Class Notes: Dispatch from High School Reunion

When I worked briefly as a stock analyst (I know, right?), I regularly dialed in to conference calls to hear reports of quarterly earnings. Honestly, I never knew what the earnest voices were talking about with all their EBITDA, BLABLABLA and WTF, but when someone occasionally would say, “It’s not the top-line number so much as the rate of change here that makes us bullish,” I got it.

The older I get, the more I understand that Change is the key metric. The decision to change, the ability to change, the willingness to change…. That’s where the real value is. People talk a lot about “Growth Mindset” these days, and I’m not quite sure I know exactly what that is either, but I know it when I see it….

This weekend I saw a lot of Growth Mindset.

Thirty years after graduating from Harpeth Hall School for girls, I gathered with women from classes that end in ‘4 and ‘9 to eat shrimp, drink gin, and talk about the glory days. But while the buffet lines at our reunion were rich with nostalgia, the conversation was surprisingly forward-looking. The main theme of my conversations was Change. I had changed. My friends had changed. We were adjusting to change and prepping for change. Or finally admitting that we longed for change. Change in careers, expectations, attitudes. The appetite for and openness to change were electrifying.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I look forward to following the changes in my friends’ and classmates’ lives as they unfold, especially now that we’ve reconnected at Reunions.

In the meantime, here’s a favorite discovery from the weekend: J’Ellen Jams.

Ellen Maguire Vick has always been one of the smartest and funniest people I have known, and I’ve been knowing her for the better part of my life. Long before we shared bylines in the high school newspaper, we went to day camp in the country and Sunday school together. We may or may not have taught each other to cuss. Either way, we’re both unusually proficient.

Ellen’s LinkedIn page makes it clear that she grew into a wildly successful adult with a big ole brain:

Experienced Associate Executive Director with a demonstrated history of working in the regulation of pharmacy at the state and federal level. Skilled in Pharmacy, Law, Compounding, Oncology, Hospitals, Healthcare, and Public Speaking. Strong regulatory professional who graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What LinkedIn doesn’t tell you up front is that Ellen makes jam. Yes, she’s J’Ellen.

Ellen started J’Ellen about ten years ago with a surfeit of strawberries from a North Caroline u-pick patch. She canned the surplus berries, then moved on to salsas and other preserved products. Imagine my surprise when I received a care package from Durham, loaded with vials and jars of jellies and tinctures, including J’Ellen’s homemade vanilla and vinegar.

Then imagine my panic when I ran out. I sent Ellen a photo of an empty jam jar and a note that asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?”

Fortunately for me, since her early experimental gifts, J’Ellen has ramped up production and launched a retail website. (Visit, without the apostrophe, “because the apostrophe would have cost extra”), and she’s gone legit with FDA approvals and whatnot, as you’d expect from a professor of pharmacy law.

You can order from an ever-expanding bounty of berry preserves and combinations such as pear-ginger jam, cherry-lime jam, and fig-honey jam.

“If you’d told me 30 years ago that I’d be living in Durham making jam, I’d have said you were crazy,” Ellen said, minus a few of the colorful modifiers that can make you laugh jelly out of your nose when you chat with her. But everything changes, and J’Ellen’s entrepreneurship was the most delicious example of change on display at my 30th Harpeth Hall reunion. To quote the earnest voice from a corporate conference call, “It’s the rate of change here that makes us bullish.”








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