Faculty in Focus - Special Edition: Farewell, Susan Burnquist '73
Posted 06/09/2021 10:30AM

Susan Burnquist '73

Graded Faculty from 1986-2021 

Susan Burnquist has been a teacher at Graded for the past 35 years. The entire school community is extremely thankful for her dedication and passion. A Graded alumna herself, Susan has positively impacted the lives of countless students. This month's Graded Gazette highlights Susan's trajectory as a Graded student and faculty member.

Susan and her brothers were born in Bahia and Pernambuco to a Brazilian mother and an American father. Susan and her family relocated to São Paulo in 1961, where they settled in Morumbi. It was a peaceful neighborhood with very few vehicles at the time. The Burnquist children began attending Graded in August 1961, the school's first year on the Morumbi campus. The red-brick campus stood on top of a hill, surrounded by trees, forests, thickets, and dirt roads. Susan has incredible sensorial memories of being in class and hearing the gentle rustle of eucalyptus trees across the street swaying back and forth, as well as their invigorating scent permeating the hallways. 

In 5th grade-front row, 3rd from the right


On weekends, she remembers Graded-organized sporting events and magnificent Lower School plays. Susan was a member of the choir and the Do-Re-Mis, a singing ensemble directed by Music Teacher Mrs. Delora Tuthill. It was a tremendous honor for her and her classmates to perform at neighborhood schools and nearby theaters. The Braniff Meet, now known as Big Four, was a highlight for Susan as a junior and senior at Graded. The school's athletics teams also competed against those from other American schools in South America and learned about sportsmanship and culture.

Susan moved to the United States to study psychology after graduating from Graded in 1973. However, she returned to São Paulo after two years to pursue a degree in elementary education. Exceptional family circumstances increased her desire to become a teacher. Two of her instructors at Graded also influenced her decision. Her first grade teacher, Mrs. Wing, was unforgettable and made her students feel very special, while Mrs. Schlenker introduced her to the pleasures of reading. Susan worked at an English language school during her undergraduate years, teaching children and adults. She also spent two years at Erika's Kindergarten and fell in love with teaching during those early years.

In 1981, Susan took a brief hiatus from work and life in São Paulo and moved to Canoa Quebrada, Ceará, a fishermen's village 220 kilometers east of the state capital of Fortaleza. There was no electricity or running water, and she slept in a hammock. "Those were some of the best years of my life," she recalls, "where I learned to love the simplicity and value the little things in life. This short hiatus ended up lasting five years! "I met my ex-husband, an Argentine, and we had our daughter Duna Sol. Life would never be the same again."

Susan returned to São Paulo in 1986, eager to resume teaching and provide her daughter with an education and a more comfortable life. She started working at Graded, and for the next 35 years, taught students in grades 1 through grade 4. Susan, better known as Ms. Burnquist or Ms. Burnie, stressed the importance of establishing meaningful relationships with her students, helping them build self-confidence, and ensuring that they had the basic skills needed to succeed in the next grade.

Teaching 4th grade, late 90s


Ms. Burnie's love of books did not go unnoticed by her students. For Coranina Rocha '18, reading time was a favorite class experience. "Ms. Burnquist was an amazing storyteller!" she exclaims. Vittoria Quirino '17 shares the same favorite memory, and Gabriel Alves '08 has "vivid memories of Ms. Burnie reading The Witches by Ronald Dahl." Ms. Burnquist's storytelling style was one-of-a-kind. Cazzie Ferreira '06 remembers her using "all of the different voices [when] reading aloud to the classroom,'' while Tatiana Wlasek '02 recalls "her sweet voice during storytime." Ms. Burnie's students evidently had a strong impression of the books she read to them, as they remember book titles to this day. The BFG and The Tale of Despereaux were two highlights for Ricky Bilton '17. "My most vivid memory," Gabriela Schwartz '03 says, "was her commentary while reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.'' Isabella Cassinelli '12 remembers Ms. Burnie reading Chronicles of Narnia. Isabella adds, "It's still my favorite book, and she is one of the best teachers I've ever had!"

According to Paige Geiger, vice president of Graded's Board of Directors and former Lower School principal, it is unusual to witness someone progress from childhood to the role of a young teacher, and eventually the role of a seasoned teacher. "Susan Burnquist has dedicated a lifetime of very personal work to Graded School, years of connection with the school, students, and parents. Susan will be remembered for the many lives that she has touched, the students she has mentored, and the growth that she has fostered." Paige continues, "I deeply appreciate the years that we spent together in this rewarding profession. May the next years bring you equal reward and joy."

Ms. Burnquist, often teaching from her rocking chair, as mentioned by Gabriela Gholmia '06, was unique. The "iconic birds she had in her classroom" were unforgettable for Thomas Greco '20. Priscilla Venturini '00 remembers that Ms. Burnquist used to carry a mug full of ice and that "she loved hearing her crunch the ice in her mouth." While Gabriel da Nóbrega '12 was convinced she was related to skateboarder Bob Burnquist, his classmate Arthur Churchill '12 thought there were really skeletons in the closet! Ms. Burnquist's caring smile and charisma were a highlight for many, including Patricia Camacho '05 and Marcela Martins '18. Marcela adds that Ms. Burnie was the best teacher she ever had. "She helped me through all my difficulties."

Lower School Principal Vance Boisjoli says, "[Susan] has a genuine warmth that resonates to those around her. Her passion for supporting children both emotionally and academically is evident as soon as you walk into her classroom. Sue is also a passionate learner about not only her students' growth but also her own growth. I vividly remember the first interaction I had with Sue about digital portfolios about seven years ago. She expressed that it was going to be a challenge for her. However, days later, she was showing some of the other teachers how to support students. While I will miss having Sue teaching first grade, I am grateful to have worked with Sue and have learned a tremendous amount from her."

Susan Burnquist describes her time at Graded as "full of both challenging and incredible learning experiences." She continues, "I met, was inspired by, and learned from amazing colleagues. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. Duna, my daughter, attended Graded for 13 years, and we are grateful for her rich and memorable experiences as a student. I am thankful to Graded for the quality of life I have had, for the privilege of working with children, for teaching me so much, and for allowing me to do what I love for so long. I will miss the students and all of my Graded friends. With a lump in my throat, I announce my retirement in June 2021, completing a 60-year cycle that began in 1961. Graded has been my life and my love for many years. It is time for my family and me to move on to something new. Thank you for the memories."


What was your favorite memory of Ms. Burnie? 

  • Sofia Renault '14: Ms. Burnie used to call my best friend and me the "Bobbsey Twins," and we still call each other by that nickname!
  • Isabella Muszkat Besborodco '14: She's the best! She said my best friend and I were inseparable, so she called us the "Bobbsey Twins."
  • Julia Vieira '03: Ms. Burnquist was my teacher in second grade! It's always a pleasure to see her at Graded! Good times.
  • Andre Ahn '15: Show-and-tell and the biography show will always be a memory for me.
  • Marcelo Kheirallah '07: I once got in trouble for making a ruckus before my teacher arrived in the morning. 
  • Daniela Otterloo '05: We did an endangered species project with Ms. Burnie. Loved it. I still remember the animal I picked (manatee) and most of my classmates from the time. I live in Miami today, see manatees all the time and still remember fun facts about them.
  • Claudia Nevermann '99: Love her enthusiasm for teaching! I am so grateful one of my kids had her, too!
  • Lilian Ngobi-Pryor '03: Her daughter Duna was one of my closest friends and the first person to welcome me! I love her and her whole family.
  • Helena Segall '19: When she used to show me pictures of herself and my aunt Berta back when they studied at Graded.
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