The Celebration of a Career: Ms. Jacquie Berkshire

The+Celebration+of+a+Career%3A+Ms.+Jacquie+Berkshire

Sophia Bienkowski

“My grandmother used to say, our fears climb to become our walls.”

Born with six siblings, Jacquie Berkshire was taught at a young age to think of others before herself. Growing up with lots of animals, she learned the meaning of hard work quickly, and in being a counselor at LFHS for over 30 years, she positively has  affected the lives of hundreds of students.

Lake Forest High School has seen thousands of kids and faculty come and go over Berkshire’s tenure at LFHS. The institution has been through hundreds of situations that have brought about change. Some, like the implementation of 1:1 technology and the school’s emphasis on emotional well-being, have been good; while others, like the string of depression-based suicides in 2011 that, for a time, damaged the fabric of the school community, have been negative. There aren’t many facets of the school that haven’t been affected by the change. Since 1988, however, one thing has stayed the same: Ms. Jacquie Berkshire, who was hired to fill a one year sabbatical in 1988, continues — 30 years later — to influence everyone she meets.

On Friday, April 6th, I had the honor of meeting with the esteemed guidance counselor who is in her last year at LFHS. Immediately after walking into her office, I was met with the smell of fresh apples and the faint sound of classical music in an office that was filled with three decades of memories and keepsakes. I felt as if I was meeting an old friend, and suddenly all my previous stress drifted away. On her desk lay a few motivational messages, astrew with other notes to remember, and when she noticed me eyeing them, she read a few off to me. We talked for a few minutes about the stress of junior year, and I wondered silently how someone could be so easy to talk to. For a brief moment, I felt envious of those who were lucky enough to have her as a counselor (sorry Mr. Naughton). Of course, I had come to interview Ms. Berkshire about her legacy at LFHS, but as it turned out, she asked me all the questions, not that I minded. What I expected to be a quick and easy interview ended up being almost a full period of laughter and lighthearted dialogue.

When asked what kept her working at Lake Forest for so long, she told me her biggest motivator was “the students, clearly. It’s so much fun working here. We get to follow them the day they walk through the doors as anxious and reticent freshmen, to graduation, and launching the confident, accomplished, and still hopeful seniors.” She also loved the part of her job that allowed her to work with so many different age levels of faculty. “I feel like the old sheepdog,” she commented with a chuckle.

In thinking of her early years at LFHS, Ms. Berkshire’s face lit up. At one point during the interview, she opened her lowest drawer and took out a stamp. This stamp was decades old and was used to make schedule changes for students. She described to me in detail the old system, which required a slew of people’s input on paper and students filing in one by one to get their papers stamped rather than the contemporary way of simpling emailing a Google document to a chain of teachers. Her impeccable memory painted another world for me, one where the most technologically advanced apparatuses were the Talkboy or the Tamagotchi. Though it was a simpler time indeed, Ms. Berkshire doesn’t seem to miss it. One of her favorite things about working at Lake Forest over the years has been, “watching how technology has impacted how we do our job.” Her adaptability–amidst consistent and, at times, demanding, amazed me. I no longer wondered how she had become so successful, as her charisma became quite clear. “I am a self-proclaimed techno-doofus,” she mentioned  in reflection of her experience with technology.

Every day Ms. Berkshire lives by the words: “It is he who is a fool who’s never felt like one.” This is the idea that one can only get through life if they are willing to laugh at themselves.

As students, we like to complain about getting up early, but Ms. Berkshire wakes up before any of us, at 5:30 am every morning. “Maybe having the second cup of coffee is what I look forward to most,” added Ms. Berkshire with a candid smile.  In retirement, Ms. Berkshire plans on walking along the bike path in the early mornings, observing tired students shuffling along, hunched over under the weight of the world.

In four years, the only people left to remember her will be faculty. But that’s okay, she says. “I will always be here in spirit.” Ms. Berkshire will always be remembered at LFHS as a talented guidance counselor, but more resonating than that, an incredible person who cared diligently about the fabric of the school, whether it was through her relationships with students or the long-tenured staff

I wish I knew the person that decided to keep her longer than a one year sabbatical. That way, we could thank them and tell them it was one of the best decisions they ever made on behalf of LFHS.