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"She Encouraged Me to Aim High..."
Posted 05/10/2016 01:00PM

By Leslie F Tolbert '69

We take a look back at a wonderful tribute to M. Crist Fleming that was written by neuroscientist Leslie Tolbert '69 when TASIS turned 50. The tribute was originally published in In Pursuit of Excellence: An Historical Perspective.

My years at TASIS had a huge impact on who I am, and, since who I am includes being a neuroscientist, I now know that part of the reason for that impact is that I was at TASIS during a time when my brain was ready to grab and absorb new experiences into its very structure. All of us alumni were. Research in neuroscience over the last few decades has revealed that brain development doesn’t stop when we are very young. In fact, the brains of school-age children, even into our early 20s, are still developing and are highly “plastic,” or susceptible to change in response to experience. After that, our brains continue to change in subtle ways, but the main features of our neural circuitry are firm. Thus, all of us who had the opportunity to be at TASIS for part of our education were there at an age when our experience would have a profound impact on the brain circuitry that, for the rest of our lives, drives our perceptions and thoughts and actions.

In creating TASIS, she created a situation in which young people from all over the world would be stimulated intellectually and emotionally not just inside the classroom but outside, by the exciting cultures of Europe, in extraordinary ways.

Somehow, I think Mrs. Fleming knew that before the biologists did. In creating TASIS, she created a situation in which young people from all over the world would be stimulated intellectually and emotionally not just inside the classroom but outside, by the exciting cultures of Europe, in extraordinary ways. I am deeply grateful to my parents for having the insight to realize that TASIS would provide an exceptional education and for the grand generosity to send my sister, Kim, and me there in the late 1960s. And I am deeply grateful to Mrs. Fleming for every aspect of the TASIS experience. At TASIS, I enjoyed mind-bending teachers, wild and crazy roommates, and stimulating classmates, and I sucked into my brain the beauty of Lugano and the excitement of the many corners of Europe we visited. I also benefitted from having Mrs. Fleming, who acted with energy on her ideas and achieved such dramatic success, as a role model. When I thought about where to go to college, Radcliffe had special appeal because she had gone there. She encouraged me to aim high, and when I arrived at Harvard/Radcliffe as a budding math major, I found I had not only a competitive math and science background, but also a breadth of cultural experience that enriched my experience there. Now, as a neuroscientist, an interest in learning about the scientific basis for wanderlust or the appreciation of art is as important to me as the specific research projects my own lab group conducts. And as a parent, instilling in my two wonderful children an openness to new experiences and an expectation of constructive and compassionate engagement with the world is as important as anything else my husband and I can do for them. We alumni tangibly carry the TASIS experience with us every moment, wherever we are and whatever we do. How lucky we are!

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