through, look at yourself and ask, is your house in order and are you being kind? It’s more important than penmanship.
Also – and this is the advice I gave my college campus, because I work with alums there. Be kind and take every opportunity given to you. It’s okay to be greedy and take advantage of all these opportunities given to you. This is the time to do it. You’ll absorb what you’ve been given and you’ll give it back to the world. And it’s okay to fail. You don’t know how it will work out if you don’t try. Also, there is always a choice to be positive.
Absorb the positivity here at Clairbourn and know that you can give it back to the world. It’s a huge gift to bring this kind of positivity and everything you’ve learned here to people outside the white picket fence.