Adé Heyliger and Sherrese Smith-Heyliger (P ’29, ’31) share their motivations for funding and naming the outdoor dining commons for the Upper School renovation.
Imagine an 11th grade student strolling into the dining commons in a newly renovated Upper School. After grabbing her lunch, she heads through the doors connecting the indoor cafeteria to the outdoor dining space, snagging a seat next to her friends and classmates at one of many tables. As she enjoys the sunshine and fresh air, she catches snippets of conversations from nearby tables: service club members holding their weekly meeting, classmates collaborating on a project, players getting excited about an upcoming game. She breathes deeply and centers herself, enjoying the feel of nature and hum of student voices around her.
Adé Heyliger and Sherrese Smith-Heyliger (P ’29, ’31) are determined to bring this vision for an outdoor dining space to life during the Upper School renovation. “It will be a place where people can congregate and be free and hopeful in a way that’s just different from being inside buildings,” Sherrese said. “We just love the opportunity for kids to be in a serene and peaceful place.”
To that end, the Heyligers have donated $100,000 for the development of an outdoor dining space, which will bear the family’s name once renovations have been completed on the Upper School. In many ways, this is a natural extension of their active commitment to the Sidwell Friends community. “We have been participating and contributing to the School in various ways since Morgan started at Sidwell Friends in 2016,” Adé explained. “Sherrese is currently a 4th grade representative, is on the Lower School Committee this year, and led the School’s A Night for Scholars efforts in 2019. I am currently serving as a volunteer for the campaign. Sherrese’s mother [Joanne Smith (GP ’29, ’31)] lives with us and is an active member of the Grandparents Committee.
The Heyligers contribute time and resources to Sidwell Friends to extend to others the sense of belonging they have experienced here. “When you find a school like Sidwell Friends that is able to serve not only your children, but the family as a whole—for instance, my mom and other grandparents—I believe you have an obligation to share and give back as much as you can, to be a part of that community,” Sherrese said.
Yet for Adé and Sherrese, this is a special opportunity that extends beyond the current support they offer the School. In funding this named space, they are creating a legacy that will connect their family to future generations of Sidwell Friends students, faculty, parents, grandparents, and friends.
“This is not an opportunity that comes along frequently for African American families. It’s important for us because our kids will see their name on this campus. Future students of color will see the name of an African American family on the campus,” Adé said.
And as Sherrese explained, their gift is about representing possibilities for every student. “When I was growing up, there was nobody who looked like me who had their name anywhere. And representation matters; just seeing an African American president shapes the hopes and future and knowledge of kids who look like me. And for all kids, for whom those possibilities become the norm. We thought that if we were able to give that possibility, that visibility to African American students, they might say, ‘Hey, if they could do it, we can, too.’”
Gifts towards the Upper School renovation, like the Heyligers’, bring the School that much closer to achieving one of the primary goals of the comprehensive campaign: unifying the campus. Already, parents and students are seeing the potential of this space: The Class of 2021 will be the first alumni to have experienced the Upton Street property, where this spring, temporary spacious classrooms were created to facilitate safe, on-campus learning.
For Adé and Sherrese, who cannot wait to see their children Morgan ’29 and Quinn ’31 enjoying the outdoor dining space bearing the Heyliger name, the Friends Across SFS buddy program has already illustrated the advantages of older and younger students matriculating together. “I feel like Morgan and Quinn are more excited about their [Upper School] buddies than they are about us,” Sherrese said with a laugh. “They get to talk to older kids who have gone through it, who’ve done what they are doing. The sense of ‘I know a bigger kid’ resonates now, and that’s just through Zoom. Can you imagine what it will look like when they are all on one campus?”
Adé and Sherrese can. They can envision their children as the older kids inspiring younger students, once the renovated Upper School opens. They can imagine an Upper School that, even in its very structure, has the potential to represent and inspire every student. And they believe in the power of a community unified in purpose.
“If we can contribute to all of the things that Sidwell Friends stands for and wants to do for our community by contributing to this new space that kids are going to thrive in, then we owe it to our community to do that,” Sherrese said. “It’s really about gathering together to show support for a school and community that’s done so much for all of us.”