A day student from Great Barrington, Mass., Paula was among the first nine female students to enroll at Berkshire in September 1969. At the urging of her older sister and at the recommendation of Dr. John Hassett ’40, a member of the Great Barrington School Board at the time, Paula was excited to attend Berkshire and eager for a more appropriately challenging academic environment.
After graduation, Paula went on to earn a bachelor’s of science degree from Skidmore College in 1977 with a double major in business and dance. Moving to New York City after college, she spent the first few years working in dance management before shifting her focus to film and television.
In the coming weeks, Paula will be moving out of her New York City apartment, where she’s lived for the last 42 years. When asked about the impetus for this big change, Paula replied, “I’m so over it,” with a warm laugh and a hint of relief. After what has been a “great life in New York City,” Paula is ready to embark on a well deserved “gap year” as she takes a deep breath and considers the next chapter of her life. Being more connected with the natural world is especially high on her list of goals for the near future.
While Berkshire did provide Paula with the more enriching academic environment she was hoping for, as one of the pioneers of coeducation, this experience was also quite challenging. Fortunately for Berkshire and for Paula, challenges are not obstacles; they are opportunities to grow, to learn, and to serve as an agent for change. Her energy and optimism are infectious, and her legacy is both impressive and inspiring.
1. How did it feel to participate in the panel discussion on coeducation in Allen Theater this fall?
After grasping the reality that's it's been 50 years since I first stepped onto campus, it did, in fact, feel good to receive some acknowledgment of the role we played in this experience. Additionally, I hope that something of value was gained by the students besides just hearing stories from “long ago.”
2. What can today's students learn from the challenges you and the early alumnae faced during your time at Berkshire?
Always strive to be supportive of one another. Learn to communicate issues and grievances in a constructive way. I feel like there were many missed opportunities because many of us just didn’t know how to cross those bridges. There will always be specific challenges relating to gender issues and inequalities; but, hopefully, we can continue working towards a truly equitable society.
3. Can you tell us about your career and hobbies, and why you are passionate about them?
My professional arc has spanned work across a broad spectrum of entertainment including dance, film, and television. Regardless of the realm that I have worked in — non-profit, independent filmmaking, feature film distribution and, ultimately, TV studio and post-production — the roles I have played have largely been focused on production management and operations. The following is a quick sampling of some projects I have worked on: The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series; Ted Talks Live; National Geographic series and specials; the Tony Awards; and, a long list of daytime TV talk shows. I have found this work rewarding because I have enjoyed being a team member in endeavors that are generally fast-paced and stressful, while knowing that one of my key contributions is keeping it all running as smoothly as possible. It’s always a welcome bonus whenever I am able to work on something that I personally feel passionate about.
With the rapid-fire changes that take place technologically, it has required a great deal of focused attention to stay on top of it all. As a result, I’ve appreciated being continually challenged as opposed to doing the same thing over and over again for a period of years.
My biggest personal passion is exploring the outdoors — a particular challenge having lived my adult life in New York City. Having grown up in Great Barrington, I was certainly exposed to the joy of the outdoors before I arrived at Berkshire. My time under the Mountain, however, certainly served to nurture this love. As I am preparing to leave New York after 42 years, one of my most important goals for the future is giving myself the opportunity to spend way more time outside.
4. What advice would you give today’s students?
Take advantage of all that this special place and time in your life offer. It can be a real gift to spend formative years here, so make it count in a way that will resonate with you. And, really work on learning to listen. If everyone listens, then everyone also gets heard.
5. In what ways is your Berkshire experience present in your life today?
Early on, the first nine girls were frequently referred to as "the Pioneers," and it's a label that has felt accurate to me over the years. While there was the excitement of being a part of a huge shift taking place not just at Berkshire but also culturally, there was the unanticipated reality of not being unilaterally welcomed (to put it mildly). Ultimately, I was able to navigate the experience so that by the end of my four years, I truly did feel like an inclusive member of my class. But it sure didn’t start out that way. For me, the challenge of working through an atmosphere of intense adversity and then positively engaging in ways to help transform it was a critical life lesson.
One can absolutely count on unexpected adversity throughout one’s life, and to have learned how to start navigating such challenges while at Berkshire has served me well both professionally and personally. For many years, I worked in a male-dominated environment and although the culture was vastly different from a boarding school in 1969, my Berkshire experience helped provide me with a framework to comfortably and confidently navigate in this realm.
The most important and very present aspect of my Berkshire experience, though, are the friendships forged 50 years ago. Two of my dearest friends in the world shared the stage with me on that panel and these women have immeasurably enriched my life. But in addition to "Berkshire besties forever" (not a myth), there are many other important friendships with former male and female students. Some of these friendships were rekindled at reunions and in some instances, friendships of substance have arisen with folks that I barely knew in high school. And, lastly, from the category of “least expected,” I have become dearest friends with one of my Berkshire teachers, Marianne Stein Hubert. What a gift! I think there is something fundamentally deep and connecting having shared the Berkshire experience regardless of where life takes you.