Chillin’terview: Mrs. White

Mrs. White sits down for a funny and emotional interview with Jessica Choe.


Drawing by Victoria Liu

Jessica Choe, Editor

Jessica: Thanks for doing this! So, do you have any favorite assignments that you give out to students?

I would say my favorite assignments are ones that students get excited about, which means that they’re very rarely analytical papers, which, of course, I also have to give, but students are less likely to be excited about an analytical paper.

I think that they do get excited about opportunities to be either creative or more personal in their writing. I actually have a digital storytelling assignment that I like to give. Actually, I just gave it—it’s not due until later on in the semester, but that’s always a fun one to do because it asks kids to get really tight about a particular memory and really write a nice tidy 250-word piece. But then think about the music and the images that they use. Then they read it and they’re really, really funny or really emotionally charged, and so that’s a fun one, but any of those kinds of assignments that really let a student be honest about themselves.

JC: What are your favorite books to teach?

Well, I couldn’t even tell you one, but there are actually two books this year that I really loved that are super contemporary. One is called Dominicana.

JC: I’ve heard of it.

…and the other one is called This is How It Always Is. And both texts–I think my class liked reading both of them. I love to read anything. Honestly, truly. I’m happy to teach anything. And I love the classics as much as anybody, but, I have felt more successful using very contemporary material with my students and those two books are super contemporary.

JC: What are those books about?

 So Dominicana is about the experience of a young woman, she’s 15, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s to New York City and, you know, it’s really about her growing into herself and finding the courage to be her own person. And it’s a beautiful book. And then the other one, This Is How It Always Is is a story of a family whose youngest child is transgender and they know from a very early age that they identify as a girl. And so the story really traces the way in which the family navigates that experience and tries to support their child, and it’s a good read.

Choosing these kinds of novels allows us to talk about so many different things in class: issues of immigration and the voice of women, the issues surrounding color and systemic racism, trans, LGBTQ, all kinds of issues, our own identities…and really ultimately, you know, we want kids to be thinking about the person that they are–that they’re trying to be. To have the ability to be thoughtful about that and then as a result of that maybe even set some goals and work toward achieving that person.

JC: How about your favorite book to read…is it different from what you teach?

 My favorite book to read. Oh, I read absolutely anything. I have a wide range of tastes, but in particular, I love good nonfiction usually about something historical. I love history. I love reading about history. I love going to historic sites. I know all that kind of stuff. So, you know, I love reading about key players in history, good biographies, that sort of stuff.

JC: Kind of surprised that you like non-fiction books more than fiction.

Well, I can’t say that I like them over fiction. I like both. There are so many different “best” books. I read over the Christmas holidays and I read a ton. That is what I do to rejuvenate myself, to kind of come back to myself after working ridiculous hours. Read.  I read anything and my friends and I, we pass around books and titles and all of that.

So, you know, over the Christmas holidays, I could read 10 books. All right. The best book that I read is called Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. And it was fascinating and it’s nonfiction. And it essentially explains the parallels between the Indian caste system and issues surrounding racism in the United States. It pulls in parallels to the Holocaust as well.

So, you know, this wasn’t fiction at all. It was not a pick me up. But she writes so beautifully and so clearly about powerful subjects, and I have always been fascinated by the caste system in India, but hadn’t made fully the connections that she made. So it was a great learning experience. I loved reading that. I also loved reading a novel called Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, who wrote Olive Kitteridge. And this is the sequel to it. I loved it. So there’s fiction there. You know, I will read anything I can get my hands on.

JC: Have you ever given an A+?


JC: No?

No. I give plenty of As. A+ that’s ridiculous. What is A+? It’s absurd. Get an A.  A+ is nothing. No one is perfect. No one is that perfect in their writing and in their work that there isn’t some kind of room for improvement. So, no—I think you could probably ask almost every English teacher and they would give you the same answer. No, I give A’s. Yeah, I give straight A’s, but A+…I don’t believe in it.

JC: What’s your most memorable experience at Govs…

 I can’t give you one. How about a handful of stuff?


So there are all different kinds of memories, right? And I’ll give you three, and they involve each one of my daughters.

So my oldest daughter we adopted from Korea. On the day that she came, we had a limousine meet us at school. We were living in Pierce. When we came out, there were all kinds of kids in the limousine! I literally had to get the girls from my dorm, get out of the limousine. In fact, Bejunior Fallon’s mother was in the middle of the limousine and she had climbed up through the sunroof and she’s waving to everybody. And I had to say, Maria, get out of the limousine.

And so we went down to Logan Airport. This is 26 years ago. And we met Emily and we brought her home to Govs, and there was this huge banner, the colors of the Korean flag across the bridge. And then there was a second one. And it spanned the distance between Pierce and the science building. It was hung up and both banners in the colors of the Korean flag said, “Welcome home, Emily White.”

And it was just beautiful that this community was welcoming home our baby. All of the kids from Korea, and in particular the Korean boys, used to pull me aside in the dining hall and give me tips on how to be a good mother, because they would tell me what their Korean mother would do and because they wanted me to do the same things for Emily. And it was very funny. So that was nice.

The second moment that I will always remember is the day that I found out I was pregnant with our second daughter. It was a revisit day–an accepted students day in the spring. I did not know that I was pregnant. I turned out to be very pregnant, um, twenty, twenty-two weeks pregnant.

JC: Oh, wow.

And everybody was surprised. In fact, we were days away from adopting a second child from Korea and finding out about who that child was going to be.

And lo and behold, my husband walks into accepted students day, and back then it was in the old Frost library. And we had all kinds of tables set up. And he walked in with a dozen roses to say, “The doctor called, and you’re pregnant.” The place goes wild, just wild, because all of the faculty and kids were so excited that I was pregnant. So that was really, really nice.

And then there’s a third memory that I will always remember when Dani was little and it was her first day of kindergarten. And one of the things in growing up in a boarding school that actually is a beautiful part is for families, is that our children very much look up to the big kids. Right? The kids who are in school here and those kids babysit for us, they go out of their way to talk to our children, to interact with them. And, you know, again, you can ask any faculty family on campus and they will be able to identify students who were instrumental when their kids were little in their lives. And we always remember them. And so there was this moment, you know, Dani had come off the bus from her first day of kindergarten.

I was excited to see her—the first day she ever went to school. And she’s holding my hand and we’re talking about kindergarten. And then her sister who was up ahead, said, “Dani! Maddie Durkin is back!” Because the same day, the first day of kindergarten was the same day that we opened back up for that year. And so, Dani, just I’ll never forget this—she just she ripped her hand out of my hand. She ran up the stairs across the little parking lot right here in front of the chapel. And she threw herself into Maddie’s arms like it had been a long summer. She loved Maddie Durkin. And for me, I can still see in my mind’s eye Maddie just hugging Dani, and Dani being so excited about getting Maddie’s attention.

So for me, again, all three of those instances—our community or my family embracing the lifestyle that’s a boarding school which is really key and being embraced back by everybody who was in that boarding school. So I would say that those sorts of memories are my favorite.

Gosh! A zillion memories.

JC: You’ll really miss Govs when you go…

I will really miss Govs. It will be interesting. It will really be interesting. 33 years I’ve been here. 33 years. So, you know, there will always be a piece of my heart here. I can absolutely learn to love another school, but that doesn’t mean I stop loving Govs.

JC: What’s the funniest thing that you remember?

Oh, gosh, there are definitely some funny things that I remember that I cannot tell you—that cannot go in the newspaper! (pause…thinking)

So here’s one of my favorite senior pranks!

It used to be that the big tree on the quad, you know, the big tree that overlooks the patio—every year at holiday time, at Christmas time, a faculty spouse who lived here, Suzy Van Ness, who is a beautiful artist, she handmade little ceramic ornaments, one for every member of the community. So all the kids, faculty, staff. Right?

JC: That’s crazy.

 And Suzy and her husband would hang these ornaments on that tree so you would be able to see it when you came out of the candlelight service during December. And so it was beautiful, right? You have these ornaments on the tree and coming out of the candlelight service and really feeling–just feeling in the spirit, you need to know that information so that you understand the senior prank. So in what year was it? In 1994, I think…pretty sure that was the year I was living in Pierce dormitory and I was coming out of school, it was a beautiful spring morning. In fact, it was an accepted students day, spring morning. And I was coming out of the dormitory, coming to the dining hall, and I looked at the tree and the tree looked beautiful. The leaves were starting to come in and there were ornaments all over the tree. And they looked so great. They were square and they were bright red, but like a red aluminum kind of crinkly foil. And they were catching the light and shining and it looked so gorgeous.

I thought, Oh, my gosh! The kids must have decorated the tree for Easter, right? No one had ever done that! I thought it was so thoughtful, so much fun. It looks beautiful. And then as I got closer to the tree, I realized that the ornaments were condoms. And what the kids had done is just like Mrs. Van Ness put Christmas ornaments up at Christmas time for the whole year for these kids—and it was actually the girls from Pierce—put up a condom with each person’s name on it in the community. On a revisit day—an accepted student day. (Laughing)


It was so funny, so clever! And so people are coming to the quad because breakfast time, right? We’re going to grab breakfast and everyone’s going to run off to class. And kids were just laughing when they realized because they’re going up to see, and they’re going “Condoms—how funny is that!” It was so, so clever, so funny. Nobody got hurt. I will say that the person who was the head of admissions at the time, it was not Mr. Kineally, he actually was coming over the hill from Eames where he lived at that time. He was not humored. I thought it was hysterical—but he was not humored.

So isn’t that a great senior prank, really?

JC: He must have been horrified seeing that!

Really, truly it looked beautiful, but it was the right color package. It was catching the sunlight. It really looked the whole tree looked beautiful. And then you realized what it was…so funny.

JC: Oh, were you here, or did you ever teach Mr. Kelly or DQ?

No. So I came in ’88.

JC: ’84 they graduated?

In ’85 they graduated. Who did I teach? Ms. Block was my advisee…who else?

 JC: Ms. Reyes?

I was here with Ms. Reyes but I didn’t have Ms. Reyes or Miss Block in class, but Ms. Block was my advisee.

I have parents who I taught and they have sent their children here, and that’s fun.

33 years that’s bound to happen for sure.

JC: Did any of your students get married to each other?

Yeah, and in fact, Jacob and Tyler Prunier, their parents—fell in love in my English class. I always maintain this absolutely, positively. So their mom, her maiden name was Abdulla, Nicole Abdulla and their father Matt Prunier. And we had English class in the Murphy seminar room. And Matt always sat at the direct end of the table, far end, and Nicole sat at nine o’clock. And there were always a couple of people in between.

But I always maintain they fell in love in my English class and they were not open about their dating initially and then it came out. So I always joke about that. And now both Tyler and Jake are here.

JC: That’s so cool. Yeah.

In fact, my daughter Emily was a flower girl in their wedding. That was sweet.

JC: That’s so cool.

Yeah, these things happen.

 JC: I’m not sure if you’re going to answer this question, but most memorable student?

Oh, gosh. Too many. Too many. I can’t answer that. I had a lot of them.

JC: Always a classic–favorite dining hall meal?

What meal will I miss the most, right? Oh, bibimbap. I love it, I love it. I love it.

JC: Oh, gosh, yeah. So good.

I just wish I had a big enough stomach so I could keep eating it. Bowls and bowls of it.

JC: It’s so good. It’s not really traditional bibimbap, it’s a little bit different. But it’s still good. It’s still good.

It’s close enough.

JC: How about your favorite and like the worst weekend activity that you were forced to FIC Proctor.

Well, the hypnotist is always hysterical, right?

JC: Definitely. Like the worst one?

The worst one is any dance–just a nightmare.

(Both laughing)

You’re just like pulling people apart, like, please! Do you think I want to see that? Honestly, do you think I want to see what you’re doing right now. I said that to kids. No, no, don’t. (Laughing) I don’t get asked to do dances anymore mostly because I break people up.

JC: Yes, that is true! We always forget that teachers are there!

(Still laughing) Teachers are there–and they’re like, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed for you. Stop doing that in public.

JC: Last question—is there anything you want to say to the Govs community?

Well, my immediate thought, right, I just love Govs. There’s a lot that I could say, but I’m still reflecting on that, like I’m still making sense of what actually I have done to make this decision to move on to another adventure. I didn’t exactly expect that it would happen. (Chuckles) So, I’m coming to understand what all of that means, you know, you can think that you understand what something means, but it’s not until it’s actually tangible and it’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden you’re like, wow, oh, OK, OK, I need to wrap my head around this. And there’s so much change that’s happening right now that I’m processing, I guess is the best way to say this. I keep making sense of it. You know, I love Govs and I will miss this place tremendously. It’s hard to imagine that I’m leaving. But I also know, just like kids know, that Govs has helped me to grow up. I came here as a baby pretty much. I was young, super young. And Govs gave me support and friendship, and encouragement to build my confidence and my leadership skills. So that I could go on to someplace else, put them to work. And so for that, I’m going to be eternally grateful to Govs for helping to shape me into the person that I am.

JC: I can’t believe you’re leaving, I’m so sad, I never got to be your student, I’ve heard so many good things about you.

Thank you.

JC: Thank you so much!

Your welcome.