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Next Board of Trustees President Claire Hughes Johnson ’90

Next Board of Trustees President Claire Hughes Johnson ’90

In July, CLAIRE HUGHES JOHNSON ’90, a member of the Board since 2010, will become the president of Milton’s Board of Trustees. The daughter of longtime English Department chair Guy D’Oyly Hughes and a Milton “lifer,” Hughes Johnson attended Milton Academy from kindergarten through senior year. She served for 10 years as a vice president at Google and for the past seven years as COO at Stripe, a global billing and payments infrastructure platform. She recently became a corporate officer and advisor at Stripe. Hughes Johnson and her husband, Jesse Johnson, have two children attending Milton.

Having served on the board for the past 12 years, can you talk about your decision to join and some of the changes you’ve seen during that time? 
I was asked to join the Board not long after Todd became the head of school, in 2009. At the time, I was in a leadership role at Google and a very busy working mom with small kids, but the opportunity to serve Milton was just too important to pass up. I knew Todd was going to be a fantastic head of school, and I really wanted to be part of his journey. Over the past 12 years, I’ve had the opportunity to appreciate both the challenges and the triumphs of executing Todd’s strategic plan to advance the institution and expand on the offerings that compel and attract students of Milton’s caliber—everything from hiring and retaining transformative educators to advancing the school’s work on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice to building Milton’s endowment.

As a technology executive, you’ve been involved in some of the most significant technological advances of the past several decades. Can you say a little about that? 
Technology can be understood by looking at what I’ll call decade- defining companies. From about 2005 to 2015, Google was the decade-defining company, and, beginning in 2015, Stripe emerged as a potential defining company, growing from tens of millions in revenue to billions. Being part of building those companies was and is a great privilege and a tremendous amount of work. The opportunity to be at Google, which grew from about 1,800 employees to more than 60,000 in the 10 years I was there, and then to build Stripe as a leader from 160 to more than 6,000 employees, doesn’t happen to many people in their lifetimes.

What do you hope to accomplish as board president? 
I think a lot about how one builds an institution that lasts centuries, not decades. I enjoy the contrast in my life between being someone who’s helped build two game-changing technology companies and, at the same time, a graduate and trustee of an institution that was founded in 1798. That combination of experiences and skills is what it’s going to take to develop the leaders of the future: a front-row seat in both worlds. I really value the institution of Milton—the history and legacy of excellent faculty, students, and programs. Many of Milton’s qualities transcend time and history—developing critical thinkers and instilling a love of learning and respect for one another—but to honor its mission, we need to think about what is the modern Milton. How can we support the faculty and prepare the students for a changing world, where their skills and leadership are needed and where they can successfully ‘Dare to be true’? Milton strives to prepare leaders and citizens for the future. In the same way that Milton needs to call on every ability of its administration, faculty, and students to do so, the Board also needs to do that. That will be my goal.

What should Milton’s priorities be in preparing students for that future? 
The past couple of years have not been the easiest time for anyone. It’s not just the pandemic; it’s the impact of income inequality in the United States and the country’s clear inability to address systemic racism and the existential threat to humanity of climate change, not to mention the global trend toward nationalism. Milton students have always been agile learners, and the environment is one that celebrates constructive dialogue and inquiry. Preparing our students for the future is going to be about looking at every part of their experience, including the program and curriculum, and figuring out what we can do within and across disciplines and schools to amplify not just the learning aptitude, but the multidimensional dialogue and willingness to lead, even when uncertain. The students have to be fully formed humans, which requires empathy and an understanding of the human experience that acknowledges that not every human experience is the same. If you don’t build that understanding, you’re not going to be a very effective citizen. Todd has begun the next stage of work on equity and inclusion— we have a lot of exciting new faculty and staff members. We’ve doubled the endowment. But you don’t get it all done in 14 years, and Todd would be the first to say that. We can be even more aligned as an institution on what Milton’s role should be in today’s world—what skills we need and what type of community we need to build. I think there’s an appetite to become even stronger. There is a fine balance to achieve at Milton between a celebration of the individual student and a common vision we share as a community to which each member holds the others accountable.

Do you believe Milton can meet the urgency of these times? 
It’s not always easy to find reasons for optimism, but my interactions with Milton during this time—even though it’s been challenging in any school environment— are where I’m finding my optimism. Seeing my kids as Milton students engaged and excited, and meeting their friends and teachers, gives me a lot of reason for hope. We need to find sources of optimism and invest in them; Milton is one of those sources. If you look at the diversity in the student body and think about who those kids are going to grow up to be, we have every reason to be hopeful. And I’m excited to meet the next leader of Milton, be their support system and, frankly, show my gratitude to someone who’s going to take on what I know from my own work is a tremendous responsibility. I know it can be challenging— and at times lonely. What I’m most energized by is making sure that person feels they have a partner and a Board that’s active and involved in their success and in the success of the institution. In the past few years, it’s been rewarding to me professionally to grow beyond operational leadership to become more of a facilitator, enabler, and advisor. I’m always amazed by what humans can accomplish under the right circumstances. If I can help create those circumstances for Milton, then I can truly give back, because I owe so much of my success to Milton Academy.

Melissa Roja Lawlor Named Upper School Director of Equity and Inclusion

In her new position as Upper School director of equity and inclusion, Melissa Lawlor wants all students at Milton to feel they can be their true selves.

Her own journey—both personal and professional—is what brought Lawlor to this juncture in her life. Growing up, she attended an independent high school in California, and, for more than 16 years, she has served as a teacher, coach, and dorm parent at independent schools in both New York and New Hampshire.

What drives her, she says, is her own experience in high school struggling to assert her identity as one of only a few students of color.

“I had wonderful teachers who saw me, but institutionally it was difficult,” she says. “I felt really disconnected from my Filipino identity, and I love that part of me. But I hid it for so long in high school. So much of what I do in this office is think about ‘What do folks need to be able to embrace pieces of themselves that they feel initially they should hide at a predominantly white school?’ That’s really become the focus of my life’s work.”

Lawlor arrived at Milton in July after 11 years at Brewster Academy, in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where she built a DEIJ program from the ground up. Brewster, she says, was successful in attracting students of color, but had few plans in place to support them. As director of the program, Lawlor piloted the school’s first equity and inclusion program, created a faculty professional development program, developed a curriculum that included issues around identity, and established a support system for students of color.

Last summer, Lawlor, with her husband, Matt, who was recently appointed Milton’s associate athletic director, moved to Milton with their three young sons to become Milton’s first Upper School director of equity and inclusion. She was attracted to Milton by the work the school has already begun around equity and inclusion.

“Part of the draw was that Milton has a definitive community priority for anti-racism and anti-oppression work,” she says. “The fact that Milton was establishing a team aspect for equity, inclusion, and justice with a well-defined strategy was a real plus.”

According to Lawlor, the challenge now becomes how Milton reckons with the past and begins to move forward. “Milton’s Transition Program is 37 years old,” she says. “I’m coming into a program with an historically articulated commitment, but a commitment to DEIJ looks different today at Milton than it did even five years ago.

“There are some people in this community whose identities are feeling the effects of oppression or marginalization. So the challenge becomes, how do we as a team make sure these children and adults feel validated, seen, and empowered—and how do we cultivate the kind of culture that will support this?”

Lawlor wants to be a part of creating an environment at Milton that addresses issues of equity, inclusion, and justice in a healthy, restorative manner that calls people in to repair. “It’s important in how we hold people accountable,” she says. “I’ve seen shame and blame used as the only accountability tools, and it sometimes runs counter to the goal; it creates a toxic environment.”

“We’re at a pivotal moment where we need to establish the tools that help people take responsibility for past hurts, learn how to repair, and identify a restorative path forward that allows for growth as a community,” she says. “In the end, my hope is that these are practices that allow us to grow and learn to be better humans. That’s what this work is all about; it’s acknowledging humanity and our role in the entire push toward establishing just and equitable practices.”

In the months since her arrival, Lawlor has been heartened by what she has learned about the community’s commitment to growth and change. “It’s been refreshing to have conversations with faculty around equitable practices, and to know I’m not the only one doing this work,” she says. “People have done significant work to evaluate their own teaching practices, curriculum, and intentionality. But we need the whole community involved, and many people are at different stages of learning. As for the students, “We know Milton graduates are going to go out there and change the world, unequivocally. They’re brilliant, they’re bright, they’re motivated, and what I’m hopeful for is that they learn along with us, and carry with them a sense of purpose for becoming better humans who treat each other fairly and equitably. That’s really at the heart of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Lisa Donohue ’83, Board of Trustees President, 2015-2022

LISA DONOHUE ’83, Milton’s outgoing Board of Trustees president, has served during a period of significant growth in Milton’s history. Since 2015, Donohue has played an integral role in the implementation of Milton’s strategic plan, providing critical advice and assistance. This included supporting Milton’s capital campaign, Dare: The Campaign for Milton. The campaign helped double Milton’s endowment, expand and diversify its student body and faculty, and implement the campus master plan. A former marketing executive, Donohue served in several chief executive roles at Publicis Groupe, the world’s largest communications company, including CEO of Publicis Spine, a technology and data platform; Global Brand President of Starcom Worldwide; and CEO of Starcom USA. She now serves on several corporate boards, including Gap Inc. and NRG Energy.

“Lisa has done an amazing job as Board president,” says Head of School Todd Bland, who has worked with Donohue since his appointment in 2009. “She has been my consummate supporter and, at the same time, has always pushed me to make sure I work in a way that is ultimately doing the best for Milton’s students, faculty, and staff. As a partner, she’s done an exceptional job at that balance, which is not always easy. She was the perfect leader for Milton, because she’s always thinking about how to move the institution forward, acknowledging with gratitude how many strengths we have, but always thinking about ways we can be better. That’s a balancing act that she strikes very, very well.”

Senior Shiloh Liu’s Honors Bio Lab is Published

In her junior year, CHEN-CHIH (SHILOH) LIU ’22 stayed remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, learning from her home in Taiwan. Still, she was a full participant in her Honors Biology course, completing lab assignments in her kitchen.

And now, one of her experiments has made her a published scientist. Liu’s article, “How ethanol concentration affects catalase catalysis of hydrogen peroxide,” was recently published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators (JEI), an online scientific publication for students in college, high school, and middle school.

Liu worked throughout the summer—meeting with her Honors Biology teacher, Michael Edgar, via Zoom several times and receiving feedback from the JEI team of graduate students who helped her refine the experiment.

New Director of Restorative Practices

After holding various spiritual and community development roles at Milton for 16 years, Suzanne DeBuhr has moved into a new position as an Administrative Council member: director of restorative practices.

DeBuhr, who is also a faculty member in the History and Social Sciences Department, took the role—a new position at Milton—midway through the 2020–2021 academic year. Milton began considering restorative practices in 2017, after students staged a walkout to protest the school’s handling of racist social media posts. The initiative, by Dean of Students José Ruiz and former Associate Director of Admission SARAH WOOTEN ’04, helped in identifying the need for the new role.

“In the early stages, we’re figuring out how to educate the community about what this work is going to look like, which is an evolving and organic thing,” DeBuhr says. “Restorative justice addresses [the incident], but it’s also effective for looking at the whole and trying to understand what led to the incident. It’s not just about resolving one occurrence but going into the past, going into the relationship, and thinking about what repair needs to be done.”

Aside from the longer-term work of preparing to expand restorative practices at Milton, DeBuhr partners with the school’s Department of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, where she works to investigate, mediate, and help resolve bias incidents at both the student and adult levels.
A restorative system is one that focuses on the repair of harm in a conflict between parties, rather than punishment directed toward the person who caused the harm. Restorative practices also rely on proactive community-building, so DeBuhr introduced circle practice to Milton employees, partnering with Suffolk University’s Center for Restorative Justice for training. Circle practice, or being “in circle,” has its origins in Indigenous conflict-resolution methods, and requires all participants to think about their role as individuals within a greater, but deeply interconnected, society.

“It’s about the people, themselves,” DeBuhr says. “And it’s about their relationships and what went wrong—not in the person, but what went wrong around the person—to result in the harming of a relationship. It asks of everyone involved to tell the truth and take responsibility in a way that allows everyone to move forward. It recognizes that harm is never only between one person and another.”
Instead of punishing or publicly shaming someone for doing something harmful, repairing relationships is a more community- focused approach to most conflicts, she says. It has applications for many situations, including student-disciplinary matters and conflicts between work colleagues.

“American culture is hyper-individualistic: You have to take care of everything on your own,” she explains. “Having restorative processes as part of our practice means that we don’t have to do it alone. It means that we’re in this together, that there is a community of support, and that, yes, we’re going to have conflicts and we’re not always going to get along with one another. But we can build skills to help resolve those issues and even train people who can help negotiate difficulties.”

DeBuhr is working toward her master’s degree in restorative justice from Vermont Law School. She received her bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and her Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School.

The Power of Imagination

At the heart of Milton’s mission is its commitment to nurturing every student’s curiosity about the world and the endless possibilities for growth and change. In this issue, we feature some of the thinkers, artists, and scientists among us who’ve never stopped imagining, bringing new ideas and perspectives into a complex world.