Hall of Distinguished Graduates
Croton-Harmon Schools Recognize Achievements of Two Fascinating Alumni as Inductees to the Hall of Distinguished Grads
Croton-on-Hudson, NY, November 10, 2022 -- Producing a Broadway play and landing a spacecraft on Mars are remarkable feats about which most people only dream. But for graduates of Croton-Harmon High School, dreams do come true.
Broadway producer and Literary Trustee of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry, Joi Gresham, along with aerospace engineer and NASA Mars Rover team member Mallory Lefland were inducted today into the Croton-Harmon High School Hall of Distinguished Graduates. Croton-Harmon Union Free School District is proud to celebrate the wide-ranging achievements of our graduates, and these two women beautifully represent this community and its mission to give students an education built on excellence, creativity, and empowerment. They are the 27th and 28th graduates to receive this honor since the first induction occurred in 2006.
“Ms. Gresham and Ms. Lefland exhibit an extraordinarily high level of inquiry and curiosity in their fascinating pursuits, which is exactly what we hope to foster in all Croton-Harmon students,” says CHUFSD Superintendent Stephen Walker. “We are thrilled to honor them and their important work, and appreciate them for coming back to their alma mater to share their stories with our students.”
Joi Gresham, Class of 1973, is the Literary Trustee of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry, as well as an accomplished artist in her own right. She is a lifelong dancer and choreographer, and professor in the arts, education and African American studies. Gresham was an associate producer for the 2014 TONY Award-winning Broadway revival of Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington. She credits Croton-Harmon High School and the town’s ethos with helping launch her distinguished career.
“The person I became and my generosity as a teacher, choreographer, artist and director, all came from that environment,” said Ms. Gresham. She went on to say that there were a handful of teachers at Croton-Harmon High School who really made a difference in her life. “There was a very important teacher there, Dr. Fred Blais, who was influential to a lot of people.” She said his role in her life was “pivotal” because she was able to choreograph musicals under his direction, and he empowered her and other students to step up and employ their talents and passions.
Gresham grew up in Croton in the 1960’s and 70’s, which she recalls as an incredibly creative and politically active time in the village. In 1967, her mother married Robert Nemiroff, a successful theater producer who had been married to Lorraine Hansberry, the celebrated playwright who authored A Raisin in the Sun. In her will, Lansberry left her Quaker Ridge Road home to Nemiroff, which is where Gresham was raised. She says it was a beautiful sanctuary, an artist’s retreat frequented by local artists and activists, and filled with Hansberry’s spirit.
Gresham says she will tell the students she addresses at the Hall of Fame ceremony to “seek your teachers – they’re not necessarily the ones brought to you.” And she would advise them to “be creative in their education.” And Gresham would like to tell them to “be proud of where you came from and do some research on this special place where you grew up.”
Mallory Lefland, Class of 2008, has worked on robotic Mars missions throughout her career. She specializes in enabling the landing capabilities of increasingly complex spacecraft. Lefland is currently the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Flight System Lead for the Sample Retrieval Lander which is scheduled to land on Mars late in this decade. Prior to this role, Lefland spent seven years working on the EDL team for the Mars 2020 Mission/Perseverance Rover, focusing on the design and verification of the software landing behavior.
It was at Croton-Harmon High School where Lefland discovered a love for science. She found that the extensive coursework that was available to students, as well as the flexibility to choose her schedule, allowed her to double up on math and science classes for most of her high school years.
“I was able to spend most of my time learning about the areas that interested me,” said Ms. Lefland. “I remember taking Physics during my senior year with Ms. Zhanna Glazenburg and not only getting inspired by the hands-on projects, but by having a female teacher in this subject area.”
After high school, Lefland attended the Georgia Institute of Technology where she discovered her passion for space, and earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Upon graduation, she joined the Systems Engineering Division at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. For two years she worked on the Engineering Operations team for the Curiosity Rover, focusing on spacecraft fault recovery.
Reflecting on being raised in Croton-on-Hudson, Ms. Lefland says that she always found the community within the school district and town to be “incredibly supportive and encouraging of one another to find what interested us and dive deeper.”
“No dream ever felt too big for our town; no project ever felt unattainable,” she said. “I remember throughout the years, students would bring ideas for class projects or school wide events, and we were encouraged to carry those out ourselves and take ownership of our high school experience.”
The Croton-Harmon High School Hall of Distinguished Graduates honors district graduates who have distinguished themselves in their career, and/or have significantly impacted the lives and welfare of their community. The inductees are chosen every three years by the CHHS Hall of Distinguished Graduates Selection Committee. Anyone may nominate a living graduate of the Croton-Harmon Schools for future consideration.