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On a clear summer night, blue and white balloons filled the sky over Barbara Bowman’s home, released by alumni who came together with their loved ones to celebrate Erikson Institute’s traditions and look to the future.

The gathering was the largest alumni event in Erikson’s history and harkened back to earlier commencement ceremonies, which Bowman, one of Erikson’s founders, hosted in her back yard. It also offered an opportunity for alumni representing a half-century of Erikson history to gather and talk about what made their experiences as students special while showing support for their alma mater as it approaches its 50th anniversary.

“I’m so glad we are able to get together to welcome our new graduates to the Erikson traditions,” Bowman said as she spoke to the nearly 200 guests from her garden patio.

Geoffrey A. Nagle, president and chief executive officer of Erikson, and Michelle Collins, chair of Erikson’s Board of Trustees, also welcomed guests and reminded alumni that Erikson’s 50th anniversary will offer more opportunities to get together and show support. Dr. Nagle thanked Bowman for her vision that established Erikson in 1966 and has allowed it to grow, and he presented her with a bouquet of yellow roses, another Erikson tradition for graduates, before the alumni released biodegradable balloons in celebration.

Among the guests were Marga Shubart, M.Ed. ’68, a member of Erikson’s first graduating class who traveled from her home in Oaxaca, Mexico, to attend, as well as many members of the Class of 2016, who graduated in May. The event was an opportunity to reminisce with peers and reflect on how Erikson has evolved over the years — and in some ways, alumni noted, it remains the same.

“It was truly a family environment; I enjoyed my time at Erikson immensely,” said Martha Degryse-O’Connor, M.Ed. ’71. “When I enrolled, I was a lost soul with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy — I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I heard about this new program in early childhood development, I could tell that it was an important field of study, and I wanted to be a part of it. It really was a pioneer.”

Many alumni recalled attending classes in Erikson’s first location, the Hyde Park Bank building. Others noted that it has long been common for Erikson’s founders to invite students to their homes for events and, in some years, classes, which they said enhances the feeling of community.

“Going to the home of Barbara Bowman, Lorraine Wallach, or Maria Piers — it was a normal thing,” said Ruby Roberson, M.Ed. ’76. She credited her Erikson experience for guiding her along a career path from classroom teacher to superintendent of a school district in the Chicago suburbs of Dolton and Riverdale.

Alumni who graduated in more recent years also said the strong relationships among students, faculty, and staff enhanced their experience, creating an atmosphere of mutual support and respect. Yadira Vieyra, M.S. ’14, said the knowledge of child development she gained as a student was unique and continues to differentiate her from other professionals in the field. The singular experience of acquiring that perspective binds together all generations of Erikson graduates.

“It’s hard to find people outside of the Erikson community who really understand child development,” she said.

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