Nicole Charbonnet '84


University of Virginia
M.F.A., Boston University 

My days at Newman can be summarized in one word: “ubuntu.” This Southern African word can be translated to mean "a person is a person through other people.” Newman provided a wonderful environment, both academically and extracurricularly, and there were many lessons; but the most important things I learned came through relationships.
Teddy Cotonio was the headmaster during my years at Newman (’80-'84). Near the end of my senior year he called me into his office. I walked in absolutely terrified, since I automatically assumed I had done something egregiously horrible and had been caught. He immediately both calmed my nerves and changed my life by telling me that he had noticed a painting I had done and wanted me to continue my visual arts education. Maybe headmasters do this everywhere. I really have no idea. But in my case, Teddy gave me confidence to follow a path I didn’t even know existed at the time - not knowing any self supporting artists in New Orleans at the time and rather naively not even knowing art could be a career. Right there in his office, he gave me both confidence and my first commission, paying me to paint a portrait of his two boys. I’m not sure I would have ever had the courage to even try to become an artist if it hadn’t been for his thoughtful, kind and generous encouragement.
There were other teachers of course who shaped me . Ken MacKenzie and Marta Bordeaux were wonderful teachers who sparked a passion for history and literature, respectively. Peggy Moore Andry was the tennis coach. Perhaps there is always a different kind of emotional intimacy and honesty you have with a coach, but she made the tennis court a microcosm of the world and because she shared many of her astute perspicacity and insights I was able to develop certain traits that have helped me navigate life on and off the court. Ruth Mullen taught art. I would go to her classroom during lunch to paint and because it was often just the two of us, we became quite close. She made me promise to take art classes in college which then led to my career as an artist. It’s not often that one finds such amazing people in the same place who can provide such wisdom, inspiration and guidance above and beyond the instructive yet quotidian classroom lessons about history, literature, how to make a painting or win a tennis match.
Besides the guiding light provided by these wonderful teachers, relationships with peers were also invaluable. My two best friends at Newman, Sarah Labouisse (Evans) and Reghan Foster (Diaz) provided an essential emotional platform on which to rest or from which jump and explore new possibilities. Their friendship offered constant security, support and joy. Because of their prodigious talent and intelligence, they became the measuring stick with which I gauged success or failure. Since they were (and still are) both extraordinarily gifted, I had to put in a lot of effort to even keep up with them and often felt like a failure when comparing myself to them. Like all good friends, they were a mirror of sorts and when I saw them it gave me ideas about who I was and a path to who I wanted to be. Having that kind of direction and goal proved be quite motivating and the competition constructive.
During my time at Newman we were assigned to read a John Donne “Meditation,” and it’s meaning has stayed with me ever since -particularly the “no man is an island” part - reminding me that I am because they are.
1903 Jefferson Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70115
Phone: 504.899.5641
Fax: 504.896.8597
Open 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Monday through Friday
An independent,
non-denominational day
school in New Orleans for
early childhood through 12th grade