New Wellness Center Named for Sykes

Head of School John Palfrey announced last Friday that the new wellness center will be named after Becky Sykes, former Associate Head of School.

The Board of Trustees unanimously voted in support of the building dedication on Friday morning. Palfrey announced the naming of the Rebecca M. Sykes Health and Wellness Center at the Trustee, Faculty and Alumni Council Dinner to a standing ovation.

“I was shocked and immediately dissolved in tears. My husband and Mrs. Chase had to remind me to breathe. The announcement was totally unexpected and beyond my wildest dreams,” wrote Sykes in an email to The Phillipian.

Construction of the wellness center, intended to promote both emotional and physical health education, will begin in September 2014 and is expected to finish by December 2015. It will be located on Salem Street between Benner House and Bulfinch Hall.

Sykes, who received the McKeen Award last spring, was a proponent for greater diversity during her 40-year tenure at Andover, pushing for equal-opportunity policies for underrepresented students in her numerous positions on campus. She was also instrumental in the foundation of the Brace Center for Gender Studies and the Girls’ Leadership Project (GLP). She began as a switchboard operator in February of 1973, eventually moving up to serve as Dean of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), Social Functions Director, House Counselor, Abbot Cluster Dean and, ultimately, Associate Head of School.

“I have had the privilege to be here all 40 years that she was here,” said Elizabeth Parker Powell ’56, trustee emerita and executive committee member of the Andover Development Board. “I think putting the name on the infirmary was a beautiful, meaningful, more than a gesture. It was really a recognition for what she had done for the school for those 40 years.”

The new Wellness Center will be one of the few spaces on campus named for a woman and the only one named for an African-American woman. “While the naming is a tremendous acknowledgement of one individual, it is also a great symbolic gesture to `reflect how diverse the community has become over time,” said Sykes.

In September, Sykes departed Andover to become the first President of the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation. She and her husband, Elwin Sykes, faculty emeritus, have spent three weeks at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa (OWLAG) and flew in specifically for Friday night’s dinner.

“I am taking a tip from Mr. Palfrey’s first year by doing a lot of listening,” wrote Sykes of her new position. “The school is the single most important initiative that is supported by the foundation.”

Sykes overviews the strategic vision of the school, which is to provide an excellent university preparatory program for girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Now that we have been on the campus for three weeks, I can immerse myself in all aspects of school life,” Sykes said. “Just before we left town eight days ago, we attended a small local fair at which the school’s marimba band played. I’ve also observed students make presentations on business and attended arts performances.”

Many of the girls at OWLAG have difficult family circumstances and the foundation works to provide moral and financial support to help them complete both high school and university, continued Sykes. “I was responsible for all the areas of student life when I was at Andover. The work we do in student life in Phillips Academy and at OWLAG is essentially the same—it complements the academic program and makes it possible for students to focus on their studies,” said Sykes.

Sykes is already in the midst of coordinating wellness workshops for OWLAG students and faculty to occur on their campus this July. The workshops will be the first phase of the leadership program Sykes will develop. “The workshops are meant to help students develop and refine coping mechanisms. These skills are important for anyone, but especially for those with leadership aspirations,” said Sykes.

Palfrey has yet to name a successor to fill the position of Associate Head of School since Sykes’s departure.

Calling Sykes “irreplaceable” in an interview with The Phillipian last spring, Palfrey said, “I think that when anybody has been here for 40 years and done such as amazing job as Mrs. Sykes has, the job sometimes comes to describe the individual or to be built upon the individual strengths of that person.”

“I will always be indebted to all in the Andover community for what they have taught me, but none more than the generous donors who have and will give selflessly to a project to which they were entitled to affix their own names. I want to thank them in particular for their powerful example of ‘non sibi,’” said Sykes.

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