On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Lycée Francais de Los Angeles, current Headmaster, Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, reflected on beginnings of the school founded by her parents. The following speech was given at the 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration:
Fifty years ago, our school opened its doors for business, for the first time.
My parents, our founders Esther and Raymond Kabbaz, both teachers at the Lycée in New York, always did everything in style and from the moment they decided to open a Lycée on the west coast they dreamed and planned to the last elegant detail.
Our Lycée, was the very first Lycée in the Western States, and there were only two other Lycées in the United States: New York and Washington.
California’s Education Code did not allow teaching in another language, this did not deter my parents who lobbied in Sacramento to change the Code. Therefore all schools who teach in French or Armenian or German or Spanish or in any other language in California owe them a debt of gratitude!
They rented a building at 150 South Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills from one of the most important people in television, Mr. Art Linkletter. There was no Lycée yet and the ominous 5 year lease rested on my parents shoulders, things could have gone very wrong. However, my father was an ardent believer in positive thinking...
They formed a Board with the help of Mr. Luther Marr, a Disney executive and a founding member. He has always told me how surprised he was when in two shakes the school opened and was full.
That first week, Mrs. Genevieve Peterson, walked into the school to check it out for her daughter Camille and stayed more than thirty years as school secretary.
Mme Newman formerly Mme Hayek was next to join as the best Kindergarten teacher in history and also stayed until retirement in 2004.
All three are here today, Mr. Marr, Mme Peterson, and Mme Newman please stand.
The school’s first parent: Agnes Moorehead, Endora from Bewitched. The school opened with all grades K through 12th.
Children wore uniforms designed by parents’ good friend, Lilly Daché.
Legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper suggested a pillbox hat for the girls which was added to the uniform.
Girls took Ballet from Mr. Maure and boys took fencing from Mrs. Vince. Manners were taught.
The school was well guarded by Mr. Leon Winfield. A true gentleman and friend for more than 25 years.
Along the way we mourned the passing of colleagues who made a difference: Madame Lanthiez, M. Anselme, and M. Maure.
And, of course, our founders.
l have been thinking about my parents more than usual lately. I have been admiring their strong will to succeed, their hard work, and their incredible talent to make all of their students feel at home. I have heard people my age say that their Lycée years were amongst the best in their lives.
My parents were exceptional people.
Within ten years, by 1974 they had purchased the Main Campus on Overland and the Pacific Palisades Campus. Not too shabby for two young teachers with absolutely NO financial help from any government or agency.
Since our foundation we stand as a symbol of high educational standards, and we will never be too big to care, because we develop the whole student, mind, body, and soul. We replace cynicism with sincerity, we replace indifference with empathy, and we open our students’ perspectives to an international level and it’s a beautiful fulfilling journey.
Our students hail from all over the world and all walks of life, and in this day and age where our youth is not free to be themselves, I am proud to say that our students at the Lycée support and love each other and this magic is unique to our school!
Thank you extraordinary teachers, parents, and students for your partnership in this endeavor. Thank you to the school's leadership team for your insight and dedication.
In the last 14 years since I stepped into my Dad’s role we have made great strides, but make no mistake, that I am guided in every decision by my parents vision and dream, and I can say with confidence that they would be extremely proud of us today!
Here’s to the next 50 years!!!