If alumni Diana Levine ‘03, James Lipcon ‘97, and Sofi Madison ‘03 have one thing in common, it’s that they each took full advantage of their time at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall. As a boarding student, Levine developed an affinity for understanding different cultures. Lipcon flourished academically and personally because of the School’s emphasis on individualized learning. Madison learned the value of staying open-minded. CH-CH’s influence on their lives did not end when they graduated. All three have continued to draw on their CH-CH experiences as they run businesses of their own.
DIANA LEVINE ‘03 CAPTURES THE MOMENT
Few working professionals are confident enough in their abilities to leave full-time employment during a recession. But in 2008, that’s precisely what then Boston Magazine designer and staff photographer Diana Levine ‘03 did.
Levine moved to New York City with her husband, also a full-time freelancer, and started shooting portraits. She has worked for ad agencies, magazines, and record labels, and she has photographed celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian, and President Barack Obama. Although the Greater Boston area was Levine’s home growing up, the Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall alumna felt at home in the melting pot that is New York City, in part because of her secondary school experience. Levine loves immersing herself in different cultures, which she had the opportunity to do as a boarding student at CH-CH.
In fact, while a boarding student, Levine’s Taiwanese roommate taught her Mandarin Chinese. The two keep in touch almost daily, and Levine’s since passed on the Mandarin lessons to her oldest child.
“I think being surrounded by people from all different backgrounds can only improve your life,” Levine explains. “When I was at Chapel Hill, many of the girls I lived with spoke Chinese. I think learning a whole new language from scratch gives you confidence that you can take on a big learning challenge and succeed.”
The confidence Levine gained from learning Mandarin was a microcosm of her CH-CH experience.
“Overall, I feel like I left Chapel Hill a much more confident person,” she says.
One educator who contributed significantly to Levine’s professional success is 11th grade dean and visual arts teacher Alice Solorow. Levine returned to campus for Alumni Day in 2015 so she could see her former teacher.
“Ms. Solorow was a huge part of my life,” says Levine, who never actually took a photography class with Solorow. Their relationship was forged through newspaper and yearbook; Solorow served as the club’s advisor. “I spent so much time with her, and I learned so much from her.”
Levine wasn’t always sure that she would embark on a career in photography, though; social work, a job in immigration, or working as a translator all interested her when she was younger.
But Levine’s experience at CH-CH instilled confidence in her that she would flourish in whatever she pursued; it was the same confidence she later used to pursue her freelance photography career in New York City. And the supportive environment of CH-CH was central to her success.
“Everyone was really kind to each other and appreciative of each other’s differences,” Levine recalls. “I felt that the whole community, both the students and the teachers, seemed to really value each other. My experience at CH-CH gave me the confidence that I could get things done and learn whatever I wanted to put my mind to.”
Last year, Levine moved back to the Boston area with her husband (and high school sweetheart) Matt, and their 3-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter. She currently shoots for Boston-based clients such as MIT, Harvard, and a variety of magazines and ad agencies. Her portfolio is online at www.dianalevine.com
JAMES LIPCON ‘97 CONSTRUCTS HIS DREAM JOB
Prospective clients often want to learn about James Lipcon’s ‘97 credentials before they hire him to take on a large-scale construction project, and the Marlborough resident has no shortage of experience on his résumé.
Lipcon, 37, earned his undergraduate degree from Wentworth Institute of Technology (Class of 2002) in Construction Engineering. He then worked as project manager for nearly three years at a commercial renovation company in Lexington before he left for Concord, where he helped run an interior design company for about six years. In 2010, he started his own residential construction company, Lipcon Construction, based in Concord.
He always had an interest in construction, interior design, and property management, and along the way, Lipcon honed the people skills that make him popular among customers. He learned how to effectively manage a group, and a strong academic background was required for someone his age to ascend so quickly in the business.
Lipcon points to his secondary school education as the foundation of his success. Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall served as the springboard that Lipcon needed to develop the skills that have aided his success in the construction industry.
“It’s hard for me to specifically staple individual lessons to what I do today, but it’s more about what I’ve gained from the whole experience,” Lipcon says. “One of the most useful things I learned was knowing when to ask questions and when to listen.”
“I was given the opportunity to participate in after-school activities at Chapel Hill, which allowed me to both get energy out, and become more focused.” Lipcon also credits his success to the level of support he received. “Obviously, nobody falls through the cracks at Chapel Hill, so that helped get me through high school – and into college.”
Unlike his experience at public school, Lipcon’s teachers at CH-CH took a hands-on approach to make his classes more engaging. The teaching style proved to be effective, and it helped the Concord native flourish in his new academic environment. Outside of the classroom, Lipcon found a way to further his interest in work that aligned with his eventual career. Lipcon, who wrestled and played lacrosse, grew close to the CH-CH buildings and grounds crew. The School recognized his interest, and in the fall semester, he and a few friends performed maintenance work around campus.
“I really enjoyed that,” he says. “That was another big win in my book. It allowed me to express myself – and do the things that I wanted to do so that I could stay focused in the classroom.”
Lipcon may have left CH-CH as a student nearly 20 years ago, but he hasn’t overlooked its impact on his life. He remains heavily involved with the School, serving as the Alumni Council chair and a member of the CH-CH Board of Trustees.
“If I had stayed in the public school system, I would not be anywhere near where I am today. I’m fully aware of that,” Lipcon says. “That’s why I’m so involved with the school – because I know how much it helped me.”
SOFI MADISON ‘03 BRINGS HER UNIQUE FLAIR TO BOSTON’S SOUTH END
When Sofi Madison ‘03 opened her own specialty gift store, Olives & Grace, in Boston’s South End, it gave her an outlet to share her passions of art and stories with others. Now, as Madison looks back on her experiences, she finds that one of the most valuable lessons in both life and work is in finding balance.
Located on Tremont Street in Boston, Madison’s store, Olives & Grace, features a wide range of products created by individuals that she often discovers at craft fairs or farmers’ markets.
“This is my way to explore storytelling and design,” she says. “Our whole idea (at Olives & Grace) is to help tell the stories of the makers and give our customers a better understanding of who it is and what it is that they’re buying into.”
As the owner of a small business in Boston, Madison meets customers and clients from myriad backgrounds. It’s similar to the environment at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall, where Madison learned, socialized and played after-school sports alongside students from different cultures.
“There was a lot of diversity,” says Madison. “I think that helped me and a lot of my fellow students be able to relate to people from different demographics." As a small business owner, Madison gets a sense of satisfaction from knowing that Olives & Grace wouldn’t be successful without her personal care and dedication. This sense of accountability is, in part, what drives Madison. “The baby will never exist without me treating it very carefully,” she reveals. “I think if you start a business, you are walking right into accountability.” Madison has embraced this accountability.
“Part of the adventure of owning a small business is staying curious and open with your mind – definitely with your heart, so that you can continue to grow. If you are stuck and narrowed in, then you don’t have that adventure.”
Developing a balanced lifestyle while running a small business has been a priority for Madison. Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall emphasized the value in balancing multiple endeavors with its emphasis on after-school activities and social experiences, coupled with academic work.
“I think back at Chapel Hill, we were set up with the tools to create a balanced lifestyle,” Madison says. “It’s our job to hold on to what we were taught there so that we can apply it – because in real life, you need to carve out time for the people that matter. You need to stay physically active and care about what you’re putting in your body.” While the lessons at CH-CH have helped Madison strike a balance, it’s the people who made the difference.
“The people that you’re surrounding yourself with will ultimately be shaping your reality, making sure that you’ve got that balance. Chapel Hill did a good job helping us recognize that balance when we had it.”