Forever connected

The bonds between teachers, coaches and classmates span the decades 

Sarah Pruitt '95
July 26, 2023

Strike up a conversation with Exeter alumni about their time at the  Academy, and they’ll most likely tell you about at least one person who made their experience truly meaningful. It could be the teacher who sparked their lifelong passion for ornithology, Arabic or economics, or the adviser who helped them get their grades back on track. Maybe it was a roommate, dorm proctor or classmate with whom they bonded over late-night pizzas and study sessions. Or the coach who saw their potential and drew out their best performances on the field, court, river or rink. 

Exeter is a place where lifelong relationships are forged and nurtured; where teachers become mentors, colleagues and friends; where alumni from different generations find common ground; and where the formative experiences of four years — or even a single year — can be recalled as easily as if they happened yesterday. 

This summer, we celebrate the enduring power and positive impact of  these connections made at Exeter and sustained through geographical separation, busy lives and careers and the passage of time.

Did you form a lasting connection with someone through Exeter? Tell us about it! Share your story at


Sarah Odell '06 and Becky Moore, instructor in English and crew coach

Sarah Odell ’06 first met Becky Moore ’77 (Hon.); P’03, P’05, P’08 when Sarah joined the junior varsity crew team her lower year. As Odell embarked on her own teaching career, Moore became a valued mentor, offering advice and support for her work in the classroom. Now the director of the Center for Gender and Ethical Leadership in Society at The Hewitt School in New York City, Odell counts Moore as a trusted colleague and an inspiration for her research in gender studies and educational leadership.

ODELL: Initially, I was intimidated by [coach Moore]. It was clear she was incredibly smart, loved teaching and loved getting up early to speak through her bullhorn on the river. As I got to know her better, I realized we were similar in a lot of ways. We’re both direct, we both love the life of the mind, and we see teaching as an intellectual pursuit. I came to the Exeter Humanities Institute when I started teaching in 2013, and she was one of my instructors. I used to call her when I was teaching English, and she always had a deeply thought-out answer that showed her abiding passion for what she does as a teacher. 

When I did my doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I spoke to Becky constantly about what I was reading and thinking about. I study the K-12 leadership pipeline and how gender impacts individuals as they navigate it. I think of how many other women like her may be out there who weren’t given an opportunity to steward our schools and our profession. She sustains my research by keeping me going — just as she did once upon a time as a crew coach. 

MOORE: Sarah invited me to work with the English Department at Miss Porter’s School when she was teaching there. It was the sort of invitation that Sarah is so good at — getting people to come together and talk about education, gender and leadership. I visited Sarah’s classes and gave her some observations about the ways I saw her and the students using discussion. She often cites that class visit as a pivotal part of her growth as a teacher and an observer of teachers.  

Sarah has been a cheerleader of my career, suggesting me for leadership positions and, in turn, I have recommended her for jobs, workshops and general connections. To mark the 50th year of coeducation at Exeter in 2020-21, we teamed up with Alex Myers ’96 to create a collection of readings and speakers. I remember enjoying planning meetings — in the pit of the pandemic — with Sarah thinking of scholars and readings from her capacious graduate work. To have a former student work to keep up the connection and invite conversation and collaboration has helped switch our initial power imbalance of student and teacher to mentee and mentor, and later to colleague and colleague.



James Johnson-Piett ’97 and Sunil Narayan ’97

When James Johnson-Piett ’97 was looking to expand his team at Urbane, the economic development consultancy he founded in 2008, he called on his longtime friend Sunil Narayan ’97, whom he met when both were preps living on the fourth floor of Cilley Hall. Drawing on decades of shared history and mutual trust, Johnson-Piett and Narayan, now Urbane’s national strategy lead, have joined forces to channel the spirit of non sibi into the company’s work fostering business and community development in historically  disinvested communities.  

JOHNSON-PIETT: Sunil dressed kind of like me — think Fresh Prince 1993 — so it was a natural connection point around hip-hop/urban fashion that was an initial bond [at Exeter]. Every so often, kids would order pizza or a chicken finger sub from Romeo’s after check-in to share. It was always awkward to pretend I didn’t want any or I wasn’t a starving 15-year-old at 10 p.m. I think Sunil picked up on it and just started covering me, no questions asked. A dollar investment forged a brotherhood over a slice.

After college, I had many career and entrepreneurial twists and turns. I was a one-man show at Urbane for a little while, but eventually work started flowing and I needed help. Sunil had an interesting mix of skills between corporate HR, teaching high schoolers, and leveraging his math major [to do quantitative analysis]. Most importantly, I knew him, and I trusted him. He’ll always push to make sure strategy is sound and that we’re not getting ahead of our skis, so to speak. 

NARAYAN: I felt adrift the first few months at Exeter — a bizarro world of L.L. Bean and J.Crew and New England-isms that was completely foreign to the child of immigrant South Indians from small-town West Virginia. Maybe James sensed how lost and alone I was, or admired my Adidas track suit game, but suddenly he was my friend, and by proxy, his circle of friends and then the entire Afro-Latino Exonian Society. A simple act of kindness from a 13-year-old kid from North Philly changed the trajectory of my life. We roomed together during the Washington Intern Program as seniors and again as summer interns during college. We zipped around on Chinatown buses to hang out and James even humored my transition to a pierced, platinum blond D.C. raver and N.Y.C. party boy. 

When he reached out to explain his vision [for Urbane] and inquire if I had an interest in linking up, it was a no-brainer. Balancing a longstanding friendship with the fact that he’s my boss can be a delicate dance at times, but it has been a net positive. We remind each other to eat when we’re cranky, get geeked out with Harkness-y style conversations around community wealth building, and indulge each other’s esoteric tangents. Not many people get the chance to work with someone they’ve known and grown with since they were 13.


Caitlin Corner-Dolloff ’03 and Chris Matlack, instructor in science 

After taking accelerated biology with Chris Matlack her prep year, Caitlin Corner-Dolloff ’03 was so impressed with his humor and hands-on teaching style that she asked him to be her adviser. Matlack’s support buoyed her through Exeter and beyond, while his ability to engage and inspire in the classroom helped launch her on a career path in ecology and environmental change management. During her senior year at Cornell, she won a Merrill Presidential Scholarship that allowed her to invite her most influential high school teacher to campus for the ceremony. Corner-Dolloff immediately thought of Matlack. Today, she is senior policy adviser for climate and agriculture in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.

CORNER-DOLLOFF: During prep bio, we had to set up an experiment with a partner, and while our proposal required complex supplies and monitoring, [Mr. Matlack] didn’t hesitate to make sure we had everything we needed. It’s so vivid in my mind — the memory of feeling for the first time at Exeter that I had a teacher completely in my corner, wanting me to succeed and encouraging me to explore and follow my own areas of interest. 

Like everyone at Exeter, I held myself to super-high standards. He helped me remember to find balance and focus on my own path toward what I wanted to achieve. I was thankful, but not surprised, when he supported my decision to defer college a year and engage in experiential learning in New Zealand and work as a naturalist aboard a tall ship in Seattle. He truly believed I had it in me to accomplish my goals and reach beyond them, and that confidence helped me in proposing an independent major at Cornell. Chris remains an important mentor, and I feel I owe much of my success and interest in biology and natural resources to him. 

MATLACK: Caitlin was a very good student who prepared extremely thorough answers to every question I asked, whether it was on the homework or an assessment. She had no middle ground: If her name was going on the paper, her best work was as well. After her lower year, she joined my advisee group, which at the time was made up of all boys. It quickly grew to a mixed group, and Caitlin was an integral member for the remainder of her time at Exeter. 

During the event at Cornell, Caitlin was able to tour me through her favorite areas, including the school’s ornithology labs at Sapsucker Woods. This was the only time I attended an event for a former student like this at a college, and I was very honored that she selected me. Caitlin always contacts me when she visits campus and periodically sends long emails about her current work. I’ve enjoyed following her varied international career and always look forward to hearing from her.


Gordon Smith ’74 and Paul Outlaw ’74

As teenagers, Gordon Smith ’74 and Paul Outlaw ’74 bonded while listening to records by “prog rock” bands and hanging out in the basement of their dorm, Webster North. These late-night conversations set the foundation for more than 50 years of friendship, strengthened by a mutual passion for music and a shared experience of embracing their LGBTQ+ identity post-Exeter. 

SMITH: Anyone who’s lived long enough knows how important it is to have great friends who “knew you then.” Paul and I started hanging out in the Webster North butt room, and our little group grew to include some girls from one of the new girls dorms. We eventually started dating those girls. I knew from experience that it would be impossible to be gay at Exeter, so I suppressed it and tried being “normal,” not knowing that Paul was doing the same.

In 1978, I moved to the New York City area. I had just come out as gay, and when I told [another friend from Exeter] this, he said that Paul was gay and living in N.Y.C. I happily reconnected with Paul, and he introduced me to my first gay bar in Manhattan, the Ninth Circle. I attribute my love of Stevie Wonder and Prince to Paul. We have so many interests in common: Aside from his acting, he wrote and recorded some very original songs with electronic instrumentation, my own specialty. Paul and I attended each other’s weddings to our long-term partners and have continued to play an important role in each other’s lives. He’s probably the most relentlessly positive person I’ve ever known, [and] he always manages to pull me out of myself with his incredible enthusiasm and creative drive.

OUTLAW: I remember Gordon from my prep year as a shy, quiet person who was academically and artistically gifted. I may have found out that year that he and I shared an appreciation (putting it mildly) for the music of the Supremes and Elton John — code for queerness that neither of us consciously understood at the time. Before I left Harvard in the summer of 1976 to transfer to N.Y.U., I remember a long-haired, bespectacled Gordon Smith visiting me and disco dancing to Donna Summer with my friends at dorm parties. 

Living in New York City in the early 1980s, I became an unofficial groupie of Gordon’s two bands, and Gordon came to see me perform in downtown theater productions. During a decade living in Berlin, my performing arts practice expanded to include music, as a frontman and lyricist in various bands and a singer-songwriter of my own material. I can’t help but think that I was influenced in some way by Gordon’s commitment to his music and our shared love of the electronic music of the ’70s and ’80s. Gordon’s serenity and undiminished youthfulness have been an inspiration to me throughout our friendship.


Mike McCarthy ’95 and Rob Morris, instructor in health and human development and football coach

When Mike McCarthy ’95 and Rob Morris showed up for preseason football in August 1992, they were both new to Exeter. Over many hours spent together on the field and in Webster North over the next three years, they developed a connection that would endure past McCarthy’s graduation, evolving from a relationship between a coach and an athlete to that of close friends. McCarthy returns to campus regularly to visit Morris and his family and says he thinks of Morris as a second father. 

MCCARTHY: Coach’s whole idea was: When you see somebody on the paths walking between dorms, you always say hello, you always nod, you always smile, you say good morning. He was all about being respectful to everybody, even the people you didn’t know. His point was: Don’t just be a typical jock. Be way more than that. 

He and I love the same music. He’s a diehard Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen fan, and those are two of my favorites. We would sit in the dorm and he would play records and we would just talk about life. Exeter was a wonderful experience for me in general, but he certainly enhanced it, that’s for sure.

Rob and his wife, Cindy, have been super close to me from the minute I got to know them, from me babysitting their kids when they would go to Jimmy Buffett concerts to Rob coming up to Vermont and watching me play polo or come to football matches when he could. I’ve visited him and the family at least two or three times a year, and last year he came down and visited me for five or six days in South Carolina, which was great. 

MORRIS: When I met Mike, I was a 25-year-old, first-year, part-time health teacher and football coach. At the conclusion of preseason, when the football players moved into their permanent dorms, Mike moved into Webster North, where I had recently moved with my wife, Cindy. In addition to coaching Mike over the next three years, he was also my advisee. I became dorm head in my second year, and Mike served as one of my proctors during his senior year. We navigated together the usual ups and downs of boarding school life. Many days felt like a TV sitcom, with most episodes entitled: “What have you gotten yourself into this time, Mike?”

We kept in touch during Mike’s college years, and we talked often about our respective football seasons. One of my greatest memories as head football coach at Exeter is having Mike return each preseason as a volunteer coach on my staff. We’ve leaned on each other more than a few times over the years when facing life challenges, and he’s one of my closest friends. Thirty years later, he still has the same qualities he had when he was a new lower: outgoing, friendly and an intense competitor on the field, as well as a strong work ethic, curiosity, kindness and a great sense of humor. 

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.