Donna Cory: Friend, Artist, and Student Champion


Lambert Devoe

Science teacher Mr. Samale works with underwater photography and did a photoshoot with PDG in 2021.

To me, Donna was two things. She was a wonderful friend, someone you always felt comfortable around and knew was there for you. Donna was also an artist who saw beauty in all things and had the gift of helping others share and celebrate their beauty. Indeed, she was more than that; one could easily see how much she meant to many people. For example, I recently sat next to a mother at a TBS football game. The mother told me how difficult it was learning of her passing because Donna had meant a great deal to her. No, she did not save her daughter or even her son. Donna saved the mother thirty-plus years ago when she was her first dance teacher at a school in New York. She gave this mom the courage to go out on stage, do her best, and enjoy the dance, which meant everything to a teenage girl. I’m sure this is just one of many great stories about Donna.

Have you ever been on the Bishop’s campus late at night when no one is around? It can be pretty serene with the quiet, the lights shining about, and the rabbits hopping across the quad. It can also mean that I am terrible at time management and now I’m at school desperately trying to meet a deadline for work. That deadline, of course, was the progress reports. In my earlier years, reports were due at the end of the first quarter, and for some, like myself and other teachers (I will not call them out, but his name rhymes with Bassaf), this was a daunting task. From noon to evening hours on Saturday and Sunday, we would be here, all through Tuesday, hacking away at these reports. Every hour or so, we would email and lie to each other about how many reports were completed. But there was an escape, a moment to relax, and that was going to talk to Donna. She was on campus sewing her costumes for the performance. It was then that I got to know her, where the friendship began. Donna was easy to talk with, and we shared so much in common; our friendship was natural from the beginning. Like me, she enjoyed a good laugh but was serious about each of her students being successful. I was so impressed by this. I, as well as the other teacher, made this a custom to procrastinate even more with our reports so we could hang out and chat with Ms. Cory. We were a trio of Bishops’ late-night friends throughout the years. Ironically enough, this year, we are returning to that same progress report model! Without her, I know it will not be easy.

Donna was so easy to talk with. She always was patient and made the time to listen, never turning you away. Donna was also wise and experienced in life and could offer sage advice. And, of course, her best feature was her big heart, as she cared so much for so many. Donna always was and still will be a source of comfort. Bishop’s is a very busy place, and it is easy to get wrapped up in coils of the machine forever turning. Attending a PDG concert is always a gift. That moment causes me to pause, sit back, and enjoy something beautiful. I thank Donna and her team of dancers for that. One quote I will never forget from her is, “the re-entry is the hardest part.” Every year, many times a year, she would say this. For us, it was a commentary on how busy we can be and how challenging it can be to get back into the routine after being away. But it was also recognition that it is difficult, but it is worth it because great things can happen here.

Donna’s occupation was a teacher. As a teacher, she was no doubt one of Bishop’s best. She dedicated countless hours and efforts to support every one of her students. She was inclusive. Short, tall, skinny, thick, female, male, straight, gay, none of that mattered. She was always able to create a safe place and a place for everyone to shine, to express their talents beautifully. Through these efforts, she could help her students succeed individually and as a group. Have you ever seen a PDG concert? – good god! As a teacher, Donna accomplished what all teachers aspire to do; this is one of the many reasons I have great respect for her.

Then, of course, there is the artistry in what she teaches, dance. Dance is an art form. It displays light, color, movement, shape, strength, sound, poise, and rhythm, with a focus of it being the human body. This presents a unique and complex set of challenges. Imagine choosing a subject matter where your work happens on stage for all – parents, teachers, administration, families, and countless others to observe, comment, and even perhaps pass judgment. Imagine choosing a profession that involves focus and attention on the body and its physical abilities, of fragile teenage children daily. Imagine navigating a world where media, stereotypes, and social pressures constantly knock students down, and you need to encourage them to stand on stage alone and perform. Imagine having to judge the students yourself and explain why they did not cut, and then, of course, explain to the parents as well.

Yet somehow, she did it. No doubt, in the real world, Professional Dance can be unkind, even harsh sometimes. But Donna tried very hard to make all her students comfortable with who they were and give them the chance to be brave enough to share who they were with an audience. As an art form, dance is an expression of emotion; at least, that’s what I see. Not only did Donna teach their minds and bodies, but she also had to channel their feelings. She did all this every day and embraced every moment. Donna used the word beautiful frequently. She always sent out email previews acknowledging how this upcoming performance would be stunning. She would always discuss how beautiful their efforts, work, and results were in conversations with the students. And when you saw a show, it was then that you could appreciate and understand what she saw. Honestly, I thought she used the word too much, but every show has taken my breath away. I finally understood this beauty last year. For many years, Donna and I wanted to collaborate and do something about the ocean. Finally, our moment happened last year, and I was fortunate enough to photograph several members of PDG underwater. As we went through each image, she would gasp every time and say beautiful. Of course, like most, I am my worst critic and didn’t see it that way. I would see my mistake with the flash, the dust particles messing up the image. But all she saw were her beautiful dancers. And then, at one point, a parent jumped into the water and took a photo of me taking a picture of the dancer. She was so excited to share this photo with me, again saying how beautiful. Not going to lie, I looked at the image, and I saw my torso cropped in half; I did not like how heavy I looked and thought, “meh.” But now I have to look at this photo the way Donna did. I need to pause, dig deeper, and find appreciation. Now that she is gone, I realize the beauty of the picture. It’s not the angle; it’s not the subject matter. It’s me underwater; it’s me scuba diving; it’s me taking pictures; it’s me doing something unique with children; it’s me sharing a moment with one of the most outstanding teachers I have known. It is me doing all the things I love in one moment. It is me sharing what I love with others and perhaps making their world a little bit better. That is the beauty of the picture. We all need to look through Donna’s eyes to see the beauty around us.

Donna’s departure is one of the most tragic events I have experienced. It is a massive loss for the community, and I have lost a true friend. But the most severe impact is the loss to our students. Donna was the most prominent student champion I have known. Nobody has worked as hard or done so much as she has – in my opinion. But we are all hard-working and strive to do so, as that is the teaching profession. What makes it easier for me is to know Donna was right where she wanted to be. As Ms. Moroney, teaching dance was her dream come true. I also know first-hand what a difference she made in so many student’s lives and that that should be celebrated. As a teacher of many years here at Bishop’s, you find moments or traditions, or even special people that you look forward to every year, that help you continue the journey. For me, one of those moments has always been sitting with Ms. Cory (and, if you’re fortunate, Ms. Flanigan) at the end-of-the-year PDG concert or maybe even the Musical. There we would sit, take in the show and all its beauty. But it was also a moment we would celebrate. Celebrate the students and their struggles. Celebrate their growth and achievement over the years. Celebrate all the efforts made to get them to this point and feel confident in sending them off to the next step. And, of course, celebrate the fact that another year of hard work has passed, and hopefully, we did some good. We would both laugh and cry. I will truly miss this. But I know now, how important it is to stop and take in the beauty that is all around you, and I know that Donna will always be there sitting next to me celebrating the students. Pau.