Leading the Charge

Leading the Charge

Leading the Charge 

Spotlight on Our New Alumni Association Board President, Erin McConnell ’99


Erin McConnell describes herself as introverted, compassionate, committed, and quirky. For someone who is introverted, she doesn’t sit on the sidelines or take a passive path. In fact, she is very engaged, involved, and definitely committed. 

Erin is an 11-year veteran Saint, entering SSSAS in first grade. After graduating in 1999, she attended Barnard College and received a bachelor’s in art history. She began work as a litigation legal assistant, working for four different law firms before moving to the legal department at American Express eight years ago. Erin not only directly supports the chief litigation counsel, serving as her chief of staff, working on complex litigations, regulatory investigations, and internal investigations, she is their U.S. pro bono coordinator, developing legal pro bono opportunities for her colleagues across the U.S. with law firm and legal service organization partners.

Erin met Upper School English Teacher Avi Gurland-Baker while still at SSSAS in her senior year. Avi had attended the Oxbridge Program at Oxford University, a summer program that was popular with SSSAS students, and he became acquainted with several of Erin’s friends. He came down from New York City to visit for a weekend and they met in the Black Box Theater. As Erin says, “After an unreasonable amount in long distance telephone bills over the subsequent months, we decided to give it a shot since I was going to New York for college. The rest is history!” She and Avi have three children who attend SSSAS, Alex ’29, Charlie ’31, and Stella ’34. In addition to serving on the Alumni Association Board for four years, Erin has enjoyed being a room parent and volunteering to help at Lower School events.

Between parenting, volunteering, and working Erin doesn’t have much spare time, but when she does you might find her quilting, reading, or watching all the documentaries the streaming services have to offer on archaeology or paleontology. 

Q. In Traditions 1999, you were called “the queen of over-commitment.” Do you still take on lots of responsibilities? What drives/inspires you?

A. Wow, way to call me out. I do, in fact, still take on a lot of responsibilities. I have always firmly believed that if you are involved in something, you give it your all. It’s very important to me to leave the place I inhabit a little better. In high school, that largely translated into working with Jim Marvin (former Performing Arts chair), Jean Hunt (Upper School art teacher), and all of my friends to grow our theater program and put on great productions. In my life now, that means working to support the Saints community, which has become a home for my family as both a school, an alma mater, and an employer, as well as taking on a leadership role in Art on the Avenue, an annual art and music festival in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, where we live. I love working to create opportunities to bring people together in ways that create joy.

Q. In what ways did your SSSAS education prepare you for college and life beyond?

A. My education at SSSAS was superb. I walked into a college that was exceptionally demanding academically, and I knew how to do what was expected of me. I also knew, from my years at SSSAS, that to do well required focus and effort. Those lessons have carried forward with me through every job I have had. Focus, effort, hard work, and good writing skills take you a long way—and I learned all of those lessons at SSSAS.

Q. Did any of your teachers have a profound or lasting effect on you? 

A. Jean Hunt introduced me to a life-long love of art and inspired me to major in art history. Former English Teachers Sherley Keith and Gail Wolf in Middle School taught me how to transition my voracious reading to a love of literature and the ability to analyze text. Jim Marvin gave me a home away from home. Spending every day after school with my closest friends, creating and laughing and learning with him, was the highest point of a difficult time of my life, and for that I am profoundly grateful. 

Q. What values from SSSAS have stayed in your life after graduating? 

A. As a student, SSSAS taught me the value of a rigorous education and the responsibility of being part of a community. The rigorous education has carried me to where I am, but I live the responsibility of being a member of my various communities every day, and those responsibilities are extremely important to me.

Former Drama Teacher Jim Marvin and Erin McConnell

Q. What is it like being a current parent who is also an alumna?

A. There are little things that stick with you from your childhood that you don’t realize are there. For instance, when I had my first child and would sing lullabies and rock him to sleep, one of the songs that made its way into the rotation was “Seek Ye First,” a song I sang in Lower School chapel when I was young and now sing with my children still in Lower School chapel. So we have come full circle. I have a lot of those moments with my children now, and it’s a really beautiful feeling having shared experiences 30+ years apart.

Q. How long have you already served on the AAB and what motivated you to take on the role of AAB president?

A. I joined the AAB in 2020, and, like most leadership positions I find myself in, I was asked to be president and answered the call. When your community asks you to step up, I feel it’s important to do your part. I also thought it would be a great way to be involved in the school community in my own sphere, independent of my student children and teacher husband.

Q. What areas would you like to focus on as AAB president over the next two years? 

A. I have two primary goals for my term as AAB president: expanding engagement and philanthropy. On the first point, I want to grow the number of Saints alumni who engage with the school and with each other. We are working on developing opportunities where smaller groups of Saints with a common thread can come together and connect. This can take the shape of regional events, identity-based events, or interest-based events. We want our school and alumni community to be relevant for everyone because the value of being a part of the Saints community does not end with graduation and can extend into our professional, personal, and family lives as we move on in our lives. Secondly, I want to expand alumni service to the Saints community. This can take the form of traditional financial philanthropic contributions, but it also can and should take the form of alumni coming back to engage with current students. We have had several successful examples of this kind of alumni service in the last couple of years, and we are excited to grow those opportunities.

Q. Do you foresee any challenges in your role, and how do you plan to address them?

A. The biggest challenge is locating and reaching out to those alumni who have been less or not engaged with the Saints community and to convince them that there is value in connecting with the school and the alumni community. We all have very busy lives, and I completely understand why many would choose not to look backwards when we are all moving forward so quickly. However, I do firmly believe that there is value in connections made across your life—both with people and institutions—and I am hopeful that we will be able to articulate that value to our alumni community. Whether it’s networking for professional reasons, recommendations for schools for your kids, or resources when moving to a new city, there is something to be said for having a connection like the Saints community to reach out to when in need.

Q. What advice do you have for recent graduates as they transition into the alumni community?

A. My biggest piece of advice to recent graduates is to stay connected. When I graduated from SSSAS, I thought I was leaving Alexandria, Va., for good, never to return. I made no effort to stay in touch with people, but I have been very blessed that there are a number of life-long friends who did not let me disappear. You never know when these people you grew up with will make an important comeback in your lives. I have had Saints friends in every city I have ever lived in. When my father died 14 years ago, it was a Saints friend with whom I was able to fall apart. And it’s a Saints friend who keeps my daughter in the most fashion-forward hand-me-downs. And now I am sharing the joys and chaos of parenting my children with Saints I grew up with. You never know when these people will make an impact in your life, and the more connected you are the richer that impact (and the impact you make) can be.

Q. How can alumni make the most of their connection with the school and fellow graduates?

A. Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. Attend our events. Chat with people. Exchange phone numbers. If none of our events are the kind of thing you would be interested in, reach out and tell us what would be meaningful to you. We are a small group, and we are open to ideas from everyone. Also, be available for connection—for a current student who may be in your field, or a young alum who went to your graduate school, or a fellow alum who is moving from another part of the world with their family and would love to know where the best tacos are or need a recommendation for a plumber. 

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with the alumni community or the broader school community?

A. It has been a gift getting to know SSSAS again as an adult. It is really meaningful to me to be able to experience all of the wonderful traditions and goodness of the school that I have known my whole life, while deeply appreciating how the school has changed and grown in ways that have made it an even better place. I am honored to play a small role in helping to continue moving the ball forward to help the school achieve its goals of being a nurturing, inclusive community of learners.


Traditions Yearbook 11-12
(Co-Editor, 1999)

Ironclad History Journal 10-12
(Co-Editor, 1999)

Gender Equality Club 9-12
(Co-President, 1999)

Drama Club 9-12

  • Actor in “The Martian Chronicles” (Fall 1995)
  • Played six characters in “Search of an Author” (Fall 1996)
  • Held various backstage roles including stage manager, student director, and ticket queen