"When he told me about the school, I was skeptical. What could he possibly do in three days? Then I sat in the back of the room and watched. I was blown away."
That's how Buckley School director Karen Kalutz remembers her initial encounter with the Executive Seminar.
The school's founder, Reid Buckley, knew Karen because she'd been his sons' high school history instructor. He liked the way she taught. He hired her in March 1998, and she worked as a public speaking coach for the first time in April 1998.
She became Reid's most trusted colleague and collaborator. Under her steady hand over the last 30 years, the Executive Seminar has evolved. The curriculum now includes exercises that address conferees' professional presentations, Karen says, without losing what made it so impressive to her that first time she watched.
For anyone who endured Reid's "curative tortures" and off-the-wall speaking topics, words other than "respect" might seem more apt.
But respect for the unique qualities of each student and for the hard work of public speaking have always been the core of the Executive Seminar.
"We still place our emphasis on getting the message right and showing respect for your audience by working for them," Karen says. "There's never been a template here, no cookie cutter approach. We magnify each speaker's strengths. And it's still a joy for me to help speakers surprise themselves with how good they can be."
Speaking in a debate is an important part of the experience at the Executive Seminar. In those early years, there was no internet at The Buckley School. Debate teams in 1988 were assigned a topic, given a library card, and sent across the street to do their research at the Kershaw County Library.
Reid began developing his format for a public speaking workshop in the fall of 1987, running a couple of trial sessions at Clemson University. The full-fledged Executive Seminar rolled out in Camden in the spring of 1988. Karen was one of the first coaches to sign on.
The first seminars were held in a cottage that's behind the house where the school is located now. Karen and media professional Glenn Tucker are two of the 1988 faculty who are still with the school today.
Other coaches for those first seminars were Pud Carruth, Boo DuBose, and Nancy Ramseur.
Along with insisting on debate as a teaching tool and keeping classes small to make one-on-one coaching possible, Reid also insisted that the location in Camden was essential. Taking busy people out of their everyday patterns, he was sure, helped them make breakthroughs that wouldn't have happened anywhere else.
It certainly seems that one benefit of holding small classes in a small town is that conferees and staff make connections that last.
It's not uncommon for former students to drop by when they're in the area, ask if they can bring their children by to see the school, enroll their adult children, and keep in touch with each other, too.
Nostalgic Executive Seminar alum may wonder:
Do you still use the dread bucket?
What was the first topic for the Executive Seminar debate?
Karen: One we're about to revisit--Be it resolved, environmental concerns must prevail over economic good.
Is it possible that Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker was a coach when I was there?
Karen: It is. She wrote this funny, touching account of her time teaching at the school in a tribute to Reid when he died four years ago.
Karen has also unearthed a number of scrapbooks with photos from early seminars. The photos you see here are just a few of those.
Have a memory from our 30 years you'd like to share? We'd love to hear it. Please email us and reminisce away!
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