Story by Leslie King // Photography by Sarah Jane Tart
Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery ’91, the Rev. John Hage ’94 and first-grade teacher Debbie Suggs were honored with DA’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Alumni Service Award and the Faculty and Staff Legacy Award, respectively, at the Spring Alumni Reception on April 26. Alumni Board President Garrett Putman ’94 said the honorees “truly embody our school’s moral, happy and productive mission in genuinely unique ways.” Putman described Suggs, his former teacher, as “one of the absolute brightest beacons of joy and happiness that I know at DA.” He reminisced about classmate and close friend Hage, who pursued a life in the ministry, “striving to bring morality into [their] daily lives.” Putman assured the audience they would be impressed with “just how incredibly productive [Lowery] has been since graduating from Durham Academy,” citing her a career as a teacher, historian and documentary filmmaker in celebrating the heritage of the Lumbee Indians, North Carolina and the American South.
Distinguished Alumni Award: Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery ’91
Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery ’91 has spent most of her career trying to make sense of and find meaning in the world. As a professor, historian, author and documentary filmmaker, with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and UNC-Chapel Hill, her focus has centered on the communities she’s most closely tied to — North Carolina’s Lumbee Indians and the American South. According to brother Ben Maynor ’92, her curiosity about context began here at DA. “Malinda has applied all she has studied at DA, Harvard, Stanford and UNC to understanding and contextualizing the complex relationships between cultures, particularly with regard to the Lumbees in the American South,” he said. “How she does it all is a mystery to me … but I’m amazed. I can’t think of anyone else who is more deserving of this award.” Lowery says an AP English class helped her understand the world around her and her place in it when they read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Like the main character, she spent time trying to fit in, knowing she was always different. But she credits DA teachers with making a difference in her life. They helped her meet the expectations she set for herself and helped her find places and spaces where she could both fit in and stand out. “… Grades only stay with you for a moment, but you’ll need to ask for guidance for the rest of your life … I might not have been a whiz in physics or math but I gradually figured out that in theatre or music, I didn’t have to compare myself to anyone else … It was through the arts, and literature, that I learned at DA that I could find meaning in things that seemed meaningless.”
Alumni Service Award: The Rev. John Hage ’94
When the Rev. John Hage ’94 found out he was being honored with DA’s Alumni Service Award, he thought it was a mistake because of the distinguished company he was joining — previous recipients include the late Chris Rosati ’89 and Patrick Nevins ’03. But for Betsy Hage ’90, her brother’s recognition made total sense. “I love this award … because it shows the importance of taking time out to recognize unique and diverse individuals and the importance of education and community,” she said. “It takes time to highlight people who have the skills to communicate, collaborate and unify people through skills that were taught by amazing parents, unbelievable teachers and mentors at DA and beyond.” After graduating from Wake Forest University and an early career working in politics and with tech startups, he convinced his family of his desire to pursue a divinity degree. Hage’s four children recently got to revel in high school yearbook photos of their dad as an awkward, bespectacled teenager. And while those images may have faded, Hage’s feelings about his time at DA were still crystal clear — remembering joy and laughter with friends, gratitude for teachers who invested their time in helping him reach his full potential and who taught him selflessness and leadership. “I learned the skills here to bring a diverse group of people together for a cause greater than self. But even more importantly, I developed the confidence to believe that I, huge glasses and all, awkwardness, pimples and voice cracking, could lead a group toward a cause greater than self.”
Faculty and Staff Legacy Award: Debbie Suggs
Debbie Suggs joined DA’s Lower School faculty 24 years ago. If you do the math, that’s more than 400 alumni who became Fabulous First-Grade Explorers (FFGE’s), started their first-grade year with a hug and shared in Suggs’ many treasured traditions like her annual candle-lighting ceremony. “She has helped hundreds of students discover their personal strengths and find joy in learning math, reading and writing — foundations needed to be successful,” said Sterling Ingui ’97, before presenting Suggs with her award. “What makes her a legacy is how she continues to build an FFGE community of students, families and friends who share her love of learning, who seek to spread kindness and offer gratitude and respect.” For Suggs, first grade marks the beginning of a deep, forever connection with what she calls her “gift” family — a DA family of teachers, mentors, colleagues and friends and her DA students and families. Suggs’ desk is a living shrine to those connections, and during her speech, she shared anecdotes connected to the gifts, notes and artwork from students from decades past, symbolizing the love, affection and family that comes with being an FFGE. “My mom and dad taught me at a very early age that gratitude, kindness, service and giving of oneself are the keys to a happy life,” she said. “What a wonderful way it is to serve others by teaching, guiding, loving and caring for children and helping them learn the secret to a happy life that was instilled in me so long ago. I was born wanting to be a teacher … as long as I can remember, it’s all I ever wanted to be.”