The Bordonaro Way

Ian GraceyIan Gracey has been Director of Admission at Groton School since 2007.  The Founding President of the Gateway application system, Ian has also worked at The Lawrenceville School, Avon Old Farms, and The Cambridge School of Weston.

I spent the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend in a middle school gym in New York City.  I drove through Southern New England that afternoon and, given the density of traffic headed in the opposite direction, I was slightly concerned that the turn out might be light for this event.  My worries were misplaced.  On the evening of May 23rd, hundreds of people showed up to honor a man who has worked wonders for talented students of color and American independent schools, Peter Bordonaro of Prep for Prep.

Since its founding over 35 years ago, Prep for Prep has been remarkably successful in fulfilling its mission of “developing the leadership potential of able young people from segments of society grossly under-represented in the leadership pool from which all of our major institutions draw.”  The Prep community includes over 4,400 students and alumni.  Most of them know Peter Bordonaro.  Most directors of admission at independent schools throughout the Northeast know Peter Bordonaro.  He has brought the two groups together for decades.  From 1988 to 2004, Peter directed Prep 9, which prepares seventh-grade students for admission to the Northeast’s most challenging boarding schools.  In 2004, he assumed his current role as Director of Academic Programs for Prep for Prep and Prep 9.  In June, this lifetime educator will retire from a business with paybacks that, as Peter will tell you, do not involve much in the way of money, but are deeply satisfying.

In this first of a series of entries about the boarding school admissions process, I choose to write about Peter Bordonaro because I respect his values, his work ethic and, his style.  First, the style.  I suspect that Peter’s approach in presenting applicants to admission directors is not unlike the way he presents lessons to the students in his program.  He is certainly a taskmaster, but he presents what he wants (and expects) with a degree of charm that is hard to resist.  When you are the director of admission at a highly selective school, you can feel like a junior executive at a Hollywood studio.  That may sound like an unusual simile, but Peter, who has a graduate degree in Cinema Studies from NYU, may understand it.  Junior executives tend to find it much easier to say “no, thanks” to a story pitched by a screenwriter rather than “give the green light.”  Directors of admission who must manage financial aid budgets and talented applicant pools can slip into the same unimaginative mindset.  A charming taskmaster like Peter has a variety of ways of helping you see the value of his propositions.  In mid-August last year, he hooked me with a story about a top Prep applicant who had swept up most of the awards at Prep’s graduation ceremony, but was still mystifyingly waitlisted at the top schools she aspired to join.  I could not resist making things happen for this applicant.  Peter was right; the student is soaring at Groton.  As for work ethic, Peter shares something with those of us employed at boarding schools; Saturday is a work day for him.  At the ceremony, Peter thanked his children once more for the fatherless Saturdays of their youth when he was busy working in Prep’s 14 month academic program.  His hours during the year are long and Prep has benefited from the extra effort he has made for this organization.  Finally, values like Peter’s are ones that keep many of us in education.  His aim is to further opportunities for advancement through education for all people.  During a weekend full of stars and stripes, dearly held American ideals were on display at the Trinity School gym that Friday night.

I was happy to see so many of my colleagues build their holiday weekend schedules around Peter’s ceremony.  One of them jumped in a car at 12:30, drove four hours to attend the event and then got right back in the car to get home around midnight.  And, I was impressed by the many students, past and present, who honored Peter Bordonaro with their presence.  It was nice to hear the Manhattan Borough President sing Peter’s praises and listen to a City Proclamation from Mayor de Blasio, but I’ll bet it meant even more to Peter that so many of his students attended this event.

In the admissions business, relationships matter.  Relationships based on shared ideals are particularly powerful.  Peter Bordonaro’s integrity, determination, and good will have served many people well over the past twenty-five years.  Fortunately, his influence on Prep has been such that “the Bordonaro Way” will be felt for many years to come.

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