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Norfolk Academy's popular Alumni Seminar Series returned on October 28, with a riveting discussion about the Perrel Art Gallery's fall art exhibit, Growing Together.

These seminars, which have been underway for four years, are led by longtime Academy teacher-coach Tom Duquette. Held roughly once a season, they introduce and explore different topics, ranging from English literature to athletics to fine arts. Though the latest seminar was virtual, as all have been since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the school hopes to return soon to an in-person format.

“Trying to get our students to be lifelong learners. That's what this is all about," Mr. Duquette said.

The latest seminar included a presentation from Art Teacher Betsy DiJulio, curator of the fall gallery exhibit titled Growing Together. Mrs. DiJulio was joined in the gallery by artist Iona Drozda and, on a prerecorded video, by Rick Nickel. Their works make up the fall exhibit.

After Mrs. DiJulio introduced the exhibit, Ms. Drozda and Mr. Nickel described various pieces and their thoughts behind each. The seminar closed with questions from the virtual audience.

This is Mrs. DiJulio's first curated exhibit for Academy and the school's first exhibit during Covid. As such, she wanted to put together something truly inspiring. As the school is observing the Year of Togetherness, the thought of growing together jumped out at her, because it lends itself to works not just of humans growing, but also animals, nature, and other areas. 

An accomplished artist herself, Mrs. DiJulio knows the Hampton Roads art world well. She thought works from Ms. Drozda and Mr. Nickel would pair well together. She was right. “It was magic," she said of how well they complemented one another.

Mr. Nickel offered encouragement in his recorded presentation. “The dreams you have inside of you, you can fulfill," he said. 

“All of us need to work together to hold up the things we want to hold up in our lives," he added.

Ms. Drozda spoke about the pleasure she has had serving as a guest teacher on campus this fall. She has led a project creating a large mural with some of Mrs. DiJulio's art students. She also addressed one of Mr. Ari Zito's English classes and spoke to more than 100 ninth graders. 

During the question period, Ms. Drozda opened up about what art means to her. She spoke about difficulties with her family when she was younger, as well as the trauma of a near-death experience. Creating art allowed her to stand up and out, letting the world know she was making her imprint.

“The making of the art is my lifeline," she said. “Art is a celebration; it doesn't matter if it's dark and difficult."

Senior Foster Kimple and junior James Lonergan helped with cameras during the seminar. Teacher-coaches Ed Patterson and Rob Fleenor helped with technical aspects of the production, which lasted about an hour and was much more in-depth than a typical Zoom event.

The next seminar is scheduled for late January. That will include a musical performance by Music Teacher Cheney Doane and a discussion on music. Another seminar in late March will include a dance performance by Dance Master Elbert Watson and a discussion about dance.  


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