Tradition, Community and Compassion
by Stephen Kelley ’10
Commencement Address, May 30, 2010
“Boom.” The door flew open as I hopped down the back staircase of the Arms building and strolled across the foggy main quad on that Thursday morning in October. I had finished my World Cultures test early, and the only thing on my mind was what movie I was going to watch during my free period. Turning right onto Albany Road, I loosened my tie, put it in my jacket pocket, and continued towards my dorm where How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days, Old School, and The Time Traveler’s Wife were waiting for me.
At about the halfway point of Albany Road, a little before the Greer, I saw a slim figure emerging from the thick fog. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but whatever it was seemed to be moving a mile a minute, alien-like in my direction. The closer it approached, the clearer it became that it was a person. It was Mrs. Creagh, and she was doing that kind of really fast run/walk thing that she does. She was like a tornado and I was an innocent young cow just minding my business, but I happened to be right in her path. I had only been at Deerfield for about a month, so I didn’t want to get on her bad side, and I couldn’t figure out why she was coming at me! I put my head down and quickly ran through a checklist in my mind: How’s my facial hair? Did I shave this morning? How can I shave every morning? My face is sensitive! Is my cell phone on vibrate? Suitcoat? Shirt? Am I wearing pants? Is it against the rules to wear the same thing two days in a row? Is my dress too revealing? Wait! THE TIE! Oh boy, I’m cooked. Should I try to put it back on now? I look up to check out my surroundings, so many ideas running through my head. I narrowed it down to three plans of attack: A) Turn left and duck into the Greer, B) Turn around and sprint in the opposite direction, or C) Jump into the bushes. Considering Mrs. Creagh is about ten times faster than I am, option C seemed like a real winner. But I had taken too long and before I knew it, Mrs. Creagh was about ten feet away from me. I noticed that all too familiar look in her eyes that had “you did something wrong” written all over it.
We both stopped walking, and I was bracing myself for Accountability Points or even some sort of punishment like restrictions and then I muttered the standard words.
“Hi, Mrs. Creagh, how we doin’?” I said as I did some hopelessly awkward arm cross, trying to cover up the vacant space my tie was supposed to fill.
“Stephen, you need to come with me.” She said in a serious tone.
“Okay, sure. What’s the problem?” I sighed, still assuming I did something wrong.
“I just got off the phone with your mother, Stephen, something happened to your father last night.” She added “He had a heart attack. Your mom wanted me to come find you because she tried calling you repeatedly.”
I stood in shock. A minute ago, all I was thinking about was a slap on the wrist from the school, but this felt more like a punch to the gut. When Mrs. Creagh and I called home, my mother picked up with a little more aggressive “hello” than I was used to. She went on to tell me that Dad had a heart attack, was rushed to the Emergency Room, had to be revived, but was now in stable condition at Beth Israel Hospital. I asked if she would be alright, and if my brother Jamie was with her. After finding out the answers to both, I told her I loved her, and that I would see her soon.
The next order of business was finding out how to get back home. I pleaded with Mrs. Creagh that I had probably had my license for a lot longer than half the faculty, even though I was only a sophomore, and that she could trust me enough to take one of the school’s brand new vans for the weekend. It was worth a try! She helped me find a bus leaving from Greenfield instead.
“Stephen, wait,” she said, pulling money from her pocket “this should cover the cost of your ticket.” My advisor, Mr. Creagh, had offered to take me to the bus. He could tell that I was still confused about everything that had happened in the past hour. He started telling me stories, jokes, or anything just to get my mind off of the current situation. As we arrived in town early, he asked me if I wanted to get something from the deli across the street. He had only known me for about a month, but even he understood that I couldn’t pass up a nice sandwich no matter what the situation was.
We sat and talked over our sandwiches, and when we finished I told him that I didn’t want to keep him and that he could head back to campus.
He smiled and said, “Please, it’s either this or faculty meeting for an hour. Besides, I get to give Emerson a hard time because he had to go to the meeting and I didn’t. It’s a win-win.” Before I knew it the bus was waiting for me out front.
During the long bus ride from Deerfield to Boston, I tried to fall asleep and forget about the pain my father had gone through. It was difficult to imagine my Dad, who seemed like Superman, in such a vulnerable position. But as tired and as boring as the journey was, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed long enough without thinking about everything. I had been at Deerfield since September, but I had only spent one or two weekends on campus, both of which were closed weekends. I was content going home on the weekends to be with my family, and see my old friends, as if nothing had changed. So when I heard that my father had a heart attack, I became furious at myself, disgusted even, that I wasn’t there for him. I left my house empty with only my mom and my dad. What if for some reason, my mother needed help getting my dad to the car? That could be the difference between life and death. I sat on that bus alone, with these thoughts running through my mind the entire way home, never looking back toward Deerfield.
I spent five days in that hospital with my family; greeting visitors, hearing my mother recount the story to every new nurse, and watching my father struggle after quintuple bypass surgery. When it came time to go back to school, I was reluctant. I was afraid to leave my family’s side. When I came back to Deerfield, I walked off the bus at the Greenfield Town Hall and Mr. Perrin sat cross legged on the hood of his car for me. I thought I would have had to take a cab back to campus, which was only a short drive. Being back on campus, I thought that all I wanted to do was be alone. I figured that being alone and spending all of my time feeling sorry for myself would make me feel better. So I locked my door, and shut the lights off.
The next morning I sat alone in the Dining Hall for breakfast before class, but that didn’t last long, because shortly after I sat down all of my friends came to the table. Every one asked me how my dad was throughout the day, even people I barely knew. It became almost overwhelming when I was talking to a group of friends in the dining hall before lunch. West Hubbard seemed geninely interested in my intricate story… until the end when he told me that he created a computer program while I was gone, so that every time I opened up Internet Explorer it would say “West has taken over your computer.” Thanks for the support, West.
Matt Doyle, Albert Ford, Dave Mackasey, and Erik Bertin all came up to me and asked the same question “How’s big bad Spidah Kelley doin’ after surgery?” in the weakest excuse for a Boston accent I’ve ever encountered. But as repetitive as it was, it helped me to cope. I realized that these accidents happen all the time in life, and that I couldn’t have done anything to stop that heart attack. The people on campus became an extended family to me, and they were there for me when I needed them the most.
That’s the beauty of this place. Here at Deerfield, every one of us becomes part of a caring network of friends, teachers, faculty and staff. It is true that in places where there are high-achieving people, they all work really hard. The difference here is that people are working hard selflessly in the service of the community. Students balance class, sports, arts, extra curriculars and a social life for the entire school year and still at the end, we wish that we could go on longer. Faculty members work tirelessly, and push their own pleasures off to the side in order to do their job to the best of their ability. They put off their “family time” to spend extra time conversing with a student. I have come to admire the faculty and staff who genuinely seem to love their jobs. Because they make Deerfield a great place to work, they also make it a great place to learn. It is truly a community with a culture of self sacrifice. Everyone has each other’s backs. As an individual on campus, you can count on the people here. In a society in which so many people are working for themselves, here people are working for each other, for the community. Whatever we go through, we go through together.
A person hopes to claim that about his family, it is remarkable that we can claim that about our school. Deerfield is a better place, because of faculty members like Mr. Morsman, a man who has dedicated almost sixty years of his life to the Deerfield community. Deerfield would not be the same without Morsman saying a prayer before each sit down meal, his unbelievably stylish fur coat he whips out only on Choate Day, or his classic dog cheers. Dr. Ott is also one to keep tradition and Deerfield’s core values in check. On the first day of classes last year, I did my normal routine; strolled through the doors with black shades, flip flops, and a bright orange and blue Elmo backpack. I sat down, removed my blazer, and hung it on my chair.
“What would Mr. Boyden say? What would Mr. Boyden do, Steve?” he asked as he smiled and nodded his head. “About what?” I asked, puzzled. “Well do you think Mr. Boyden and the boys years ago went without blazers?” He said jokingly.
Needless to say, he could have just asked me to put my jacket back on. But Dr. Ott explaining his reasons for upholding the rich Deerfield traditions makes being in his classroom so great. I’ll keep my blazer on, Dr. Ott, no matter how hot it is. Or hall residents, like Mr. Langione, who always have their doors open even if they are not on duty. No matter how many papers he has to correct, he gladly pushes his work off to have fireside chats about chick flicks, Boston sports, and nice bottles of red. But these are the types of faculty members that Deerfield is famous for.
Above all, I have come to respect my classmates who define the spirit of Deerfield. One Thursday night this winter after a long day of classes, and practice, I rolled into the Greer (rest in peace) with an empty stomach. I had the late practice and was unable to get to dinner before going onto the ice. I walked up to the register to place an order, and saw the dreaded nightmare of a sign that all of us have seen at one time or another; the sign read “grill closed”.
From the back of the kitchen, right next to the grill, Ashleen Wicklow calls out to me as I was walking away. “Steve, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Ashleen,” I say. “I’m fine, I am just dying of starvation.”
“Alright, well I’ll just fire up the grill for you, what do you want?”
My eyes lit up, no questions asked, cheeseburger and fries. Classic Greer order. To me, that embodies what Deerfield is all about. When someone is down or in trouble, another member of the community is there to lift them up.
Another day, I was sitting at a table in the Dining Hall long after dinner had closed. I had a lot on my plate that night. We’ve all had our share of those nights here at Deerfield; I had a meeting shortly after, as well as two tests to study for, and I also had to return four movies to the library that were a week overdue. After revealing the long night ahead to the table, Ashley Gordon volunteered to return the movies for me. Not only did she return the movies, but she persuaded the librarian not to bill me with overdue charges. Which was great, because it brought my overdue charges back down to three digits.
It’s clear that the spirit of generosity extends to every reach of campus. I’ve come to admire Emily Blau, for example, because she knows everyone’s name including the Dining Hall staff and Grounds Crew, and always asks them how their day is going. She knows how important these people are to this Academy.
For the seniors, ahead lies the most difficult task that we will have ever faced during our days of glory at Deerfield. We have come together at the end of the road, whether we were here for four years or only one. We have excelled in the classroom, competed ‘til the final buzzer on that green grass, mingled in the Greer until the minute it closed, and made friendships that will last forever. Most importantly, we have loved Deerfield.
But now we must go forth and perpetuate Deerfield by exercising its morals beyond these walls but never without the security of this community at our backs.
As we reflect in sadness upon our departure from Deerfield, it is important for us, the class of 2010, to look back on our time here in celebration. I reflect on my years here and realize that there is no other place where a person I barely know will support me when my father had a heart attack. No other place where someone will turn the grill on for me after it’s closed simply out of compassion. No other place where someone will talk you out of an overdue charge at the library. No other place that will be like a second family to me. At this point, it seems difficult, impossible even, that we will be able to move on without Deerfield. It is difficult to let go of the place that has loved you and supported you during these crucial years.
But as we leave, we must never forget the lessons that Deerfield taught us. We must bear in mind the traditions, the community, and the compassion we all shared for each other and pass them on to our future friends, children, and colleagues. We must bring a little bit of Deerfield into the lives of others that were not lucky enough to be a part of this community. We have been lucky to be surrounded by those who truly care about the people we end up being when we leave this campus. Most of us have that one Deerfield brother or Deerfield sister or faculty member that we look to when we need someone. As we move on, we want to honor those faculty members and peers by being “that someone” for our friends somewhere down the line.
Upon leaving this campus as alumni, the Deerfield student leaves with all the necessary tools to be successful in life. A strong leader, the Deerfield student is conscientious, moral, sophisticated, and above all, well rounded. The ultimate cosmopolitan, unable to be summed up in just one word. Only six hundred and thirty students are fortunate enough to be here at once, and it is our job as we walk as graduates to thank the Academy by sharing the ideals we have acquired with others. We have all been educated, but as we move on, we must become educators, too, at some level. We must teach our friends and companions, our sons and daughters how to be generous and compassionate, as well as how to value the past and become part of a receptive community.
I will never forget that genuine look of compassion and sincerity on Ms. Creagh’s face as I left her office that day. I will never forget the prayer Mr. Morsman says before each meal. I will never forget the Lovely parents of students I met here. I will never forget the good advice on red wine from Mr. Langione. [I will be ready when the time comes]. I will never forget the community that loved me from the very beginning, and held me to the end.
So as we walk down Albany Road and cross the senior grass for the last time, I would encourage us all to look back on these halls and fields we’re leaving and embrace them. Embrace all of the lessons we have learned in and out of the classroom, embrace the compassion, the will to succeed, and the humility of the Deerfield student. Embrace it all so that as we move on with our lives into the new unknown world, we can put our learning to the challenges of the future. As the class of 2010, we move forward with the confidence to take on everything we face in the Deerfield way. We will move forward with the confidence that the skills we needed to succeed in the classroom and on the field are the same skills we will need to succeed in the office, in the family, and in the world. When we exemplify these values among others, we will leave the same impression on the people we meet that Deerfield has left forever upon us. This way, we will carry in our hearts the school that has made us and that we have made together into the future, a future beyond but never without our eternal Deerfield.