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The Student News Site of Friends Seminary

The Insight

The Insight

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Farewell to Harriet Burnett

Burnett early in her time at Friends

This November, Head of School Bo Lauder announced that Harriet Burnett, the longtime head of the Friends Seminary admissions team, will be retiring at the end of this school year. Many students may know Burnett from their interviews while applying to Friends, and through the school’s Admissions Hosts program.

In an interview in late April, Burnett stated that it was a combination of her interest in the day-to-day work of an admissions officer and her fondness for Friends that drew her to the job. She elaborated, “I enjoy meeting people, and getting to know their children on a personal level. When you combine that with an institution that you feel strongly about, it all goes together.”

It is not surprising that Burnett feels so strongly about Friends. Even before her time here, Burnett spent much of her life at Quaker institutions, attending Friends Central School in Philadelphia. She described her introduction to Quakerism at a young age as a “gift” from her parents. She recounted, “how I grew up with my family, which was reinforced by school, really determined the values and perspectives that I use in my life. It was such a natural connection. That’s why I believe so strongly in the program Friends provides.”

Burnett described her main goal as an admissions officer as communicating the unique values of the school with prospective families. According to her, “the mindset of this office is to tell the story of Friends. How we look at kids, the values that are embedded in everything we do, the optimism of the school. My objective is to present those characteristics as a story that lets people understand the magic of Friends. Connecting with the Quaker idea of the Inner Light, what makes each kid uniquely special, is something that we are always looking for.”

Burnett contended that there is not a rigid system that determines the success of an applicant. Rather, she looks to achieve a personal connection to the student and their passions. She explained, “we’re really trying to get to know what’s important for each student. What their Inner Light is about. Truly. Really going beyond the superficial things like facilities, but whether the school will offer them an experience where they’ll flourish and thrive.” One of her main strategies to connect with the student is making sure the student feels like “the most important person in the room,” which makes it easier to know a student and what is important to them. 

Of course, in her time, Harriet has had some less than outstanding interviews. She revealed, “I’ve had kids come and sprawl themselves all over the couch. It was a great challenge to get them to open up and put down the facade.” However, what really stands out to her is how many excellent students she’s met in her time. Her greatest challenge is “the student who is shy and hard to open up. What I want to do is make sure the student is comfortable and safe. It shouldn’t feel like an interview, it should just be a conversation.”

Looking back on her time, Burnett said, “it is really the smaller moments that become the larger moments. When parents thank you deeply for giving their children the experience of Friends. Seeing a student growing from Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade, watching them evolve into such thoughtful and bright thinkers is a high.” For the future, Burnett has not had much time to plan ahead. Still, she believes that “it is time to reset, rebrand and mix it up a bit. I have a lot of ideas.”

Although she can never truly be replaced, Friends Seminary will welcome Nisa Bryant, as its new Head of Admissions in the incoming class. Burnett will be missed by the Friends Seminary community, yet we will cheer her on as she enjoys a well-deserved retirement.


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About the Contributor
Zach Halverstam, Senior Editor
Zach is in 12th Grade and is serving as Senior Editor. He enjoys reading, exercising, playing word games like crosswords and Wordle, and playing the saxophone. A fun fact about Zach is that he can place every country on a map (feel free to challenge him).

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