- The St. George’s Way
- Teachers coach, coaches teach
- A Hilltop Campus
- Boarding Is Never Boring
- Together on a wide, wide sea
- Enviable Outcomes
- Inquiry Drives Understanding
By Suzanne McGrady
Maggie Baysah remembers feeling like she was in a bad dream.
It was 1990 and she was at a checkpoint in Liberia—yet another in a series of houses along the road to a refugee camp. She and about 15 other members of her family had been walking for hours, fleeing their war-ravaged neighborhood in Monrovia. Hundreds like her were crowded around, carrying what they could of their possessions.
When she reached the house, rebels shouted orders to form a single line as they each waited to be interrogated. She could hear people being shot behind the house, could see pools of blood. Now, in front of her, a man with a red bandanna tied around his head was sitting behind a table and questioning her older brother, Victor.
“Why did you go to school?” he asked. “Why are you educated?”
Victor smiled at the simple question. Then …
“You take this man and kill him!” the soldier screamed. “I don’t want to see him again! Take him away!”
Maggie’s mother began to weep while a female soldier grabbed Maggie’s little girl, Sando, from her side.
“Hey, my friend, you’ve got a beautiful daughter,” the woman taunted.
She had a proposition: If Maggie let her keep her daughter, maybe she could convince the other soldiers not to kill her brother …
It’s May 14, 2014, and Sando Baysah Ojukwu ’05 is just 11 days away from graduating from Alpert Medical School at Brown University.
She’s at the end of nine long years of college: four at Harvard earning a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, three at Brown Medical School, one year back at Harvard earning a master’s degree in public health, then one final year at Brown earning her M.D.
“It will be a monumental day,” she says of graduation, “because my lifelong goal has been to become a doctor—and so that’s the day that I officially get to call myself that.”
It seems Sando always knew in her heart what she wanted to do. After arriving in the United States at age 3 from Liberia, she and her family settled in Rhode Island. Her brother, Ansu, was three years older. Her parents, Maggie and Corvah, took odd jobs, sometimes two at a time to make ends meet. Though both held professional jobs back in Liberia—her father had graduated from college as a math major and worked for the government, and her mother was an accountant—both found their resumes didn’t really count in the U.S. In Providence, Mr. Baysah worked in a group home and Mrs. Baysah took jobs at the Swarovski crystal factory in Cranston, as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home, and as a home health aide.
Always in the backs of their minds were their children and their education.
“I remember being in like first or second grade and my dad deciding to teach me fractions after he got home from work,” Sando recalled. “I had no idea what he was talking about. But even when he came home late, he tried to teach us—to do what he could.”
As an elementary school student in Providence, Sando said she’d pass by the medical complex along I-95—Hasbro Children’s, Rhode Island Hospital and Women & Infants—on her way back home from school. “I’d point to it and say, ‘Someday, Mommy, I’m going to work there. I’m going to be a pediatrician.’”
She even wrote about her dream in a sixth-grade essay for her English class at Nathanael Greene School, where her mother had enrolled her in the gifted and talented program.
Gallup Street in Providence is in a gritty neighborhood on the south side of the city. Across the street from Sando’s house, where the family has lived for more than 20 years, there’s a broken car, graffiti. You can smell fast food in the air.
But inside it’s a sanctuary. Everything pristine and pretty. This is where a doctor came to be.
Sando’s mother, now a teacher with a master’s degree at Alvares High School in Providence, points out the dining room table where she and all of her children studied for the past two decades. Ansu earned an M.B.A. from Harvard in 2011, and Sando’s younger brother, Galimah, St. George’s Class of 2009, graduated from Wesleyan and is now a workforce development project coordinator at Lifespan.
When Sando was ready to enter high school in 2000, she thought she’d follow the same path as Ansu, who at that time was getting ready to graduate from Classical High School, a magnet school a mile and a half from Gallup Street, and head to Brown to earn a degree in mechanical engineering.
It was a surprise when a neighbor across the street, who knew St. George’s trustee Clyde Dorsey ’70, mentioned a school in Newport she should apply to.
“I had never spent more than two days away from home, so it was very foreign to me,” Sando said about the idea of attending boarding school. When the catalogue came and her parents scheduled a tour, Sando recalled, “I said, ‘I’ll listen to it, but I don’t know if I’ll actually do it.’”
On the tour, though, she talked to friendly students who took her to see the science facilities. Each student was working at his or her own microscope.
“Even at Classical you might have 40 students, three students at a microscope at a time,” she said. “I knew I’d have dedicated attention. The teachers were very involved.”
She was sold.
When she arrived on the Hilltop for third-form year in 2000, teachers right away took note of her determination to succeed. “Sando had the desire to study medicine for as long as I have known her,” recalled Head of the Science Department Holly Williams, who taught Sando in freshman biology, AP Biology and in a senior independent study on human genetics.
When Williams was attending a class at Harvard, she took Sando with her to see their biology facilities, meet a few faculty members and attend a lecture.
“[Mrs. Williams] was always very supportive and always guided me,” Sando said. “She was one of the first people to tell me the path to medicine—what that looked like and what it would take.”
Williams said Sando was a special kind of student.
“She worked incredibly hard, is thoughtful, intelligent, curious, and her most endearing quality is that she is humble,” she said.
In 2005, when Sando won the St. George’s Medal on Prize Day—the school’s highest student honor—Williams said she was looking at her to see her reaction. “Sando was looking to see who the winner would be,” Williams recalled, “and the surprise on her face that she had been selected was priceless. She truly doesn’t know just how special she is.”
Matilde Davis ’05 was Sando’s roommate all four years at SG. “I remember thinking that Sando was so friendly and very easy to talk to,” Davis recalled of meeting her friend for the first time at early sports. Davis, who attended Tolleston Middle School in Gary, Indiana, had applied to SG through A Better Chance, the scholarship program for talented underprivileged kids from urban areas across the country. She said she and Sando clicked right away. “She didn’t judge, and she was always encouraging.”
In Sando’s four years at St. George’s, she received only one course grade below an A-: a B+ for one semester in Spanish.
She credits the support she got from peers and teachers. “I remember meeting constantly with Ms. Bickford. She was always there to offer additional help with essays,” Sando said. “And also just the support that the dorms offered. Rachel Elmer and Emily Quan were very strong at English—and I’d have them edit my papers as well.”
There was also, of course, a lot of hard work—a rigorous course load heavy on advanced math and science. And though Sando always appeared happy-go-lucky around campus (she was also a tri-varsity athlete in soccer, basketball and softball)—she was strict with herself about studying. Her mother was an accomplice: she would send her flashlights so she could subvert the “lights-out” rule in the dorm.
There was another rule that, to Maggie, was more important: no boyfriends in high school. A boyfriend, she told her, would distract her from her studying.
What Sando learned in her classes at SG helped her a lot when she got to Harvard, she said. “Ju
st being familiar with the equipment and knowing how to do a lab report and then being able to take APs,” she said. I took BC Calculus at St. George’s and took it again at Harvard, so it was like a review for me.
“I was able to have more flexibility as a freshman to explore the clubs and volunteer opportunities and feel like I could settle in because of that preparation.”
Still, among her own coursework and activities, she’d find time to tutor kids for free at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
Doubling up on science courses allowed her to spend time abroad in the international honors program, the health and community section, exploring different health care systems across the world. The group started in Geneva at the World Health Organization (WHO) then travelled to India, China and South Africa.
And it didn’t take long for Sando to overcome the “boyfriend rule.” She met her future husband, Randy Ojukwu, whose parents were born in Nigeria, in a freshman English class. The two were formally dating by December of that year and were married in August 2012.
At Brown’s medical school, Sando said she felt she was continuously reaffirmed she was pursuing the right profession. After dissecting a cadaver in her first-year anatomy course, she admits she thought briefly about becoming a vegetarian. The gore, though, she said, never really got to her. “I told myself this is what I have to do. This is learning. This is part of the journey,” she said.
In her third year, she did a sub-internship at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in the pediatric oncology/hematology unit. She wanted to test whether she could withstand the emotional pressure of treating kids with cancer. When one of her patients, a 17-year-old boy with osteosarcoma who shared her love of basketball, passe
d away, she knew her answer.
“Even with that,” she said, “I saw that kids are very resilient and even when they’re extremely sick or have a bad prognosis, they’re still a kid.”
She often played board games with the children in her unit in between the tests and treatments. “They’re very resilient and happy and I love that aspect of them.”
Now, as she enters her first year as a resident at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, she knows she’s that much closer to achieving that one final goal.
“I’m looking forward to residency where you actually get to start fully gathering the skills to use your degree. And then hopefully in the future I’ll be doing global health work and … be able to say I helped saved this kid—or at least put them on a path [to getting better].”
Three years ago, Sando went back to Liberia.
“After 18 years, I got to reconnect,” she said.
People walked up to her and said, “I used to babysit you!”
It was the summer after her first year of medical school and she had been awarded an international emergency fellowship to work with a physician through an organization called HEART (Health Education and Relief through Teaching). She worked in the E.R. at Monrovia’s JFK Hospital and also did some independent work at a family planning center.
“Going back to Liberia re-energized my goal of working there,” she said. “In a lot of ways I could’ve been any of those kids who were still there. I wasn’t supposed to be here, so I was very blessed and have been very fortun
ate and I think that has been my driving force to give back.”
She also knows she is needed. In the emergency room, even the basics were lacking. “There were a lot of unnecessary deaths,” she said. One patient who was having a heart attack died because none of the staff knew where the defibrillator was—or how to use it.
Outside her fellowship work, in her free time, Sando reconnected with family and saw the sights. She went to the high school campus where her parents met.
“I definitely felt at home. I just had this feeling of peace,” she recalled.
And her parents also took her to see the checkpoint—where that defining moment took place—where a female soldier once wanted to steal Sando from her mother and where Maggie was faced with that horrible dilemma: daughter … or brother?
Maggie finishes the story…
With Sando still at her side, the f
emale soldier had rifled through M
aggie’s belongings—all the while, for some reason, trying to dissuade her fellow soldiers not to kill Maggie’s brother.
From Maggie’s purse the woman pulled out a
photograph. It was of Sando in a school uniform, from preschool.
“She looked up at me,” Maggie recalled, “and
when she saw the desperateness in my eyes, I guess, not only the desperateness, but I think God intervened. … She looked at me and said to me, ‘OK, I will take the picture and you will take the child—but get out of here right now.’”
Then Maggie—and her whole family—hurried out the door.
When you’re from Afghanistan, summer vacation takes on a whole new meaning
By Suzanne McGrady
For Zahra Arabzada ’15 the end of the 2013-14 school year was particularly significant.
“I haven’t seen my mom and dad in a solid two years,” she said a few weeks before boarding a plane for the 6,500-mile, 14-hour series of flights from Boston to Kabul.
The trip, she said, would be a welcomed respite—a time to reconnect with family and friends—before the crush of college applications and general bustle of the sixth-form year.
Besides, she had big plans: She’d be volunteering at a program called Sarak-e-Awal that aims to get orphans and street kids into school; she was hoping to host a radio program—introducing adults who can read and write—to promote literacy in her home province of Kunduz; and she’d be taking photographs for a fall special project showing “both sides of Afghanistan: the positive and negative.”
In addition, she planned to volunteer at the Meena Welfare Association, and raise money for the organization by asking for sponsors as she reads 10 nonfiction books this summer. (MWA is one of the first clinics in Afghanistan to help children suffering from thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder.)
For Zahra, the trip home this summer meant com
ing full circle, back to the place she once so desperately wanted to move away from—but where, now that she knows she doesn’t have to stay—holds peace and comfort.
“The first thing I want to do when I get home? … I sort of just want to hug my brother and sister and like cry. I don’t know why. I have missed them so much—and the word “miss” doesn’t describe it. Other than that…I want to eat the rice that my sister makes called pallow.”
Zahra’s journey to America began when, with the blessing of her parents, she was accepted to attend the School of Leadership in Afghanistan (SOLA), a boarding school in Kabul. But the family had to keep her attendance a secret for fear of reprisals; in Afghanistan many believe women should remain uneducated. “People thought I was staying at home and washing my brother’s clothes and doing all the typical things that an Afghan girl should do,” she explained.
Every time someone came to Kabul from her hometown of Kunduz, she had to leave SOLA and go to her older brother’s house. “I had to pretend to be washing the dishes and doing all this work that I didn’t even know how to do,” she said. “And when they left, I’d be like, ‘OK, I can go back to SOLA.’”
SOLA, of course, understood the situation. “Most of the time they would say, ‘OK, we know it’s dangerous for your security if you don’t go home,’” she said.
St. George’s alum Rian Smith ’76, SOLA’s executive director, helped Zahra envision a different future, helping her make a connection with the Hilltop.
Still, she had to apply twice—and she could only guess at some of the questions: Without a formal birth certificate, she thinks her birthday is Nov. 11. She thinks she’s 17.
“The first time I applied I barely could speak English,” she admitted. She found a woman in Canada who volunteered to speak to her on Skype to improve her language skills.
“St. George’s was literally my only hope that I would come to the United States,” Zahra said recalling her determination.
After she was accepted in 2012, she attended a special program at Salve Regina University in Newport and stayed with a host family. She grappled with a summer reading assignment for fourth-form English at SG.
“For the first time, I read two books in a month,” she said. “It was so hard.”
One was “The Sound of Waves,” a Japanese coming-of-age story by Yukio Mishima, which she said made her a bit unsettled. “I’m still not comfortable with a lot of love and relationship stuff,” she admitted.
An even more vexing issue was keeping her attendance at St. George’s from her grandfather, a conservative Muslim, which she wrote about in an essay for that same English class with former Head of the English Department Alex Myers titled, “Lies for Survival.”
She recalled a memorable Skype exchange with her mother and grandfather back in Kunduz.
“It was night there and day here,” she said, “and the room was very bright and
there was a car going back and forth, so my grandpa said, ‘Why are there cars going back and forth in the middle of the night? Where are you right now?’”
Her mom intervened. “She’s in Kabul,” she told her father. “It might be the cars going back and forth. They might be in the yard.”
“But,” her grandfather replied, “It’s night. It’s suppose to be dark.”
“And then I told him. I said, ‘Grandpa, I know you will be very up
set, and you’ll be very disappointed to hear that ….’ And my mom kept saying, ‘You’re in Kabul. You’re in Kabul. And she kept interrupting me.
“But I told him, ‘The whole time that I’ve told you I’ve been washing my brother’s clothes, that I’ve been studying and memorizing the holy Koran, I’ve been doing that too, but I lived in a boarding school. I’m in the United States. I’ve been studying. I’m living in a dormitory. And I can’t lie to you. It’s day here.”
There was a pause.
“And then he shut the Skype,” she recalled. “He turned the Skype off—and that was the last time I talked to him.”
That was more than a year ago.
Still, when Zahra arrived at Kabul International Airport in June, she set foot in a place she’s already had an impact on.
“When I came to the United States, I realized that I never really gave a chance for people to try to understand why I am here. All I do is lie for my benefit—because I don’t want to be killed, because I don’t want my family to be killed—but I had never educated [the people who oppose girls going to school], so what is the whole purpose of lying?”
One of the last times she talked to her mother from school, her mother told her her grandfather—who has 16 children and counting—had obviously been thinking about education, “He is pushing his sons to go to school,” she told Zahra.
The exchange gave her hope.
“I think they need to understand,” she admitted. “Knowing the reality, they might be emotional at first … [My grandfather] has his own beliefs and it’s hard to get away from them, but … the fact that he thought about it, at least, is a huge thing for me.
“I hope in five or 10 years my aunts will be able to go to school, too.”
As construction continues on our new Academic Center, students get lessons in architecture, physics and sustainability—right in our own backyard
Students will be taking classes in a newly renovated duPont Science Building next fall—and expanding into seven state-of-the-art laboratory classrooms by January 2015. But until then, teachers and students alike are using construction of the new St. George's Academic Center as an educational opportunity in and of itself. Tech-minded students are getting lessons in construction as steel beams and structural framing gets put into place. Meanwhile those with a bent for sustainability are getting an inside look at LEED-certified construction as the building—and all its green bells and whistles—comes together with an eye toward limiting our carbon footprint. Even the members of architecture class have a life-size model just outside their window.
As preparations got underway for the new center last summer, plans were put into place to move science classes into rooms in the art center. Bob Wein's physics class has taken up comfortably in an expansive room that sometimes houses a Visual Foundations class--and Dr. Bullock and Science Department Head Holly Williams are meeting with students in a glass-enclosed room on the ground floor. A fish tank moved with them.
But it seems the reconfiguration of classroom space to accommodate construction may have been serendipitous. Both science and art teachers are weaving construction topics into their curriculum, taking advantage of the working classroom that is a vibrant work site right in the center of campus.
And the folks from Shawmut Design & Construction are eager to help out. Shawmut Project Manager Bill Sweeney recently let the Architecture class on a tour of the site, giving students a behind-the-scenes peek at his crew working on framing a shaft for utilities in the ground beneath what will be the new lab wing. Donning hard hats and standing in what will eventually be a two-story atrium for students to study, meet and collaborate in small or large groups, the class got a lesson from Sweeney in materials strength and testing, along with green building techniques.
Teacher Lisa Hansel said the “field trip” was enlightening for both the architecture students and for her. “We study how a building goes together on paper, but to see it first hand is a hugely valuable learning opportunity,” she said. “It enabled us to see how the soil, foundation and structure comes together to form the skeleton of the building.”
Now the architecture students have returned to their current project—designing "earth-sheltered" houses, which also incorporate green building techniques—with a whole new appreciation for the building process.
“The class and I look forward to another field visit later in the semester,” Hansel said.
Archivist Val Simpson P’14 says gifts to the Taverner Archives help illuminate our history
You’ve had a number of items donated to the Taverner Archives this spring. I love this photo of student Ted Church ’29 in his athletic gear. How did we get it?
One of the gifts we received this year was an amazing collection of J. Vaughan Merrick III [headmaster 1928-1943] photo albums and loose photos sent by George Gebelein III ’73, who had received the materials from his friend, Eve Pierce, a relative of Mr. Merrick. The photos range from candids of the students and faculty to individual portraits of many graduating seniors through the ’30s and early ’40s. Also with these came another photo book, “The Faculty in Action, ’36-’37,” created by two members of the Class of 1937, R. Winder Johnson Jr. and L. Rodman Page Jr. The book is very cleverly constructed and bursts with student humor (and obvious affection).
Have we received any new written materials?
Yes. Another gift we received is from brothers Thomas W. Allen ’61 and Frederick S. Allen Jr. ’56. It is a diary (in parts handwritten, in parts typed) kept by their father, Frederick S. Allen ’31 from April to September 1928, during parts of his third- and fourth-form years at SG. The writing is funny and good, giving us a student’s personal view of life at SG just before and as J. Vaughan Merrick III was coming on the scene.
We already have many editions of most of the printed publications, such as the Lance and the Bulletin, even the school newspaper, the Red & White. Should people still consider donating theirs?
Oh, yes, especially if they are very old—though we still have holes in the collection from the 1960s-1980s. Check with me first. It was fantastic to receive the very old Lance editions that Minney Robb’s father, H. Gates Lloyd ’19, had kept from his era. Minney’s son, Andrew Packard ’82, sent the yearbooks to the archives as he helped Minney move into a new place. We already had two great photo albums of Mr. Lloyd’s from his student days, and it is nice to be able to round out his collection. He kept his books in pristine condition!
Do you have items you’d like to donate to the Taverner Archives? Please contact us at Archives@stgeorges.edu or at 401-842-6692.
Mark Trophy win just one of St. George’s sailing team 2014 highlights
Our skilled sailors were on a roll—and with a heck of a schedule—in 2014.
The run of victories and top-place finishes began in New London, Conn., when sailors Roger Dorr ’14, Will Logue ’16, Taylor Kirkpatrick ’16, Caroline Macaulay ’16, Oliver Parsons ’17, Teddy Carter ’14, George Moss ’17, Miranda Bakos ’14, Peggy Kilvert ’14 and Nicolas Flores ’14 placed second behind Hotchkiss in the O’Day Trophy competition at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on April 27. The finish secured the team a berth at the Nationals in San Diego.
Then, in California May 9-11, after two days of intensive racing, the team again finished second—just one point behind Point Loma High School (Calif.) in the National Fleet Racing Championship. Roger Dorr ’14, sailing with Miranda Bakos ’14 and Caroline Macaulay ’16, won the A division while Will Logue ’16, sailing with Oliver Parsons ’17, Teddy Carter ’14 and George Moss ’17, placed fourth in the B division.
On May 17-18, the team competed off Cape Cod for the Mark Trophy—the New England Team Racing Championship. It came down to a tiebreaker with Cape Cod Academy, and SG came home with the victory cup. Attending the event for SG were (above, in the top row): Teddy Carter ’14, George Moss ’17, Nicolas Flores ’14, Roger Dorr ’14, Will Logue ’16, Oliver Parsons ’17, Carter Rose ’15 and Coach Roy Williams; and (in the bottom row) Caroline Macaulay ’16, Miranda Bakos ’14, Taylor Kirkpatrick ’16 and Peggy Kilvert ’14.
On Memorial Day weekend, May 24-25, the team headed to Seabrook, Texas, for the ISSA Baker Trophy competition—the National Team Racing Championship Regatta at Lakewood Yacht Club. Skippers Dorr, Logue and Flores, along with crews Kirkpatrick, Bakos, Parsons, Carter and Macaulay, finished in third place with a record of 11-6.
Roger Dorr ’14 said the team came into the season with high expectations and he’s happy sailors were able to meet most of them and perform well at the national level. “My experience sailing at SG is one that I can’t replace,” he said. “I’m grateful for the invaluable coaching I have received and the unique opportunities awarded.”
Miranda Bakos ’14 echoed the sentiment: “What I'll remember most from my last season is that having a set goal and finding concrete ways to work toward that goal are imperative for success. We got on the water every day knowing what we as a team and as individuals needed to work on, and with everyone together under the same mindset we were able to push each other toward even greater improvement.”
Editor’s Note: John Conway joined the St. George’s dining hall staff in 2000 and has since become a beloved presence and chef supreme to many a hungry student. We got the chance to chat with him as he was getting ready to close the sandwich window in King Hall at the end of the school year.
You had a number of jobs, both culinary and otherwise, before coming to St. George’s. Which one was your favorite and why?
Aside from my time in the Navy, my favorite job was being the baker at Saint Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Although I didn’t have direct patient contact, I felt I was making a meaningful contribution to their well being.
You’re dealing with food all day long. When you go home are you still interested in cooking?
Although I enjoy cooking at home, there are times it takes some motivation to jumpstart my best intentions.
Do you have a favorite celebrity chef?
Yes. However, you won’t find him on Food Network or any cooking show. Yugi Watanabe has been my mentor and friend for many years.
You seem to know what everyone likes to eat, especially everyone’s favorite sandwich. How many sandwiches do you have in your head on any given day—and how do you keep it all straight?
Once I’ve built a relationship with the students, their likes and dislikes are easy to remember. I have many regulars who, I understand, refer to themselves as “John’s Lunch Club.”
What’s the quirkiest sandwich you make on a regular basis?
I guess it would be my Italian subs. The ingredients frequently vary from sandwich to sandwich every day.
People love your sushi, and you certainly have a penchant for international cuisine. Where does that come from?
The beginning was at age 7, when my father brought me to the House of Blessings in New Haven, Conn. I had my first taste of Chinese cuisine. It was pork-fried rice and that was it. Also factoring into it was my time living in Japan, and my time working with Yugi Watanabe.
You’re known for being one of the most friendly, welcoming people on campus. Do you consider yourself a people person?
I’m not exactly sure what constitutes a people person. I consider myself to be a cross between Del Griffith and Harry Crumb. Any fan of John Candy will relate to that.
You’re like a hairdresser; I get the feeling a lot of people reveal more of themselves than you’d expect over a sandwich counter. Is food a window into people’s souls?
They don’t call me the Earl of Curl for nothing! Seriously, I have said on many occasions, food is like water and oxygen: Everyone needs it. I don’t see food as the window of the soul, however I do see it as an icebreaker, a way to build friendships, and it gives me the opportunity to find out about birthdays, special occasions, etc.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
A ‘size wow’ Bossman Burger with the works and a large chocolate shake. My cholesterol and blood pressure levels love me for it.
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Service of Lessons and Carols
A candlelight Christmas Service of Nine Lessons & Carols will take place in the majestic St. George’s Chapel. The readings are done by students and members of the faculty and community. The St. George’s Chapel Choir leads the carols and performs anthems of the season.
- FriDec12 Service of Lessons and Carols 7:30 PMChapel