Unity Prevails in First Alumnae Weekend Post-Lockdown


Hannya K.

Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor addressing guests at Saturday luncheon during Alumnae Weekend.

In the late morning of Saturday, March 12, as many as one hundred people, ranging from Westridge alumnae a couple of years into college to those who graduated sixty-six years ago, walked together out of Westridge’s Performing Arts Center and down the courtyard under dangling, twinkling lights. They had just spent an hour hearing the words of Bianca Mabute-Louie ’09, the 2022 recipient of the Distinguished Young Alumna Award. 

Now, another alumna, Vicki Vlachakis von Holzhausen ’90, recipient of the Mary Lowther Ranney Distinguished Alumna Award, would speak. The convergence of all these different alumnae made clear the purpose of Alumnae Weekend—to celebrate the lives of those who had taken their Westridge education with them into adulthood and had returned to cherish their everlasting place in the Westridge community.  

At this year’s event, there was a sense of togetherness that no Zoom meeting could match, especially when Westridge dedicated Friday afternoon and evening to honoring former Middle and Upper School ceramics teacher Juanita Jimenez. All students and teachers gathered around the PAC at the end of the school day to hear Head of School Mrs. Elizabeth McGregor, Upper School Art Teacher Ms. Lorri Deyer, and students speak, as well as Jimenez herself. The event was followed by an evening reception at Braun and the installation of Jimenez’s ceramics artwork in the PAC lobby. “Hearing everyone speak at the reception, it was too much,” Jimenez said. “I am filled with love.”

Saturday started with an interview with Distinguished Young Alumna Award recipient Bianca Mabute-Louie, conducted by Community Outreach Chair Priya A. ’22. The award recognizes young Westridge alumnae who have achieved remarkable things in their careers. Mabute-Louie explained how she found a passion in discussing and speaking on Anti-Asian violence and Black-Asian relationships, culminating in a book for which she has received a deal with Harper Collins.

“It’s surreal to be back after all of these years and inspiring to see all the Westridge Students and the work they do,” Mabute-Louie told the gathered guests at the luncheon on Saturday. “And it means so much to me that my dear class and classmates have come to support me.” 

Former Middle and Upper School Ceramics Teacher Juanita Jimenez stands by her artwork now on display in the PAC lobby. (Lisa Vandergriff) 

Vandergriff said that continued connection between Westridge graduates and the school community is important so their accomplishments can earn them an Alumna award, giving them a platform at their former high school to share their stories with others.

The Alumnae Board strives to introduce Westridge students to Alumnae Weekend’s customs at a young age. On Friday, Westridge’s 50th alumnae class was invited to have tea with the fourth grade and to participate in their afternoon classes. Student-alumnae interactions also focused on the STEAMWork Design Studio, where the seventh grade and three Upper school students presented their work to this year’s recipient of the Ranney Award, Vicki Vlachakis von Holzhausen. Like the Young Alumna Award, the Ranney Award is given to alumnae for achievements in career, focusing on alumnae further into adulthood, beyond college.

Like Mabute-Louie, von Holzhausen stood before the guests at the Saturday luncheon for an interview with Simone O. ’22, Westridge’s Student Life Chair. Simone delved into von Holzhausen’s career as an automotive designer and her work pioneering her own company, focusing on leather alternatives and innovating sustainable materials. Some of her designs can be found in Apple Phone padfolios not made of the typical leather. 

“It’s really funny coming around full circle, back to Westridge,” von Holzhausen told the guests after her interview with Simone. “It brings back memories, and reminds me that I owe much of my success to [the Westridge community’s] support and education.”

2022 Mary Lowther Ranney Distinguished Alumna Recipient Vicki Vlachakis von Holzhausen ‘90 (left) and 2022 Distinguished Young Alumna Recipient Biance Mabute-Louie ‘09 (right). (Westridge School for Girls)

Everything came full circle as Mrs. McGregor called on three members of the class of ‘69 and the Board of Trustees Alumnae Board Chair Teri Wilde, Sigrid Burton, and Elizabeth Russell to accept the award they founded: the Elizabeth J. McGregor Forever Fund Award for their class’s outstanding fundraising efforts for Westridge. Their work has collectively spanned five years, raising over $700,000 for Westridge’s financial aid Forever Fund, and influencing other classes to do the same. The award came in the form of a trophy made by none other than Juanita Jimenez herself. Wilde, emotional, paused a couple of times at the start of her acceptance speech, causing everyone to raise their hands and clap together.

The moment corroborated what Westridge’s Director of Alumnae Affairs Lisa Vandergriff had predicted prior to Alumnae Weekend. “Coming back to school after around two years in lockdown could be very emotional, uplifting, and exciting. We appreciate these gatherings more,” she said. “We took them for granted. We know we have to appreciate the times that we can be together.”

Vandergriff hopes that the return to in-person interactions in this annual celebratory event will be a strong, positive affirmation of perseverance and intimate connection in the future, for both those still on Westridge’s campus and those who have left it.

“I think it’s a beacon of hope that we are starting to return to events,” she said. “I hope that it’s the beginning of us returning to events that we once had. The first of many in-person events to come, and we don’t take them for granted anymore.”


Correction (12:00 p.m. Apr. 5):

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the fourth grade presented their work in the STEAMWork Design Studio to 2022 Ranney Award Recipient Vicki Vlachakis von Holzhausen. The seventh grade presented their work in the STEAMWork Design Studio to von Holzhausen, along with three Upper school students.