Since our founding in 1847, St. Mary’s has strived to provide girls with an exceptional education. 175 years later, St. Mary’s is one of the premier college preparatory schools for girls. Our dedicated faculty and staff are driven by the goal of helping every student reach her full potential. Our girls develop essential life skills such as decision-making and leadership, enabling them to succeed in college and beyond.
By Alison Taylor Nooks ’91
Light. Life. Learning. Commitment. Perseverance. Impact. Growth. Kindness. Encouragement. Life-Changing. These are just some of the words that come to mind as I think of my academic journey.
My academic journey from my years at St. Mary’s to college, to earning two master’s degrees, to now with 25 years in higher education and serving as the First Lady of Gordon State College, has been deeply rooted in my relationships. My family, friends, amazing teachers, and dedicated faculty have encouraged me along the way.
It was not always easy, and some boldly declared my improbability of success. Thankfully, those who believed in me far outshined those who did not. From incredible highs, like getting into college or completing graduate school, to even unbelievable lows, like losing my mother and several other loved ones within the first two years of college, I was blessed with individuals who were permanent fixtures in my personal cheering section.
When I think about my support system, I often think back to Mrs. Faith Leonard, who taught me algebra and geometry at SMS. It was because of her that I minored in mathematics.
Not because I thought I would teach it someday or had a larger plan for my career, but because she made me feel special, valued, and cherished as a math student.
Mathematics is a reminder of what love looks like in teaching and learning. It reminds me of what I want every student to feel like when our paths cross. At St. Mary’s, most people knew me for my gifts in ballet, theater, or singing in the SMS Choral Ensemble, and each of those experiences provided some of my happiest memories.
However, my SMS years were crucial in laying the groundwork for my academic success as a first-generation college student. I suspect few knew the complexity of my path, but in Mrs. Leonard’s class, I knew with certainty that I was capable and that she shared in that belief. In her class, math was more than math. She communicated care, humor, empathy, and encouragement in every lesson.
When I am teaching a college course, reading to 2nd graders in the community, or working with graduate students in preparation for their first job, I remind them of the power of impacting lives in any field they pursue. I remind them that the goal of a joy-filled profession is touching lives in a meaningful way.
I often share my Mrs. Leonard story and how I still love mathematics because of one special teacher and how moments in her class would shape me in ways she likely never could envision. All of these years later, I am still grateful for the light and life of Mrs. Leonard, who truly understood the power and transformative impact of teaching and learning.
Alison Taylor Nooks ’91 MBA, MA is the First Lady of Gordon State College and the Director of Graduate Career Management Services, Stetson-Hatcher School of Business at Mercer University. She also serves as the co-coordinator of the Spouse/Partner Program for the American Association of State Colleges & Universities.
175 Years of St. Mary's
This story is part of our 175 Years of St. Mary's series. For 175 years, the mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal School has been to provide a superior educational experience for girls. Our robust academics, Episcopal identity, and rich traditions create an environment where girls flourish as students, athletes, creators, performers, and more. Most importantly, at St. Mary’s, integrity, compassion, and confidence are the norm for our girls. From Chapel to the PE class, alumnae reflect on the experiences and traditions that have made St. Mary’s a special place for girls to learn and thrive for 175 years. Click below to read the other stories in the series.
- Day by Day: Words Etched in Our Hearts
- A Family Legacy: St. Mary’s Oldest Tradition
- A Gift and Tribute: The Carillon
- When “You Can” Became “I Can”