Alum's Reflections Inspire Today's Students

Fresh off Brooks' Friday ceremony for winter sports awards, Kaylan Tildsley Alderson '03 returned the school's focus to athletics on Monday — with a moving chapel speech for the annual Kippy Liddle Day about how sports "truly molded me into the person I am today."

Katherine (Kippy) Liddle was a Brooks history teacher, assistant crew coach and dorm parent who died in a 1984 boating accident while protecting the life of a student during a pre-season practice with the Brooks crew team on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

"In remembrance of her every year, we honor girls' athletics in a special service at Brooks," said crew coach Tote Smith, introducing Alderson to the hushed student body gathered in the Frank D. Ashburn Chapel at 10 a.m. "We honor the outstanding achievements, accomplishments, and character of female athletes and we celebrate the virtues of athletics for all of us."

As an award-winning, three-sport athlete at Brooks, Alderson knows a thing or two about sports in this community, as well as what that experience brings to life after graduation.

"I remember Kippie Liddle Day from my time at Brooks," she said shortly after her address. "I always loved hearing from someone outside of school and learning about their experiences, so it was a real honor to be asked to speak today." The message of Kippie Liddle Day "is an important one," she added. "Particularly for women and the lessons that it teaches you."

When Alderson attended Brooks, sports were central to her campus life. Juggling the roles of president of the student council, school prefect, member of the Phillips Brooks Society student group, she also played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. In her final year, Alderson's undefeated soccer team was the ISL champion and won the New England Class A Championship. Her basketball team was also ISL and New England Class B champions – and Alderson was named the ISL MVP, as well as the Boston Globe All-Scholastic winner. She still holds the Brooks School basketball assist record with 487.

"Other players may have been physically more gifted, but few were more purposeful in how they practiced and played," said Athletic Director Bobbie Crump-Burbank P'11. "Kaylan always demonstrated the ability to make smart decision under pressure and implement them."

After graduating Brooks magna cum laude, Alderson went on to Williams College, where she played basketball and lacrosse. The athlete ultimately captained both teams and earned Academic All-NESCAC honors in both sports, twice, as well as the distinction of being named First Team All-American in lacrosse twice as well.

"I was asked to speak with you about how athletics have impacted my life," Alderson told the crowd when she took her spot at the podium. "The assignment was both very easy and very difficult for me to do. Athletics have had an incredible impact on my life and truly shaped who I am today, but encompassing all that sports have meant to me into a 15-minute speech is nearly impossible. I'm therefore going to walk you through most important things that sports have given me, the lessons they have taught me, and how they prepared me for life after high school and college."

And that she did. Sports "taught me how to manage pressure-packed situations," she shared. Her teammates became her closest friends. "The wins and championships are great, but the bonds you make while pursuing them are what really matter in the long run," Alderson reminded students.

Comparing her sports career to her work on Wall Street — and most recently as a senior director for business acceleration at Optum in New York City — Alderson revealed that just as a team win is the goal, "a job is the exact same thing. You want to do as well as you possibly can for your bonus or promotion ... but it doesn't matter if your group isn't performing."

Brooks athletics also taught her the importance of trying new things. Taking on lacrosse "brought out an entirely new side to me," she said. "Trying this new thing literally changed what I knew about myself in athletics and showed me the value in forcing yourself to be uncomfortable because it is only then that you can grow."

Sports taught her how to deal with setbacks too. Alderson revealed that she experienced a shocking blow in January 2006 when her best friend Taryn King '03 contracted a rare blood disease and passed away during a college semester abroad in Ireland.

"I watched a speech given by Kippy's former colleague and she said, 'Kippy was kind, and positive and generous,'" said Alderson. "'She was thoughtful. She was always happy, always, always enthusiastic, always willing to help.' I promise you I got chills when I heard that because that is exactly how Taryn was."

Alderson admitted that, "I don't think I'll ever fully recover" from losing King, in whose memory she helped establish a scholarship fund. "But I've learned from it and it's shaped the way I live my life. Taryn and I were fierce competitors, but she was always able to see the bigger picture and enjoy the relationships and bonds she created on the field over the victory. Taryn showed me that sports was about more than winning. She truly enjoyed life and made the most of every second ... and I have tried to follow her path in that regard since she left."
As Alderson wrapped up her remarks, she offered one final piece of advice for athletes and non-athletes alike. "Athletics are a metaphor for passion," she said. "Sports are the thing that drove me, but for others it might be music, or performing, or art. Whatever your passion is, dedicate yourself to it, learn from it and grow from it. You will undoubtedly be better as a result."

Post-speech, the alum said she hopes that her audience "got the importance of finding that something you're passionate about — and learns to learn from their experience in sports how to prepare for the highs and the low points."

It has worked for her. "In the past 31 years," she told the Brooks community before departing, "I have had high points and I have had low points, and the lessons I've learned from sports have guided me through all of them and helped me handle whatever life throws my way."