Hala R. Mustafa Al Hassan
Casablanca American School
I have been pondering what to say in response to your appeal for memories of CAS as part of the school’s 50-year anniversary celebrations.
My first thought was: it should not be all about me. It should be about you, Hala, and your classmates in 1986 when I arrived to teach all of the English courses, Grades 7-12. I remember the first time I asked students, “What do you think?” and seeing the looks of blank terror on their faces: having come from schools where “learning” was all about memorizing what the teacher said, they had never before been asked that question. I remember Hind arriving in Grade 10 with barely a word of English. At break one day she was sitting with her friends outside on a sunny fall day during a break. “How are you?” I asked. “Oooh,” she said, fanning herself, “C’est hot!” I remember my Indian students explaining the logic of arranged marriages to me and persuading me that arranged marriages made more sense than “love matches.” I remember Nita, Sanguita, and Meenakshi dressing me up as Krishna for “Indian Night” at the Churchill Club. Although my three years at CAS (1986-89) came near the beginning of my teaching career, I am still in touch from time to time with so many of my former students from Casa: Myriam and Kamal, Marcus and Pontus, Cat, Amal, Noura, Alia, Hind, Youness . . . . It speaks to the strength of the bonds we formed.
This little memoir should be about John Randolph, the best head of school I ever worked for across four decades and four continents and eleven schools. When I first met John, at a recruitment fair in San Francisco, I saw him sitting behind the table under the Casablanca American School sign and assumed from his looks that he was Moroccan. By now, I think he probably is! John showed me that a head of school could be fiercely principled, passionate about education, and utterly devoted to the best interests of his students. I could write a small book about John and his profound influence on me and my career. I remember him reciting Langston Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older,” at morning assembly in the courtyard of the old upper school. I am still teaching that poem, almost forty years later. John Randolph started out as my boss and became a dear, lifelong friend. I know that I am far from alone when I say that I could never thank him enough.
My colleagues at CAS left lasting memories, and became lifelong friends. Mike Radow and I met on the plane returning home to Oregon from that San Francisco recruitment fair and ended up sharing a flat for the first year; or was it two? John Hall, Velma, Marcia, Orestes, Gayle, and then all the local staff who were so kind, generous, and helpful to us clueless expats. It was a vibrant, committed group of teachers. Anne Osman was a pillar of strength, along with her marvellous husband, Farid. Jack and Tricia Shepherd arrived in my second year and became essential members of the faculty. And through it all the indefatigable Marie Randolph, like a mother hen, took care of us all. We did not always agree, but we always cared about teaching and learning above all else.
In another sense, however, this little memoir should be about me, just as those of other CAS alumni should be about them, because that’s what Casablanca American School was always about: the students, teachers, staff members, and parents who made it the wonderful place it was, and is. I am sure that the 50th anniversary celebrations will provoke a tremendous response, because Casablanca American School has made a tremendous difference in the lives it has touched.
(yes, you can call me Eric now, Hala!)