A Statement from the Head of School
To The Deerfield Community from Dr. Austin
Dr. Austin to Students: Supporting Those Who Feel Vulnerable (is a Worthy Goal)
Reflections on the New Year from Dr. Austin: What Will You Do With That Knowledge?
2019 Fall Family Weekend Remarks by Dr. John P.N. Austin
Convocation and Induction 2019: Head of School John P.N. Austin’s Remarks
Convocation and Induction 2019: Associate Director of Athletics Jess Lapachinski’s Remarks
Convocation and Induction 2019: President of the Board of Trustees Brian Simmons’ Remarks
Convocation and Induction 2019: St. Andrew’s Head of School Daniel T. Roach’s Remarks
Convocation and Induction 2019: Remarks of Student Body Presidents Kareena Bhakta ’20 and Irvin Li ’20
Convocation and Induction 2019: Dean of Faculty John Taylor’s Remarks
Letter from Dr. Austin to Students and Parents
Dr. Curtis’s 2019 Commencement Address
2019 Commencement Address: Dehdan Miller ’89
2019 Commencement Student Address: Cameron Peterson Heard ’19
2019 Commencement Student Address: Colin Thomas Olson ’19
Bias and Factfulness: Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at Convocation 2018
Convocation 2017: Remarks from Student Body President Gerry Alexandre ’19
Commencement Student Address 2018: Kiana Rawji
Commencement Student Address 2018: Charlie Pink
Commencement Address 2018: Christopher Whipple ’71
Commencement 2018: Head of School Margarita Curtis’ Remarks to the Senior Class
Baccalaureate Address 2018: Andy Harcourt
School Heads from MA to NJ Stand in Solidarity, Call for Action Against Gun Violence
Convocation 2017: Remarks from Student Body President Amelia Evans ’18
Curiosity and Cosmic Geometry: Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at Convocation 2017
Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at the First Faculty Meeting of the Year
Student Address 2017: Duncan Mackay
Commencement Address 2017: Carrie Freeman Braddock ’92
Student Address 2017: Lucy Beimfohr
Commencement 2017: Head of School Margarita Curtis’ Remarks to the Senior Class
Student Address 2016: Healy Knight
Student Address 2016: Ezekiel Emerson
Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2016
Baccalaureate Address 2014: Neal Jacobs ’69
Commencement Address 2014: H. Rodgin Cohen ’61
Commencement Student Address 2014: Harry Reichert
Commencement Student Address 2014: Kate Ginna
Awards Luncheon 2014: Head of School Remarks
2013 Commencement Student Address
2013 Commencement Address
2013 Commencement Student Address
2013 Baccalaureate Address
2012 Commencement Student Address
2012 Commencement Student Address
2012 Commencement Address
2011 Convocation Address
2011 Convocation Address
2011 Commencement Address
2011 Commencement Student Address
A Statement from the Head of School
Dear Deerfield Community:
It has been painful for me to read of the racism recounted in social media posts and in emails sent to me by our alumni and students, and it is clear that Deerfield can and will do more to create and sustain an inclusive and welcoming campus environment for all students, especially our Black students and other students of color. We stand with and by our students, employees, and alumni in our collective fight to eradicate racism.
I appreciate those of you who have come forward with passion and courage to share your stories and to challenge us to complete the work of creating a school culture that upholds and honors the dignity of each and every student. Your engagement, leadership, and constructive suggestions are both welcome and admirable. I deeply regret that for some of you, the Academy has not lived up to its aspirations, and I agree with you that we can do more, as one of you wrote, “to lead and defend a culture of love, empathy, and justice.”
The centerpiece of our Deerfield values is to foster citizenship “in a spirit of humility, empathy, and responsibility.” I have tried to approach my work in schools, both here and abroad, in that spirit of humility, knowing that there is always more to do and that our mission is never complete, even as we reach for it with all of our collective energy and imagination.
In 2016 the Academy’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a Strategic Plan for Inclusion, and began to address some of the experiences so painfully described on social media platforms. The plan includes specific goals for the head of school and every senior administrator and their respective departments; it is a living document that may indeed be expanded based on what we have learned over the past four years and in recent weeks. It continues to provide sustained strategic vision and steady guidance as we work toward multiple goals—from addressing gender equity in sports to recruiting faculty of color—to ultimately making Deerfield a school that embraces all and allows each student to flourish and grow in confidence and character.
I am deeply grateful to our student leaders and faculty and staff who, over the last four years, have moved our work forward. Yet progress is no argument for complacency. Among the work to be done is setting new goals in the areas of: improving Deerfield’s climate and culture, and reviewing existing policies on conduct and citizenship (including disciplinary processes more closely aligned with our overall goals); teaching, learning, and curriculum; advancing staff and faculty recruitment and retention; establishing regular all-school forums on issues of civil and human rights that will sustain and deepen community inquiry and discussion; and enhancing access to the Academy through financial aid. Over the next weeks and months we will develop an inclusive process to shape this work and will draw on the creativity, experience, and wisdom of our extended community.
As you know, we have been working to put in place plans to reopen school in the fall, and in designing those plans we consulted widely—drawing on the wisdom of other educators and experts in multiple fields and exploring a range of approaches. (Those plans may be found here.) This model has served us well, and we intend to advance the Strategic Plan for Inclusion—as one student leader recently challenged me to do— with the same creativity, urgency, and intention that have informed and shaped our important—and essential—preparations for September. Our continued work demands thoughtful deliberation and broad consultation—including deepening and extending conversations within our community of students, parents, faculty and staff, trustees, and alumni—on issues of equality, justice, and equity.
I am committed to creating a culture at Deerfield where every student’s individuality and dignity is honored and celebrated, and where every student feels a powerful sense of belonging and agency. I will continue to encourage all members of our community to voice their concerns and perspectives, and I will listen and hear you. Thank you.
John P.N. Austin
To The Deerfield Community from Dr. Austin
Dear Deerfield Community,
I write to you as tens of thousands of people across the country take to the streets to honor the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, express outrage at their killing and, not for the first time in our history, demand change. We have been here before; their deaths reflect a long history of violence directed at Black Americans that reaches back many hundreds of years and that continues to find expression today. The pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans has compounded existing disparities of opportunity, reinforced longstanding patterns of racial inequality, and attacked—ferociously and disproportionally—communities of color.
To our students, families, and alumni of color: We stand with you against hatred, police violence, and racism in all its forms. We stand in solidarity with those across our cities and towns who speak for human dignity, civil rights, and peaceful protest. The brutal death of George Floyd—and the unspeakably disturbing video of his final moments—have left many of our students fearful of the very authorities responsible for their physical safety and security, despairing of their future, and, justifiably, in search of answers—and a better way.
On March 31, 1968 in the National Cathedral, at a moment of national crisis that is eerily similar to the one we now face, Dr. Martin Luther King, in one of his final sermons before his assassination, offered his theory of history: “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Dr. King said, drawing on the words of the 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker, “but it bends toward justice.”
In light of the past weeks, Dr. King’s words may seem unrealistically hopeful, perhaps even naïve. Dr. King was neither. He had deep knowledge of our country’s terrible history of racial violence, and he understood how injustice, unequal opportunity, and systemic disadvantage echo through time and persist into the present. Against these, he brought disciplined non-violence, strengthening our civic culture even as he fought for legislative and political reform. Repeatedly threatened and attacked, he understood the fear and insecurity that came with being Black in America, and he frankly admitted that his belief in a universe bending toward justice was a matter of faith—not a question of fact. But with that faith, Dr. King told his congregation that day, we can “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
A stone of hope. That is what I choose to share with you today. Even as we join the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—and the families of all of those lost to racial violence and pandemic—in mourning and a struggle to make sense of these last weeks, let us keep faith. As our culture descends into acrimony and cynicism, let us keep faith with one another. Let us dedicate ourselves to dialogue and conversation so that we may learn to listen and hear the call of those who have been abandoned to poverty and invisibility. If our political institutions fail us, let us not retreat or disengage: Let us commit to reform, renewal, and democratic transformation. Let us, as Dr. King did, keep faith in the unrealized promise of equal justice and dignity for all. Most of all, let us work harder together, and do better; over the next few days, members of my senior team and the Academy’s faculty will be reaching out to our current students and families—in solidarity and action—as we strive to realize what Deerfield, at its best, stands for: an education that honors and loves each student with a full and open heart, and, through the lives of its graduates, seeks to redeem the world from injustice and hatred.
Faithfully, and with my best wishes for your health and safety,
Dr. Austin to Students: Supporting Those Who Feel Vulnerable (is a Worthy Goal)
Good Evening. I wrote to you last Tuesday about the graffiti that appeared on the window of a Hess classroom, and this evening I want to offer an update. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to determine who was responsible for those words or when they were written. We don’t know if it was a member of our community or if it was one of our many visitors last weekend from outside of our campus. In the absence of the author coming forward and courageously taking responsibility for their words, I doubt that we will ever know who wrote them.
I say again what I have already said, and what I know each of you already knows: There is no place here for speech and actions that denigrate or demean members of our community. Put simply: anyone—student or adult—who targets members of the community with slurs or mistreats them out of bigotry or prejudice risks their place at the Academy, and we will handle such actions with all of the seriousness and deliberateness they require. These acts run counter to our mission and to our deepest values—to everything we hope to be as a community and as a school. They wound peers who feel assaulted, fearful, and unwelcome; they evoke long and sad histories of intolerance that persist into the present; they cast a pall of suspicion and mistrust over our everyday interactions with one another.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good. We can counter expressions of intolerance with acts of caring, generosity, and kindness—that is the spirit of this school at its best. That spirit is alive in each of us. It is what I have come most to admire and cherish about you. As importantly, we can counter ignorance with learning. We don’t need to wait for an incident of this nature to do so. Through our study of literature and art, we can examine those who celebrate and defend human dignity, as Professor Lewis did in her beautiful and powerful Martin Luther King Day lecture. We can draw on the resources of mathematics and social science to study inequality and injustice. We can read philosophy and study the world’s religions and faiths as sources of wisdom and ethical courage. We can explore the history of social movements for human and civil rights, reform, justice, and freedom, and explore the complex process of historical change, progress, and stasis. These aims are not sometime subjects; they form the very core and essence of an education in the liberal arts—a topic not just for now but for future study as well.
That, fundamentally, is the project of the universities and colleges each of you will soon attend. As the historian and former university President Drew Gilpin Faust wrote: “We must demonstrate what it means to be a community enriched, not embattled by, difference and diversity; we must listen carefully to one another across disagreement; we must model reasoned and respectful discourse and argument; we must all support those who feel vulnerable or under attack.” Supporting those who feel vulnerable. That is a worthy goal. In following those who do, each of has an opportunity to lead.
Nothing is more important to me than how we treat one another—the thousands of interactions each day, each moment, that define us. The process of building a community that is loving and embracing of all—in which each of us is fully visible and celebrated—is never complete. It’s ongoing. It is, as the novelist James Baldwin said, something to be achieved. Many of you have shared your good thoughts and ideas with one another and the adults in our community. We will follow up and continue. In the meantime, let’s finish the next two weeks with strength and be true to this school at its best.
Reflections on the New Year from Dr. Austin: What Will You Do With That Knowledge?
School Meeting, January 8, 2020
Good morning Deerfield! It’s great for us to be together again. This morning, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the past months—and my hopes for the new year. One of the things I love about schools is that they are rich in beginnings: the opening of school in September; this, the new year—2020!—after we return from winter break; spring term, and Commencement, which marks the first chapter of the exciting journey our seniors will soon be taking.
The new year offers each of us—and all of us together—the opportunity to reflect and think anew; to reaffirm values and hopes; to set new goals for growth and to rededicate ourselves to longstanding ones. Not for nothing is the new year celebrated as a moment of resolution and renewal.
Over the past weeks, my media feed—like yours, I suspect—has been abuzz with news—much of it deeply unsettling. We have seen yet more shootings in churches and places of worship; ugly incidents of antisemitism and religiously and ideologically motivated hate crimes here in the US and across the world; rising conflict between Shia and Sunni; in size and intensity, historically unprecedented wildfires in Australia—perhaps more evidence of the declining state of our climate, the most important shared resource we possess.
I don’t like dwelling on bad news, since it risks reinforcing our media’s unfortunate, if highly profitable, bias for catastrophe. Thankfully, the news is not all bad, especially if you read—as I sometimes do—with a bias for optimism. Even as the world is beset by challenge and conflict, there are voices of resolution, reason, hope, and renewal. Here are a few:
Science magazine announced its “breakthroughs” of the year. If 2019 is any indication, the coming year stands to be one of continued discovery and progress; something that we, as students and aspiring scholars and scientists, should recognize and celebrate. Last year scientists saw further into the universe than ever before, capturing the first-ever image of a black hole. I’m not sure how you capture the image of an absence, but that’s what a team of radio astronomers in the Netherlands did. And our students from the Lone Star State will be glad to know that we have a new Texas Hold’em champion: an Artificial Intelligence program from Carnegie Mellon University that taught itself this multi-player version of poker by playing over one trillion hands against itself.
Last year, researchers and doctors developed successful treatments for Ebola, cystic fibrosis, and severe malnourishment. These are extraordinary advances in medical science that will likely save tens of thousands of lives. The human rights columnist for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, argued, (not without comment or disagreement, let it be noted) that the past year was “in the long arc of human history the best year ever.” “The bad things that you fret about are true,” he wrote. “But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate, and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.”
In his annual New Year message, Pope Francis spoke against violence directed at women and celebrated the heroism of mothers and parents who risk perilous journeys from poverty and conflict to escape persecution and provide their children a better future. He celebrated the feelings of empathy and care that bind us together; the only antidote—he argued, to what he called the “globalization of indifference”—even as he reflected on his own human failings and imperfection.
New—and older—voices have been heard, from athlete Megan Rapinoe to novelists such as Colson Whitehead and Margaret Atwood. Each have challenged us to think with greater nuance and complexity about gender and racial identity, history, and human rights. Reflecting on the fire that nearly destroyed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Greta Thunberg—that young woman of remarkable determination—asked the European Parliament “to act as if your house is on fire.” You may well disagree with her proposals to address climate change, but who can’t admire her call for what she has termed “cathedral thinking?” The idea that we should lift our eyes, enlarge our perspective, and think with ambition about the great issues facing the world. Sanna Marin—sworn in as the Prime Minister of Finland at age 35—thus becoming the world’s youngest national leader, was elected on the simplest of platforms: human dignity and opportunity for all.
In his annual report on the United States judiciary, the Chief Justice of the United States spoke of the “humility and integrity” required of judges, and of all public servants who wield great power. He wrote of the importance of civic literacy and education as a foundation for national renewal, and he generously celebrated the service of “teacher-judges” Sonia Sotomayor and Merrick Garland—colleagues with whom the Chief Justice often disagrees on points of constitutional interpretation.
On the occasion of the United Nations upcoming 75th anniversary, and looking to the next decade, Secretary General António Guterres took the opportunity of his New Year’s address to remind the world of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. I hope you will study these and heed the Secretary General’s call: “The world needs young people,” he wrote. “Keep thinking big.”
Yesterday I received an update from our friend, colleague, and teacher, Mr. Flaska, who helped organize and lead our boys’ hockey trip to Czechoslovakia and Slovakia and who is presently on sabbatical. He described to me their extraordinary visit to Auschwitz where, in his words, they “came face to face with an unthinkable human act.” At the end of that update, he quoted one of his own great teachers and mentors. “Now that you know,” this teacher asked after a similar visit, “what will you do with that knowledge?” It is a question for all of us. It speaks to the ultimate purpose of our time together here at Deerfield: connecting what we learn here to the kinds of lives we live as citizens now and in the future. It reminds us that with the gift of an education such as this one—and the future opportunities it affords—we have a responsibility to leverage for goodness. What will you do with what you know?
So, now—beginning today—I hope we can rededicate ourselves to teaching, learning, and exploration; to deep and sustained intellectual engagement; to living well together as a community and to celebrating our differences, united by our common values—especially caring for others. I hope that we can work together to think about what we can do to imbue each day, each class, and each of our interactions with one another with kindness, vibrancy, and joy.
Most of all, I hope that we can build on the spirit, energy, and creativity that have characterized the first half of the school year, and move through the winter term inspired by one another and the accomplishments of the past months. If there are setbacks, so be it. Let’s confront those with resilience, grace, and grit—and with the support of friends and adults.
The future is always uncertain, unknowable. But of one thing I am absolutely certain: It is a great moment to be a student and 2020 will be a great year of learning. Because of you. Thank you for all that you do to actively create the spirit and ethos of this school.
2019 Fall Family Weekend Remarks by Dr. John P.N. Austin
Good morning. I am delighted to have this opportunity to welcome you to campus for our Fall Family Weekend.
I want to start by thanking you for entrusting your children to us and for allowing us to play such a meaningful role in their education and development. Deerfield is enriched every day by the voices, perspectives, and experiences that each of your children brings to this school. Their contributions to our campus community are what make Deerfield so dynamic and diverse.
I also want to thank you for the many ways you make the Deerfield Experience possible. Your time, input, concern, volunteer efforts, and support are evident throughout campus and enable us to carry out our mission.
I have approached these opening weeks as one of Deerfield’s newest students. For me, these have been weeks of learning and conversation: spending time with our students as they study, play, and come together during our school meetings and family style meals; meeting with faculty and staff; discovering the unique strengths of the Deerfield community. There is a strength of culture; a spirit and affection among the students, and a tradition of teaching and mentoring here that is unique in the American educational landscape.
I am happy to report that the school year is off to a wonderful start. We began the year with 655 students from 49 countries, and they have brought incredible energy, purpose, and joy to these first weeks. We have seen the opening of the D.S. Center for Health and Wellness. We have had four extraordinary all-school events: a presentation by Dr. Riche Barnes of Yale University, reflecting on our all-school read, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing; a surprise visit from His Majesty King Abdullah II, who graduated from Deerfield in 1980—His Majesty offered a high-level briefing on the geo-politics of the Middle East, and he took questions from students; a powerful reading from National Book Award-winning novelist Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, from his new book, reflecting on war and fatherhood and memory; and the presentation of the Heritage Award to Roberto Powers, Class of 1971, for his distinguished service and citizenship as a US diplomat and foreign service officer.
There is a lot more on both the near and distant horizon. Students may already be thinking about participating in a trip over the March vacation. These trips, and other experiential learning opportunities, are coordinated through our Center for Service and Global Citizenship. Listening to Mrs. Brown’s presentation on Wednesday about our diverse travel opportunities, I’ll admit that I was a bit envious, thinking what a fantastic thing it is to be a Deerfield student. There are domestic and international trips being planned—everything from an exploration of activism and leadership through the lens of the civil rights movement, which includes a trip to the American South, and international travel to Jordan, Tanzania, Costa Rica, France, and England, among other countries.
Closer to home and coming up soon is the fall production of Antigone, which begins its run on October 29 in Deerfield’s Black Box Theater. And Choate Day is on November 9. Students keep telling me to get ready, because the school spirit will shake the rafters. From what I’ve seen already, I believe them, and I’m excited to celebrate our nearly 100-year-old rivalry with Choate and cheer on our teams. I know some of you plan to trek back to Deerfield that day, which is great. For parents and alumni who won’t be here but would like to stay close to the action, we are livestreaming all five of our varsity contests.
When I started in the fall, my first letter was to the Class of 2020, knowing that we would have one year together. I wanted them to enjoy and savor their final year here and also remind them of their roles and responsibilities as leaders among the student body. They have shown a lot of character already, set fine examples, and have been kind and gracious to those younger students who look up to them.
In addition to time spent with faculty and students, I have greatly enjoyed meeting members of our alumni body—some recent, some as far back as the Class of 1943—and listening to their Deerfield stories. There is one thing I hear over and over, and it can be stated in a single sentence: Deerfield changed my life. And it did so with a force and intensity unequalled by the years of college and graduate school that followed. Deerfield was, for these graduates, transformative.
One graduate told me that he learned more in a single year of Deerfield than he did in four years at one of this nation’s great universities. Another told me that four years of Deerfield was the equivalent of eight years of college. Reflecting on his experience at Deerfield and the challenges he has faced since he ascended to the throne in 1999, His Majesty shared his belief that leadership is best expressed through service, commitment to others, and kindness to all—all of which, he told us, he experienced here.
These stories have confirmed what I believe is an essential, irrefutable truth: namely, the irreducible power of a secondary education—not as a means to an end—but as itself precious, defining, transformative; a place where our students discover capacities that support and enrich them throughout their life—what my friend and predecessor Dr. Curtis called ‘worthy ways of being.’
Our Student Life Office does an incredible job in so many areas, and for the past few years they have established a Student Life Symposium that encourages and instills a community-wide theme throughout campus. Our first theme was ‘Gratitude,’ followed last year by ‘Mindfulness,’ and for 2019-2020 the theme is ‘Habits of Humility.’ I want to quote from Amie Creagh, our Assistant Head of School for Student Life:
‘When we pause and are mindful of ourselves and our surroundings, we can appreciate and be grateful for the good fortune that has brought us together. A focus on the Habits of Humility encourages us to be aware of the important role we all play in the creation of this healthy, happy, school community. It is not created by one person alone; it is more than one act alone. Rather, Deerfield is the accumulation of all of us and the small decisions we make each day.’
All of us here on campus—faculty, staff, students—are encouraged to weave this theme into our classrooms, work, and lives.
One of the challenges—and strengths—of a place like Deerfield, and this certainly applies to our incredible teachers, is that we must be focused and intentional about the day-to-day needs of the students while simultaneously looking ahead. Our faculty members do this very well because they teach, mentor, coach, and, in most cases, live alongside students, which gives them invaluable insight, allowing them to adjust classroom instruction on the fly or find ways to encourage and inspire each student depending on that student’s individual needs. This is among the great advantages of a close-knit residential community like Deerfield, where we encounter one another in many ways throughout a given day.
At its best, a Deerfield education creates the conditions where young people discover their best selves—selves of deep character and strength that stand the test of time and experience—not simply the challenges of college, as our graduates can attest, but the challenges of adulthood as they embark on careers; seek to align their own interests and passions with meaningful work in the world; create their own families; and seek to live a life of purpose and integrity.
This approach to education takes the long view: it sees high school as the defining, formative moment in a young person’s journey towards a fulfilling, interesting, joyful, and meaningful life. That, ultimately, is what Deerfield Headmaster Frank Boyden meant when he said: ‘The test of worth of any school is . . . the record of service of her alumni.’
His words, more relevant today than they were 50 years ago, reflect broader shifts in the educational landscape: from mere ‘achievement’ to the pursuit of enduring forms of excellence; from strategic, transactional learning to deep learning driven by wonder and curiosity; from the short-term goal of meritocratic advancement to a broader inquiry into the contours of a life well-lived.
Deerfield has always placed character, values, and life-long learning first—even as the broader culture has narrowed its vision of what a great school can do.
Not long after my first conversation with the Deerfield’s President of the Board of Trustees, Brian Simmons, in the summer of 2018, he shared with me Deerfield’s six core values. You may be familiar with these, but let me read them to you:
- Citizenship in a spirit of humility, empathy, and responsibility;
- Face-to-face interactions characterized by joy and generosity of spirit;
- Connectedness to our unique setting and the contemporary world;
- Reflection and balance, promoting intellectual vitality and self-understanding;
- Pursuit of mastery built on a foundation of breadth and versatility; and,
- Shared experiences, large and small, as sources of relationships, identity, and community.
This brief list provides a fortifying, aspirational language for learning, teaching, and education for the 21st century that is distinctly Deerfield: mastery, citizenship, joy, empathy, generosity, community, connectedness—and perhaps my favorite—intellectual vitality. These values offer us a powerful framework for conversation, and ways for you to think about the meetings you will have with faculty this weekend—as well as the longer-term hopes and aspirations we all have for our children.
It is not a surprise that three of our core values speak to a powerful and defining human dimension of education—its essential relational character: ‘connectedness,’ the ‘shared experience’ of community, and ‘face-to-face interactions’ in the spirit of generosity and kindness.
Deerfield practices ‘connectedness’ with intentionality throughout our program, and this suggests a number of questions that we—and you, as parents—might ask when meeting with faculty. No need to write these questions down or memorize them, but perhaps let them inform and guide your discussions.
- Are my children developing open, trusting, positive, and supportive relationships with their teachers, advisors, coaches and dorm parents?
- Are they comfortable working and collaborating with other students and working in teams?
- Are their interactions with adults and peers positive, supportive, and kind?
- Do they recognize and express kindness and gratitude to staff, to teachers, to you—their parents?
- Are they taking advantage of the tremendous diversity of the Academy and extending themselves outward, beyond their core group, to include others?
- Are they resisting the allure of exclusionary peer groups?
- Are they seeking out new opportunities for engagement?
- Are they taking advantage of the many opportunities the Academy offers, and have they made a positive commitment to making the community stronger and more vibrant?
We know that the kind of learning that matters most unfolds slowly over time, certainly more slowly than we, as parents, would sometimes like, sometimes unpredictably, and rarely in a linear way. Much recent research suggests that it is ‘mindsets’—habits and aptitudes that endure after we have forgotten much of what we learn in school—that matter most. That is why we speak of the values of ‘mastery’ and ‘reflection’ as guiding values. These too suggest important questions:
- Does my child see learning as a process that happens through practice, revision, and trial and error?
- Do they embrace discomfort, difficulty, and setback as a source of learning?
- Can I see evidence of a growth-mindset—the belief that effort, practice, and hard work, rather than innate intelligence, is the key to performance and success?
- Do our children take joy in learning and pursue it for its own sake?
- Are they developing what our Academic Dean Ivory Hills has beautifully described as a ‘practitioner’s mindset?’ Are they learning to think in a disciplined, present way—as a scientist, a historian, an artist, and a scholar (a very different thing than when you simply learn subject area content)?
- Is my child developing a robust sense of self-confidence, habits of self-management, and appropriate levels of independence and self-direction?
- Are they practicing healthy habits of self-care in the areas of nutrition, sleep, and exercise?
- How are they balancing fun, friendship, and study?
- Is my child managing their screen-time—or is it managing them?
- Are they developing that most Socratic capacity: knowledge of self? Do they express an understanding of their strengths and interests?
- Can they assess their own performance and set goals for future improvement?
- Is my child developing the capacity to be moved? By their connections to friends and peers? By reasoned argument? By the poetic power of language? Are they receptive to beauty and open to wonder?
A ninth-grade student recently told me that they had been reading Walt Whitman’s ‘When I Heard the Learned Astronomer’ in English class—a poem I discovered as a student in high school and often teach. This short poem has a voice worth heeding—with its skepticism of easy measurement and the way the speaker embraces wonder, mystery, and first-hand experience as ultimate sources of learning. Here it is:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
As we think about the educational journey of our children, let us, like Whitman, enlarge our perspective on what it means to be educated, let us have patience, and let us remember that the most enduring qualities of mind and character we hope to impart to them take time. Most of all, let us have faith—absolute and uncompromising faith—in the promise of our children and in Deerfield to help realize and foster that promise.
I wish you a great weekend with your children.
Convocation and Induction 2019: Head of School John P.N. Austin’s Remarks
We gather today to mark the beginning of a new school year, to honor all of those who have come before us and made the opportunity of this school possible, and to celebrate the promise of Deerfield.
As it is the beginning of school, I thought I would begin my remarks by taking us to the Boyden Library. I’ve spent some early mornings there recently, preparing for the school year, and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite spots. I sit in the reading room to the side at a small table, under the watchful portrait of Mrs. Boyden.
As many of you know, Mrs. Boyden was one of Deerfield’s most admired and longest serving members of the faculty, having perhaps the longest tenure of any teacher in independent school history—an extraordinary 63 years.
Each morning I walk by her portrait, and each time, Mrs. Boyden’s eyes—direct and expectant—catch my own; as I move, so too do hers. And not simply her eyes. Her entire person and attitude seem, strangely, to shift and pivot as I pass. Wherever I step, her eyes follow. It’s both unnerving—’Be careful, young man,’ she seems to say—and reassuring.
That illusion of animation, that shift of her posture—the way she seems to turn toward me—captures something essential about Mrs. Boyden, something enduring about the art of teaching—the attitude of great teachers and what Deerfield teachers have always done.
‘A teacher never teaches,’ she once wrote.
Does that strike anyone here as odd?
‘A teacher never teaches.’
That can’t possibly be true.
We know from her students that Mrs. Boyden was not just a great teacher, but a transformative one. And what, after all, is a teacher supposed to do—except teach?
But let me complete her thought. ‘A teacher never teaches,’ Mrs. Boyden writes, ‘All she can do is direct you so that you might learn.’
This is most striking, most wise—and worth considering.
Some history: Mrs. Boyden began her career in the early years of a new century, at a moment when the world was changing—in ways that are not unlike today. Across the globe, great migrations were underway—from farms to cities, from the east to the west, and to the shores of this country. The economy lurched amidst technological transformation and disruption. Stirrings of a broader civil rights movement were underway as immigrants, women, and African-Americans stood up, demanding to be heard—testing our democratic institutions. The population swelled, particularly the population of young people, and new schools—larger in scale, impersonal in character—emerged to accommodate these changes. These new schools prized efficiency, and in form resembled the industrial structures they were intended to serve. Teaching, in these schools, was largely didactic, rote, and authoritarian.
At the same time, a new vanguard of educators and scholars like William James, John Dewey, and W.E.B. Du Bois emerged to challenge this pinched, narrow view of education, insisting that learning is a quest for self-discovery and mastery—and that schooling should be directed to the full flourishing of human potential, freedom, and autonomy.
Enter Mrs. Boyden, who, even though she may not have read these scholars herself, somehow seems to have breathed in—and given life to—the spirit of their ideas.
To her, education was not a commodity or a transaction—nor was it meant to be a servant of the new industrial order. It was a gift: something offered by a teacher and graciously accepted—and returned in kind—by the student. She envisioned teaching as a dynamic, creative relationship between teacher and learner—an inspired collaboration.
There is, however—for you, our students—a catch: no matter how skilled and committed your teacher may be, there is no guarantee that you will learn. That is the arresting paradox at the core of Mrs. Boyden’s philosophy. A teacher, remember, never teaches; a teacher directs.
Mrs. Boyden says to her students—as we say to you each year: The responsibility to learn is yours. You make your education. You give it shape and animating force. And in the end, the performance is entirely your own. Learning is nothing if not participatory. This explains the expectation I see in Mrs. Boyden’s eyes. It is the expectation that we will be attentive, alert, engaged, active, and creative in pursuit of learning.
This view of education is demanding, challenging, yes, but also empowering; it honors—it absolutely requires—your individuality, your voice, your energy, and your imagination.
That was the progressive, empowering turn in Mrs. Boyden’s philosophy. In this way, she was a pioneer, an innovator—even, in her day, a radical. This was Mrs. Boyden’s great contribution to Deerfield, to us, her fellow teachers, and, to you, our students.
In contrast, it is well known—even notorious—that Mr. Boyden had little interest in classroom instruction. Here is how the great writer and Deerfield graduate John McPhee describes Mr. Boyden’s 1902 science class in the exacting discipline of physical geography: “He used to take a rock into class with him, set it on his desk, and tell his students to write everything they could about the rock.”
I could be wrong, but I suspect that this is no longer a recommended instructional practice at the Academy.
Mr. Boyden seems the very opposite of his wife, yet he was no less radical, and what he did in his own sphere—our school meetings and sit-down meals, the many shared experiences that fuel Deerfield’s unique and powerful spirit—was marked by genius, and it was every bit as innovative as Mrs. Boyden.
His view of learning was founded on the primacy and importance of human relationships. To him, learning was experiential. It happens across the full range of school settings and, most importantly, by our immersion within community—a community where we have defining obligations to one another, where friendships are deep and enduring and full of joy. To Mr. Boyden, learning derives from what we do together—and by what we do with and for others.
That is why Mr. Boyden embraced the village and town of Deerfield as an essential part of the Academy. That is why he welcomed to Deerfield students who were shunned at other schools—often for reasons of religion and ethnicity. That’s why he pioneered affordability long before it was a common practice, famously asking families to simply ‘pay what you can.’ He understood, intuitively, the power of a diverse student body to deepen learning, and he anticipated the intellectual and social benefits of an inclusive community, albeit in a way that was necessarily circumscribed by the time in which he lived.
The importance of connection and community is manifest everywhere in the Deerfield of today. Steadily and with intention, those who succeeded the Boydens took inspiration from their spirit of innovation, deepening existing commitments and building outward from them to pioneer new initiatives. These leaders—leaders like Mr. Kaufmann and Dr. Widmer, who are here with us today, and my friend and predecessor Dr. Curtis—pushed Deerfield to embrace coeducation; they championed the arts, global experience and learning, and more purposeful forms of civic engagement and service. Together they secured the resources necessary to extend and expand the financial access that Mr. Boyden pioneered and prized. These are extraordinary accomplishments—ones that will echo into the future and touch generations to come.
The Boydens understood the kind of school that was needed for their times; we must discover anew, together, the kind of Deerfield that is needed for ours.
We live during a particularly challenging moment for schools, one marked by a hostility to long-standing educational values, a skepticism about the worth of the intellectual life, and a mounting distrust of institutions of learning. It is all too common to hear science, scholarship, and expertise dismissed. Our public discourse is sometimes marked by an intolerance for complexity, the expression of uncertainty or nuance. Each of these trends is deepened by the balkanization of our civic life, economic stratification, xenophobia, and a corrosive suspicion of others. All too often, invective substitutes for dialogue, drowning critical reflection, collaboration, and compromise—in my view, the only resources we possess for solving the urgent problems facing us.
What is one school to do in the face of such challenges? How are we to meet them?
We meet them by remembering the powerful relationship between learning and citizenship. As an expression of a young country’s most noble civic ideals, Deerfield was founded in 1797 on the idea—again, entirely new for its day—that there is a powerful relationship between what students do in school and how they express citizenship and service in the future. We must stay true to that great experiment.
We meet these challenges through our continued commitment to access and affordability—ensuring that we are ready to enroll students from across this valley, this nation, and the world—now and in the future, knowing that our greatest educational resource is a dynamic, diverse, creative student body.
We meet these challenges by insisting on the unique and irreducible power of secondary education—not as a means to an end and not as mere preparation—but in itself precious and defining—and by recognizing that the years of high school are, at their best, years of wonder and formation, where the contours of character and judgement are indelibly defined and where the sustaining habits of curiosity, creativity, and joyful exploration come to life.
We meet these challenges as Deerfield has always met—by empowering our students to discover their best selves, to lead, and to actively shape a school culture that is kind and inclusive—one that stands as an inspiring rebuke to the small-mindedness and pettiness that sometimes characterize our public life.
We affirm the scholarly virtues of thoughtfulness—by asking questions, by thinking well and carefully, by listening actively and deeply, by reading—critically, appreciatively, attentively—by opening ourselves up to new and divergent points of view.
To meet the challenges and opportunities of a future we cannot predict or fully anticipate, we must seek to renew and invigorate the liberal arts as a lasting source of wisdom. We must seek to open a dialogue with the world; engage deeply with those mission-minded colleges and organizations that share our educational aspirations; and test our own ambitions against the experience of our alumni and those who understand the challenges that await our students so that our graduates are ready and fully prepared for the future. We must have the courage and the openness to recognize that there is always more to learn—even for a school as remarkable, distinctive, and strong as Deerfield.
In her portrait, Mrs. Boyden stands in front of John Williams house, a deep blue plaid overcoat draped across her shoulders. She is framed by two flowers. They are in bloom; perhaps it is spring. She holds in her clasped hands—the very center of the portrait—what appear to be some student papers and a class roster. I imagine that she is on her way to class, as we are, in a certain way, today.
I have been fortunate to have had many Mrs. Boydens in my life. In those generous and expectant eyes, I see a bit of my own mother, my first and most formidable teacher, a lot of my wife, Ms. Matouk, and something of all of the teachers who have made a difference to me, some of whom are here today—Mr. Stegeman, Mr. Speers, Mr. and Mrs. Roach.
Mr. Taylor, Ms. Lapachinski, Kareena, Irvin—thank you for your warm welcome. Tad—thank you for your kind words, but most of all for your example and friendship, and thanks to my entire St. Andrew’s family for being here. Mrs. O’Brien—thank you, those many years ago, for taking a chance on a very unprepared, semi-literate 13- year-old. Thank you to my family for their love and support.
I thank and I recognize all of the educators, from the valley and beyond, for joining us today in this celebration of the Academy and for your work with children and your service to our schools and colleges.
Thank you, Brian, for that generous introduction. Along with Brian, I want to thank the search committee, and the entire Board of Trustees for the trust, responsibility, and confidence that you have placed in me. Your dedication to this school and your tireless service inspire me—and all of us.
The values of Deerfield—its expansive vision of what a school can be—are not only essential and necessary—they are enduring. Let us preserve, extend, and deepen those values; let us seek renewal in the spirit of those who have come before; and let us do this together, and with strength of purpose, so that we may be worthy of this remarkable school.
I wish all of us a great year of learning. Thank you.
Convocation and Induction 2019: Associate Director of Athletics Jess Lapachinski’s Remarks
Good afternoon. I am Jess Lapachinski, Associate Director of Athletics. I have the honor of speaking on behalf of Deerfield staff members today.
Dr. Austin, we are thrilled to welcome you and your family to Deerfield Academy.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of buzz surrounding your arrival and first few days here: ‘Have you seen him?’ ‘Has anyone spoken to him?’ ‘What’s he like?’ These were a few of the questions swirling about.
Since you arrived on campus, you have been—by all accounts—gracious, open, and clearly eager to get to know members of this community you now call home.
In a recent conversation, you shared the following thought with me: ‘Teaching is a powerful expression of service.’ That resonated, because throughout campus we are surrounded by teaching moments. In the classroom, on the playing fields, among colleagues in everyday activities. Teaching, learning, and serving others is more than what we do here at Deerfield—it’s who we are. It’s what makes the Deerfield Experience so powerful and meaningful.
Deerfield has a long tradition of service and appreciation for others. This tradition is deeply rooted in who we are as a community and how we show up for one another. Deerfield employees take pride in the work we do, often logging many unseen hours to prepare the Academy for daily life. Our community is brimming with passionate, considerate, service-minded people—this, I think you will find, is among our greatest collective resources.
As you continue to get to know Deerfield, we encourage you to celebrate and participate in the Academy’s many traditions. For now, we are delighted that you are here. We wish you the best of luck settling in. And we look forward to serving the community alongside you in the months ahead.
Convocation and Induction 2019: President of the Board of Trustees Brian Simmons’ Remarks
Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Brian Simmons, President of the Board of Trustees. It’s an honor for me to speak to you on such an auspicious occasion. All of us on the Board share the joy and excitement so evident on campus as we gather to participate in this very special ceremony.
The Deerfield community is united and strengthened by traditions: School Meeting, Choate Day, Senior Cry, hikes to the Rock, singing the Evensong, and many others—some official and some less official. All are important.
However, our gathering here today represents one of our most meaningful traditions. This Induction ceremony gives us the opportunity to reflect on Deerfield’s past and look ahead, with anticipation and optimism, as we welcome Dr. John Austin as our new head of school.
Between 1797 and Mr. Boyden’s arrival on campus in 1902, Deerfield had fifty heads of school. Since 1902 we have had only five. Think about that for a minute. Think about all that has happened under the leadership of just those five heads of school.
OK, for extra credit, do you know who was President of the United States in 1902? Back then, this town was a quiet farming community. Deerfield Academy had fourteen students total—both boys and girls. Main Street was unpaved and tracked with ruts from wagons and carriages. There were people living here who had been born when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were still alive. The Academy was one building and almost all we know and love about Deerfield—our incredible faculty and program, magnificent facilities, and culture of personal relationships, sense of place, and achievement—did not exist.
By the time Dr. Curtis was introduced thirteen years ago, Deerfield had changed quite a bit. Campus buildings had filled much of the 1902 farmland, there were more than 500 students—boys and girls—and Deerfield was well on its way to becoming the school we know today. But there was no Hess Center or Athletics Complex. Many of the people and programs that now define Deerfield were still to come. Thirteen years ago, just like in 1902, just like today, Deerfield was looking to the future, making plans, and striving to be the best it could be.
Each of Deerfield’s leaders has shaped this place, sometimes through their day to day guidance, and the example they set for us as they went about their work, and sometimes through strategies and decisions with impact far beyond their length of service to Deerfield. Mr. Boyden, and each head who followed him, set the stage for how Deerfield would evolve far into the future. Imagine what a different place Deerfield would be without even one of the important initiatives undertaken since 1902: growth of the student body, faculty and program development, facilities planning, international outreach, coeducation!
Each of these initiatives has been critical to making Deerfield the incredible place it is today. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without an effective, farsighted head of school working in partnership with faculty, trustees, parents, students, and alums.
But also imagine Deerfield without enduring traditions sustained over the years: traditions like sit-down meals, cookies and cocoa, dorm feeds, and even senior pranks—although I suspect some here might not mind a prank-free spring.
The important lesson is that, throughout our history, leadership has mattered tremendously. Each new head of school inherits the decisions, accomplishments, and traditions of those who came before them. Each new head of school is granted an opportunity to assess where we are, to recommend how we should go forward, and to lead the way.
Today is also an opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves how we will contribute to the ongoing pursuit of excellence under new leadership. Every one of us can help our new head of school succeed—and it’s our obligation to be an active part of this transition. Introduce yourself to Dr. Austin if you have not already met him. Invite Dr. Austin to your dorms, games, performances, and classrooms. Make him an indelible part of the Deerfield fabric as quickly as possible. Help him to bleed green! He needs our support, insights, perspective—and our patience—as he sets about making his mark on Deerfield’s future.
By now, Dr. Austin’s resume is well known. He served as head of school at King’s Academy for nine years. Before that he spent nineteen years at St. Andrew’s School, where he taught English, global studies, history, and American studies. (I bet Dr. Austin knew that Teddy Roosevelt was President in 1902.) At St. Andrew’s, he was a class advisor, he coached soccer, basketball, and tennis, chaired the English Department, was dean of students and academic dean—I assume not all at the same time.
Several of Dr. Austin’s St. Andrew’s colleagues are here today, including Head of School Tad Roach, and we extend a warm Deerfield welcome to them.
Dr. Austin has excelled as a teacher, coach, advisor, administrator, and head of school. He has a global, multi-cultural view, built upon his and his family’s American and international background and experience.
Dr. Austin brings to our campus his experience, wisdom, commitment to education, dedication to boarding school life, and keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing schools like Deerfield.
In Dr. Austin you will find an energetic, empathetic leader who places students first and celebrates Deerfield’s culture, values, heritage, and all that this school represents.
Dr. Austin is joined at Deerfield by his wife, Monica Matouk. Monica has her own impressive resume and experience. I expect it won’t be long before she is involved in a variety of significant ways. Monica and John have three children, Isabel, Maia, and Alexander. We are excited to have all of you as part of the Deerfield family.
Dr. Austin, with the power vested in me by the Board of Trustees, and with the support and trust of this community, I do hereby, formally induct you as the 56th Head of School of Deerfield Academy—congratulations—welcome to Deerfield!
Convocation and Induction 2019: St. Andrew’s Head of School Daniel T. Roach’s Remarks
It is a pleasure for me to be here at Deerfield to honor the proud tradition and exciting future of the Academy and to join you in your celebration of the appointment of Dr. John Austin as your new head of school.
I have known John for over 40 years now; I consider him a trusted, thoughtful, and generous friend and the most intelligent, discerning, and inspiring head of school in our profession.
I taught, coached, and mentored John many years ago in high school, and then I benefited for years from his wisdom and teaching expertise during his career as a leader at my school.
Over the past nine years, I proudly witnessed his leadership at the most important and audacious boarding school in the world: King’s Academy in Jordan.
It is therefore easy for me to say with complete confidence that Deerfield has chosen the best head of school imaginable for this eminent position in secondary education.
Your new head of school is a brilliant teacher, a nationally and internationally respected writer about the art of teaching and the responsibilities of 21st-century education. He is thoughtful, judicious, and courageous: He is a person who lives by the values, habits of mind and heart he, his family, and his schools stand for.
At a time when heads of schools seem to be more and more corporate, more and more removed from the dynamics of boarding school life, more and more disconnected from the art of teaching and learning, John Austin embodies a refreshing sense of humility, a deep commitment to the lives of his fellow teachers, staff members, and students. He appreciates and embodies the life of the mind, the exciting and passionate pursuit of scholarship, learning, and research, but he also understands that character, a commitment to honor and integrity, and an exploration of emerging models of human dignity are the most important educational priorities of all.
He has a remarkable ability to connect with students, inspire students, and challenge students to reach their full academic and leadership potential precisely because he has never forgotten the miracle of youth: friendships formed in high school and college, the thrill of competition of team sports, the love of surfing and skateboarding that once dominated his life, and his own earliest moments of intellectual awakening and engagement.
Tolstoy teaches us that children are ultimately the best judge of adult character and humanity. John possesses the rare gift of being just as comfortable, engaged, and happy to be playing games and talking to kids of all ages as he is in leading an educational colloquium. Young children and students trust him, listen to him, love him, for he has never forgotten what it is like to wander, explore, and discover the daily miracles of life.
Looking back over these 41 years of friendship, I see the grace and wisdom of John Austin emerging through a number of important relationships and commitments.
John’s wife, Monica Matouk, is an exceptional person in every way: She is the best teacher my school has ever had on its faculty, and she is a person of remarkable wisdom, grace, and humanity. She understands, connects with, and appreciates students (her former St. Andrew’s students seek her advice and follow her example throughout their lives) and she is perceptive in her study, cultivation, and appreciation of school culture.
Together, John and Monica have created an exciting leadership collaboration at St. Andrew’s and at King’s Academy, and they will bring their full energy, devotion, and kindness to this community. You are surely blessed to have them both.
John Austin has always possessed a fierce and unrelenting focus, energy, discipline, and concentration that has led him to the many accomplishments and experiences of his life. Yes, he was the best soccer player I ever coached, the forward who scored the most exciting and memorable goal in my school’s soccer history in 1981, but I also remember John getting up each morning at boarding school and shooting soccer balls hour after hour, day after day, year after year against the brick wall of an old gymnasium.
His incredible accomplishments as a scholar at St. Andrew’s, Williams, Bread Loaf, and Columbia emerged through an intellectual curiosity, commitment, and devotion that has never waned. I vividly remember John writing his dissertation every morning at St. Andrew’s from 4≠6am before he began a full day of teaching and coaching at my school.
When the tragedy of September 11, 2001 took place, John’s response to the ensuing national and international discussions on terrorism, war, and peace led to the creation of his Global Studies course, a class that remains as an exemplary model of undergraduate and secondary education in this era of increasing polarization, mistrust, and paralysis. John knew that the time had come for a course that could introduce students not only to complex and sophisticated global challenges; the course demanded an engagement and methodology that encouraged students to study arguments, perspectives, and ideologies that often clashed and collided with one another. Long before the intellectual and cultural battle lines in America formed, John Austin had created a course and a teaching methodology that honored reason, conversation, discussion, and a synthesis of viewpoints. The course overshadowed any undergraduate seminar and led a remarkable number of his former students towards teaching and leadership positions in public and private schools across the nation and world.
Because the head of school position in the 21st century requires such judgement, maturity, compassion, and integrity, it is important for you to know that no one makes decisions with more consideration, intention, and care than your new head of school; no one I know has a deeper commitment to fairness, to equity, to intelligence than John Austin demonstrates in his life and work.
During the last six years, my relationship with John reached full circle, as he served on the Board of Trustees of St. Andrew’s and worked so generously to support my educational vision at the school. His leadership experience at King’s Academy, his many years as a teacher, coach, advisor, assistant head at my school, his life as a parent of three exceptional children, his partnership with Monica Matouk, his knowledge of American and global education—all these experiences made him the best trustee partner I could ever have. John provided me with great counsel and wisdom and embodied the best virtues of trusteeship: sharing expertise, providing counsel, all the while making sure the head of school had the creative freedom to inspire the school.
21st-century heads of schools may at times be overwhelmed with conflicting pressures and demands, but in reality, we have only two challenges to pursue in our work:
- Our schools have to respond to the late Toni Morrison’s suggestion that the sole purpose of education should be to create and cultivate more humane citizens of the world.
- Our schools have to serve a distinct public purpose.
These imperatives awaken secondary schools to engagement with the most profound and urgent questions facing America and the world. These questions allow the American secondary school tradition to become new agents of change, transformation, and illumination in our country and world. Long after our own era of educational leadership has concluded, others will judge our schools by asking if we contributed to a new birth of freedom, equality, and responsibility or cowered in our splendid isolation.
John Austin, you see, is the best teacher and leader possible to lead you in these vital and essential discussions and responsibilities.
All of us will be sending our love, support, and encouragement to Dr. Austin and all of you at Deerfield Academy. Have a great year, and please take great care of my friends John and Monica and their beautiful family.
Convocation and Induction 2019: Remarks of Student Body Presidents Kareena Bhakta ’20 and Irvin Li ’20
Hi, everyone, and welcome back! My name is Kareena, and I’m Irvin, and we are your student body co-presidents!
Today is a special day as it marks a point of transition for Deerfield into not only a new school year but also as an institution. We have a new health center, renovated buildings, new school rules, and more. But, most notably, we have a new Head of School: Dr. John Austin. This transition can be best explained by Dr. Austin, who once said that schools like Deerfield, ‘understand that one of their greatest resources is their mission, their distinctive history, and rootedness in a particular place. The best schools are also agile, open to change, and attentive to future opportunities.’
As the year proceeds, we ask for returning students to be open toward these changes and remind ourselves that the spirit of Deerfield will always remain the same. As for new students, we hope that you are not entirely overwhelmed as the best parts are yet to come. Additionally, to bring back a sentiment that our previous Head of School, Dr. Curtis, often mentioned, be sure to look out for those on either side of you instead of focusing on only what is ahead. The idea of embracing change and looking out for each other both fall under this year’s theme of the Habits of Humility. In this spirit, Irvin and I would like to acknowledge the fact that our lives are enjoyable here because of dedicated support for each other, the tireless work from the faculty and staff, and will be, from this year on, because of the guiding vision of Dr. Austin.
Thank you, Kareena. Indeed, we are grateful for all that Deerfield has given us and all that is about to come. To the new students, let us assure you that you have now entered one of the most exciting times of your life. As for the returning students, we urge you to burst out of your cocoon of comfort and seize this new year to enhance both your life here and the ones around you.
Of course, we always have room to grow in terms of ensuring the well-being of every single member of this community, and we shall march towards that goal through big strategies and small details. Though there will be certain moments of difficulty along the way for most individuals here, thankfully, we now have the wisdom and experience of Dr. Austin, along with all the other esteemed faculty and staff to help you navigate through not only your years at Deerfield but also your personal lives that continue beyond the valley.
With over three decades of work in education, Dr. Austin embodies a true leader who seeks to sustain and exceed the worth of learning and leadership at this institution. At the same time, let us demonstrate our warm welcome through the concrete parts of our daily actions, by cherishing our privileged resources, addressing the underlying imperfections, embracing all unfamiliar novelties, and carrying this legacy onwards.
On behalf of the student body, Kareena and I would like to once again deliver both our congratulations and gratitude to Dr. Austin for becoming the new Head of School at Deerfield Academy and extend a welcome to all of our new students. We are blessed to have you join us on this journey. Thank you!
Convocation and Induction 2019: Dean of Faculty John Taylor’s Remarks
Members of the Board of Trustees, former and current heads of school, invited guests, faculty, staff, and students . . . It’s an honor for me to welcome you, Dr. Austin, as the 56th Head of School in Deerfield’s history. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to your wife, Monica Matouk, and your three children: Isabel, Alexander, and Maia. We at Deerfield pride ourselves in being a warm and friendly community, where we go out of our way to greet each other by name and offer to help one another. I hope that as you have opportunities to meet members of the Deerfield family, this place will soon begin to feel like home to all of you.
I know that you, Dr. Austin, have already familiarized yourself with one of my favorite places in the valley: Clarkdale Farms. You revealed to me that you have been eating about half a dozen peaches a day. At the Taylor household, the four of us love our Clarkdale peaches, but you’ve probably eaten more of them than my whole family combined this summer. As important as savoring our local food is to developing a sense of place in our beloved Pioneer Valley, what we witnessed at last night’s School Meeting convinced us that you are already bleeding green: It took you no time to learn the Deerfield cheer and share it with gusto and conviction. We were very impressed.
I am not surprised that you are already bleeding green . . . after all, you have been in ‘full immersion mode’ with Deerfield since you were appointed head of school a little less than a year ago. This summer, you set time aside from your busy schedule to patiently listen to over 80 employees speak about what we love about Deerfield and what areas of school life deserve more attention. Ms. O’Donnell, your special assistant, estimates that since the head of school search started, you have read hundreds of Deerfield documents, including Board reports, strategic plans, admissions materials, and budgets.
I can’t imagine having a head of school who is better prepared to lead Deerfield at this particular juncture of our history. You are a scholar and a thought leader in the field of education. You have assumed multiple roles in your career as English teacher, basketball and soccer coach, dorm resident, dean of students, academic dean, and as the head of a school with very strong connections to Deerfield. As the numerous articles that you have published in different journals and magazines reveal, you are constantly thinking about what an excellent education looks like in the 21st century. In the speech commemorating the 10th anniversary of King’s, you wrote, ‘The real question we should be asking ourselves—as teachers, educators and parents—is not whether or not our children will be well prepared for college and university, as important as that is, but whether or not our children will be prepared for a future of uncertainty, contingency, change, and transformation.’ You are keenly aware that in our work with students we must embrace both: continuity and change, tradition and innovation.
Based on a few of the conversations we’ve had since you arrived at Deerfield, you also understand the importance that we place on fostering supportive, caring relationships between adults and students. Three days ago, you came into my office and told me that with the exception of the times when you need to travel, you and Monica are looking forward to being on table duty at as many sit-down meals as possible. At that moment, I knew that Deerfield would be in good hands.
Thank you for choosing to lead us. We will each do everything we can to ensure that you thrive and succeed as our new head of school.
Letter from Dr. Austin to Students and Parents
Dear Students and Families,
As we look with anticipation to the coming school year, I extend to each of you the warmest of welcomes. I am incredibly excited for the fall, and I am looking forward to meeting you in just a couple of weeks.
If you are new to Deerfield (as I am!) rest assured: You will find here a community that is warm, embracing, and caring. We are ready to help you settle in, make new friends, and model Deerfield at its best—and the faculty and staff have been preparing for your arrival with purpose and energy throughout the summer.
I arrived on campus in early July. As the oldest member of the Class of 2023, I have spent the past weeks learning as much as I can about Deerfield: reading everything I can about its history, walking the campus and the outlying fields, taking in the extraordinary beauty of the valley and swimming in the River, working in the library and enjoying the warmth, conversation, and generosity of my new colleagues.
One of the things I have been struck by in my conversations with staff and faculty is the great pride they take in Deerfield and in you. Deerfield is unique in American education, and its greatest source of strength is perhaps its least tangible: an ennobling belief in the transformative potential of a residential school committed to the highest values of character and excellence.
At Deerfield, we are called upon to “act with respect, honesty, and concern for others and to inspire the same values in our community and beyond.” Together, we honor diversity and the essential uniqueness of each and every student, even as we seek to create a sense of shared experience, purpose, and unity.
These values have long defined the Academy. I believe they are more relevant, more consequential, and more important to the world than ever before. So I am fortunate, humbled, and proud to have the opportunity to partner with all of you as we work to realize Deerfield’s potential—and yours.
I wish you all the best for the remaining days of summer—and a year rich in learning, challenge, friendship, and joy. I will see you on campus soon, and I look forward to what I know will be an amazing year.
Dr. Curtis’s 2019 Commencement Address
Commencement Address, May 26, 2019
Parents and friends, faculty and staff, trustees and alumni . . . and the great class of 2019, thank you for being here today. In this, my final year at the Academy, I am keenly aware of the strong bonds that hold our community together. Deerfield is a family, and so for my remarks today, I want to begin with a story about my parents.
My mother learned resilience and independence as a child during the Spanish Civil War. Scarce resources meant that her parents could only afford to send her brothers to college, so she became determined that her four daughters, like her son, would be educated. Pragmatic and courageous, my mother has always pursued opportunities in spite of obstacles, and she remains insistent that her children be enterprising and self-reliant.
My father grew up in a town he likened to heaven. His gentle and caring disposition was a natural fit with his choice to become a doctor. He wanted to help as many people as he could, and he treated everyone as family, often working for no fee. Mom was the one who ensured that the bills got paid, and through this balance of differences, they built a dynamic and strong family.
When I was twelve years old, we immigrated to the United States and its promise of a better life. Enrolling me in my new school, Mom discovered that the eighth grade was full, and so, instead of cutting me a little slack and signing me up for seventh grade, she asked for a place in the ninth-grade.
I barely spoke English, but my mother insisted that I was up to the challenge. She encouraged me, and she was right.
I graduated from high school in 1969—exactly fifty years ago.
It was a tumultuous time in America. A time when some people pushed limits, challenged cultural norms, and questioned many of the prevailing assumptions about American society. Others resisted this change, believing that they were protecting the country—and the physical and intellectual institutions they valued most—from a firestorm of disorder and disarray.
The Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Space Race. The Civil Rights Movement. Vietnam. Sit-ins, boycotts, and riots, opposing poverty and oppression. In the face of these complex challenges, everyday citizens performed extraordinary acts of courage.
Despite the noise and cultural confusion of the era, our democracy worked. Three accomplishments stood out: Women and minorities began to reap the opportunities afforded by the Civil Rights Act; the tone of the Vietnam War shifted from escalation to withdrawal; and, in the summer of 1969, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon poetically captured a new sense of possibility.
Gradually, there was a national shift in mood. What had been a dark period now twinkled, if faintly, with hope. We realized that the country wasn’t falling apart. But it was changing. It was stretching toward the promise of its founders, thanks to the efforts of everyday citizens. Their courage was paying off.
To me, today, it feels like we are in a similar cycle of struggle and fear. Our democracy feels frayed and untidy, just like it did in the Sixties. It feels like “the end,” but I believe it may instead be a new beginning.
America is deeply divided. In the face of this conflict, our innate, hardwired biases urge us to retreat to the safety of sameness—and to reject the type of balanced discourse and collaborative bipartisanship that could bring progress and forge effective compromise. New technology abets this dangerous trend: algorithms promote comfortable echo-chambers and guide our questions and commentary to the attention of reassuring and like-minded peers.
But if bias is the symptom of these challenges, fear is their root cause. Fear favors reaction over reflection—avoidance and conflict over analysis and compromise. Fear puts our biases in full control, allowing these base instincts to overwhelm and overrule rational thought.
Despite our attention to ongoing challenges and conflicts around the world, the facts are clear: globally, we are healthier, wealthier, better educated, and more peaceful, than ever before. Democracy, though messy at times, remains the most successful system for bringing freedom and prosperity to all. So…what are we afraid of?
I think we are afraid to lose all that we worked so hard to gain. Fear is a natural impulse compelling us to preserve our wellness, security, and position. But fear, in the absence of fact, diminishes us. It limits our ability to grow and puts at risk the very security and comfort we seek to protect.
I believe America’s promise is greater. In America, prosperity has never been limited in supply. My parents acted on this truism when they brought me here in 1965—despite the nation’s turmoil. They knew that privilege and opportunity—like love—grow through exchange. That we all gain by sharing… and that when fear whispers to hold back, it’s time to reach out.
Few among us are wholly self-made. My own origin story downplays the good fortune I enjoyed as a member of a stable family, with parents who loved me and each other—and who could afford to leverage their successes into a shot at something better.
Hard work and hustle are, of course, the key drivers behind achievement and success, but there is always an element of luck. Where were you born? Who were your parents? What schools were you able to attend? The sooner we recognize these hidden sources of good fortune, the sooner we can be grateful and generous in response.
These endowments need not be material or genetic. Many of us benefit from a heritage of optimism, support, and continuous encouragement. From teachers and role models—like those who sit among us today—we inherit habits and dispositions more valuable than money. Everyone in our community is privileged in this regard.
I was very lucky. My parents possessed a natural curiosity to explore the world without fear. They pushed me to advance myself—to do well—and imbued me with a sense of hope and optimism. They insisted that I use these gifts to help others. That I do good. Even today—92 years old, but sitting right over there—my mother still encourages me.
Whether or not your parents are here today, and no matter where you are from, right now you are surrounded by family. We share the same green blood. Deerfield has instilled in you powerful habits of heart and mind.
If past is prologue, then it’s you that gets to write the next chapter. In the same way that my generation braved sweeping social reforms and the opportunities of the space age, your moonshot will see revolutions in artificial intelligence, in biotechnology, and in the everyday innovations that improve lives the world over.
But I believe these advances are the mere precursors to a new dawn in America and a coming age of opportunity around the world. You will be the stewards of those opportunities, and I urge you to use your influence and privilege to lift others up.
The Sixties were an era of audacious goals, summoned through struggle and accomplished through bold civic engagement. Today’s world calls for everyday actions that promote discourse and collaboration—actions that demonstrate respect, honesty, and concern for others—and that reject the bias and fear that can tear down our most valued ideals. Today, our democracy needs a quieter, more enduring form of courage . . . and as any Latin scholar can tell you—the root of courage . . . is heart.
This courage, this intelligence of the heart, is what makes our community special. The love that we all share—for each other and for this place—is an inexhaustible well of strength and inspiration. Love is the most powerful source of influence that each of us can offer the world.
That’s what it really means to be courageous.
As I prepare to depart the Academy, I reiterate my hope that you will discover more meaningful, more generous, more worthy ways of being—and that you will become skillful, compassionate agents of hope and optimism in this conflicted world.
I hope you recognize that your individual aspirations are more fulfilling when paired with a higher sense of purpose. I hope you find, as my parents did, that your intelligence is nourished best when it is married to the concerns of your heart.
In closing, I offer one final reminder to the Great Class of 2019: You make Deerfield worthy, not the other way around.
2019 Commencement Address: Dehdan Miller ’89
by Dehdan Miller ’89
Commencement Address, May 26, 2019
Good morning. Dr. Curtis, trustees, distinguished guests, members of the faculty, parents, and members of the Class of 2019—thank you for allowing me to take part in today’s celebration; I am honored and humbled to join you. I’ve never had the privilege of delivering a commencement address before, but I am told that they usually follow a fairly standard format.
The welcome, which I just did, is typically the most formulaic part.
The formula obscures the fact that this moment, right now, is extraordinary. With the possible exception of your wedding and your funeral, this is the only time when most of the people who care about you come together just to help you realize that you matter—and that you deserve to feel happy and be proud of yourself. So, spend the next twelve or so minutes listening if you’d like, but definitely concentrate on feeling happy and being proud of yourself. Remind yourself how lucky you are that you have the support of all these people.
As you know, this is also Dr. Curtis’s commencement, and in her honor, I would like to borrow one of the themes of her 2006 induction speech to frame my own remarks today. Thirteen years ago, she said, quote, “Deerfield Academy has faced tension between permanence and change throughout its long history, and owes its success to its ability to affirm traditions while making them relevant to changing contexts.”
In other words, some things should change, some things shouldn’t, and knowing which is which makes all the difference.
Thirty years ago, I sat where you now sit as a member of the class of 1989. Two changes since then really stick out. Can you guess what they are?
First, about half of you are women.
You may have heard stories about the anger that accompanied the Trustee’s 1988 decision to admit girls. It’s true; when the decision was announced to the student-body during my junior year, some people chanted “Better Dead than Co-ed.”
Pretty soon, everyone decided that while there may be causes worth dying for, this wasn’t one of them. Some of us entertained the possibility that we might even be better co-ed than all-male. As I recall, after the initial shock wore off, most of us were some mixture of proud and jealous. Proud to be the standard-bearers of the single-sex traditions of the previous four decades. And jealous that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to shape new traditions.
Recently, I know there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not Deerfield has fully realized the spirit of gender equality. I am glad you are having those discussions.
I do not claim to speak for any member of the Deerfield community other than myself, but I can unequivocally state my opinion that men should spend more time listening to women.
And, women should spend more time listening to and trusting yourselves.
I went to high school with a bunch of dudes. But I spent the past decade, up until last month, working primarily with women. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is two-thirds female, and the team I worked on was all female, except for me. I learned more from my female co-workers than from any other classmates or colleagues I’ve ever had, and I am better for it.
But don’t just take my word for it. The case for gender equality is supported by data. In her recently published book, The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates cites a recent study on group intelligence that was published in the journal Science. The study found that “groups that included at least one woman outperformed all-male groups in collective intelligence tests, and group intelligence was more strongly correlated to gender diversity than to the IQ of the individual team members.” As Melinda writes, quote, “Gender diversity is not just good for women; it’s good for anyone who wants results.”
What is the second change that stands out?
The cell phones that each of you have.
Several years ago, I traveled to the Lake Chad basin in the west African nation of Chad. They speak French in Chad, and I was glad to have my four years with Mrs. Lyons to draw on.
Chad is consistently right near the bottom of the human development index—which means it’s one of the poorest, sickest countries in the world.
About 30 million people depend on Lake Chad for their survival in one way or another. Unfortunately, over the past 35 years, increasing demand for water and decreasing rainfall, along with other factors, have reduced the lake’s surface water by 90 percent. As a result, many inhabitants of the Lake Chad basin have become nomadic, searching out pastures where they can graze their animals and water that they can drink.
My colleagues at the Gates Foundation were working with local officials and representatives of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other organizations to determine how to improve the delivery of vaccines to the children in these nomadic groups, and I was there to learn more about their efforts. There was just one problem: the nomads were difficult to find. We were sending scouts all over the Lake Chad basin, and the results were mixed at best. We were beginning to see why it might be difficult to immunize the children if we couldn’t even locate them in a predictable manner.
It took a lot of effort by our local partners, but eventually we tracked down an extended family of herders and were able to spend an afternoon with them, learning about their circumstances. The first thing they told us? They’re not so hard to find. They come to town at the same time every week to recharge their mobile phones and top up their calling minutes. It’s how they keep in touch with each other when they’re being nomads.
You really see the intersection of tradition and change when a nomadic goat herder asks for your number so he can stay in touch with you on WhatsApp.
As you know, pundits around the world have raised questions about whether the proliferation of technology is good or bad. Do we blame it for fake news, compromised elections, and the end of privacy? Or do we credit it for knitting a divided world together and equalizing access to information?
Bill and Melinda Gates are definitely optimists about technology, and they always say that technology is only a tool. The tool itself has no morality. The morality belongs to the person who’s using it. What we should be worried about is not the existence of the hammer, but whether we are using it to attack our neighbor or build houses for the poor.
And that brings me to the thing that I think hasn’t changed at Deerfield.
In The Headmaster, his famous profile of longtime Deerfield Headmaster Frank Boyden, John McPhee wrote that “the headmaster constantly repeats to his boys the theme of responsibility to the community, of the need for all of them to become engaged.” I have been lucky enough to spend some time recently talking to members of the Class of 2019, and you have told me how you have translated Boyden’s wisdom for your own purposes. “It’s cool to care,” you say. I would add that while it’s cool to care, it’s even cooler to acton your caring.
The process that Deerfield has gone through—balancing permanence and change—is a process that each one of you must also go through, for the rest of your lives. There are a few parts of you that make you you—parts of you that can’t change, because it will mean that you have lost yourself. But there are many more parts of you that are going to need to change over and over and over again, as you meet new people, learn new things, and experience the joy and the pain of living.
Perhaps the last lesson you can learn at Deerfield is about making sure that caring is one of the things about you that never changes.
There is something very rare and very special about caring.
It’s that the choice to care is all yours.
Deerfield students have big ambitions. Some of you will undoubtedly ascend to the uppermost heights of your chosen professions, and be Important with a capital “I”. A few may even achieve a certain level of fame. More than a few will attain a relative fortune.
But most of you won’t. Most of you won’t be ultra-rich or world-renowned. Most of you won’t win the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer Prize or Olympic Gold or the Eurovision song contest. There probably isn’t a single Supreme Court justice in the audience today. This isn’t because you are not smart enough. It is because most things are out of your control.
But you do have control over whether you care, whether you engage, whether you fulfill your responsibilities. Nothing is guaranteed to any of us, but each of us can make a commitment to serve others.
I hope that my work at the Gates Foundation has, in a tiny way, made the world better. Bill and Melinda are famous, and God knows they are rich. The fifteen hundred people that work for their foundation are neither, but we are part of a project we believe in: helping all people lead healthy, productive lives. Believing in what you’re doing is worth your ambition.
So I hope you always remember that it’s cool to care.
You can care about gender equality at Deerfield and in the broader world. You can care about using technology as a tool for building rather than destroying. What you care about can change many times over during the course of your life. But don’t let caring stop being cool.
Now, as I close, I’d like to leave you with one last message. If you forget everything else I’ve said today, I hope you remember this.
Are you ready?
Vote in 2020. I don’t care who you vote for. But vote.
Thank you, congratulations, and continue to “Light the Lamp.”
2019 Commencement Student Address: Cameron Peterson Heard ’19
by Cameron Peterson Heard ’19
Commencement Address, May 26, 2019
Good morning family, friends, students, faculty, and graduates.
I feel extremely humbled and honored to be here before you this morning, and I would just like to begin with a few thank yous for those who have lead me here. Mrs. Heise, you have taught me what it means to be thoughtfully inquisitive and to recognize the power in both words and wordlessness, as you so wisely put it. Mr. Marge, you exude a humble confidence and through your many extra help sessions have begun to instill it in me as well. Ms. Steim, you have changed the way that I look at the world around me and pushed me to ask questions and find truth. And Ms. Karbon, you’ve showed me the meaning of compassion and the value of lighthearted happiness for the sake of happiness itself. For these things, I thank you all immensely.
However, these individuals are just a handful of the people that have impacted my four years at Deerfield. In being asked to give this address, I was not only tasked with speaking to the meaning of my own experience here, I was tasked with summing up the meaning of the class of 2019, the meaning of the valley, and the meaning of our collective experience. I was both incredibly honored, but also incredibly apprehensive, unsure how to do all of you and our time here justice.
About six weeks ago, I went for a walk around the short loop with two of my close friends. As we walked, we talked about how unreal it was that our days here were coming to an end. Initially, we all spoke of how heartbroken we were to have to say goodbye to the Valley and to our lives here, but as the sun began to set below the hills around us, we grew more sincere; all three admitted that we didn’t honestly feel anything about our upcoming commencement. I suppose at the time it didn’t feel absolute. Some people say that this should be the happiest time of our lives, while some feel that the idea of moving forward is too sad to think about. However, for the three of us at least, we weren’t quite sure what we felt; we were trapped in the tension of the way we believed we were supposed to feel and how we truly did.
I suppose that this predicament that we are all in begs a much larger question than that of commencement: how one should treat the passage of time. With a warm greeting? Blissful ignorance? Fear?
My first thought when thinking about graduating and leaving the Deerfield bubble was naturally to look to the future. As I began to delve further into what the future may look like for all of us, I struggled to compile a cohesive image in my head. The reality of the situation is that each of our futures will be extremely different. Inevitably, we will end up scattered across the globe following diverging paths. So ultimately, I concluded that I am not in the best position to lecture you all about the greatness that it will hold, although I’m sure it will hold much, or nearly wise enough to give any sort of constructive advice.
So naturally, I moved onto the thinking about our collective past here, the connecting thread tying us all together as we move forward into the world. In the winter of 2014, I interviewed on a rainy day with Mr. Philie. The night before, my parents told me that in order to give a good interview, I must have exemplary questions, so I thoroughly scoured the website to the point of insanity; if you had asked, I could have probably told you the menu of lunches for the upcoming week or scores of all the sport games from the Saturday prior. However, the one piece that I couldn’t quite make sense of was the small inscription on the Deerfield Seal that reads “Be worthy of your heritage.” This is detailed under the “Does Deerfield have a mascot?” link of the Frequently Asked Questions page, if you were wondering. I walked into my interview the next day, a nervous and overwhelmed thirteen year old. In my opinion, he interview was going great, and we had finally reached the “Do you have any questions portion.” I think Mr. Philie was probably expecting the standard questions regarding class size or scheduling, but I asked him just what Deerfield meant when they said, “Be worthy of your heritage.” He seemed slightly confused, so I elaborated.
“How is this taught in classrooms or on the sports fields?” I asked.
Mr. Philie smiled a bit and took a moment to think. It has taken me four years to recognize the absurdity of that question. He did his best to explain to me that the idea of being worthy is not something that is taught like algebra but rather shown each day in the ways that all members of the community interact with and respect one another. I could feel how excited he was getting trying to convey his love of Deerfield, but no matter how many anecdotes he gave me about time on the lacrosse team or nights in the dorm, I couldn’t seem to grasp the feeling he was describing.
Only now do I realize that one cannot explain what it means to be or feel worthy in conversation with a stranger. It’s a much deeper, almost subconscious pull. I find worthiness in the way my chest and heart feel driving back home to the valley. I find worthiness in the golden afternoon light after spring sit-down dinners. I find worthiness in silent late nights working in the common rooms and early Dining Hall breakfasts. In impromptu hikes to the Rock and girls’ nights out at the Deerfield Inn. I find worthiness in the sum of small insignificant moments. I understand that there is no possible way that I can share the way that sum makes me feel with all of you today or anyone really, though I may try.
So therefore, I believe that I find the most worthiness right now, here, today, in the presence of you all. In my neurology class this year, we spent time in the lab working with drosophila and studying epilepsy, but we probably spent more time captivated in conversation with Mr. Teutsch about nearly anything as he has generally pretty wise advice on everything. One day, over a DNA extraction, Colin Olson asked him which lab, out of the many he’s worked in, was the coolest. Mr. Teutsch took a moment to think. I expected to him to lecture us about some of the research he has done, but rather he smiled and looked at us.
“This one. Because this is where I am now, and that’s pretty cool.”
We sort of looked around at one another, trying to make sense of his statement, looking for the meaning that we knew he had intentionally conveyed. While he didn’t really answer our question, and I never got to learn about his research, his response stuck with me. It took me awhile to digest, but after ruminating I think that I really understand what he meant, and this may be something that I can share today. I find worthiness in the present, here with all of you. Thank you, Mr. Teutsch, for helping me see the wonder in that.
So, as I figured that I don’t have too much of a holding to speak on the future, and not enough information to speak on all of our intertwining pasts, it leaves me here and now to speak on our present. Here, this morning, the inextricable, disordered paths of our lives intersect for just a few hours to appreciate the worthiness in this junction.
Senior spring has been a reminder to all of us just how fleeting the present can be. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks “How long is forever?” to which the White Rabbit replies, “Sometimes, just one second.” Four years has turned into one year which disappeared into nine weeks which has left us just a few hours in this beautiful place. To all of the rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors believe me and believe all of us when we say when we tell you to pick your heads up and be here before you run out of time. And to my fellow classmates, I hope this lesson is something you have learned to carry with you even after we leave the valley in a few short hours. As I think about my own path, I know that I will find worthiness in those present moments years from now while still remembering this is where I came from, where I grew up alongside you, knowing that these moments here lead us all to our separate futures. And when you inevitably feel that inner tug of war between honoring the past and looking to future, I urge you to acknowledge the wonder in the duality of both and find worthiness in your present, whatever that may look like.
This winter, Ms. Steim introduced me to a really interesting theory this year in her English class. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor; he published many books and essays mainly focusing on logotherapy and existential therapy, but also speaking to the idea of meaning. As a class we argued and debated about his work incessantly, but what I believe to be his most powerful point is the necessity that he feels each individual has for meaning in his or her life. Moving forward, I hope that you all take these small moments in the present to stop, reflect, and take the agency to assign your own meaning to your life. Deerfield, whether, it has been throughout four years or one, has given you all the tools with which to fabricate the meaning of your story, knowing fully well that if you struggle you have a family both here and scattered across the globe to guide you in your own search for meaning.
To class of 2019, I’m an only child, and here I have found the sincerest family in you all. I love you and want to express my most authentic gratitude for each and every one of you. Thank you.
2019 Commencement Student Address: Colin Thomas Olson ’19
by Colin Thomas Olson ’19
Commencement Address, May 26, 2019
I would like to first take the opportunity to thank Dr. Curtis, the Board of Trustees, my family, my teachers, and, most of all, my classmates for allowing me to speak this morning. It is an honor to represent my peers who, I think we all agree, seeing as you have travelled to Western Massachusetts on a holiday weekend, represent the greatest Deerfield class of all time.
I have always struggled to make friends whether it be because of my old scraggly bowl cuts; because of my gross athletic inability; and, far and away most likely, because in second grade I dressed up as a cockroach for Halloween. My parents are to blame for two of these, but I won’t tell you which ones. I knew it was an issue when I was iced-out of the chess team.
My friends always seemed to have closer relationships as, during four-square, I was left bouncing the jumbo ball on empty wall-space in case anyone chanced to invent five-square. I cried a lot, liked to classify rocks, and had one of those bug vacuums so that I could run around the yard collecting poisonous spiders before accidentally losing them in the kitchen. In fact, I cried so much that my acquaintance Beau Getz told me it was his personal mission to exhaust all of my tears before I became a teenager. Everyday, Beau would me punch in the arm, abandoning me on the ground to cry, before leaving with his friend Alex and offering “you’re welcome.”
Scholastically, I was very distractible from the start. In nursery instead of learning letters, I gave haircuts in the hallways; I flunked out of nap time; and my teacher wrote in my comments how “Colin delights in answering as part of the full group, where his responses are quick and LOUD . . . usually accompanied by an emphatic nod of self-approval.”
Internally, I didn’t necessarily know who I was or who I wanted to be. But there I was, all limbs and crooked teeth, the only cockroach on halloween; the worst chess player; and, to even my own surprise, an outcast among Latin students by the sixth grade. Struggling to make any real relationship headway, ancient authors became my closest confidants, but only because they couldn’t hurt me or my exceedingly fragile feelings given that they were dead. To make matters worse, my Latin classmates reminded me that, if I had spent only an hour in Ancient Rome with my alleged friends, they would surely have killed me.
Eighth grade at GCDS. When I played soccer outside the girls called it “nerd soccer.” My blazer draped over my shoulder like a bathrobe, my teeth remained crooked, and, perhaps worst of all, any child-like interest in school scuttled further out of reach. I convinced myself that my secondary school advisor kept telling me to stay because she loved having me around when in truth, she must’ve known I wasn’t quite ready for the valley.
Beau obviously hadn’t hit me hard enough as, over the course of Camp Becket and the opening week of school, I cried on multiple occasions. After telling the first teacher I met, Mr. Savage, that I was excited, or excitatus, to be in his latin class, he began searching for a new job. School days surrounded by the quips of Mr. Silipo or the assignments of Mr. Freda felt only shorter than their subsequent nights as, surrounded by socially aware classmates, I considered myself out of place. My previous inability to define myself as an athlete, a STEM guru, a humanities scholar, or even an able friend left me feeling like none as I floundered in a new environment, confined by my familiar lack of self-reckoning. My mom believed, at least she told me, that people loved me and I couldn’t see it which may well have been true, for, refusing to leave the confines of Doubleday 210 B, my sight only reached the quad outside.
Whereas my isolation and amorphous identity never challenged me before, I became painfully aware of my shortcomings and absorbed in self-critique. Ms. Burd, my english teacher noted how, “…if left alone, Colin tends to wear himself down under the weight of the ways in which he might improve.” Refusing to engage, to experience Deerfield as a community rather than simply a school, allowed me hours to be left alone; My social strangeness proliferated, my reliance on my mom multiplied, and my days as the only cockroach at Halloween shone favorably in my memories.
Aside from my very weird relationship with the authors of Rome, school, to no fault of my teachers or peers, became a taxing profession as I plied my trade deep into the hours of the night. I had found that while I couldn’t concretely fix my personality, I could strive to fix my grades. With every poor assignment, I valued myself and, unfairly, Deerfield less. Searching for any sense of accomplishment, I clung tightly to past moments of triumph, moments where my character had shone through, moments where I could say I was uniquely Colin Olson, was uniquely that cockroach, that kid who gave haircuts in the hallways.
I met Alex Alijani in physics class, but we really met on the night of stepping-up. As we prepared ourselves for sophomore year, alone outside as the ember’s of the bonfire were swallowed whole by the night, I couldn’t help but share my moments of weakness and we agreed that we were going to risk it all next year. Just like Gaius Julius Caesar, crossing the Rubicon to start a Civil War, I would throw the dice.
I met Abby Bracken on a school trip that summer. Far from home, Abby made me feel appreciated, cared for, and worthy. It felt like she believed in me, which, after a couple of weeks crossing northern Europe, translated into the beginnings of my own self-confidence.
Back on campus, Mr. Savage showed me to lean into knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and, ultimately, I began to meet all of you. I noticed how, while perhaps remaining a nerd and while definitely remaining terrible at the sport, I truly loved soccer. I noticed how Latin really interested me beyond its ability to provide me with a false sense of friends. I even noticed how I liked going to the Greer on Saturday nights, sometimes, but not always, since I also needed time to think and since, in truth, my social ineptitude really hasn’t gone away.
I hosted a FIFA tournament and people showed up. I started a club where the only purpose was to watch soccer on Sunday mornings and, sometimes, people showed up. I applied for things, got rejected, and then ran for positions with increasingly self-deprecating speeches. My self criticism, as my peers supported me and challenged me to push the boundaries of my personal identity, allowed me to laugh, and, while I still cried every now and then, perhaps more often than I’d like to admit, I had friends to lean on who, more than likely, were standing at the ready to catch me ever since Camp Becket. While my personal risk-taking was by no means instantaneous, that gradual process only speaks to the constancy of the support I received.
I didn’t necessarily hike to the rock as many times as I probably should’ve. I definitely didn’t go to enough dances. I missed out on moments that, to my classmates, will live on in memory forever, and while that disappoints me and fills me with a sense of longing, I’m glad I’m in a position to reflect on those losses and to still know that I have made my time here worthwhile. I and, more importantly, my classmates built up my own identity, true to my nature and yet utterly surprising for someone who couldn’t hang with the kings of chess club and who repeatedly struggled with definition.
It’s strange to think that my sense of self is derivative of my classmates, yet, considering the ways in which their willingness to embrace me has allowed me to pursue Latin, has allowed me to play against them in FIFA, has allowed me to celebrate a JV Hockey win like I’ve won the Stanley Cup, I am honored to take whatever piece of them has molded me by my side as I prepare for yet another transition.
This year, I was the only stingray at Halloween. I had ordered the wrong size, child’s extra-large, but, feeling and being awesome thanks to my shapers and my supporters, I owned my moment. This past weekend, I bought a keychain from CVS of a plush banana with a graduation cap and put it on my backpack because, for some reason, I thought it represented me. While I’m sure my blazer still hangs off my shoulders like a bathrobe, while I still have crooked teeth because I have a vendetta against my orthodontist and refuse to wear my retainer, I care about school and people in a way that makes me truly sad to leave.
Some of you may have felt out of place at Deerfield for more than 9th grade year, some of you may choose to remember our shared school quite differently, some of you may have found a home in the valley in September of 2015. While I am immensely proud of our class, while it is the greatest coincidence that we all might attend the same school at the same time, and while the conclusion of that miraculous coincidence represents a time to reflect and possibly even to mourn, your attitude towards people, your willingness to lift myself and others up to allow for epitomic moments of self discovery in no way needs to die with our Deerfield careers. To those who have helped me along my way, and with that I speak to all of you, I fundamentally believe in your capacity to act compassionately. While we may struggle at school, at work, or even at defining ourselves, I hope that you rely on others and, in turn, let people like me rely on you.
Bias and Factfulness: Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at Convocation 2018
The most intriguing book I read this summer was Factfulness, by Hans Rosling— a statistician and global health expert. You may remember him from a TED talk or two. The book is so compelling that Bill Gates has offered to buy a copy for every college student in America.
The book sheds light on concerning trends in our society. Among them, a resistance to robust debate and critical thinking, which are foundational elements of academic institutions like Deerfield and serve as the very bedrock of our democracy. This emerging narrowmindedness has many causes, but it is clear that bias plays a central role.
Biases are mental efficiencies that reduce the work of thinking. They are the often-hidden tendencies, mental shortcuts, and preferences that are hardwired into our brains, through evolution and conditioning. While biases may have been helpful in prehistory—to identify predators or aid early communities in banding together—they provide little benefit in today’s complex, interconnected society.
In his book, Dr. Rosling discusses how our innate biases impact the consumption of news and information. Among his many insights, he describes a bias called the single perspective instinct. It is our tendency to assign singular causes, and suggest singular solutions, to complicated, variable, and nuanced problems.
Rosling cites this instinct as the reason people stridently support or oppose certain ideas without consideration. Taken to the extreme, this bias can lend superficial credence to outlandish assertions: the moon landing was faked, vaccines cause cancer, and climate change is a myth.
We react to these bold headlines with legitimate incredulity. But bias fuels far more insidious ideas with subtlety: it creates false equivalencies, it forwards memes and jokes that pay off only at others’ expense, and it twists good words and reputations to promote unrelated, unendorsed, and misguided ideas.
In today’s world, biases have been weaponized through social media. Troll farms and “influence operations” stealthily attack the very foundations of our democracy—and they use our innate, hardwired biases to make us mercenary to their cause. The world is not as simple as the memes suggest. It is full of complex and difficult challenges that defy basic and reductive solutions.
Deerfield’s mission is to prepare students for leadership in a rapidly changing world. Overcoming bias is an essential component of that work, and I can think of at least three ways in which our community engages this challenge.
First, our academic endeavors emphasize critical thinking. A focus on asking meaningful questions—and carefully analyzing both the content and context of the answers. This helps to unmask bias and serves the pursuit of academic rigor and superior performance.
Second, at Deerfield, we recognize that our best work begins when we seek robust but respectful dialog—particularly with those who don’t share our views. When we embrace discomfort and difference, and when we pledge to act with respect, honesty, and concern for others, we build a community of fruitful and productive interaction. These habits of mind and spirit help to replace our basic impulses and self-promoting tendencies with worthier intentions.
Together, these practices predispose us towards lives of consequence. They help us step outside of our own needs to explore how we can serve others. This is a third way we combat bias at Deerfield: by looking past ourselves to consider others’ needs, we short-circuit the very function of bias itself.
Whether you aspire to be a great writer or public speaker… or you are interested in science or art… Whether your path will lead you to a studio or a stadium… a courtroom or operating room… a laboratory or farm… around the world … or all the way back to a classroom… I hope you’ll make each of your endeavors count.
As an essential part of leading a fulfilling, rewarding life for yourself, commit to serve as an agent of hope and optimism. This role comes not from being granted a title, but rather from the way we behave. Everyone here has the opportunity to serve—and to prove Deerfield worthy as a result—wherever we go, and whatever we do.
When he was your age, Dr. Rosling humbly aspired to a career as a circus performer. But when he died last summer at the age of 68, he left a legacy as a doctor who cured thousands of patients, a global health expert who improved millions of lives, and a thinker whose work influences both present and future leaders…and now that includes all of you. Thank you.
Convocation 2017: Remarks from Student Body President Gerry Alexandre ’19
Good evening! I would like to start off by saying that I am honored that all of you came to hear me speak at this required meeting. My name is Gerardson Ali Alexandre, but I am more commonly known as Gerry. I want to welcome all the new students here to the Academy. You made it. No one likes a bragger, but you should all be proud that you’re here at Deerfield, but know that Deerfield is even more proud to have you here. We are all intelligent and masters of our own craft. If you are here at the Academy, you have something to offer, which is an undisputable fact. Some of us are great dancers or great actors or great test takers or great athletes. It is exactly these differences that bring us ever so close. Your success is our success. It will be rigorous. It will be tiring. But, it will be worth it.
Returners, welcome back. Sophomores. No more lights out, and now you have a sweet vantage point at every school meeting. Juniors. No more study hall, and now you have extended Wifi. Use it wisely. Seniors, we run this school. We’re going to have fun, we’re going work hard, and we’re going to get rowdy because I don’t know about you, but, “I”, as a wise man once said, “am dialed!” We’re role models for the rest of the school, and also the first senior class to have participated in the Freshman Village project. Let’s make this year Deerfield’s best year.
Even though now I love Deerfield from the bottom of my heart, it would be senseless for me to say that this was also so. I felt there were so many illogical rules, undeserved punishments, and pointless justifications. And anyone currently there, I know how it feels. And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve matured, or I have an amazing group of friends, but I noticed that there is no other place quite like Deerfield. I’ve visited Andover, Exeter, Groton. This other school, I think it was called… Chō-o-tay (Choate).
But for me, none of them were able to strike the peculiar balance between work and play like Deerfield did. So I began to wonder, “Why?” I decided to delve deeper. Why is the administration so approachable? Why do I miss Deerfield during vacations? Why do I have a three-page paper due on Monday?
I found my answer. Curious? Well, whether you’re still looking for your answer or you have already found it, I want you to never forget to keep asking, “Why?” My name is Gerry Alexandre and I’m your student body president. Welcome to Deerfield Academy!
Commencement Student Address 2018: Kiana Rawji
May 27, 2018 // Kiana Rawji
Four years ago, I was sitting on the farthest bench away from the campfire at Camp Beckett, beside this girl whom I had just met. We attempted to have a conversation, exchanging all the typical questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your fall cocurric? But, the exchange died off quickly, as they all seemed to do, and as I sat there in silence, watching a group of students laughing in front of us, I remember thinking so adamantly to myself, I’m never going to make any friends. I tried so hard not to cry, but felt the tears well up anyway. When I got back to campus, I called my mom and told her I wanted to go home. Every day for the first few months of school, I called her, sobbing, thinking Deerfield was against me.
I’m telling you about my horrendous first days at the Academy because I have since discovered something remarkable in the fact that four years ago, I was sitting alone in my room, crying to my mom, thinking I hated this place, but today, I am standing before you—immensely honored to be doing so—knowing I can’t imagine what my life would be like without this place.
I’ve gone from Kiana, the shy little freshman, unable to sustain a single meaningful conversation at Camp Becket, to Keyoncé, Kiandawg, krawji18, speaking today to hundreds of people, grateful to be part of a community that inspires me every day.
It’s incredible to think we have grown up here. That here, we have become ourselves, the very people sitting under this tent. Whether we’ve been here for four years or for one, Deerfield has helped us realize who we are, who we want to be, and who we can be. And we have watched each other realize the same. That girl I sat beside at the campfire—Uwa EdeOsifo—is now one of my best friends.
In writing this speech, I tried to think back to a quintessential, Deerfield moment. But eventually, I realized that there is no one, big moment that sums up Deerfield—there is only the collection of all the small moments. So in the past few weeks, instead of remembering, scouring my mind for the perfect moment, I’ve just been watching.
As Roald Dahl, the famous writer of children’s books, reminds us, “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
When I told my friends back home I was going to boarding school, they joked that I was going to Hogwarts. And when my parents tell people in Calgary, Alberta that their daughter goes to boarding school, the first thing they say is “Why?” or “What did she do?” In their minds, if parents ship their child off to the States, either she’s trouble or she’s a wizard. But even though Deerfield is no Hogwarts, there is a sort of magic here.
The magic of Deerfield lies in the little things, hides in the unlikely places. Magic swims in the dining hall during sit-down, brews in the laughs of hall mates at a feed, and lingers in the air after those classes that leave you speechless. It sways with the red and burnt orange leaves in autumn, shimmers in the fresh blanket of snow on a quiet winter night, and rides on a warm, spring-has-finallycome breeze at the river.
That magic envelops us, becomes the very oxygen we breathe, invisible after a while. Until we realize how soon it will be gone.
But where, exactly, does that magic come from? Is it inherent in this place we call “Deerfield”?
To me, Deerfield is more than just a place. It’s a practice—not a thing to attain, but something we do all the time.
A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday night when I was sitting in Dr. Copprue’s apartment, he told me that Deerfield only exists because we believe in it. When he said that, I immediately pictured Tinkerbell throwing fairy dust in the air, telling kids to “clap your hands if you believe.” But after my initial inclination to laugh, I realized that we are clapping our hands. We have been clapping them every day.
We clap our hands when we say hello to a stranger on Albany Road, or when we hold the door open for someone too far away to keep walking at the same pace and not feel bad about it.
We clap our hands when we put our arms around each other and sway to the Evensong on Sunday nights—swaying that involves a surprising amount of colliding.
We clap our hands when we knock on someone’s door, just to check in; when we go to extra help, just to talk to our favorite teachers about life; when we write an oped for the Scroll, or show up to Greer chats and Caswell meetings about important issues on campus.
We clap our hands when we laugh at Eric Kim’s punny jokes, say good morning to Bruce at breakfast, or listen intently to Mr. Kelly’s lectures; when we take out the trash during dorm cleanup; when we sing at a coffeehouse; when we gather in the bathroom for brushywashy.
We clap our hands when we belt “aga chi” on Choate Day and the fight song in school meeting or on the bus back from an away game, slapping the windows of a Green Machine (only slightly salty if it isn’t a coach bus).
And we keep clapping. Even if our hands get tired sometimes, even if we take a break.
If magic is what makes this place, that magic comes from each of us. As much as we have grown up here, and as much as Deerfield has defined us, we have also defined Deerfield.
Three weeks ago, at KFC, I was lying on the grass outside the Hess, and as I looked up at the sky, my eyes lingering on the Little Dipper, I realized I had twenty-two days left of Deerfield. I thought to myself, this is it. This is when I start to be sad.
In the sky, I traced my past four years, echoes of myself suspended in the stars. I laid there entranced by the shining remnants of things that no longer existed. After all, the stars we see in the present are really snapshots of the past.
I imagine that some day in the future, looking back at Deerfield will be like looking up at the stars. Like stars, these days will twinkle gloriously in our hearts; they may sometimes feel lightyears away; and they might seem smaller from afar, even if they were enormous close up. Each time we come back to a moment from our Deerfield days, we might see something different, just as each time we look at the stars, our eyes make out different constellations.
When we leave Deerfield, we will lose something: the ecstasy of being immersed in the magic of the little moments. But loss is the foundation of memory; the moment must pass before it can ever be remembered. It’s hard to say which is better: enjoying a moment or enjoying the memory of it. But this isn’t about comparison. This is a mere acknowledgement that, though we are losing a good thing, we will also be gaining a good thing.
In The Glass Castle, the first book I read for my freshman English class here, Jeannette Walls remembers a childhood moment with her father in this passage: “[Dad] pointed to the top of the fire, where the snapping yellow flames dissolved into an invisible shimmery heat that made the desert beyond seem to waver, like a mirage. Dad told us that zone was known in physics as the boundary between turbulence and order. ‘It’s a place where no rules apply, [he said] or at least they haven’t figured ‘em out yet.’”
To my classmates, right now, we are dancing on that very boundary, knowing that the future could tip either way, towards turbulence or towards order. It could and probably will seesaw back and forth. But we don’t know which way it will tip first, or when, or how.
We’re sitting on many boundaries in this moment, caught in the tension between moment and memory, loss and gain: between concluding one journey and commencing another. Between an aching sort of sadness—that feeling that it’s too soon, that we can’t leave home just yet—and a stirring excitement, a sense that we’re ready.
And as we sit on these boundaries, everything beyond this moment does seem to “waver, like a mirage”—the future seems unreal, as does the past. Right now, “no rules apply, or at least we haven’t figured ‘em out yet.” We have no idea what the world has in store for us. We can only imagine. But that uncertainty is precious. Uncertainty is what makes life worth living. It drives our eagerness, despite the forces that may push us back, to go forth into the mirage—that wavering image in our minds of what could be next—and find out what’s really there, for better or for worse.
And “so we beat on,” as Nick Carraway reflects in the final line of The Great Gatsby, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” We will yearn to recreate parts of our past, but we will beat on, in part because we have to—because the laws of time dictate that we go onward, and the laws of growing up demand that we get older. But we wouldn’t be who we are, we wouldn’t get anywhere without beating on—we wouldn’t evolve or learn. And beating on while being borne back, I think, will mean moving forward without entirely leaving this place behind.
Because, although our evenhour is done, and we will let other names be spoken, who we became here will not be lost—it will be built upon. Here, together, we “did it bi8”. And as we go our separate ways, I have faith that each of us will do it even bigger.
Looking back to that night at KFC, when I thought I had twenty-two days left of Deerfield, I realize, even now, that I was wrong. Even when we leave Deerfield, the place, we won’t be done with Deerfield, the practice.
Even after this morning, after you finish clapping for me and for all who cross this stage, we will clap on; we won’t stop believing in Deerfield.
And yet the question remains, why do we clap? Maybe we clap because we care about each other. Maybe we clap because we also care about ourselves—about the people we will become—and about the mark we leave here, about what we have to add to the definition of Deerfield, even after we’ve departed.
Deerfield is certainly no fairy tale or children’s book. This past year alone has proved that—we’ve been challenged with several controversial dialogues that have exposed the work we still have to do, but have also allowed us to step up, and actually affirm our faith in Deerfield. Because even when we are critical of our school, that critique comes from a place of love. While the act of clapping is one of believing, it is also one of questioning, confronting, and calling—a call to come into the engaging, the redefining.
Clapping is loud—it is the opposite of silence, of sitting back. Our clapping is precisely what has prepared us to show up and to be generous, courageous, and attentive learners and leaders in the world.
I would like to thank all the people who have clapped for me, who have had faith in me and challenged me throughout the past few years. Thank you to my loving parents without whom I would not be here. Thank you to the friends I finally did make for sticking by me, especially to Amanda Cui, for making this place feel like home. Thank you to the teachers who taught me to embrace uncertainty, to always ask questions, even if I might not be answering them any time soon. And thank you, especially, to the extraordinary class of 2018, for the opportunity to speak today. It has been an immense pleasure to have spent what feels like both a lifetime and a blink of an eye with all of you.
Five, ten, fifteen years from today, when I look up to the stars, I know you’ll be looking too.
Commencement Student Address 2018: Charlie Pink
May 27, 2018 // Charlie Pink
When I first found out I was going to be giving this speech, a few people came up to me and said, “Ugh thank God we have a funny commencement speaker, I’ve been worrying about this for three years now,” “Uh yeah,” I replied halfheartedly, “I’m sure Kiana’s gonna knock us dead.” Some of you may be wondering why I’m up here today. Allow me to clarify, at Deerfield, unlike most other high schools; the Valedictorians don’t give the speeches. Though I’m sure Kiana would still be up here regardless, I on the other hand wouldn’t normally get this opportunity. So naturally I procrastinated for longer than I would like to admit to all of you and eventually sat in a room in the English building, looked out at one of Deerfield’s notorious sunsets, and suddenly my four years here flooded back to me.
I remembered the second thing that surprised me at Deerfield was the School Spirit. I say second because the first thing that surprised me was when I showed up to Deerfield without knowing anybody and without introducing myself Mrs. Creagh came up to me and said, “Hey Charlie, welcome to Deerfield.” I quickly glanced to make sure I wasn’t wearing a nametag and shook her hand and replied, “thank you so much, uh who are you?” Needless to say it was one of the stranger interactions I had experienced.
I had never attended a school that cared about its students outside of the classroom before. Shocking I know, nobody showed up to their school games, nobody attended plays, and there was nothing even remotely close to Choate Week. Naturally I was taken aback when after we lost our thirds soccer game Jackson Cohlan said to me, “Hey, let’s go watch varsity.” Funny as it sounds now, at the time I responded, “Why would we want to watch more soccer after we just played soccer?” Expecting a few laughs, I looked around and clearly I had just made a terrible mistake. A senior told me to just go along with it and support the school; I sat in the shade and watched our soccer team for about five minutes before leaving to go to the Greer.
Choate Week was even more of a culture shock. I didn’t know why but for some reason when anyone saw the cheerleaders pour through school meeting and the dining hall or at any abnormal event that occurred through out that bazar week, they simply started screaming about how much they loved Deerfield. And I was right in the middle of it. I loved this transition. People actually took time out of their lunch to slam their forks and knives on the table and chant the words “I smell bacon.” I didn’t understand that this was in relation to the Choate boar so at the next meal when I tried to start an “I smell panko crusted chicken” chant, it didn’t go so well. The bonfire came and I stood awestruck as the cheerleaders ran around the perimeter screaming and chanting as the flames burst up into the air. Needless to say the next day I could hardly speak and was proud of it.
There are a lot of firsts for every Deerfield Student. First 100 on a test, in my case, first 30 out of 100 on a test, first varsity letter, first Grilled CC, first experience with Buff Chick, but perhaps above all of these, the first dorm prank happens to be one of the more memorable times in any Deerfield student’s career at the academy. My freshman year on our hall of about 16 we had only four returning students, all of whom had only witnessed the dorm madness. So naturally we proceeded to try our luck at making our own. We started out small and simple with the classic duct tape everything to the ceiling prank. It went well with smaller objects such as the Rubik’s Cube and a few pencils. Clearly none of us had done well on our study of gravity in physics class because we couldn’t figure out how to successfully tape the desk to the ceiling without it being a legitimate safety hazard. So that prank didn’t work out the way we wanted it to and we were lost. That is of course until we found about Deerfield’s most classic prank, the leaner.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a standard leaner is when you take the blue trashcan in your room, fill it anywhere from ¼ to ½ full with water from the shower, lean it up against the inward opening door of whomever you want your victim to be, and either knock and wait for the reaction, or simply go to bed and witness the aftermath the next morning. Again, we were all unfamiliar with the concept. We took the massive grey industrial trashcan out of the hallway, haphazardly dumped the trash bag onto the floor and began to fill the beast in the shower. We became satisfied when it was about ¾ full and went to work. We knocked and waited, and waited, and waited a little longer, and knocked again, and then from the other end of the hallway Francis Simmons asked, “What’s that trash can doing outside my door?” It didn’t occur to us that 3:00 in the afternoon was probably not the best time to give someone a leaner especially if that person’s class ended at 3:05. So we weren’t the best pranksters, but the idea was there.
The director of my summer camp, a man named Vincent Broderick, we called him Mr. Vinnie, used to quote to us the following phrase he often heard growing up, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life.” For a while I didn’t understand what it meant, but my time at Deerfield has allowed me to see the true value of what it means to have a faithful friend. It was pretty hard for me to initially make friends as a freshman. I was nervous, I didn’t know anybody, and I was scared that I was not worthy of my place at Deerfield. I told my interviewer, when I was applying, that I wanted to find the place where I could balance an athletic life, an academic life, and a social life. Well, I wasn’t a varsity athlete by any means. My confidence was at an all time low when I was placed on academic standing, and outside of the dorm I didn’t really have many friends. That was something really hard for me to grapple with as I entered the winter. As our play performance neared, I thought nothing of the general outcome and figured life would keep going on as usual. Yet after that production people kept coming up to me to say that they appreciated the performance or what their favorite part of it was. I was completely blown away. After feeling so insignificant for so much of my time at Deerfield, people took the time out of their night to come and see what I had worked on for the past three months. For me that completely changed everything and to every student that buys in and shows up at anything, thank you.
I’m not going to remember everything about this place. I’m not going to remember every test grade I get, every play rehearsal or crew practice I have, or every time I found one of my shirts in my brother Ollie’s room. I’m going to remember the times playing stickball after sit-down, plunging into that freezing cold water at 6:45 AM on Friday mornings, hiking to the Rock, or simply sitting out on the quad behind Jdubs, just looking at those beautiful sunsets over the hills. I’m going to remember all of this because of you guys. Honestly, Deerfield has been such a gift that I have had the pleasure to receive, but it would be nothing without the students in front of me today. You guys are what make Deerfield so special. You guys are everything to me, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
The Class of 2018
Guys, We made it. From day 1 at Camp Becket to last night at Senior Cry, it’s been one hell of a ride, and I’m honored to share it with you all. As we all move forward into the next chapter of our lives, I am sure we will each try and keep the lessons we have learned here with us as we each go our separate ways. I hope that the majority of you keep in touch with one another. Keep that sense that Deerfield gave where everywhere you went, every hard decision you had to make, every tough time you had to go through, every 5:30AM Dining Hall grind, every night spent crying or laughing, there was always been someone in your corner. Friend, faculty member, or simply someone you just happened to live next to, there was always at least one person that you could turn to for support. When the times get tough along the road ahead just remember, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life.” Thank you.
Commencement Address 2018: Christopher Whipple ’71
May 27, 2018 // Christopher Whipple ’71
Thank you, Margarita Curtis–members of the Board of Trustees, parents, friends and members of the class of 2018…I am honored to be with you at this wonderful ceremony.
Giving a Commencement address is an important responsibility. Or so I thought–until I reflected back on my own graduation in 1971, and compared notes with my classmates. The Commencement speaker that day was so riveting… none of us can remember a single word that was said.…we can’t even remember who it was.
Margarita, I know you’re not leaving yet–but I just want to say: next to the White House Chief of Staff, the most demanding job in America might be Head of School at Deerfield. And let me point out: the average tenure for a White House Chief is 18 months…and getting shorter all the time. You have been at the top of your game for 13 years. That’s amazing.
Class of 2018, in case you haven’t noticed, your parents are losing their minds. They are insanely happy, deliriously proud…but mostly they’re just delirious. Time has lost all meaning. They are convinced they dropped you off here last week. Spend some time with them–because it’s just going to get worse for them from here on out…
When I was sitting where you are back in 1971, I think I was wondering how in the world I got away with my so-called senior project–which, as I recall, consisted of playing Frisbee and blasting rock music on the lawn outside Pocumtuck. Would I really get a diploma? Any moment I thought maybe the jig would be up.
Today I’m going to be brief. I can almost hear Bryce Lambert, who taught me English here at Deerfield, and Bill Zinsser, a Deerfield grad who taught me nonfiction writing at Yale. They’re saying: “keep it short.” So here’s a promise: one way or another, this will be over in 14 minutes.
I want to talk to you about failure…about unexpected opportunities. And about the truth.
If you’d told me back in 1971 that one day I would make a film about the CIA and write a best-selling book about the White House Chiefs of Staff, I would have found that prediction dubious at best. At Deerfield my potential as a chronicler of American political history was, as Winston Churchill said, ‘exceedingly well-disguised’.
I saved a report card in American History from junior year, and I quote: “I’m afraid Chris has learned nothing whatsoever in this class. It is unfortunate that he has put in the minimal effort. But there is no point in belaboring it at this juncture.”
Mr. Burns, if you are listening, I am sorry.
History isn’t the only area where I came up short at Deerfield. I wanted to be a great hockey player, and hockey runs in my family. My brother-in-law, Terry Marr, played varsity all four years, and was made captain. His picture was on the wall in the barn, for God’s sake. No pressure.
By contrast, my most memorable moment on the ice came sophomore year during a team scrimmage–when I was knocked unconscious after taking a stick in the face. This was nothing to write home about–but the infirmary did send my parents a letter:
It read: “Dear Mr. & Mrs. Blank (Whipple), your son blank (Christopher) was injured on date blank (?) and has received blank (thirteen) stitches in his blank (lip).”
Adding insult to injury, junior year, I got cut from the varsity–sent down to the j.v. I was totally devastated. Coach Merriam…I’m still not over that.
And it gets worse. Journalism also runs in my family, and more than anything I wanted to be a writer. So sophomore year I tried out for The Scroll. Well, I flunked the writing test. I don’t remember what it consisted of–fixing sentences or something…But I completely botched it.
That’s it, I told myself: my career in journalism is over. Done. Toast.
Well, guess what? It turns out that failing is ok. In fact, I’m here to tell you: failing is not just ok. It’s essential.
As you move on to college and beyond, if you don’t fail at something, you’re not taking enough chances…If you’re not swinging at balls outside your strike zone, well, you’re living too cautiously.
Don’t just take my word for it. A few years ago, Aaron Sorkin spoke to the graduates at Syracuse University. Sorkin, of course, is perhaps the greatest film screenwriter of our time. But as a college freshman, he took a class called ‘Play Analysis’. It did not go well. Quizzed on Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, Sorkin revealed that he did not know that at the end of the play…the salesman dies. He flunked the class.
But that was, he said, the single most important thing that happened in his evolution as a writer. Sophomore year he repeated the course…and passed–and he never looked back.
The point is, there are screw-ups headed your way. It’s a combination, Sorkin said, of life being unpredictable–and of you being super dumb.
He’s right. The truth is, you are all incredibly well-educated dumb people. No matter how smart you are, you are going to mess up. And your life is not going to follow your pre-conceived script.
The trick is to be ready for unexpected turns in the road. Steven Colbert says, “Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.”
I am no Aaron Sorkin or Steven Colbert–but I stumbled into a career I never could have imagined when I sat where you are now: as a journalist I have covered apartheid in South Africa, revolution in the Philippines, famine in Somalia, hunger strikes in northern Ireland, war in the Middle East and Central America. I’ve interviewed Winnie Mandela and Imelda Marcos, and Dick Cheney and George H.W. Bush. And all the directors of the CIA. I have been a producer at 60 Minutes, made a film for Showtime, and wrote a book that has kept me on cable tv news for more than a year…and none of this would have happened if I had followed my original plan.
You see, becoming a reporter was not the plan.
When I graduated from college, the stars of the biggest journalism show in town, Time Incorporated–the publisher of Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Fortune Money–were the writers. They were actually re-writers–who took reporters’ stories and totally reworked them, polishing them into what they thought was deathless prose. The writers never left the rarefied air high above Rockefeller Center.
By contrast, the grunts were the reporters, who went out in the field and into the muck, actually covering stories.
Well, I wanted to be a writer. And lo and behold, I was hired as one by the monthly Life Magazine. I thought to myself: I have arrived.
Once again, I bombed. I was terrible. It was a disaster.
But instead of firing me, my boss did me a life-changing favor. He demoted me–he kicked me out of my office–and told me not to come back until I had a story. That’s how I discovered that I was born to be a reporter. I had a knack for getting into inaccessible places–and getting people who never gave interviews to talk.
My failure as a writer–like Sorkin’s failure with ‘Death of a Salesman’–was the single most important thing in my evolution as a journalist. I wound up covering stories for Life on five continents. I played tennis with Bjorn Borg on the red clay in Monte Carlo, dodged tear gas on the West Bank, sailed on the battleship New Jersey off war-torn Beirut. And eventually I became a pretty good writer, too.
But there is a lot more to life than your LinkedIn profile.
J.K. Rowling has said that “personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your cv, are not your life…”
Whether you decide to become a doctor or a lawyer or a journalist or a banker or a candlestick maker…make a connection to something larger than yourself.
David Foster Wallace once said the trick is “how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out…”
So in college and beyond…look up from your iPhone or laptop and notice things. Pay attention to what is happening in this country.
And in any way you can, do something to make it better.
Before I talk about truth, let me say a word or two about things in Washington, D.C.
Imagine a president running the White House like a crime family…who has contempt for constitutional norms and democratic institutions…and demonizes anyone who criticizes him as an enemy.
But enough about Richard Nixon.
That’s right, we’ve been down this road before. In fact, I vividly remember Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew denouncing journalists as “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” It was 1971, and I was sitting where you are now…hoping to become a journalist.
It was just the beginning of a rampage of criminality–illegal break-ins, political dirty tricks, bribery, corruption and coverups–that came to be known as “Watergate”. The rule of law–the main thing that distinguishes this country from a criminal oligarchy like Russia–was in jeopardy.
Well, we got through it. The bad guys lost. The rule of law prevailed. But there was no guarantee what the outcome would be. And there are no certainties today. As it turns out, Watergate was just a warm-up for what is happening in Washington today. The rule of law is once again under assault.
But there is a simple way to defend it: and that is to tell the truth. And to demand it from those who lie to further their political ends.
Deerfield stands for many things: character, civility, integrity. Community. But in my mind the most important is the pursuit of truth.
Truth is not dogma or ideology or opinion. It’s not the world according to CNN or MSNBC or Fox News or Breitbart.
I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Anarchist or Egalitarian…you are entitled to your own beliefs but you are not entitled to your own facts–to paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Facts are evidence-based. Without a shared set of facts, we cannot solve problems or create laws or govern effectively. And “if nothing is true,” as the writer Timothy Snyder points out, “then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so.”
Truth was the first casualty of this presidency–when the Press Secretary lied about the size of the inaugural crowd. Truth died again when the Chief of Staff stepped up to the lectern in the White House briefing room, lied about an elected representative–and then refused to correct himself.
But worse than those who do the lying are those who go along with them. It’s a faustian bargain in which you trade your integrity for power.
As J.K. Rowling once said in a different context: “those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters–for without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it–through our own apathy.”
Truth will not prevail–unless you demand it. To quote our own Margarita Curtis: “Share the habits your teachers demonstrated and instilled: Inquire. Be curious. Seek the truth.”
In other words, be worthy of your heritage.
In writing my book, The Gatekeepers, I was extraordinarily fortunate to get to know eighteen former White House Chiefs of Staff. And I learned a lot from them. On December 5, 2008, with the country in crisis, on the verge of another great depression, thirteen of them gathered at the White House at the invitation of George W. Bush’s outgoing chief, Joshua Bolten. They came to meet with Barack Obama’s incoming Chief, Rahm Emanuel. They were Republicans and Democrats–representing every view on the political spectrum, from Dick Cheney to John Podesta. But on this day, a moment of crisis for the country–with the auto industry about to go belly up, credit frozen around the world, and two wars mired in stalemate–they put their partisanship aside. They sat around a table and took turns giving Emanuel their best advice on how to run the White House. They wanted him to succeed. They cared more about the country than their own ideological agendas.
That’s the way things used to be. And I believe it’s the way things can be again.
I spent some time with a bunch of you a few weeks ago. And partly because of that visit, I am optimistic about this country. Compared to me and my Deerfield classmates, you are light years more self-aware and confident and diverse and tolerant.
But don’t get me wrong–the screw-ups are still coming. You’ll get through them–if you keep a few things in mind:
- Be civil. And kind. Show respect.
- Never think you’re the smartest person in the room. As a political analyst, I spend most of my time on MSNBC and CNN. But I always accept invitations to go on Fox News, where I never fail to stir up angry trolls on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s a lot more interesting and rewarding than preaching to the converted.
- Never forget that people who disagree with you are not your enemy. Unless they went to Choate–in which case the hell with them.
So congratulations, class of 2018! I have no doubt that you can be the best in the world at whatever you choose to do. Keep falling on your face and getting back up, until you are.
I hope you find a teacher or a mentor, as I did here at Deerfield, who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.
I hope you make a friend, as I did, who becomes your best friend for life.
I hope you reconnect with Deerfield classmates decades later, as I have just this year, and become closer to them than you ever were.
I wish you health and happiness and success…Godspeed and good luck.
Commencement 2018: Head of School Margarita Curtis’ Remarks to the Senior Class
Dwell in Uncertainty
May 27, 2018 Commencement
Margarita O’Byrne Curtis
Welcome to all our families and friends, and to the entire Deerfield Community! Seniors, we have gathered to celebrate your accomplishments, but before we do, it seems a good time to thank your families—and your teachers—for the role they played in getting you here today. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.
You know, Commencement is one of few life events that allow you to pause and reflect, before you move into an unknown future… and I imagine this idea could make you a little nervous.
But those butterflies signal opportunity. They indicate inflection in the path of your life. They herald the chance to grow – not only in terms of who and what you are—but more importantly, in what you think. I urge you to dwell in this sense of possibility, in this sense of uncertainty.
Most of us eschew such discomfort, seeking a safer place. Instead of lingering to learn and grow, we want to make decisions and move forward—confident in our own assumptions and judgments. Taken to extremes, this mindset can lead to self-righteousness and a sense of moral superiority. When we occupy this particular high ground, we enjoy a lovely view, but a static one. Enthroned in certainty, we lament that others don’t understand the landscape as we do… and in our insistence, we repel the very people we hope to persuade.
This hubris has taken forms familiar to us in recent years. People protest a speaker before hearing the speech. They reject the new in preference to the safety of the status quo. They equate offensive rhetoric with physical violence—and popularity with merit.
At Deerfield, we know that education begins and ends with who we want to be, not with what we want to know; our mission is to prepare students for leadership in a rapidly changing world. At some schools, leadership is about the skills of command and control. At others, it’s about intellectual supremacy, or technical acumen.
But WE believe leadership is about people. Daily habits of respect, honesty, and concern for others make our community special—and are the product of individual actions.
This is one of the Academy’s most powerful lessons, and, like all of you, I have been a learner in this regard. In my role as Head of School, much of my work is to listen to people who have vastly different—and often vehemently held—opinions on topics that are personal, meaningful, and important to them. There is always divergence in what different people believe, and yet all feel their position is the right one.
This I know: things are rarely simple—and they are almost never certain.
In a leader’s effort to be decisive, it’s easy to forget to be inclusive. Now… I am not saying that everyone always gets a vote, and I am not advocating for design by committee. But I would argue that leaders need to explore ideologies with which they disagree—instead of seeking evidence in support of their own predispositions and predeterminations.
Leaders sometimes assume they must select from the available options—that they must choose a side. But, as you’ve learned in our classrooms and common rooms, in our studios and our playing fields, the best ideas emerge from the exchange of merely good ones. When you recollect your most satisfying classroom moments at Deerfield, they share in their character a kind of collective engagement. You’ve learned to listen to others’ perspectives as a way to enlighten your own thinking and to hone your own arguments.
In this way, we understand that decision-making is not an act of selection, but one of synthesis—of creation. Instead of filling space with our own voices and thoughts—our own sense of certainty—each of us strives to listen, to find common ground, and to connect with others—no matter where they come from or what they think.
At Deerfield, we learn to lead with strength of mind and strength of heart, acknowledging the integrity of those who see things differently— translating critical thinking into clear communication, advocating for ourselves and others with purpose and respect. Each of you has played a role in creating an environment that fosters rational discourse and respectful debate. You accept uncertainty—and its associated discomfort—because you sense opportunity.
In this way, you embody the school we have always hoped to be. Deerfield’s lessons are timeless and unwavering, but it is how you’ve interpreted them in today’s world that has made you truly worthy.
You’ve heard me repeat Mr. Boyden’s words many times before:
The test of worth of any school… is the record of service of her alumni.
To his thoughts, I add my own:
You make Deerfield worthy, not the other way around.
Baccalaureate Address 2018: Andy Harcourt
Delivered by Andrew Harcourt
to The Deerfield Academy Class of 2018
The Brick Church
May 25, 2018
I would like to wish good afternoon to Dr. Margarita Curtis, Dr. Manning Curtis, Mr. Flaska, parents, friends, guests, faculty colleagues, and the Juniors of the Class of 2019 – with a shout-out to my AP Biology and AP Seminar: Global H2O students. I wish to extend a special, heartfelt greeting to the members of the Illustrious Class of 2018, to whom this talk is principally addressed.
In particular, I would like to thank Eric Kim, Student Council Chair, and Amelia Evans, Student Body President, for the invitation to speak at this traditional ceremony. I last delivered a Baccalaureate address 23 years ago to the Class of 1995 and I feel that the intervening time has given me a richer perspective on the Deerfield Experience. However, I feel like I need to give you fair warning, a red flag that comes from one of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau. In the first few pages of Walden, Thoreau speaks to the value of advice that is given across generations, writing “You may say the wisest things you can, old man–you who have lived seventy years not without honor of a kind–I hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from all that.”
And then he delivers the clincher, “I have lived some thirty years on this planet and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable advice from my seniors.” Though Dr. C. insists I was born in the Jurassic and my high school classmates were a brontosaurus, a pterodactyl and 2 velociraptors, it was actually only 40 years ago that I came to Deerfield to teach, one member of a group of 10 new faculty that includes my present colleagues Ms. Lyons in the Language Department and Ms. Kelly in the Library.
In a few days, your graduation speaker will focus on advice for the future. I, on the other hand, want to talk about the shared experience we have had. One of the points I will try to get across today is that though things have changed over the last 40 years, the essence of what makes Deerfield great is still very much intact. As a veteran faculty member said to me when I first arrived on campus “Remember this, it’s all about the kids”–and these words have been a touchstone that has made seemingly difficult decisions become easy choices for me in light of that perspective. You–the Class of 2018–have experienced Deerfield in its many forms: classes with demanding teachers, co-curriculars with coaches and directors who expect your best effort, dorms with pretty tight rules–and the best part, making friends and sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.
This has been the year of MINDFULNESS, an attempt to slow down the hectic pace of DA for just a few minutes a day. It has also been the year of the amazing Disappearing Senior Privileges and the equally amazing Expanded 19-Day Rule. Maybe not the best start to Senior Spring? That’s OK, there have been many other classes that have gotten into trouble in the past, like my first senior class–the Class of 1979. Right Mr. Dancer?
Of course, back in 1979 Deerfield was a school of fewer than 600 students, all boys, and the class motto was “better rowdy than cum laude.” Back then, a culture in which athletics vastly outweighed academics, a Massachusetts State drinking age of 18 and a requirement that you only had to have an average greater than 60% in your courses in order to graduate fueled all sorts of questionable activities. Case in point: In early February of my first year, a kitchen fire broke out at the Deerfield Inn late one afternoon. Students were just getting out of sports and they raced to the location where they formed human bucket brigades to help move furniture and paintings out the front door and across the street to the safety of the Historic Deerfield Tourist Center. There were wonderful photos posted in newspapers showing DA students and faculty pitching in to help. What they didn’t show was another bucket brigade of Deerfield seniors at the back door of the Inn industriously unloading the contents of the bar and the liquor cabinets into the nearby dorms!
Be that as it may, there is something special here that is unique to Deerfield–something that sets us apart from many other similar schools. What I am talking about has been passed down through generations of Deerfield students. It is Deerfield Spirit–at times it is so powerful that you can feel it washing over you like a wave. Every time you cheer at a pep rally, every time you applaud another Deerfield student for a performance, or a meditation, or an athletic accomplishment or a service to the community you generate and reinforce our defining school spirit. It is the spirit of participation, a sense of pride in what you contribute as an individual and a sense of pride in what we do as a school.
It is the choice to become actively involved with the knowledge that you will be supported in what you do. Every Class says “school spirit used to be so much stronger in the past”, but that is just not true. What has changed over the years is the form it takes on.
There is an excitement in the air at all times that school is in session, a willingness to join in, take risks and contribute for the good of Deerfield. It is what students take to the fields, bring on to the courts, present on the stage, prove in and on the water–the sense that they represent Deerfield. It is the essence of what we hope every prospective applicant sees at Deerfield while touring campus and visiting–creativity and critical thinking in classes, sportsmanship and skill in athletics and a vibrant, ethical community.
As Mr. Boyden often said, Deerfield days are not just preparation for life, they are life. Every time you thanked a Physical Plant worker, praised the Dining Hall staff, or recycled and composted correctly you made the community just that much better. It is then that you have shown awareness of your role as a member of an institution that stretches back over 200 years into the past and extends forward into the future.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” Thoreau observes in Walden. I feel certain that the members of the Class of 2018 will not fall into this category. As one of the authors of our Mission Statement, I am proud to see that the school is committed to preparing students for “leadership in a rapidly changing world.”
Your teachers, under the benevolent supervision of Academic Dean Dr. Hills have emphasized the importance of creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration in addition to the acquisition of factual content. The Faculty includes a number of Greer Chair recipients, like the indomitable Ms. Hynds, forever old school Mr. Marge, the irrepressible Ms. Friends and the forever young Ms. Claudia Lyons. The academic departments are capably led by the nerdy Dr. Acton in Science, the intellectual Mr. Schloat in English, the towering guidance of Mr. Barnes in Math and the Force of Nature that is Ms. R-L in History–to name a few. There is also a core of outstanding young faculty who are poised to propel the school through the next chapter in its history. Mr. Stallings and Ms. Steim are expert guides through the wilds of poetry and literature, Mr. McVaugh provides opportunities for research in Environmental History while Ms. Melvoin follows in the footsteps of her dad as a US History scholar. Mr. and Mrs. Bicknell draw students into Spanish speaking cultures, Ms. Calhoun and Mrs. McVaugh train young Math students for future greatness and Ms. Frank makes philosophy relevant for teenagers. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Thomas have added tremendous spark and intellectual power to the Science Department, while Mr. Carroll is aligning the Library with the changing curriculum. Mr. Miller, perhaps the most creative thinker I have encountered in my time at DA, is constantly reshaping the way Deerfield interfaces with the world through the CSCG and Mr. Payne–outstanding Architecture teacher that he is–must take on the heavy responsibility of continuing the days of glory of the foundation of DA soccer–the Quad Squad!–if the team even exists next year.
I hope you take a minute during the next few days to thank the faculty members you have connected with. Because of their efforts, you, the Class of 2018, are likely to make a lasting impact in the future. As a matter of fact, I feel that the Class of 2018 has to make an impact–because it’s a dangerous world out there. Your leadership will be essential in meeting the complex challenges of a changing climate, evolving antibiotic resistant strains of disease and the disappearing global reserves of fresh water. We need to be able to feed a human population growing at an exponential rate, address insidious social justice issues and fight the rise of anti-intellectualism. We need leadership in a rapidly changing world.
We need the intellectual power of Kiana Rawji who can rationally analyze complex topics and communicate in language that clarifies them. We need the dedication to public service of Conrad Friere, who reminds us that we need to think of the needs of others in our extended community. We need the 21st Century thinking of Mila Castleman who will use her talents to push the boundaries of art and technology. We need the well-rounded excellence of Theo Lenz to serve as a role model for those who want to make the most out of their opportunities for success.
We need the clear insight and essential sense of humor that characterizes how Misha Fan advances discussion about gender. And we need thinkers like Marco Marsans who understand the value of philosophy in understanding different perspectives. We need the powerful voice of Sarah Jane O’Connor to help us move away from entitlement and toward a commitment to environmental stewardship. We need people like Nolan Rockefeller and Meaghan O’Brien who can come through for their teams when they need it most.
We need the commitment to sustainability that Nic Labadan will bring to his entrepreneurial endeavors and we need artists like Erin Tudryn to make us aware of the environmental impact of our throw-away culture. We need actors like Maddie Wasson and Thanasi Tsandilas who can channel powerful messages through their performances. We need Renaissance men and women like Johnny Xu and Caitlin Sugita who prove to us that you can achieve excellence in multiple areas–if you don’t sleep! As a matter of fact, the gifts and talents of every single member of the Class of 2018 will be needed to provide leadership in this rapidly changing world.
Seniors, tomorrow night you will be attending a gathering of your classmates with Dr. Curtis and some faculty–the so-called Senior Cry. At this time, it is traditional that the Head of School relates the Tom Ashley story to those who will graduate the next day. Since students are hearing the story for the first time, many wonder what the point of it is.
Over 100 years ago, Tom Ashley articulated Mr. Boyden’s unwritten rules of conduct in writing that the chief goal of the school was the development of well-rounded, whole individuals. Some of these goals can be attained by means of courses, practices and games, but the ethical and moral side of education must necessarily occur indirectly. As Tom Ashley put it, “A system cannot develop character. The means of encouraging a student to stand for the right things must emerge from preserving the individuality of students and giving them an underlying, almost unconscious sense that the school stands for the right things.”
It is good to note that Deerfield’s Strategic Plan reaffirms our commitment to these basic ideas and the recently published list of Core Values strengthens the sense that these philosophical goals are implicitly addressed as an ethical backdrop of the day-to-day life of the school.
The Senior Class Meeting with the Head of School (the “Cry”) is one of your final moments as a Deerfield student. Make it one of your finest, as well. It is a chance to reflect on the totality of your Deerfield experience, a chance to stand up and say a word of thanks, praise someone, recount a funny story or a fond memory or simply try to express your feelings. I urge you now to think a bit about what you want to say, for your words are likely to be remembered, and perhaps treasured, for years to come in the hearts and minds of those gathered together.
My parting words are these: Be mindful, but be mindful of the needs of others and the sustainability of the places in which you live. I feel this sentiment has been beautifully expressed in a work called Strength of Heart: The Bicentennial Poem by Peter Fallon, who was an Irish poet in residence on campus during the Bicentennial Year 1996-1997. I urge you to read the whole poem, but the last lines are the most powerful ones to me and I hope you carry them with you into the future. Those lines read:
“It is said that there are uncarved commandments to accept. Be worthy of this life. And, Love the World.”
School Heads from MA to NJ Stand in Solidarity, Call for Action Against Gun Violence
We, the heads of independent secondary schools comprising the Eight Schools Association, stand in solidarity with our students and with the families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We join with those voices calling for meaningful action to keep our students safe from gun violence on campuses and beyond.
As many of our students have joined a nationwide movement to support the victims and survivors of gun violence in America, we pledge, as leaders of those schools, to help amplify their voices. Our students come from every state in this nation and from around the world to receive the very best care and education. We are moved to take action out of responsibility for the thousands of children in our care and out of compassion for children throughout this country. Each day of inaction chips away at every teacher’s right to deliver and every student’s right to receive an education free from fear and violence.
We have given witness to Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, among too many other instances of gun violence on campuses. Parkland is now added to that list. We as school leaders will do all we can in our power to keep our students safe. We call upon all those elected representatives – from each member of Congress to the President to all others in positions of power – to take meaningful legislative and regulatory action to make our schools safer for learning and teaching. It is hard to imagine any topic that would be more worthy today of our leaders’ focus.
Do not let our students’ voices go unheard this time.
Alex Curtis, Choate Rosemary Hall
Margarita Curtis, Deerfield Academy
Craig Bradley, The Hotchkiss School
Stephen Murray, The Lawrenceville School
Peter Fayroian, Northfield Mount Hermon
John Palfrey, Phillips Academy, Andover
Lisa MacFarlane, Phillips Exeter Academy
Michael Hirschfeld, St. Paul’s School
Convocation 2017: Remarks from Student Body President Amelia Evans ’18
I was seated in that seat—right over there—at my first opening convocation as a new sophomore, two years ago. I was wearing a try-hard, “preppy” outfit that my mom bought me from J Crew, and I had the most curiosity a 15-year-old girl from Southern California could possibly have about an East Coast Boarding School.
I had no doubt that I was seated amongst the best and brightest of my generation—and to be honest, I was unsure if I was good enough to fit in. I was very anxious: about classes. cocurriculars, friends, and the future. However, with help from encouraging teachers and successful students, who were all willing to share their experiences, I made choices that helped me succeed.
Now, here I stand at the start of my final year, more eager than ever to start a conversation, proudly channeling my own style (sorry mom), and part of a community I always dreamed of; one that I am certain will last me a lifetime.
Welcome back to school everyone! My name is Amelia Evans (my Instagram is _ameliaevans) and it is my privilege to serve as your 2017-2018 Student Body President!
Whether you are here beginning your first days at Deerfield or beginning your last year on campus, together, we begin a voyage that will take us…wherever we choose to go…everything will turn on the choices you make.
Uniquely, here, the students, the administration, and the faculty, are truly “All in this together” (yes, I love High School Musical). I am not saying there won’t be days when it seems as though nothing is going your way—you received a horrible grade on your chemistry lab; you didn’t make the team you tried out for, or maybe your crush didn’t have the feelings you hoped for… You are not alone. We all have off days, but the good days will out number the bad, and the incredible people at DA will always help you get through.
Ninth graders: take it all in. You are small but mighty, and high school is going to flash by faster than you think. Tenth graders: being an underclassman really isn’t all that bad…(you’ll know what I mean next year). Juniors: welcome to later curfew and the college process; just don’t let either of those things take away from experiencing, in my opinion, the best year of high school. And finally, seniors! We are doing it big this year! Let’s cherish our last year at DA while we begin our countdown to graduation.
As a student body…we will start early. We will work late. We will focus on our ambitions, our passions, new ideas, and new choices. We will reach out to those who are younger to guide them. We will reach out to those who are older to learn from their experience. Reach out to somebody you have never seen before today. Share your time and your energy to make another student’s experience better. As we serve others, we grow stronger.
Choices you make here today, tomorrow, and throughout your time at Deerfield will change your life; your choices will change Deerfield; and your choices will change the world. Welcome to your future! Know that you are among friends, and please count me among them. Thank you.
Curiosity and Cosmic Geometry: Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at Convocation 2017
Thank you, Mr. Mohammad, Amelia, and Dr. Hills—and a warm welcome to all of you as we begin a new academic year together.
Today, it is fitting to reflect on the values and dispositions we embrace at Deerfield—those that lead us to worthy—generous ways of being in the world. But a natural phenomenon, witnessed by many of us this summer, may help illustrate the utter necessity of cultivating one key trait in our community life.
In late August, a solar eclipse crossed the country from coast to coast. Almost 20 million people witnessed the mid-day darkness of totality, and virtually everyone in the continental United States experienced the eclipse in some form or another. It was a much anticipated historic event.
Centuries ago, eclipses weren’t understood—so they were terrifying. The sun’s disappearance was attributed to wrathful and godlike forces. Mythologies varied, but as you might expect, none of them portrayed the blotting out of the sun as a “good thing.” For religious leaders, the monarchy, and the masses, eclipses prophesized plague…or famine…or other apocalyptic events.
But for some, these cosmic, mysterious events piqued curiosity. Over time, ancient civilizations gained the ability to predict the timing of eclipses. An accurate scientific understanding of eclipse mechanics emerged as early as the 1600s, and in 1715, Edmund Halley, using math developed by Isaac Newton, was able to predict an eclipse’s path over England. His calculations were accurate to within 20 miles and four minutes, demonstrating that through sheer curiosity, he persevered to shed light on the inner workings of cosmic geometry.
By the turn of the 20th century, the mechanism behind eclipses became common knowledge—yet, even today, modern science still hasn’t vanquished the last vestiges of ancient fears. Any remaining misinformation does little harm: We no longer perform human sacrifices to appease angry gods. We don’t engage in regicide because the sun takes a moment of rest. We don’t put much stock in omens or augury. For good or ill, belief in the power of the stars to govern our fate has been all but extinguished.
But in other arenas, fear of the unknown…of the unfamiliar…of difference, or “the other”—does real harm to people every day. The repugnant ideologies on display in Charlottesville last month are but one example. The people carrying Nazi flags are vectors of corrosive and hate-fueled fear. They declare—with disturbing confidence and certainty—that their fears are founded in a twisted truth—and they argue that a torch sheds sufficient light on the world. They dwell in ignorant and incurious darkness.
Curiosity is the light that converts fear to familiarity. Curiosity illuminates the unknown and—when alloyed with a sense of humility—ensures we remain open to the truths we uncover. As I suggested to our new students and families at the Wednesday lunch, curiosity is the most essential attribute we can develop and demonstrate at Deerfield. It invites us to navigate the landscape of thought, separate right from wrong, winnow fact from fiction, and decide whom—and what ideas—to follow.
At Deerfield, we spark curiosity in a special way. We connect our work here, in this historic village, with the duties we have as citizens in a modern world. We share experiences, face-to-face, to bond our diverse community together. We pursue big ideas from a foundation of common knowledge and fundamental inquiry. Together, we examine the challenges of the world, letting curiosity guide us to new answers—and new questions.
Here we have the resources and support to venture anywhere our curiosity takes us. Let’s seize our time at Deerfield—with the incredible mix of people around us—as an opportunity to embrace the unknown and the different. Curiosity can help us all transcend and banish the fears and biases of today’s world. I hope that we can build familiarity with others, and with other ideas—so that we can affirm our common humanity.
Dr. Curtis’ Remarks at the First Faculty Meeting of the Year
August 30, 2017
First, I’d like to speak to the more serious issues facing us as we begin another academic year in a highly polarized, emotionally-charged political environment.
Specifically, I want to stop for a moment and address Charlottesville, and to be absolutely clear on one point: Hate has no place at Deerfield. As you know, we are a private institution, so we can and do limit certain types of speech—and we impose a code of conduct and stricter community standards than may be tolerated by others. Respect and concern for others will continue to guide our words and our actions.
Racism, discrimination, and xenophobia are repugnant views—they are a special type of learned ignorance, borne from the conceit that emotions can eclipse facts. Now, more than ever, we play a critical role as educators. If we wish to teach our students about the dangers of hateful, divisive ideologies, we must model for them an unrelenting appeal to reason and evidence. We must not teach blind acceptance of ideology, but instead encourage analysis, assessment, and consideration.
At the same time, however, the first step in preparing our students for leadership and service is to ensure that we are a school where ideas flourish through exchange—where arguments are both honed and enriched by a free flow of divergent perspectives. Our classrooms need to be safe places for individuals to respectfully and constructively disagree. Students need to be able to speak their minds without fear of repercussion or ridicule—and they should be encouraged to defend even discordant ideas thoughtfully and thoroughly, using facts and evidence.
Most importantly, we cannot teach—or learn—if we foreclose the discussion with our own overpowering beliefs and biases. As teachers, it’s our duty to help students learn how to think, not what to think.
But we must also think beyond Charlottesville. Here I refer to the terrorism, political unrest, and human rights abuses that have shaped recent global news. Hurricane Harvey has put a catastrophic face on climate change. Millions around the world go hungry, ingest pollutants, or seek refuge from violence or oppression. Our role in education is a human responsibility: Pressing problems face people everywhere. Our graduates’ skills, talents, and disposition to serve will be in high demand.
Here is what gives me hope: We know what we must do. Let’s embrace complexity. Let’s cast about for ideas unlike our own. Let’s resist the temptation of easy answers—and the tendency to judge events and ideas in isolation. If, all of us together, remain curious and humble, we can avoid the trap of self-righteousness that plagues today’s culture of finger-pointing and blind opposition.
As the year progresses, our inclusion plan will continue to lead us in developing greater cultural competency. These enhanced skills supplement the talent and commitment you all bring to the teaching life. The lessons of Charlottesville speak to the utter necessity of our work—of our shared mission—and to the great importance of our example in shaping the character and the agency of our students.
Student Address 2017: Duncan Mackay
Commencement, May 28, 2017
Good Morning, Deerfield. First off, thanks for coming to see me! Oh I’m just kidding.
In all seriousness though, it is an honor to be up on this stage today. When I was watching commencement my freshman year, I thought I would be lucky to walk across this stage. Now I get to walk and talk. Who would have thought?! But really I wouldn’t be here; none of us would be here, without the strong support of our family and friends.
I’d like say thanks to parents, grandparents, siblings (thanks especially to Cornelia and Harris), faculty, staff, and everyone at Deerfield. We can’t thank you enough. I’d also like to give a quick thanks to my grandmother, Grandmartha, for making the trip all the way from the Mississippi Delta.
When she heard I was going to boarding school my freshman year, her first response was, “Now Duncan! What did you do wrong? Those Yankees better take care of you. And don’t you start talking funny like they do.” I don’t think my accent has changed too much, Grandmartha, but I have changed a lot at this special place. I hope you have enjoyed your weekend in this place that I have grown to love.
I am sure everyone in the graduating class had some sort of conversation prior to your Deerfield journey in which you were asked, “Why are you getting sent away?”
“Are you too smart for our school?!” “What are you going to do there?” “What’s a PG year?” “Do you think it will be fun?” We tried to respond to the best of our ability, but in truth we didn’t have any answers.
No matter what year we drove under the Elms for the first time, we all came here with goals, fears, and expectations. We all took different paths, did different things, and followed our dreams to learn a little bit more about ourselves and our talents. We all have grown so much in our own unique ways, and it has all happened in this valley, in these dorms, in the classroom, on the lower fields, in the dance studio, at the rock, in the river, during feeds, during those late night talks with your friends, at the sit down table… the list goes on and on.
In one-way or another, we were all introduced to a plethora of opportunities, but through the busy, fast-paced life of Deerfield, we found our niche.
Some of us found a nook right from the start, but for others it took a little bit more time. For me, it took three years.
I am going to share three stories with you all today that helped me find my place—and myself—at Deerfield. My first experience was on the football field. I came here thinking I would be a great player. I came from the public high school in Virginia on which Remember the Titans was based. Not too shabby! So, I thought football would be easy and I would be a star. Well, boy I was wrong, just ask my JV coaches, Mr. Emerson and Mr. Philie. I got yelled at during every single game and practice, but I always knew that they yelled at me because they wanted the absolute best from me.
And when I moved to varsity, I wanted to do my best for the team. My place was on special teams, where I had a key role: don’t mess up! With the home crowd cheering, “#26 is a baaadddd man!” I would reluctantly run down the field trying not to miss a tackle or let the ball carrier outside of me because if I missed, the other team could score. In truth, I missed a lot of tackles; I mean a lot.
During the Loomis game this year, the kick returner was running right at me. I decided to go for that big-time play. I ran at him, and when my chance came I dove at his ankles…Aanndd I completely missed.
He went on to score, and I moped to the sideline, knowing that I was about to get an earful from Coach Barbato. Surprisingly, Coach didn’t yell at me; instead he said firmly, “Duncan, keep your head up…See what you are going to hit. Do not worry about mistakes, and just play football!”
I smiled, having heard exactly what I needed to hear. Coach Barbato believed in me more than I believed in myself. I realized that by playing afraid I had relied too much on my teammates. From then on, I held myself accountable.
I suspect that all of my classmates have come to that same place of holding themselves accountable for their successes and mistakes as friends, classmates, teammates, hallmates, performers, and community servants. We have been accountable at Deerfield in seen and unseen ways.
I remember even hoping to be an unsung hero freshman year; I wanted to be recognized so badly at school meeting. However, later in my years at Deerfield, I found a different satisfaction in a place I never would have imagined: the dish crew.
I joined this crew originally because I didn’t have to wear class dress on Sundays and I got to eat with my friends every day, but I soon learned, there were far fewer perks to this job than I had thought. I’d have to scarf down my food, grab an apron, and dash to my spot on the conveyor belt.
The quizzes, essays, and sporting events all flushed from my mind as I focused on my one and only task—move the plates on the conveyor belt to Al. He would yell, “Come on, boy! Move em quick!” when I was slacking and would respond, “Atta boy, my son,” when I was in rhythm with him. I had a commitment to Dish Crew just like the ones to my sports teams and classes, except this was an off-the-radar job. If I didn’t show up, I didn’t get in trouble with Deerfield; I let down the dedicated staff workers and my peers on the dish crew.
Who was going to clean the plates if we weren’t there? I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave those dining hall workers out to dry. I would show up, buy in, and in doing so I learned a lot. It is important at Deerfield to find your place, to find your purpose because, well, in short, it feels good. It feels good to put others before yourself. It feels good to play even the smallest part in something bigger than you.
But it is also important to discover something deeper about yourself. Like many of you, I came to Deerfield thinking that I was prepared. Yet again, I was wrong…
Deerfield is hard and I never thought I would see success the way my peers did. My first two years I would study more than all of my classmates, just to get a score that was half as good as theirs. My teachers would tell me, “You cannot do better than your best,” and I convinced myself that my subpar schoolwork was my best. I tricked myself into believing I couldn’t work any harder. It took me until my junior fall to realize that the only way I was going to succeed was if I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started working.
I found my place in Kendall 49. I started studying alone in the language building for three to fours hours a night, trying to improve my habits and my results. After several terms, I found a side of me that I never thought I would find. I actually loved school; I actually loved learning.
And then halfway through my senior year I had become a lumberjack…let me explain. I discovered learning is like chopping wood. Consider a giant tree and an old-fashioned axe, if you try to chop down this tree with a couple of whacks, you are not going to chop down the tree at all, but if you chop at the same spot, time and time again, that great big tree will fall. My learning experience has been like chopping a great big tree down, day after day, night after night; I have been chopping at this tree. And, once this tree fell, I realized that I had I learned how to learn. And at Deerfield, that is the most important lesson.
Through chopping wood, I learned to find my place, and when I found my place, I found myself.
Before I finish, I would like to leave the younger Deerfield students with one wish: find your place. Not the place that will lead you to a college acceptance, but the place that will lead you to yourself.
And to the great class of 2017, I wish for you to find a purpose, to keep changing, and keep chopping.
Commencement Address 2017: Carrie Freeman Braddock ’92
Commencement, May 28, 2017
Thank you, Dr. Curtis. Good morning, everyone. I feel very honored to join you on this special day.
The first time I visited Deerfield was the fall of 1988 when I was 14. I drove up with my dad on a cold, rainy morning feeling a mix of curiosity and excitement. I was a freshman at Rye High School at the time and had become intrigued by the idea of boarding school. My parents had made it clear that they would prefer that I stay home but indulged me with a few visits to campuses around New England. I selected them mostly based on what I heard from my friends’ older brothers and sisters—there were no websites or social media in those days—and added Deerfield to the list. It had recently been announced that girls would be invited to apply for the first time so I figured my chances of being accepted may be better.
All of the schools I toured were impressive in terms of their facilities and programs. Deerfield was special but not just because of its beautiful setting. It was unique for another reason…as I looked around, there were no girls…anywhere. I wondered if there was even a ladies room. In every direction were boys in blue blazers and it seemed as if they were all staring at me. Had they never seen a girl before?
My initial nervousness melted away by the warmth of Ms. Lyons during my interview, meeting Mrs. Heise who would later become my field hockey coach, Mr. Cary’s pep talk at our revisit day and so many others who welcomed and assured us. But in the end, the most compelling reason to take the leap was the chance to do something different.
While I was drawn to Deerfield by the idea of helping to shape its future as a coeducational institution, I couldn’t have imagined back then how much that experience would shape me in the process. One of my friends and classmates, Charlotte Taylor, wrote an essay where she used the metaphor of jumping off the rope swing for the first time to describe the feeling we had in those early days—tense muscles, everyone watching, the fear of falling, and then finally going for it. She wrote:
“When I surfaced to scattered shouts of approval, I felt a rare satisfaction. On that day, I thought of it as the pride of having proved that girls could merge with the vital, internal currents of the school’s culture. As the school transformed itself, its efforts at adaptation invited me to respond to them. We shared our adolescence, holding on tight and jumping free, together.”
We invented our own version of the Deerfield girl. We each could believe that we were her, because there were no footsteps to follow in. We felt responsible for each other and would succeed or stumble together. We learned to find our voices, both individually and as a group.
Don’t get me wrong—things weren’t always smooth. There were the bigger issues—how to break into leadership roles in student groups dominated by boys and how to change a culture that was rooted in its all-male traditions. There were the smaller issues—how to interpret the dress code, how to teach new words to old songs, where to put the new Deerfield girl statue. We got beaten—badly—in many of our first games by older and more experienced teams. But we learned how to navigate all of this and came out stronger on the other end. This is the stuff that solidifies bonds and builds resilience.
The boys also played a significant role in making the transition a success. The vast majority of them had our backs and were in it with us. I remember a busload of boys coming to Loomis Chaffee to watch our field hockey tournament covered with green face paint, the boys who patiently taught us how to grab the rope swing just right so that we’d get maximum air, the boys who would make room for us at lunch tables during those first awkward days. But I mostly remember the ones who had the courage and integrity to stand up for us when they witnessed disrespectful behavior, even when it was hard or unpopular. You learn a lot about people in those moments. Those are the boys who remain my friends today.
This anniversary is an opportunity to recognize all those who have carried on what we started 25 years ago. This senior class embodies that same spirit of community, adventure and perseverance. I have gotten to know this class over the past few years through my nephew, Tim Gerber, who is among the graduating seniors today. When he asked for a sport coat for his 6th birthday, I knew he’d be a good fit here. He was born ready for the dress code. Luckily he has gotten much cooler since then.
Commencement speakers typically advise graduates to be bold, be leaders, lean in, share, stay hungry, stay foolish, and take the path less traveled. They are usually extraordinary people who have done heroic things in the world. So I wondered: what words of wisdom could I share that haven’t been covered already? What do I wish I had known sitting in the same seat where you are today?
What I hope you take away is that regardless of whether or not you achieve fame and fortune, which I am told is overrated anyway, you can still leave your mark on the world. There are countless everyday heroes whose actions often go unrecognized but still add up to being extraordinary. These acts can take many forms—doing something to help someone else without being asked, showing kindness to a stranger, having the courage to stand up for someone who needs an ally. These are the moments, particularly when no one is watching, where true heroes are made.
We are desperately in need of more of these heroes to strengthen our communities and build bridges in our much too divided world. You are in a position to respond to this need. You have the tools to, as Ghandi famously said: “be the change you want to see in the world.”
So that raises a few questions: How do you create change in such a complex and fractured world? What can each of you contribute? How will this help you find purpose and meaning in your life? I’ll try to offer a few suggestions.
First, continue to build close relationships.
The love and pride in this tent are evidence of the support you all have had from your teachers, friends and families. You have so many people rooting for you.
As you move on and become more independent, surround yourself with people who make you better and push you to aim higher. This includes who you work for, who you work with, who your role models are, who your friends are, who you choose to date or marry someday. Choose “who” wisely because the people in your life mean everything.
Over time, lines get blurrier between these relationships. Your teachers become your friends and your friends become your teachers. Life experience matters more than age. Relationships that stand the test of time are the ones where you bring out the best in each other. Your teachers and coaches, Deerfield’s heroes, will continue to play a critical role in your lives long past graduation day.
In preparing for today, I turned to two of my Deerfield heroes, Michael Cary and Jen Holleran, for advice.
- Michael is retiring in December after 45 years in education—close to 30 of those spent at Deerfield—and has dedicated his life to bringing out the best in his students. He was head of admissions when I arrived so I literally wouldn’t be here without him. In his State & the Individual class, he challenged us to see different points of view and tested our beliefs in ways that stretched us to be better thinkers. He will be missed but will remain a friend to all of us.
- Jen came to Deerfield right out of college and went on to pursue a successful career in education, including most recently in a leadership role at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. She was not much older than I was when she arrived my junior year but quickly took me under her wing as a coach and mentor, a relationship that has only grown closer over the years.
Both Michael and Jen, and so many others here today—including the Heises, the Taylors, the Davis’, Ms. Cabral, Ms. Valk, Robert Binswanger—are my heroes for their commitment to helping young people find their way and reaching their full potential. Strong relationships like these provide us with the confidence and security to believe in ourselves. That may be the best gift Deerfield gives us.
Second, don’t be afraid to take risks.
I may have been a little naïve about what it would mean to be among those pioneering girls. Just like us, you may find yourself in situations where there is no roadmap. Seek out these opportunities and practice now before the stakes get higher. Things won’t always go according to plan. You will make mistakes and face setbacks. Lean on your close relationships for support in those times. But working through those uncomfortable moments is how you will learn the most.
The most transformative entrepreneurs and leaders of our time have been successful by not following the pack. They pursue their passions and are unconventional problem-solvers, staying focused despite the obstacles. Conforming to someone else’s standards doesn’t always translate into bold ideas. A study at Harvard revealed that college grades aren’t any more predictive of later success than rolling the dice. This means we can’t rely on our valedictorians to change our world so it’s up to the rest of us.
Third, define success on your own terms.
You have so far lived in a world where success is largely judged by other people—admissions officers who decide whether you are qualified for their institutions, teachers who grade your performance, parents who impose their well-meaning views on your choices. But if you live according to someone else’s vision of what you should accomplish, you will be chasing an elusive set of goals.
For too long, I was caught up in the need for external validation—what David Brooks from the NYT refers to as “resume virtues”—without a clear enough sense of who I wanted to be or what motivated me. The resume virtues matter only as a means to an end: the end being having options to pursue and the flexibility to follow your interests.
I bounced around for a while until I found my niche. Since then, for the better part of my career, I have worked in the intersection between the private and public sectors, where business and impact objectives are aligned. There is a growing trend toward exploring “double bottom line” opportunities where capitalism can help solve environmental and social problems. This was a career path that barely existed when I graduated from college but was catching on by the time I arrived at business school. I imagine that the momentum will only continue to grow by the time you are entering the job market.
Regardless of the college major or career you ultimately choose, consider the idea that doing well and doing good aren’t mutually exclusive. Find ways to do both. Think hard about whether your priorities and actions reflect your values. Figure out what drives you and then be doggedly persistent about pursuing it. That may sound easy but the harder part is having the conviction to live in a way that lets you explore and discover what that means.
Even as you become career-driven, make time for family and friends. I am blessed with a wonderful husband (Derek) and three kids (Sophie, Lila and Nate) I love so much. Work-life balance is a struggle at times, but also the source of great joy and constant lessons in humility. Shifting the focus away from yourself and onto making deeper connections is how you build what David Brooks describes as “eulogy virtues”, the traits that are rooted in character and moral purpose.
So, while your definition of success may shift over time, be open to these personal disruptions and connections. That’s where you’ll find your true motivation.
Finally, don’t back down from complex challenges.
Your generation didn’t create the issues you are now inheriting but it is up to you to solve them. You are in a small minority of students who, by a combination of luck, talent and hard work, have received among the best educations in the country. While this gives you many options, it also comes with responsibility.
General Stanley McChrystal has been advocating that all young people should dedicate a year of service to our country through an organization that he is involved with called the Service Year Alliance. In his view, too many young people are focused on their rights rather than on their responsibilities.
About six years ago, I teamed up with a group of people to launch two charter schools in NYC—one in the South Bronx and another in the Brownsville/East NY section of Brooklyn—to serve as last chance high schools for young people who would otherwise have dropped out of school. These students have faced obstacles that may seem to most of us insurmountable and fallen through the cracks of systems designed to protect them. I have gotten to know many of them and become familiar with their stories over the years. In each case, they deserve better.
The challenges of starting these schools have been daunting at times with no clear solutions. As of this summer, we’ll have over 90 graduates. This is exciting given that these students faced long odds when they arrived but that’s still not nearly good enough. We haven’t yet cracked the code on what it will take to break the vicious cycle surrounding poverty—violence, homelessness, poor health, unemployment, substance abuse—that still results in too many students giving up on their future.
To some, this may seem like a cautionary tale about the perils of taking on something too hard or too ambitious. But if we only try to solve problems that have easy answers, then we are punting. We can’t give up when things get difficult. Until we take ownership for our broken systems, and commit ourselves to doing better for all of our children, nothing will change. Everyone deserves a fair chance regardless of the zip code they were born into.
Having had the good fortune of being a student at Deerfield, and having access to the range of opportunities that are available to you as a result, I urge you to pay it forward by supporting other young people in reaching their full potential.
In her bestselling book called “Grit”, Angela Duckworth—a psychology professor at Penn and founder of the Character Lab—wrote: “To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal…To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” We need to fight injustice where we find it, even if we fail at it seven times first. You just may make a breakthrough that eighth time.
In closing, I want to echo what Dan Porterfield, the President of Franklin & Marshall College, said recently at an event I attended: that the “biggest threat to our country right now is that young people will lose hope in the future.” So as you build relationships, take risks, define your own version of success, and step up to complex challenges, please…stay hopeful. We are depending on you to be our heroes.
As we reflect on coeducation, we should feel proud of how far we have come but acknowledge that this is still a work in progress—not just at Deerfield but at institutions across the country. An anniversary is not the time to declare victory but a chance to re-commit to what we began 25 years ago. The focus here and at other campuses has rightly shifted to issues related to inclusion more broadly and making sure that diversity of all types is recognized and celebrated.
At Deerfield, we talk about being worthy of your heritage and I urge you to consider what that means. I imagine this as an invisible green baton that is passed down through generations. We should learn from our past but should not be trapped by it. We should build on the traditions and values of those who came before us but embrace change in order to evolve and improve.
Before you leave this campus, take a last walk around and try to hold onto these memories. Thank the people here who have shaped your experience—teachers, friends, coaches, the staff that makes this place run. The years will fly by but your gratitude for this community and these special people will only grow.
Let me be the first to welcome you, the great class of 2017, as fellow Deerfield alums. Congratulations again and good luck on all that comes next.
Student Address 2017: Lucy Beimfohr
Commencement, May 28, 2017
Good morning. Before I begin, I want to thank my family—my parents and my three older sisters—for their faith in me, and for answering my desperate texts and calls at any hour of the day. I’d also like to thank the people who made this day possible and, especially, the great Class of 2017, of which I am so proud to call myself a member, for granting me the opportunity to speak today.
To summarize our past years at Deerfield, I’ll offer you the words of my good friend Logan Knight: “Every year the lows get lower and the highs get higher.” So let’s recap: freshman year we battle hormonal acne and the insurmountable task of building a balanced mobile from wooden dowels and string—an assignment that perhaps serves as a metaphor for the instability and confusion that often characterizes those early months at DA. But we also experience our first spirited bonfire, we grasp at the coattails of independence, and after a long string of icebreakers and maybe a night or two of crying, we make our first lifetime friends. Then, by senior year, our adversaries are much more arduous than oily skin—we have to reckon with the legacy we will leave on this campus, we have to advocate for ourselves when we still aren’t really sure who we are, and we have to confront the looming question of what we are going to do for the next few years of young adulthood.
Non-graduates, don’t fear—it’s not all a nightmare. Senior year is also a whirlwind of the most joyful experiences and celebrations, like your first college acceptance, or, for some, your first night of extended wifi.
It’s a unique phenomenon—as time passes, we concurrently reap greater rewards and face greater challenges. We find more meaning and gratification in our experiences at the same time that we encounter more intense pressure and struggle.
However, in some ways, this “phenomenon” is just another name for learning—the harder you struggle, the more you struggle, the more you gain. It’s not perfect and it’s not always comfortable, but it is the mechanism by which we become the people sitting here today. When the time comes for us to follow the bagpiper down Albany Road, whether you are ready to take off or if you will be participating in a hunger strike on senior grass against having to leave, we can be sure that we have gained things that will serve us for the rest of our lives, despite—or perhaps even because—of our lowest of lows.
So what are these “things” that Deerfield gives us? I suppose I could start the conversation by offering you some of my “things”. In the middle of my freshmen year water polo season, we competed in a tournament against teams like Navy Prep and Chelsea Piers—teams that made us look like a YMCA learn-to-swim class. By halftime, our opponent had over 20 goals, while we had no more than 5. Nonetheless, Mr. Scandling put me back in the cage to play goalie for the next quarter. Later in the game, some big-shouldered shooter from the other team took a shot from the left wing and somehow the ball met my scrawny hands and plopped right in front of me, instead of slapping the back of the goal. When Mr. Scandling tells the story, he usually inserts the following line here, “At that point, you would have thought we just won the national championship.” I think my mom started crying, Mr. Scandling’s jaw dropped, and you could scarcely hear the “What just happened”’s and “Did I miss something”’s coming from the opposing team’s bench over our screaming and cheering. In retrospect, it sounds pretty pathetic, but that moment meant a lot to us because it showed that good things can happen if you just keep jumping back in.
We’ve all had moments where we had to grit our teeth and just keep pushing forward. Like that time you had to second wait for a rotation even though you had never done a bicep curl in your life. Or you had to watch the Jets lose game after game and listen to bragging Patriots fans. Maybe you had to ask four different people to a dance until someone finally said yes. Or perhaps you had to stay up late every night for a week because you procrastinated on a project for too long. Once we get through those turbulent times, we look back and realize it wasn’t all that bad. As we sing every Sunday night, “Now the day is done with striving; let the heart hold memory bright.” After all the hustling and striving, things get better. Muscles get stronger. The Jets get new players. Projects get done. At the very least, you are left with a memory to hold, or, even better, you’ve learned something new.
At the same time that our Deerfield experiences are defined by consistent tests of our abilities, Deerfield has become a comfortable and protective shelter for us. Another “thing” that Deerfield gave us was a home…and a fam17y. Some of you out there may be a little nervous about having to find your new home. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, or that we always want to be here. I mean, we do go to boarding school, so clearly a part of us acknowledges that staying at home forever isn’t high on our list. Regardless, the notion of saying goodbye to a place where there is always someone who has your back (including the adults), a place that molded your purposeless younger self into an thoughtful, curious adult, a place where you feel comfortable wearing sweatpants and slippers at any time of the day, is moderately frightening.
Over 4 years or just 9 months, we have found the brothers and sisters who hype us up and keep us humble, we have discovered new interests, we have, albeit reluctantly and painfully, begun to develop our distinct voices, and, at the very least, we have learned, at all costs, no matter what, to never walk on the grass in the springtime. Just don’t do it. And it’s hard to just pack all of that up and move on to the next step.
But do we actually have to leave home? No, I’m not advocating that we join the PG class of 2018—it is indeed time to commence and let others take our place. But the distinct gifts that have made Deerfield home—the confidence in ourselves, the appreciation for community, the support of friends, and the memories of growing up and getting better—don’t have to be left in the valley. We can manifest the Deerfield spirit in the world outside of the bubble, fostering community in our next adventures and in the places that need it most. The confidence, friends, and memories don’t have to become ghosts unless we allow them. The positive and generous way in which you carry and utilize these gifts later in life makes you worthy of your heritage.
To the three classes whom we leave behind, my only advice to you is to stay grateful. When I was in fourth grade, my class did a unit on the book Flat Stanley. In short, Stanley is a young boy who is permanently altered by an incident in which a bulletin board falls on him during the night. He profits from this mishap by traveling the world inside an envelope. A common activity after reading the book is that children make their own paper Flat Stanley and mail him to someone they know in an interesting place in the world. Classmates of mine shipped Stanley to Taiwan, Canada, and Venezuela…my Flat Stanley went to the most exotic, fascinating locale I could think of: Deerfield Academy. Yes, my sister Meg Beimfohr went through the process of photographing my paper cutout Stanley in front of the Main School Building, the soccer field, and the Greer, because to my 9 year-old self, Deerfield was the best place in the world. I anticipate that many of you have similar stories of your middle school selves pining to defend the seal and chant “Aga chi.” If not, I implore you to visit the Caswell Library and watch the prospective students anxiously awaiting their turn to express how badly they want to come here.
What I suppose I’m getting at is that though it isn’t perfect, though it may not meet your expectations at times, and though it is easy to take for granted, you once saw something in Deerfield that you really really wanted. If you are sticking around for one more year or three, I encourage you to check back in with that younger self who was engrossed with high expectations, and do what you can to meet his or her expectations while you still have time. We hear cliches like “live in the moment” and “make the most of your time” but we never really know what they mean. To me, they mean you don’t need to wait until senior cry to say what you want to say and do what you want to do. Practice being vulnerable so that when you’re sitting where we are, you have nothing left to say or do. In the words of Dr. Seuss—and this goes for graduates and non-graduates—“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” If you are honest with yourself and others, you will undoubtedly find those who matter.
And that brings me to the last “thing” that Deerfield gave me: I learned what matters. When you’re walking down the eerily lit corridor at 1 am and you hear light sobbing coming from behind a closed door, it matters more to knock than to finish the last math problem…sorry math teachers. Showing up matters. Writing a note to someone you appreciate matters. Looking up and focusing on experiencing a moment instead of documenting it matters. Thinking with your heart as much as with your head matters. Deerfield throws a lot at us all at once and the pace of life is so fast it can be suffocating at times. But it is the amalgamation of those moments of feeling overwhelmed, of being rushed, and of having too much on our plates that presses us to prioritize, to consider what really matters to us. 2017, at Senior Cry last night, we saw what matters to us. And we owe a huge thanks to everyone in this community who have taught us to value loyalty, compassion, and love.
Though I’m definitely unqualified to give advice about the future, I’ll offer you fellow classmates one thing: stop worrying. You made it this far on your own, and you can handle what comes next. When you worry, you miss out, you lose your strength, you make up problems that don’t even exist, and that gets you nowhere. So ask for help when you need it and just calm down when you get too stressed.
As we commence, we remember the past with fondness, cherish the present, and welcome the future as it comes. We relive the good times and the bad times full of gratitude, reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh’s famous saying: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” So, here’s to catching up on LinkedIn later on, to desperately holding onto snapchat streaks, and to flashbacks to free periods, feeds, and friendships.
Here’s to hard goodbyes, and to our days of glory.
Commencement 2017: Head of School Margarita Curtis’ Remarks to the Senior Class
May 28, 2017
Students, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians, Trustees, and Friends:
How do we make ourselves worthy?
At Deerfield, we often ask you to “do good” even as you strive to “do well.” And that’s a great place to start…
As we’ve learned from this year’s turmoil of politics and policy, it’s not enough to stand by and be counted. You have to stand up and be heard. So today I advocate not for liberals or conservatives, but for intelligence, curiosity, and truth seeking. I am a teacher, and I choose to spend these last minutes before the bell rings to advocate for evidence-based, rational discourse.
The Internet has utterly transformed the landscape of how we consume and judge facts and information—and this sea change may indeed be the singular issue of your generation. For a decade we have rejoiced that all of humanity and its knowledge seem accessible from the palms of our hands—but now, in spite of the opportunities gained, we’ve grown to lament a flood of sophistry.
Deceptive news is real—and it has an agenda. There are forces at work for personal, political, and commercial gain that seek to persuade you. All too often, these falsehoods and exaggerations are internalized imperceptibly.
I have higher hopes for all of you.
Click bait isn’t knowledge. Likes aren’t love. You don’t have to stare at the screen just because it glows. Listicles and YouTubes offer “answer-tainment” designed to lull you into mental lethargy. And the accompanying “share” button is an attempt to make you a complicit agent in the spread of soft-serve erudition. It is all pop and bubblegum.
Resist these lures. Spread facts instead of empty speculation. Avoid the mire and wallow of echo chambers.
If facts and truth are the foundation of success in virtually every human endeavor, your intellect—your training in critical thinking, your ability to separate the credible from the incredible—can be a vital force for good.
The world needs you to serve as truth-seekers, and I urge you to do so.
Embrace complexity. Resist the temptation of easy answers—and the tendency to judge events and ideas in isolation. If you remain curious and humble, you’ll avoid the trap of self-righteousness that plagues today’s culture of viral extremism. As humans, we are all fallible—so be willing to compromise: No one person has all the answers. Cast about for ideas unlike your own.
As you’ve come to know over your time at Deerfield, there are no shortcuts to excellence and truth-seeking. Instead, both of these aspirations require a patient, deliberate, cumulative approach and the acceptance that the search never ends.
You’ve heard me repeat Mr. Boyden’s words many times before, and today I hope they hold special significance:
The test of worth of any school… is the record of service of her alumni.
I have my own aphorism to share with you today, and I hope you’ll take it to heart:
You make Deerfield worthy, not the other way around.
Student Address 2016: Healy Knight
Commencement, May 29th, 2016
Families, friends, alumni and most of all the class of 2016, my name is Healy Knight and I am flustered, flattered and a little frightened to be one of the commencement speakers for the great class of 2016. When I found out that I would be speaking, a meek, easily frightened and perpetually overwhelmed freshman Healy entered my mind. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her, and it was nice to hear from an old friend.
I was also reminded of the day we boarded the bus to camp Becket, since that was the very awkward launch pad for my Deerfield days and for many of yours. Slightly confused and physically nervous, I remember separating from my parents after my Dad said, “You will never forget this moment.” I have yet to forget his words but the moment that followed is, perhaps, even more unforgettable.
As I pried myself away from my parents, Mrs. Creagh swiftly walked past me on senior grass, lovingly grabbed my arm and said, “Hey, Healy, Welcome to Deerfield! Let me know if you need anything.” I must have stuttered something incoherent back at her, of which I have no memory, but I vividly remember the hot sting of embarrassment as I thought, “am I supposed to know this woman? That’s it, I’m done, it’s the first day and I’ve already made a giant mistake, I will never forgive myself.”
There were countless moments like this one that have been burned into my memory–when I thought that I had made an unforgivably epic fool of myself. Like when I auditioned for my first play at Deerfield with a bond girl monologue that I had harvested from a dialogue, making for an incredibly awkward one-man conversation about a Rolex watch. I still haven’t been able to talk to Mrs. Hynds about that audition, and needless to say I did not get the part. I know now that Mrs. Creagh learned every new students name using the student facebook, and that I had never met her before, but the terror I felt as I scrambled to guess who she might be will forever outweigh that reassuring reality.
I owe my clear memories of freshman year to my relentlessly nostalgic nature. I learned that humans only remember what was remembered–in other words, memories are recollections of what was thought about after the fact. This fact fostered an instinct in me to think about moments that have made me happy or write them down, causing me to sweep myself up in memory and wallow in what once was, often for the worse–which makes graduation an epic emotional roller coaster.
And it has always been. Every year, without fail, I feel anxious and sad at the reality of my friends’ departures, at the departure of people that I don’t know (who certainly don’t know me) and the inevitable change in scenery as a quarter of the population of DA disappears. The night before graduation of my freshman year, as my proctors and hall mates sat in our hallway–sleep deprived, devastated, and digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a lethal sugar high–our proctor Betsy told us that it would get worse every year. I couldn’t imagine feeling any sadder than I was, piled in with all of my friends eating candy and crying together–but she was right, because the strength of the memories made on this campus, a campus that takes a mere ten minutes to walk across, is incalculable and everlasting.
At the start of this spring, when the desire to slow time down, to absorb the campus and the school really kicked in, it seemed that my classmates were confident that they would always remember what has happened at Deerfield. But I lacked that confidence. I was most nervous that I would forget things: lessons from teachers, in the classroom and in life, late night conversations in the dorm, or the people that I have met. So, in a fit of nostalgia, I began to write down the names of people that I don’t want to forget. I started out with my closest friends and teachers that have made a significant impact on my life, but as the list trickled on, I realized that I was writing names of people that I didn’t really know very well. So if you’re wondering whether your name is on there and if your name is hopelessly misspelled, I would answer “probably yes” to both. I was trying to capture what Deerfield is now, in this moment. At first it killed me that Deerfield, now, in this moment will never exist again, because I love it. I love walking into sit down dinner and waving at good friends past familiar faces, and I love walking past the same people in between classes, and I love seeing my teachers every day.
But the greatest lesson that Deerfield has taught me is that my lowest moments are those that deepen me as a person, an intellectual, a friend, and an empathetic person, so change is good. Heartbreak is good. Deerfield has taught me to love life as it comes, because no matter how deeply I have felt here: sadness, anger, giddiness, confusion, self-doubt, being wrong, being right, success, defeat, loss–Deerfield has demanded that I love and live every moment fully. I am still scared of change. But while I guess, and hope, that that familiar, sweet, reek of manure on spring mornings won’t follow me for the rest of my life, I will remember fondly how I have lived for the past four years.
My advice to the current and future students is to be here now, and live fully in your days here. Be grateful. Open your eyes just a little wider to see how majestic this campus is, and understand that its beauty and wisdom are a constant in your life at Deerfield even when you feel most lost. Be patient with yourself. Know that when you feel sad or defeated or angry or confused –or meek, easily frightened and perpetually overwhelmed–it is better to live in those moments, because those are the memories to which I owe the person I have become today. I haven’t been hardened by anger or frustration, or defeated by sadness but I have grown and learned from feeling outside of myself. Upon arrival, Deerfield demands that you face yourself to see you for all that you are, and asks to tinker and fiddle with things. As I depart today, I have realized that, though I am similar to who I was on senior grass leaving for Becket, my ideas and curiosities have more emphasis, and a certainty that I have a pack behind me of passionate, funny, ambitious and loving people in my graduating class has grown and reassured me.
I am still very nostalgic. That hasn’t changed about me. I will still feel that familiar pang in my heart as memories of Deerfield pop up in my mind, the embarrassing ones too–and I feel fine telling you all that I might drown myself in a Simon and Garfunkel Best Of’s album this week. But I have learned to forgive myself for that, because I have a new, equal love and willingness to take life as it comes; to relish in the future as much as the past/in memory.
I am grateful for all that Deerfield is now and thrilled to see what it will continue to grow into as the years roll by. I am grateful for walking down Albany Road at sunset and lingering at the site of the glowing hills, for not getting a part in that play and feeling defeated, for staying up later than I should to talk with my best friends, for being intimidated by my classmates’ intelligence, for stomach aches from laughing too hard, for being able to forgive myself for making mistakes along the way and most of all to have existed and experienced Deerfield, now and in this moment. Thank you to my family, my friends, my classmates, my teachers, and to Deerfield–to you I owe my happiness.
Student Address 2016: Ezekiel Emerson
Commencement, May 29th, 2016
Before I begin, I would like to express how truly blessed I feel to be up here. It is an honor alone to walk these fields and halls, but to speak on this special day just feels surreal.
I’ve done something like this before, with far less people and no tent, at my middle school graduation. Everything was going fine until a slight breeze came and, before I knew it, disaster struck. All my pages flew off the podium and to my feet. As I scrambled to the floor, into the microphone I said, “Shhhhooot”. My miraculous evasion of cursing in a graduation speech likely remains the happiest I’ve ever made my parents. I gathered my pages and proceeded, only to realize afterwards that I had skipped an entire page. Somehow, it still made sense, as things always seem to do in crazy moments like these. It’s impossible to comprehend that we will all walk across this stage soon, but somehow, it feels right.
A couple months ago, a visitor to campus, on business to learn about Deerfield, asked me and a couple other students to say the first word that comes to mind when we hear “Deerfield”. When my turn arrived, I said the sole word I could come up with: “Home”. For those of you that don’t know me and think that’s incredibly cute, this place is literally my home. My house is 300 yards away. Thus, I am a day student, the same kind that, as my good friend Emerson likes to remind me, Boyden required to spend 5 years at Deerfield, so that they could “get the full experience”. Well, here I stand, and it’s only been 4, and here I stand as the second consecutive male day student speaker. Because as Joe Manown and Conor McGregor like to say, “We aren’t here to take part, we’re here to take over.”
In these speeches, it’s common to reminisce on our first days as freshman, but I’m going to go back even further: our applications to the Academy. Every one of us here – some better than others – answered the essay question: “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?” I wrote an absolute cookie cutter essay, hoping that during my potential Deerfield Days, I’d hear at least one profound remark.
Of course, that most memorable piece of advice soon came. It was my sophomore year football season, and the captain, John Jackson, stood before the team. Now, John was a great guy, but he wasn’t any sort of philosopher. Yet, with tears in his eyes, he said something that has stuck with me: “When you walk down that hill and get to the field, just take a second and look around.” I don’t think John even understood how sage his comment was, but as I’ve grown older, his words have become more and more meaningful to me.
I’ve discovered John’s advice to contain multiple dimensions: if you look around this place, and you look for long enough, you’ll find, perhaps even stumble upon, some incredible things. History, literature, secrets – all specific to Deerfield, and all within your reach. I’ve been here a long, long time, and I’ve had the opportunity to do quite a bit of searching.
When John delivered this line, he was asking us to admire the undeniable beauty of this place. He wanted us to appreciate the perfect green of the fields, and the sheltering nature of the surrounding hills. I related to these sentiments. I, like many of us, cherish those specific moments where you step outside or turn a corner, and the sight leaves you speechless. I think of my evening walks home – the ones where, if my timing is lucky enough, golden sunlight paints the open spaces in the arching trees. I think of Mr. Henry listing the spots on campus he considers sacred: Millhenge, the quad we’re on today, and the spot known as Brooke’s Garden, where there actually once was a garden. And I think of passing Gordie’s Bench, cleats crunching on gravel, to see Jim Smith Field glowing before me. When I reflect on the breathtaking land around us, a line on a poster hidden amidst the priceless clutter of Dr. Burke’s classroom summarizes my thoughts. The quote, which dons the entrance of a local library, reads: “In gratitude to him who permitted my birth in this most beautiful valley.” While I may have spent my earliest years as a faculty kid at Choate, I’m damn thankful my mom and dad migrated to Western Mass.
Like I said before, I want to believe that John meant something more when he advised us to “look around”. When I first comprehended this fall that my days here were numbered, I pledged myself to seek out this school’s secrets. Instead, I kept encountering them by mistake. During my fifth period free one winter day, I spent the first 20 minutes in the library finishing up some English reading. As I closed my book and zipped my bag, I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do. I was stuck in that signature state of limbo that life at Deerfield often creates: too little time to go somewhere else or bust out another subject, and too much time to just waste away on the internet and not feel guilty (this was before Slither was discovered). So, being the sentimentalist I am, I drifted into the Archives room in the library basement, and started flipping through some yearbooks. I pulled the ’03, ’04, and ‘05 issues from the shelf, seeking to read the entries of my childhood heroes, who had pulled off the impossible: a 2003 triple crown of New England Championships in football, hockey, and lacrosse. I found Danny Shribman, Mike Walsh, and Josh Lesko. Bob Burns, Dan Travis, and Pete Berg. For some reason I imagined their senior quotes would consist of pure epicness, but I was wrong: they were just normal, with the same themes hundreds of graduates had written about in the intervening years. I returned the books to the shelf and peeked to my right to see Jan walk by, and offer his usual smile, then a chuckle upon realizing someone was actually in the archives room. Next I pulled out the ’09 book, intending to find Mr. Philie’s quote. I flipped towards the P’s, but landed on the K’s instead. I stopped here, for a short quote at the bottom of the page had caught my eye. Expecting a song or movie quote, I glided over the name. The words read: “To sit in the Caswell Library, to walk up Albany Road, to sing the Deerfield songs in School Meeting, to be immersed in the massive strength of Deerfield Academy, is to feel small just as it is to feel huge. – James Cornelius” I read the line over and over. Somehow I recognized the words, this most perfect description of Deerfield’s magic. I thought hard, but I could not recall where I’d seen it And, more importantly, who was James Cornelius? Curious, I whipped out my phone and googled the quote. I knew, once the first result loaded, exactly what this was. On my screen the top link read: “2004 Baccalaureate Address”. All the pieces began to fall together. Because I really am a huge nerd, I had read this before. This was an excerpt from the dazzling Baccalaureate Address of James Cornelius Kapteyn. I had encountered the speech late one night, while browsing the depths of The Bulletin. Faint memories came to my mind of Mr. Kapteyn teaching fly-fishing outside of Johnson-Doubleday, and I knew he was a beloved faculty member here. I then recalled the school’s collective grieving after his sudden passing in 2007. I glanced back to the yearbook, already aware of what I’d find. Of course, the senior quote belonged to his daughter, Ingrid. I was awestruck and heartbroken, yet a smile stretched across my face. I closed the Archives room door and headed to class, proud of my discovery and the amazing people of my school.
To this day I think about Mr. Kapteyn’s words often. Moments like the ones he describes define this school, and the spirit he speaks of has urged the Class of 2016 to strive for the extraordinary. I would like to offer some other actions that embody the idea of feeling small whilst feeling huge: to stand silently for grace in the Dining Hall, to walk in the Relay for Life event, to support your peers in their contests and performances. Taking part in these events can make you feel unimportant, but in the end, the power you hold is immense. When you attend a game or play, for example, whether the athlete or actor acknowledges it or not, they see at least one face of a person there supporting them, and they know in their heart that someone cares. It may not be your face every time, and you may feel small amidst the crowd, but to someone else you might just be the biggest thing in the world.
A second, shorter anecdote based on something I’ve discovered by just looking around. Perhaps, when you leave this tent, you may take note of it too. On the roof of Harold Smith dormitory exists a weather vane that depicts a frog leaping headfirst into a body of water. Many years ago, a sixth-grade me spotted this unique design, and inquired of its purpose. From my father I learned that the device was erected at the behest of former Headmaster Eric Widmer, as a secret, parting message. The image refers to a favorite poem of his, a Japanese haiku that roughly translates to: “The old pond / A frog jumps in / Kerplunk!” As simple as it gets, and today, as applicable as ever. We, the Class of 2016, have jumped into many old ponds in our years here. We have quivered in the moments before the jump and fretted over the potential consequences: for some, it was asking a date to Semi; for others, learning to swim; and for still more, standing in the top row at hockey games. Yet, we leapt, and, as a summation of all our doubts and concerns, the only thing to hear was “Kerplunk!” And, like Mr. Widmer’s frog, we swam onwards, proud of the jumps we made. Now we turn towards the future, where bigger and even older ponds await. I urge us all to jump in with the humble confidence Deerfield has generously provided us. Do not let the thought of the ripples you’ll make keep you from hearing that “Kerplunk!”
To those of you with more days ahead in this valley: do not be afraid to do what makes you happy. If there comes a moment when you’re loaded up with work and you look outside the library window to see the evening sun christening the grass, and the only thing you can think is, “I want to have a baseball catch,” then go have a catch! Go to your favorite spot on campus, and bring along someone you love. Remember the frog: do not be afraid to care about this school, because it will always care for you. Each of you make Deerfield special just as much as Deerfield makes you special. And to my sister, Mae, a freshman: I love you. Make it count. Treasure the lonely walks home. Stop taking Snapchats of your brother. It drives him crazy.
Finally, to my classmates:
I would like to call upon the closing remarks of Robert McGlynn’s 1984 Commencement Address. Mr. McGlynn, whose portrait hangs in the library, was a mentor to Mr. Henry, just as Mr. Henry was to me. McGlynn, before offering a final blessing, says the following: “All my life, I have looked for people to love, respect, and admire, and I have found them, and grown rich, in Deerfield.” Now, as I stand here on this final day, I no longer look around. Rather I look out, unto all of you, and understand exactly what Mr. McGlynn meant. Thank you.
Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2016
by Pamela A. Bonanno
Dedicated to the memory of Brooke Gonzalez, Class of 1997
Colleagues, parents, siblings, friends and members of the Class of 2016, it is an honor and a privilege to be standing at this podium delivering the Baccalaureate address. A privilege that has made my eyes pop open at 6am for the last few weeks, even Saturdays and Sundays. What is my first thought each morning? That this will be the day when I am delivered divine inspiration. Perhaps my words will so inspire members of the class of 2016 that one of you will one day reach the pinnacle of your career with a Nobel prize or a Field Medal or a Pulitzer or… My golden retriever Rita breaks the spell with the look that says to the person who rarely has witnessed the 6 am hour, “Hurry up with the puppy chow. I get fed first in this family.”
One of my calculus students asked a pertinent question when I told them of this honor, “Just what is a Baccalaureate?” That became one of my first items to investigate: the history and meaning of a Baccalaureate. I am a 21st Century woman so to the Web I went. About.com told me that a Baccalaureate service is a ceremony usually held a week prior to commencement where the class can pause and reflect. This service is believed to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432 when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic requirements. I have no intention of delivering a sermon (in Latin or otherwise) to either the bachelors or bachelorettes sitting in front of me. But I do have stories to tell.
Stories that begin in September of 1979, when Mr. Bonanno and I with our two children, ages 5 and 6, arrived in Deerfield from Kimball Union Academy, in Meridan, NH. We lived in the Hunt House, at the northern end of town for 3 years, before a dorm apartment opened up for us on Field I. 16 junior boys lived on our corridor for the next few years, among those under our charge was Mr. Keller, when he was but a ‘wee lad’, and a mischievous one at that! One year I asked our boys if anyone wanted to prepare a dish for our weekly feed that represented their geographic or ethnic cultures. A number of the boys agreed to test their culinary skills. One young man from NYC wanted to try his hand. After I purchased all of the items on his list and placed the pots and pans in his site in our kitchen, I left him to work his magic. He had but one more request, he needed access to a phone. Cell phones had not yet been invented but the kitchen phone had a very long cord. So with the phone under his ear for the next hour, he produced the most amazing fettuccini alfredo. It was what occurred after this evening that still puts a smile on my face today. Every time this student returned from vacation or even a weekend away that year, he brought back trays of food from home or from a restaurant. I suspect his parents thought the Bonanno family was desperate for food if we needed to have their son cook for us. On another one of these evenings during study hall my son called me from his middle school up the hill, Eaglebrook, saying that he was ready to come home. I was tutoring lots of students in my living room that night. A number of minutes later one of them stood up and asked me where I kept my car keys. He said that he would be happy to pick up my son if I was too busy. I instantly received and appreciated his message. It was late, and my son was waiting and most likely very tired. Everything else could wait until I returned. Years later one of these boys spotted my son, a member of the Class of 1991, on a treadmill at Equinox in the Flatiron District in NYC wearing his Deerfield baseball cap. After a minute conversation, this alum yelled, “You were the kid who lived with us on Field I.” It was during our residence in Field that I joined the Dean of Students office, as the freshman and sophomore class dean. One night a freshman appeared at my open door and wanted to talk with me, he said, about this “lights out for freshman” policy. This freshman was totally outnumbered with the vociferous cries from the upperclassmen, who again filled my living room, that he should be grateful for the opportunity to sleep. I think he said goodbye to me as he backed out of the room, never to raise this topic again. To bring dormitory life into this millennium, in Bewkes House one night after a feed, we began to share horror stories of live critters who had invaded our homes. Of course that night I woke up screaming as I imagined I was being bombarded by squadrons of flying squirrels. When I apologized to the girls the next day, they indicated that they never heard me. Note to self, look elsewhere for rescue.
When I am asked to recall those enduring memories at Deerfield, is it not surprising that it is in the dormitory and moments outside the classroom that spring to life? In September 1988 my daughter entered the freshman class at St. Paul’s School. And was she homesick that year! This was the year before girls returned to Deerfield, and many sisters of current Deerfield students attended St. Paul’s. One night my daughter called to say that a number of these girls were stopping by her room to keep her company at the request of their brothers. “But how am I going to get my work done?”, she asked. “Stop crying,” was my response, eternally grateful to those Deerfield boys. Two years later, May 1990, on a cold river in Maine, with 30 boys and girls, after a morning of white water rafting and a delicious hot lunch cooked over an open fire, the girls and I were asked by our river guides if we wanted to continue this trip down the river as we were approaching some class 5 rapids. I did not even know what a class 5 rapid meant, which was a good thing. I looked at the girls to see how they were feeling, this intrepid group of senior girls who had chosen to be among the first young women to return Deerfield to coeducation. I could see in their smiles, of course, we were going. Now that I understand the numbering system for rapids, I do not ever expect to encounter the number 5 again.
Memories. They have a funny way of allowing one to bury the tough moments but allow vivid recall of the courage of former students. In the summer of 2000, with the support of Art and Elizabeth Clement from Atlanta Georgia, Deerfield established our first summer urban internship, where four students worked for non-profit agencies in Atlanta, living with alumni or current parents as hosts. Maggie Sweeney, Deerfield’s community service director and I visited with our host families and other alumni who would support this program in Atlanta prior to the students’ arrival. Our purpose was to help our hosts understand Deerfield in the year 2000. The three -week project concluded with a dinner with all of the participants and host families. The following day students, hosts and local alumni participated in a day of service building a Habitat for Humanity house together. Maggie and I flew back down to Atlanta for this day of service and to debrief the agencies and our host families, and to gather stories from our students. One of these students pulled me aside the day of the build to let me know, before I heard from others, about the dinner conversation the evening before our arrival. One of our alumni had made a comment at the table about the homeless folks outside the restaurant suggesting that they should all be rounded up and jailed. This rising junior’s reply was to say that she and her mother had been homeless for a few years before she arrived at Deerfield. That courageous statement put this insensitive comment into its proper place. Perhaps offered as a counter perspective, another alum shared with me at the end of this day of service that he had not been happy during his years at Deerfield, but the Deerfield that we had reintroduced to him was a school he could fully support.
“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone…and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the retired Justice of the United States Supreme Court. What is this something that has been created here at Deerfield? How strong are those individual threads in this community?
As a Dean of Students one of my most important jobs was hiring colleagues to work with us in the office. Many moons ago, there was a teacher of science living in a dormitory with whom I had hoped would apply for the position of class dean. At first she was not at all interested. So I persevered, and found myself on her hallway at least once more that week. But this time I had gleaned a promise that she would seriously consider this position… I was delighted. I ran into a student on the corridor one night. He asked me why I had been so kind to him each time I saw him that week. Before I could respond, he said that he needed tell me that while he neglected to step forward when asked, he had consumed alcohol in the dorm weeks earlier in an incident where a large number of students were required to appear before the disciplinary committee. He said that he could no longer live with this lie.
I have countless other stories of individual students’ moral courage who would prefer not to be identified. Students who stood up for others who were not so strong or who stood up for what they perceived was right even when confronted by peer pressure to stay mute. What we have here at Deerfield is a strong community. Not a perfect one. We have flaws, imperfections that perhaps have marred your experience along the way. But we have worked hard to teach you and model ourselves values important to any community. RESPECT. HONESTY. COMPASSION. LOYALTY. Perhaps it will take weeks, months, or years from now when you will fully understand these lessons. The current political climate suggests some people never do. One thing I am certain: each of you possesses the wisdom to understand right from wrong. Rest assured the day will come when you are asked to stand up for what you believe.
From Robert Kennedy, “Few… are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
So no, I don’t expect you to change the world tomorrow or even in the next four years. Start small. Practice. Stand up for the little guy or little girl. Look around you and see who is being left out and make them feel included, valued. Take your focus off yourself and on to others. And please don’t send a snap-chat or tweet about all the good you are doing. HUMILITY is also a virtue. So while I did mention the Field Medal, the Nobel Prize (which was won by the Deerfield Alum Henry Kendall), and a Pulitzer (won by another Deerfield graduate, John McPhee) to add to your check lists, I would rather your future stories contain moments where you stood tall and faced difficult decisions and consequences as a defender of good. This is my interpretation of our school motto, “Be worthy of your heritage.”
Baccalaureate Address 2014: Neal Jacobs ’69
Deerfield guests and friends, Dr. Curtis, Members of the Faculty, Class of 2015 and, in particular, to the Great Class of 2014, thank you for inviting to speak today. It was an unexpected honor-one that I shall not forget.
I also want to acknowledge the members of my family who are here–My Mother, who first dropped me off at Deerfield 48 years ago. Thank you Mom for making my bed before you left for home that day. My wife, who 45 years ago, attended the first Deerfield prom, unfortunately, not with me, but as the date of another boy. It is a long story, but everything worked out. Thank you Debby for letting me spend this wonderful school year at Deerfield. Finally, I’d like to recognize my three sons none of whom attended Deerfield. What could you have possibly been thinking. Shame on you.
Great Class of 2014, you cannot possibly look at me today and envision who or what I was at age 18. Yet I sat in your place–perhaps even your pew 45 years ago. As you will experience, the past often repeats itself. And so with the benefit of 45 years of life after Deerfield, I would like to speak about my past in order to illuminate some Deerfield lessons that I believe you will find important in your future.
I returned to Deerfield this year to repay a debt–a special debt that could not be repaid in any currency other than teaching. Looking back, no institution has had more impact on the trajectory of my life than Deerfield. Mr. Boyden’s band of senior faculty recognized that they were at Deerfield not just to teach subjects, but also to teach habits, and the small disciplines that would later become a student’s character. This still happens today. There are faculty here, who have laid the foundation for the person you will become. You can identify whom these faculty are for you–they are the teachers you cannot bear to disappoint.
The teacher I could not disappoint was Mr. Sullivan whose portrait hangs in the lobby outside the dining hall. I suspect few, if any of you, have noticed it there. Mr. Sullivan’s 43 year Deerfield career is summarized under his portrait in a single word. Above his dates of service, it simply says “Master.”
In my day, schoolboys took a special delight in rumors., a student characteristic, I have noted, not changed by co-education. Some boys claimed Mr. Sullivan had been a professional fighter. Others said he had laid track for the railroad before being saved by Mr. Boyden, the saint of second chances. None of us knew Mr. Sullivan’s real story, and we did not dare ask.
Mr. Sullivan did not seek the approval of students. He did not want to be our friend. He liked to keep us off balance. Yet, we suspected he was devoted to us.
I had no idea why he took an interest in a short, undistinguished sophomore new boy, who was completely unfamiliar with boarding school and had a hard time fitting in. Now, I realize he had a calling and a gift. His gift was that he could read boys. He knew when someone needed help. His calling was to give it.
This year at Deerfield, I have observed faculty who, like Mr. Sullivan, made their highest priority care and concern for students. These teachers’ thoughts, their voices, their lessons are part of you. Now leaving this place, having immeasurably benefited from the care and kindness of these teachers, remember that you too must repay your debt.
During the 15 minutes between the end of lunch and the first afternoon class, most boys checked their mailboxes. Mr. Sullivan, enjoying a cigarette and coffee sitting nearby in the school store, caught me cutting the mailroom line. He gruffly summoned me to his table. “Jacobs, come here and have a seat.” I sat. We did not speak. He finished his coffee. I watched the time before class and the opportunity to get my mail disappear. Then he dismissed me, telling me he had enjoyed our visit and inviting me to join him the next day at the same time. The following day I returned. I sat. He finished his coffee, and, once again, I was denied the opportunity to get my mail. He kept inviting me back…again and again.
Mr. Sullivan never said anything about cutting the line, but I immediately took his point. Corners were not to be cut. Character began with small things. Small expectations had to be met because later in life, small expectations would grow into larger ones. Learning to do what was required taught us who and what we were. We were expected to develop an inclination to do the right thing–an inclination that would manifest itself later in life when we were really being tested.
Each of you has been regularly exposed to these same lessons. Mr. Boyden’s genius was to understand the importance of ritual and habit in developing character. Mr. Boyden recognized the qualities of a school necessary to develop virtue in its graduates.
This was and is the importance of the intricate minuet of sit down meals–a dance of manners, respect, cooperation, sharing, patience and gratitude. This was and is the importance of attending school meeting, thereby reaffirming your duty to participate in your community, not because school meeting is necessarily entertaining or even what you may consider the best use of your time, but, rather because often it is neither. Instead, attendance is a duty, an obligation to something greater than yourself. Obligations to the community, this one and the ones to come, must be performed because without the community, you do not exist.
These rituals and traditions and many others build brick by brick the internal edifice that becomes your character. If you are like me, you are largely unaware that this building of character has been taking place. Later in life when the stakes are high–you will make good choices if you remember the lessons of Deerfield. Honesty, respect, concern for others are meant to shine in the Deerfield night sky. Use these stars to navigate.
Mr. Sullivan taught Algebra II on the second floor of the main school building in a class room which faced the hills. More than math, he taught us the effect of time on place by exhorting us to watch the hills in the fall become engulfed by flames red, orange and yellow, burn out in winter only to be reborn in the spring.
My aptitude for math was not high. Near the end of the spring term, Mr. Sullivan asked me to stay after class. Seated at his desk, he looked up, “Jacobs”, he said,” I have a proposition for you. I will give you a grade of 85 if you promise never to embarrass me by taking another math course again. “Life is short.” He said, “Do what you enjoy.” I did not hesitate. I agreed and never took a math course again.
Mr. Sullivan often repeated that observation: life is short. Do what you enjoy. He spoke in a similar vein at my first class meeting. He told the assembled sophomore class to enjoy all that Deerfield had to offer because one of us would be dead by the time the class graduated from college. He proved to be right in this prediction.
Take this lesson to heart as soon as you can. Appreciating the shortness of life is liberating. This appreciation will free you from living your life to please others. Time is your most valuable commodity. Don’t let others take it from you. Please yourself. Take some risks. You have been given the opportunity to be special. Take advantage of that opportunity.
I never had the courage or the words to thank Mr. Sullivan. His manner did not invite intimacy. As a poor substitute, at the end of my senior year, I donated a book of poetry to the library bearing a tribute to Mr. Sullivan in my best fourth year Latin. This thin volume of poetry remains on the library shelves today. Under library rules, to stay on the shelves, a book must be taken out at least once each decade. I have made arrangements with some of the people in this room to see that this happens long after I am gone.
All of you have your own “Mr. Sullivans”–faculty, coaches, administrators, dorm residents, co- curricular leaders, who have known you and cared for you and taught you.
Mr. Sullivan was gone before I had the maturity or ability to tell him what he had meant to me. Don’t make the same mistake. While you can, thank those within this church and outside its walls who have taken the time to get to know you and care for you. Remember that you were loved at this school.
I have now paid my debt, go forth and pay yours.
Great class of 2014, I salute you.
Commencement Address 2014: H. Rodgin Cohen ’61
“Quirks and Bonds”
by H. Rodgin Cohen ’61
I am deeply honored to be asked to speak with you today. First, because it is such a momentous day in your lives. Second, because Deerfield has been such a meaningful part of my life.
And I am delighted, although perhaps mixed with a twinge of disappointment, that I am not sufficiently controversial to join the ranks of proposed college commencement speakers this year who have been disinvited.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014–these young women and men before us who, individually and collectively, have achieved so much during their years at Deerfield, and who will undoubtedly achieve so much more. Deerfield is a better place for their presence, and they will be superb ambassadors for Deerfield’s education and values. Your parents, relatives and friends who are here with you have every right to be so proud of your accomplishments.
When I began to prepare this speech, I came up with a list of 4 objectives:
- First, to make you feel really good about what you have achieved–that is the easy part because it is readily apparent.
- Second, at the suggestion of your class representatives, to inject a bit of humor into what is otherwise a rather solemn day. Now that’s more difficult. I only occasionally succeed in making my own family laugh at my jokes, at least after my children started to read.
- Third, to dispense some advice without espousing platitudes or sounding pompous, another difficult task.
- And, fourth, again at the suggestion of your representatives, to remember that brevity is the soul of wit. This was consistent with what I learned at Deerfield about Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. President Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the ceremony. Rather, that speaker was Edward Everett, the most famous orator of his day. Mr. Everett spoke for about 2 hours, President Lincoln for just over 2 minutes–and the rest, as they say, is history. My speech today may not be witty or memorable, but it will be short.
In any event, I don’t remember a single word of what the commencement speaker said at my own Deerfield graduation, so, if I blow it today, probably only I will remember.
When I asked your representatives to describe the Class of 2014, they used two terms–quirky and bonding. Those two terms may seem almost oxymoronic but, when more carefully considered, work well in tandem.
Bonding on the basis of homogeneity is not only a flawed concept, but an inherently dangerous one. We are all individuals with our quirks, both attributes and faults. Bonding is more solid when these differences are recognized and embraced, rather than when they are the basis for exclusion. This is one of the most fundamental lessons that Deerfield tries to teach and that our marvelous group of graduates has obviously learned.
The more I thought about the term “quirky”, the more I realized what an ideal attribute it is for today’s fast-changing world. Quirky is actually an old word, with at least one published use as early as 1789. There are some dictionary definitions of quirky that are not so flattering, so we will discard “cunning” and “tricky”, and focus on the definitions your representatives presumably meant and I certainly mean: characterized by the different, unexpected, and idiosyncratic. Actually these more intriguing definitions go back to the first published use of the term, which refers to the “discussers and hearers of said Absurdities, with their quirky Declamation in the old Nature.” Or a modern reference: “We’re fascinated by strange quirky questions that can lead us into corners of reality most people never even think about.”
So we should all be delighted that you are quirky, that, in Linda Ronstadt’s words and Thoreau’s concept, “you travel to the beat of a different drum”, that you challenge what is old in nature and discover new realities.
As Wikipedia points out, the principal synonym of quirkiness is eccentricity. It continues that eccentricity is often associated with intellectual giftedness or creativity. Or as John Stuart Mill wrote, “the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor and moral courage”.
I also thought about the ultimate film portrayal of a quirky person–it has to be Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. But it wasn’t her fashion, her way of talking or her Bohemian lifestyle that made Holly Golightly special. It was her unstinting and abiding love for her challenged younger brother.
So even if you thought that your classmates were engaged in a bit of self-deprecation when they selected the word “quirky”, it was actually quite a compliment.
When I asked about the Class of 2014’s most memorable bonding experiences, I realized that some may seem a bit strange to outsiders–indeed, a bit quirky. The freshman year lock-in pool party, the 6:00 a.m. donuts, the difficulty in agreeing upon a class cheer. And I’m sure your classmates left out the really juicy stories to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.
But there were also bonding experiences that illustrate how this class really interacts with one another. As one of you said, “everyone has a group; everyone has a place. We agree to disagree because we have mutual respect.” Certainly, you have learned what Deerfield strives to teach.
And this is critical in a world where we so desperately need more bonding to overcome so many differences and those who would divide us. Your intelligence, grit and education give you special status. But they also give you special responsibilities. We all know what extraordinary injustices there are in the world, and, if you fail, not just individually, but collectively, to speak out against these injustices, who will be in a position to do so. This was said best 2000 years ago in the Gospel of Luke: “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Your greatest legacy to Deerfield, and vice versa, would be that you improve the lives of those who will never hear of Deerfield.
Your emphasis on bonding is not surprising, because of what I suspect you will most remember about Deerfield. It will not be the education, the athletics, the arts or the bucolic, almost Brigadoon-like, environment. Rather, it will be the community of friendship and affection that you formed through living in close and continuous contact with your schoolmates, teachers and staff. As you move through college and then your chosen life paths, the centrifugal forces that shape the modern world will make it increasingly difficult for you to replicate that sense of bonding. So, if the importance of community is what you truly cherish about Deerfield, then you must try to preserve it in your future lives.
When I went to Deerfield, my senior English teacher was a truly extraordinary individual by the name of Robert McGlynn. He was the one teacher who, more than any other, widened my educational experience and taught me truly to love learning. To this day, I remember almost every poem, novel and play he taught in our class.
I mention Mr. McGlynn for two reasons. First, I have heard from a number of today’s graduates about their similar experience, or multiple such experiences, with teachers while at Deerfield. And how could that not be the case with such an outstanding and caring faculty.
Second, this class’s view of itself as quirky and bonding is perfectly expressed in a poem Mr. McGlynn lovingly taught us, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty. If you listen carefully, you will hear a paean to the worth of the differences among individuals in the collective universe.
Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
So I guess we’ve now come to the inevitable time in one of these speeches when the speaker is supposed to give you advice based on her or his experiences. I limit this to 4 brief anecdotes.
First, I had the opportunity, as well as the deep dread and multiple sleepless nights, to be involved in the 2008 Financial Crisis. That the Crisis did not descend even further into a global financial and economic catastrophe was a function of several factors, including the courage of a small number of individuals in leadership positions.
But the crucial factor was that the people involved tried to work together–to bond. It was almost never us versus them, the public against the private sector, appointees of a Republican President against Democrats, Wall Street and Main Street. There were differences, often profound or sharp. But almost everyone involved understood that we could minimize the damage only if the effort were to compromise, as opposed to sharpen, those differences.
So this brings me back to the importance of bonding despite differences and gives me confidence that your class already gets it.
Let me mention one incident that has not been reported on in the deluge of Financial Crisis books because it helped me recognize that I’m not as persuasive or influential as I might fantasize. In the late morning of what became known as Lehman weekend, Treasury Secretary Paulson informed the President of Lehman and me that Lehman would not be saved because the British authorities would not permit a rescue acquisition by a British bank, Barclays. After a moment of stunned silence, I rashly spoke up and said that I had known the lead British regulator for many years and would call him to try to persuade him to change his mind. After surviving a withering look of disdain from Secretary Paulson, made all the more glaring by his 9-inch height advantage, I called the regulator and started what I thought was an eloquent plea. I did not even finish my third sentence before he interrupted and said, “I told Hank Paulson ‘no’, Ben Bernanke ‘no’ and Tim Geithner ‘no’. What makes you think I’m going to say ‘yes’ to you?” When I reported back to Secretary Paulson and other U.S. government officials, I just said the answer was “no”.
The second anecdote relates to my career as a lawyer representing financial institutions. Was it due to some sort of special insight that I recognized when I started that this would be perhaps the most innovative and challenging area of the law in the next 40 years? Only if you believe in fairy tales.
Actually, I never intended to specialize in this area of the law, which was then a dull part of the profession where nothing really exciting ever happened. But when, shortly before starting at my law firm, a senior banking partner asked me to fill a gap, I said yes–probably because I was too scared of what would happen if I said “no”. And within months, major banking legislation occurred, and there have been multiple major laws and regulations since then, making this area an epicenter of legal innovation.
The lesson here is not just that fate and luck are likely to play a huge part in our lives. Rather, it is to expect the unexpected and embrace it, particularly in a world that is rotating on its figurative axis far faster than at any previous time in history.
Third, I believe the ultimate value of any work of art is that it makes you think. I recently saw a play in which there was one line that fascinated me, and I could not wait to try it out today. That line was short–just eight words: “Doubt is the basis of all moral life.” Can you truly be a moral human being if you do not think for yourself, if you do not question the accepted wisdom? Quirky, if you will.
During the last year, I had the opportunity to write two major briefs in cases coming before the United States Supreme Court–one challenging a statute limiting federal benefits to only heterosexual married couples and the second imposing a prohibition on gun possession by convicted spousal abusers. I was told that the effort was quixotic, a waste of time; the Court was sure to rule against the potential client in both cases. Fortunately we did not accept the accepted wisdom, and neither did 5 members of the Supreme Court.
Fourth, all of us wish for your happiness and success, as you define it for yourselves. But life is rarely linear. When I graduated in 1961, there was a widespread feeling that not only was everything possible, but that it would be achieved. Then, within just 7 years came the three horrific assassinations and a war that the United States not only failed to win but began to tear this country apart. So if the roses do wilt from time to time, I urge you to remember two of my favorite lines. The first is the conclusion of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” And the second is Adlai Stevenson’s eulogy for Eleanor Roosevelt: “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Okay, that’s all the advice stuff. I hope not too pretentious. Well, almost all, because actually the best advice I can offer the graduates today is: Don’t forget to give a very special hug to your parents, teachers and friends. They have always been there for you, and you are standing tall, but on their shoulders.
In closing, let me try to explain why this is a commencement speech, a beginning and not an end.
Of course, all of us hope that you will always look back with great fondness on your years at Deerfield. What you learned, the friends you made, your accomplishments–and, of most importance, how to think and how to empathize. I can assure you that the Development Office will seek to remind you.
But I hope, even more, that Springsteen’s great song “Glory Days” will not become an anthem, or more aptly a dirge, for you. Deerfield is a beginning and not an end; it is a way to help you reach your goals and not a goal in itself. What we all wish for you is that Deerfield has taught you in countless ways, large and small, to lead more satisfying lives. That 10, 25, and even 50, years from now you will continue to describe yourself as quirky and bonding.
Commencement Student Address 2014: Harry Reichert
by Harry Reichert
Good morning, and thank you Dr. Curtis, guests, friends and family of Deerfield, for coming out to the Graduation ceremony for the class of 2014. My name is Harry Reichert, and people often ask me “How do you get ‘Harry’ from ‘Gresham’?” To which I respond, naturally, “You just have to believe.”
Today, it’s especially hard to believe, harder than any other day. Today is the day when we graduate from Deerfield. Even as I read those words in Papyrus size 48 font–my go to–it seems unreal. Now some of you may be asking, unreal in Deerfield lingo, like awesome, sweet, sick–or unreal in actual English, like fiction? And my answer is both. This day is awesome because it wishes us well in our future endeavors–which is just code for college–and it celebrates our transition from high school students to graduates. We also get these sweet ties and this majestic tent, and that’s enough for me. Yet this day also seems surreal, because I still feel and act like the freshman that I was when I first stepped foot on campus. It feels like it was only yesterday when I was wandering through the hallways of the Barton house for boys on the first day of school…and that’s because it was yesterday. I am a proctor there now, living with freshmen and sophomores who take advantage of me for my late-night internet rights and my stories from the Senior Cry.
I think Andy Samberg said it best, when he said “I am as honored to be here as I am unqualified.” I want to thank my fellow classmates from the class of 2014 for electing me to speak in front of you today, and I also want to address a few jokes that those same classmates have made over the past few weeks… Jokes that I would sleep through graduation, and miss my speech. The joke is on you guys, because I made it. I am indeed glad that my 26 alarms pulled through for me on this fine morning, unlike on Parents’ Day Sophomore year. (Sorry Mom and Dad.) On behalf of our class, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the mothers and grandmothers in the audience. You all put up with so much, and you must really have it rough if you needed to send your kid away to boarding school. I always remind my mom of the time when I had made her late for an appointment, and she asked me “why do you even exist?”
At Deerfield, I got in the habit of running places, both for efficiency and for the workout. I would cut freshies through heavy snow in the winter, and hop the baseball fence coming out of Barton in the spring; always running with the music from the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing in my head–when he is dashing home after a day of wreaking havoc in Chicago… I ran the same race as Ferris, really, except I didn’t run against my sister or my principal–I ran against time. At Deerfield I would say we all play against the clock, both in the short term and in the long term. In a short-term sense, there is no institution with as many required meetings anywhere. Our 7th period class starts precisely at 2:26pm and ends at 3:11. In a more long-term sense, our time here is finite. As never-ending as our hibernation seems in the winter, and as timeless as the sun’s glaze over the valley seems in the fall and spring, we are reminded to live and let go on days like today.
This spring, I found myself putting my Deerfield education to good use and budgeting my time wisely. Time management is always important, and the class of 2014 was no exception to this rule, except this time it was “how do we make time for the river” instead of “how do we make time for sustained dialogue?” As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
I’ll be honest, the first thing I did when I learned that I would be giving the commencement address was take to the internet. After all, I’m so much cooler online. I now admit, this was horribly time inefficient. A brief note about social media before I get deep: networks like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. are social platforms designed for us to show the world whatever we want it to see. Although these social instruments are useful, a moment lived is a lot sweeter than a moment documented. This realization didn’t stop me from procrastinating and taking my speech into the early hours of this morning, but it did make yesterday the first time I have worked on a Saturday in my Deerfield career. So don’t be like me; try not to devote too much time to these sites, or you’ll miss the little things that make Deerfield great.
But what little things are we looking for, you may ask? And where do we look? How do we make the most of our time at Deerfield, and where do we go from here? These are the type of existential questions that have been rolling through my mind in the past two months–ever since I started hot yoga–and I think I can attempt to answer them with a couple encounters from my time here, times where there were no cameras or phones to record.
JV Football my Junior fall, at Andover. We had a great season in the works, as JV football usually does, under the professional coaching of Mr. Emerson, Mr. Teutsch, Mr. Kelly, and the forever-missed Coach Chiddy. Slot Right 42 Iso was our bread and butter, a run play where Zeke Emerson would take the handoff and rumble up the middle for an easy five yards every play. Slot Right Boot Right 938 was our change-up, where Billy O’Neil would fake the run to Zeke and roll out to acres of open space with three receivers cutting downfield. I was usually one of those receivers, the 2-back, running an up-and-out to the sideline.
Now Andover was no slouch of a squad, but Coach Emerson was working his magic and the offensive gameplan was clicking like it always did. It took a few quarters of football for the kids from Andover to catch on to our two-play scheme, when they started shouting out where we were going with the ball based on how we lined up. Emerson knew he could put the 2-back in motion to counter this, and for those of you who don’t speak football, that just means shifting a player before the play to throw the defense off guard.
Early in the second half of a tight ballgame, one of our freshman wide receivers wandered on to the field looking a little uncertain of the play Mr. Emerson had told him to bring to the huddle. “Uh, slot right….. 2 motion…… 42 iso?” He stuttered. Being the responsible upperclassman student leader that I was, I immediately stepped in and tried to sort it out, saying “I think you mean slot left.”
We lined up on the ball, and when Coach Emerson saw our formation, he blew a gasket. “I SAID SLOT RIGHT! I SAID SLOT RIGHT!!” he hollered from the sideline. Billy, the quarterback, asked coach, “Do you want a timeout,” to which he replied, “YES I want a timeout.” The Andover kids were chuckling, and I was worried about the parents attending the game as much as I was worried for my own skin. I just didn’t want them to think our practices were like boot camp.
“WHO CHANGED THE PLAY,” he scoured our team. I apologetically admitted to changing the play in the huddle, which was my second mistake of the episode. Mr. Emerson really tore me apart now, calling me things that I can’t repeat on this podium. I had called an audible in a shady situation that second-guessed Coach Emerson’s strategy in a close game, and I had paid the price. But Coach Emerson would give me another shot. Late in the game, Billy O’Neil connected with me on a “2 hitch pass,” a nifty signal where I nod to Billy and he tosses a quick screen pass to keep the D honest, and it kept our final drive alive. This set up a heroic bootleg run from Billy O’Neil to win the game by a score. Moral of the story: take responsibility for your actions. and even if you goofed up the last one, don’t be afraid to call an audible.
My next narrative is more of a personal quirk than a story. I used to get off the bus in elementary school and walk as far up our dirt road as I could with my eyes closed. It was just a game to me. Walking in nothing but darkness, my mind would think of every worst possibility to find reasons for my feet to slow down. I could not shake the feeling that I was about to stub my toe or fall off a cliff. Maybe Scar from The Lion King was just around the corner, and I had no way of knowing. I would walk until I crashed into something or until I was too spooked to go on, usually the latter.
I continued this game on Albany Road when I got to Deerfield. I would get going on my way to extra help and close my eyes, guided only by the sounds of my surroundings, the feeling of my feet against the Pocumtuck Valley terrain, and the awareness and kindness of those around me. My blind solo walks were a lot like coming to Deerfield in the first place. I had no idea what to expect, and I remember thinking everyone would be perfect and probably have some kind of superpowers. I was scared and in the dark, understandably, but I soon learned to trust my instincts–to keep walking in the dark–and to trust those around me–to pray that someone would yell “car!”
Over the past few months, our grade has pulled together over our own ingenuity. This year, we successfully stripped the security Polaris of its wheels and sent them on a scavenger hunt, we used a rainy day in May and made a slip ‘n’ slide behind the hockey rink, and we perfected the pronunciation of the word ‘anonymity’, as well as the art of the slow clap. We were dealt an unusual year with the reconstruction of the Memorial Building, an odd class day schedule, and a no-AP trial run, and we responded with unusual spontaneity. The excerpt from the picture in the lobby of the Main School Building reads: “We have preserved those fundamental, high traditions of character and scholarship on which our school was founded and none of the vital things which have given a feeling of permanence and security have been lost or changed. We still study and work, play and sing, and pause to look up to the hills.”
To the underclassmen with days of glory ahead: remember to give yourselves time to talk after meals, to pass around after practice, and to think after classes. Don’t waste time in regret, and don’t be afraid to call an audible.
To my fellow classmates of the Class of 2014: Our Deerfield experience is the sum of all the small steps we’ve taken together, from the moment we stepped on campus until now. We made it, and we looked damn good doing it. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Trust your instincts in the coming years, and know that you have a family of brothers and sisters to fall back on if needed. Our confidence will lead us on.
Commencement Student Address 2014: Kate Ginna
by Kate Ginna ’14
Freshman year, I wasn’t particularly put-together. I am not a disorganized person–few people at Deerfield are. And I arrived on campus confident. Not cocky, but self-assured. I had been a big fish in a small pond, but little did I know I had swum right into an ocean. Who would have thought that a mobile–yes, the kind of toy that dangles above a baby’s bed–could shatter that confidence so quickly. It was my first assignment of freshman year physics–make a mobile. I began that mobile project so many times I could not even tell you. I should have received some kind of rewards card from the Hitchcock house for how many wooden dowels, tubes of glue and paper clips I bought. You know how parents say no news is good news? Well, my parents were getting a lot of news about this project.
My fall midterm grade for freshman physics was a 76. And Physics was not the only field I struggled in. To give you a more complete idea of my freshman self, I looked through my old advisor reports and teacher comments–keep in mind teachers at Deerfield are incredibly kind so everything was phrased in the gentlest way possible. Let’s just say the word “potential” was thrown around a lot.
- Mr. Creagh, physics: “It is clear that the methodologies used in inquiry-based physics are foreign to Kate.”
- Mr. Meier, geometry: “[Kate] struggled to keep her energy and focus levels up during this time, and her marks suffered accordingly.”
- Mr. Scandling, English: “…Kate’s analytical responses lack polish.”
- Ms. Melvoin, spring advisor report, “As Kate learned, high school can be challenging, both academically and socially…”
But worry not, I did receive some positive encouragement, like from Mr. Silipo, my freshman history teacher.
- “Kate had a solid fall.” Mr. Silipo is not a man of many words.
As you can see, I was not exactly scaling the peaks of success. Hence why I was so confused when I was elected graduation speaker. Me? The girl who might as well have been on academic probation freshman year? The graduation speaker is supposed to be someone who Instagrams views from the Rock and memorizes the Deerfield Value statement, of which I have done neither. In fact the only time I have ever been to the Rock was freshman year when you’re required to go with Dr. Curtis.
So how did I get from a shambly freshman to a graduation speaker? Am I just a late bloomer, or is it something about Deerfield?
In early April a candidate for a theater fellowship came to Deerfield and spoke to the cast of The Amish Project. She led a warm-up, then we had a bit of Q&A, which is always more awkward than you think it’s going to be, which is saying something considering I always suspect it will be pretty awkward. Then someone asked, “What’s your impression of Deerfield?” She thought for a moment, fiddling with her wool skirt. “I think it’s very easy to be impressed by the adults here, but I was more impressed with the students,” she said, “everyone was so friendly and conversational, people introduced themselves to me and asked if I needed help finding anything, if I was enjoying the campus, and I don’t think that’s something highschoolers usually do. I don’t know if the people are like that because the school can afford to be so selective or if the school makes you like that…. But I was impressed.” I should have directed our visitor towards a wonderful tool known as Urban Dictionary, which defines Deerfield as “One of the most highly selective boarding schools in the nation. An acceptance rate of less than 18% sets it apart from most other prep schools. Rival, Choate Rosemary Hall accepts all walks of life with a shamefully high rate of 28%.” Direct quote.
Just a week later, we had more visitors on campus–a group of science teachers from a private school in Chicago came to Deerfield to examine our science department and, I assume, to see if they would implement our design at their school. Visitors often come to my Biomedical Research class, which is understandable because it is an impressive class with an impressive name. In another dreaded Q & A session, one of the visitors asked what made Deerfield students so articulate. And I thought about the nature of our Biomed course: we pair up and do research about a topic we have chosen–research that has not been done before. Dr. C became more of an advisor than a teacher because more often than not, he didn’t have the answers to the questions we were asking. Our job was to find out the answers for ourselves. It struck me how funny it was that I was in this class, given how miserable “inquiry based” study had made me in my freshman year. Then it struck me that had it not been for freshman year and Deerfield, I wouldn’t be taking this class at all.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for all the things I have experienced at Deerfield, I surely would not be standing here as a commencement speaker today. So–although this is something I never imagined I’d be saying, when I was trudging to Hitchcock to buy some more dowels and glue–I am grateful to Deerfield for the wonderful things it has given and taught me
I am grateful for the health center nurses who always gave me ginger ale even when I wasn’t sick.
I am grateful for the talents of other students, like Bryce Klehm’s astonishing array of impressions that range from Ice T to Dr. Baker–if you haven’t experienced these I suggest you go ask.
I am grateful to the librarians who helped me locate many books because literally no one but them can navigate the Dewey decimal system.
I am grateful to Deerfield for exposing me to the different backgrounds and cultures that flow through here like the river. Admittedly, when I first arrived, I thought, hey, I’m from downtown Manhattan, I know all about culture. This was before I was introduced to a completely new species known as “republicans”, so I’m grateful to my friends to for arguing with my political beliefs.
I am grateful for all the things you would expect one to be grateful for from a beautiful New England boarding school. But I am also grateful for things that are less obvious, the things I didn’t especially enjoy at the time.
I am grateful to Mr. Creagh for making me stumble through that mobile project.
I am grateful to the Dining Hall for forcing me to second wait, toning my biceps along the way.
I am grateful for social problems I confronted, because they pushed me to branch out and join groups like the Improv club which turned out to be one of the highlights of my Deerfield career.
I am grateful to Mr. Marge, in retrospect, for his lonely one-man battle against grad inflation. In all fairness, he was always willing to meet for extra help.
I am grateful to my teachers and friends for telling me when I was wrong.
In other words, I am grateful to Deerfield for not making things easy.
Many of you had more subtle growth than I did, while others’ growth was more pronounced. And some of you probably can’t wait to get off campus, while others will only leave when security pries your cold dead hands off senior grass. But regardless of whether or not you are planning to write Deerfield into your will, I invite you to reflect on what you are grateful for. And I extend that invitation to the classes of 2015, 16, and 17. Believe me, I know it is hard to be grateful to Deerfield when you are still acclimating freshman and sophomore year, and drowning in work junior year because all you can think is, “wow, this place is prison.” …But I urge you to appreciate this campus, these people, and this school before it is too late.
Having said that I also beg you not to let that appreciation combine with complacency because an institution will not survive if it cannot progress. And change won’t happen quickly, it might not even happen efficiently, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Deerfield didn’t give up on us, so don’t give up on Deerfield.
Thank you Deerfield, and thank you to the Class of 2014. I can confidently say I would not be the person I am today without you.
Awards Luncheon 2014: Head of School Remarks
“Using Imbalance to Create Motion”
by Dr. Margarita Curtis
This was a topsy-turvy year at Deerfield. With the arts center closed, our patterns and schedules went haywire. Classes started at odd intervals… we camped out in the gym for school meeting… club events turned up in the oddest places–and if you had an arts class, you had to hike all over town. Add a polar vortex to the mix, and things got a little crazy; the winter dance showcase was performed by flashlight!
It became so confusing at one point, I heard campus security lost all the wheels and tires from their patrol vehicle! (…Inside joke.)
But it wasn’t all bad. Imbalance, after all, is what creates motion. New classes and projects emerged. Teachers tried novel ideas and unconventional methods. Our capstone program found its feet–in large part because of the students who were willing to risk taking it.
And we ate A LOT of quinoa and sweet potatoes.
More importantly, you experimented. You formed a Ukulele and Bongo orchestra! And an ethics committee. And launched a radio station. The debate team got team varsity jackets! The new “Deerfield Talks” segment in school meeting is off to a strong start, and I don’t think anyone’s going to soon forget just “how communist” Deerfield really is. (That’s another inside joke.)
Another campus-wide experiment–the “no Accountability Points trial”–added a feeling of uncertainty to even everyday routines. This wasn’t some half-witted scheme. It was a vision, pursued. Our Student Body President, Tripp Kaelin, proposed eliminating the AP system at Convocation–the very start of the school year! Student Council developed a pilot program, while the Ethics Committee urged us to go even further and incorporate restorative practices into our disciplinary system. In the end, what united all these efforts was the desire to align rhetoric with our day-to-day practices, bringing to life the values of respect, honesty, and concern for others in our actions and behaviors.
The experiment was disruptive to community life, but the underlying intention was worthy. Let me share with you the rationale presented by the students in their proposal:
“Accountability in a restorative justice system means taking responsibility for choices, understanding the impact of those choices on others, and repairing the harm done. Restorative justice pays attention to relationships and develops mutually desired outcomes treating misbehavior as an opportunity to learn.”
At a school like Deerfield, with such a distinguished history, there is a triumph in inviting us to experiment. Here, tradition is so revered–a good thing–that sometimes change can feel unsettling.
You performed the hardest task of leadership: nudging the Academy out of its comfort zone… pushing us from rest to motion. The imbalance we felt as a school–and that you leveraged–may indeed be your legacy. You may not have swayed school policy, but you DID change the school.
In a year with so many variables and so much uncertainty, we all felt a little adrift. But you chose to set a course. That sense of purpose–indeed that desire for purpose–that intrinsic motivation that you felt and acted upon… is the very definition of leadership.
Last year, I stood here and talked about Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon. This year I could list other tragedies: the ferryboat capsizing in Korea, the war in Crimea, 300 girls kidnapped in Nigeria… the worldwide crisis of climate change.
Each of these tragedies–and countless others–challenge our balance. Each of the world’s problems–whether it’s access to clean water, the scourge of polio, the pursuit of human rights, or the challenge of cooling the planet–is a source of imbalance and confusion.
I urge you to use that imbalance to create motion. Use confusion to break the inertia of complacency. Use tragedy and challenge as leverage for your own leadership. Pay attention to the world around you. You may remember what I told you at one of the last school meetings this spring, quoting Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” So pay attention and solve real problems. Anywhere there is uncertainty or doubt, there is an opportunity to lead: seize it.
Your character–the ability to turn obstacles into lessons learned, to persist in the face of disappointment and doubt, to organize others, to practice honesty and respect in everything you do–this is what you bring to the world.
Early this year, we hosted innovator and activist, Pablos Holman. I hope you remember him as I do: someone who is successful and happy… but focused on helping. He suggested that if we go out in the world to find and solve “real” problems, we’ll lead fulfilling lives.
Pablos would agree with Nelson Mandela, who passed away at 95 this winter: He once said that, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is the difference we have made to the lives of others,” Nelson Mandela, along with several of our guest speakers this year–Pablos Holman, Caldwell Esselstyn, Ken Burns, Peter Davis, Robert Ballard, Robert Pinsky, Robert Stern–have all changed the world. They have all done well, while doing good. And they were all once where you are now.
Mr. Boyden–who was a high school student at one point, also–said it plainly a century ago: “the test of worth of any school is the record of service of her alumni.”
Don’t you see it? It is YOU that makes Deerfield worthy, not the other way around.
I’m so proud of you all.
2013 Commencement Student Address
By Adam Philie ’13
I want to thank all of you for trusting me with representing our class. I really hope I don’t butcher it. So I haven’t done too much public speaking at Deerfield and when I asked around for some advice, all I got was be funny, be funny. Im not really a jokester, so that’s just tough luck I guess.
So standing here today is a weird experience for me. I am not really sure how I feel about this whole graduation thing. I think Ms. Creagh hit the nail on the head with her most recent email reprimanding our class. She wrote “You’re ready to leave, but you don’t want to go. You love this place, but you’re feeling claustrophobic. This is your home, but you can’t wait to move on.” It differs for each one of us, but in some way we will all miss this place. The change that lies ahead of us makes me a little scared and I’m not sure it is time to leave.
So first, I want to focus on the past, on Deerfield and on high school, which for Jordan Prizant lasted a total of seven years.
My older brother taught me to appreciate this community. He graduated in 09 just got a job in the athletic office here for next year, and in some ways I envy him in that he gets to experience this community again. I think all of us can look back and appreciate this community in some way. Not everyone here had a smooth ride, but I am certain in some way we were all shaped by this community. We have all been through it here. We haved shared experiences, whether they are the bonfire, the river, watching Dr. Curtis chase after her dog who you saw taking off to greenfield five minutes earlier.
From these experiences, we are all connected. In the next few years, some of us will become close, some of us will grow apart, we may live near eachother, talk often, or completely lose touch, Montour may go to prison…No matter what happens in the upcoming years, that bond that we have will always be there. Through all of the change that we are going to encounter, that bond will be constant.
Remember the connections we made here, with the faculty, with our peers, with this campus. The experience we had here will not be remembered with snapshots of fun times. The experience we had will live on through the relationships and connections we formed. I urge you in these last couple hours to truly look to the hills, to establish a final connection with this natural place. Some day it will be these relationships, these connections that will be the sole link to our high school selves, the sole link to our time here in this magnificent place.
Now before I stop talking about the past and look to our future, I want to leave you with the final few lines of a poem that has come to mean a lot to me. It is called At Deerfield by Jack Graves, and it ends like this:
I took care to take note of the
and the school that rested in it, of
which were brushed on in not-
quite pink, not-quite
salmon, of the wind that was
unseasonably warm and
seductive, of the still light in an old
ground I came upon soon after that
still more green playing fields.
The burial ground held me.
I felt akin to lives lived more than
ago, to lives lived long, to lives cut
felt for the first time in my life on
that prizes experience, tears
and I wanted to ask some of the
students who were
passing innocently by if they knew
blessed the were,
how lucky they were to be able,
for a time, to take their ease in
and on those fields, in that
In the embrace of the moment,
they would have
thought I was touched, and indeed
I had been.
How blessed were they.
How blessed was I.
Never forget how blessed we have been.
When I think of leaving here, I think of that poem. I think of choate day, I think of hearing the Mellow D’s and the rapso-d’s at a warm spring school meeting. I think of spring KFC and spring day. I think of all of you in my class who made this place my home. I think and I get a little worried, a little sad, a little stagnant. Mr. Heise gave us important advice at our baccalaureate. He said something along the lines of “Do not be held back by nostalgia” and “move forward into the dimly lit future”
Even if security has to pry grant fletcher from the main school building steps, we are all going to have to move on physically by 4 pm this afternoon. We have to accompany that physical movement with a mental one as well.
Moving forward, have confidence and act deliberately. We hear all the time about how well prepared we are. If we made it to this commencement, we have had to have learned something. If this happens to be our second graduation, Ahmed, we most likely didn’t learn enough the first time.. Regardless, we have been given a box full of tools from this great place. With these tools we will be able to take that next step and make decisions on our own. Go at it confidently. Be passionate and use the tools we have been given to make choices that you feel are best. That is not to say every choice is going to be the correct one. When we make the wrong choice, let us look to ourselves first. Use the versatility and perseverance that this campus has nurtured in us, and move forward.
Have faith in this school. In turn, you will have faith in yourself to make the right decisions.
My father always tells me to make a difference. Like I said, we have the tools, use them. Jr always says it. This place is a place of leaders, every single kid here has leadership qualities. Make an impact, make a difference every single day. Be worthy of your heritage, of deerfield and be a leader.
While I envy my brother because next year he will return, as he has dreamed of doing since he left, I also know that it will not be the same. No matter how much he wants it to be so, he will not arrive back on campus and return to his days of glory. Those days only come once. Now, sitting here at this ceremony, with but a few more hours until departure, we are being told that our days of glory are done….
Guys, I hope you look back on them fondly, I know I will. Thank you
2013 Commencement Address
“Behaviors of Excellence”
By Rory Cowan ’71
I would like to issue an apology: I am not Tina Fey. I am really sorry that I am not Tina Fey. In fact, it would be a lot of fun to be Tina Fey! Every year there are rumors: Steve Carell, Jim Carey, Tina Fey… But never any rumors about Rory Cowan. Wonder why?
This weekend, podiums all over this great country are dispensing advice to graduating classes. I’m not going to do that. But I would like to give a little advice to Margarita Curtis. What do you think ’13? Think that’s okay?
This winter, I received a call on the first Sunday night following your return from long winter weekend
Now, you’re all good kids–but even good kids make bad decisions. And on the first weekend following a vacation, all the bad stuff that has been stashed in backpacks comes out of hiding and some of you make some bad decisions on a Saturday night. What does that mean? Discipline committees are often convened on Sundays, and calls to parents are made later that evening. Of course, I am a father of a senior boy and the phone rang on a recent Sunday night.
“Hello Rory. This is Margarita. Do you have a few minutes? We’ve just been meeting with Thomas.”
I quickly covered the phone, mouthed to the family dinner table, “It’s Margarita.” Our collective hearts sank. An after-dinner call from the Head of School to a parent of a senior boy on a Sunday night only means one thing: a good kid making a bad decision! I composed myself and asked Margarita to hold the phone while I retreated to my study. Holly followed to watch my face through the doorway.
“Okay Margarita, I’m sitting down!”
“Rory, we’ve been talking, and we think you’d be a great graduation speaker!”
Relieved that Thomas was still on track to graduate, I blurted out “…But I wanted to hear Tina Fey!”
So, Margarita, if you ever again call a parent of a senior boy on a Sunday night, I urge you to start the conversation with, “This is Margarita, and everything with is okay with your son. He hasn’t done anything stupid!”
This is a very, very special moment for me, because well over 40 years ago, I was a mess of a kid who was sent to Deerfield. I was a free-spirited nerd who had spent the summer as an exchange student in Stuttgart, Germany, where I bolted from my host family’s disciplined routines and hitchhiked alone through Europe at age 16. My parents were very pleased.
When I arrived on Albany Road, I knew that Deerfield’s straight jacket was going to be a tight fit. I soon was installed in Scaife One. At the end of the hall lived the royal couple at Deerfield: Jay and Mimi Morsman. Jay cut a dashing figure and Mimi was the hot young faculty wife. Everyone was in awe of their confidence, humor, and style. By the way, we still are!
One of Deerfield’s legendary hockey players roomed across the hall. Jay was the Varsity hockey coach.
Because I was a perpetually hungry young man, and because my Mom didn’t know the rules of this “Pocumtuck Prison,” she obligingly sent me an illegal hot plate and weekly cans of Spaghetti-O’s buried in care packages. The star hockey player wasn’t the best student, so the night before an exam, we plugged in the hot plate, took out my Teflon pot, and settled into two mugs of Spaghetti-Os, and tackled Pythagorean theorems.
Back then, discipline at Deerfield was really quite tribal: swift, local, and unquestioned. Jay’s nickname was “The Screamer!” Suddenly, there was a loud knock on my door (Jay’s a gentleman), it burst open and there he was, towering over the two of us with Spaghetti-O’s and Algebra books. I froze. The Hockey Player and Mr. Morsman didn’t.
In a booming voice that the entire corridor could hear, Jay screamed, “Cowan, what in the devil is going on here?” Then, in a softer voice he told his hockey player “to get out of this room and get back across the hall. We’ll talk later.” The seemingly impervious hockey star calmly stood up and ambled to his room. He even took his unfinished Spaghetti-O’s with him!
Returning to a booming voice, Jay then announced to the entire hall that discipline would be forthcoming. Jay kept speaking loudly as he entered my room and closed the door behind him. I knew I was toast! Immediately, his demeanor changed and he said, “Cowan, what the devil are you doing? You’re too smart for this. Thanks for helping him, but he’s hopeless, and you need your sleep. I am confiscating the hot plate. Do your dishes and leave them outside my door. Get some sleep. We’ll talk after your exam.”
With that one well-orchestrated encounter, Jay:
- announced his public authority to the entire hall,
- kept his hockey player on the ice,
- and won the lifelong trust of a terrified nerd!
Jay, after over 50 years, and thousands of students later, I am certain you don’t remember that moment. In that one instant, you communicated both the ethic of Deerfield and your concern for the individual well being of kids.
Sharing this tent with you 45 years later is something neither of us could have imagined. And for me, it’s one of the most meaningful moments of my life.
Jay, you’re “The Real Deal.”
Ok, ’13, let’s turn to the reason I am here.
I’m not going to tell that the world is at your feet. It is.
I am not going to tell you that a Deerfield education places you among the most privileged kids in America. It does.
I am not going to tell you that your web of relationships–with teammates, with hallmates, seatmates, classmates, and teachers– will remain relevant for the rest of your life. They will.
Rather, I thought I would share with you some observations about what makes people–and institutions–successful.
By success, I do not mean financial success. In the culture today, there is just too much darn emphasis on money. As you have experienced here at Deerfield, real success is all about being authentic and honest; about learning, growing and engaging those around you; about maintaining a life-long curiosity.
I did agree with Mitt Romney when he said, “corporations are people, too.” Institutions–be they corporations or non-profits–have character, just as people do. That’s why I think these four observations apply equally.
In my career I have been fortunate enough to work in the United States and extensively in twenty or thirty countries. I’ve been in the executive suite of a Fortune 200 company, worked in small, venture-backed start-ups, and in family businesses. I’ve been in technology companies and industrial companies. You may think I couldn’t keep a job, but life just took me in many directions–just as yours will.
Across these countless experiences, I have observed four behaviors that make people and organizations successful.
The first behavior is: LOOK OVER THE HORIZON and AT THE END OF THE NOSE.
In the fall of 2006, when Dr. Curtis joined our community, there was a relaxed attitude on campus, born of a decade of success and comfortable economic model. Remember, just seven years ago, in 2006 the great recession was nowhere to be seen and Facebook was barely off the Harvard Campus. Excited by what she saw in day-to-day life at Deerfield–“at the end of the nose,” so to speak–Margarita convened a strategic planning process, titled Imagine Deerfield, to take a look at what lay ahead–over the horizon–for the School. She wanted to make sure that we cultivated “intentional behaviors” that would push Deerfield to stay competitive, sustainable, and innovative, without sacrificing the capabilities and traditions that were the cornerstones of the Deerfield we know and love.
Phil Greer and I were honored to serve on that Strategic Planning committee. We spent time establishing “In-violates.” Those things that couldn’t be changed; sit down dinners, dress code, school size, and many other rituals deemed foundational. Only then did we move to the future.
Tom Heise then committed his considerable intellect and communication skills to the synthesis of all the quantitative data, qualitative values, opinions, and aspirations into an elegant manifesto. This over-the-horizon document forms the basis of much of the success we enjoy today, and the capital campaign, which ensures our success tomorrow.
While that was going on, I would bump into people on campus and ask, “Well, how is it going? How’s the new Head?” Everybody gushed about Margarita’s over-the-horizon ideas: Innovation! Interdisciplinary Classes! Globalization! Summits! Technology! The academic experience!
I wouldn’t let them go. Soon, end-of-the-nose comments like “Rory, do you realize that she’s worried about when the clocks strike? She’s concerned that the Main School Building Bell and the classroom building buzzers don’t sound at the same time.”
Or “Rory, do you realize that she’s telling all of us that we need to be more vigilant about showing up at sit down dinners?”
Another comment was, “Rory, do you realize she’s asking for syllabus alignment among all the sections of Algebra so we can stop the “teacher shopping?” And the list went on.
I smiled and thought to myself, “We’ve got a good one!”
This demonstrates the first behavior I see in successful or vibrant communities. As leader of this campus, Margarita aligned everyone around a vision (a horizon) and re-enforced the details (the nose) that were getting us there. Doing so helped us all sidestep the comfortable mushy middle ground.
This is not a concept unique to Heads of School. Those of you who are accomplished athletes know that you worry about your foot work, or grip, or stick work (end of the nose) while visualizing the entire team’s play (over the horizon). Those of you who are real writers also understand this parallel reality. You hang onto important themes throughout a ten-page essay, but you also labor tirelessly over commas.
These bimodal examples of excellence are endless.
I guarantee you that the end-of-the nose conventions you have chafed under (first waiter, second waiter, hats in buildings, two layer dress codes; Ms. Creagh’s famous “Young lady, is that a skirt…or a belt?”) are the exact rituals you’ll celebrate when you are under this tent in ten years.
The first behavior of great people and organizations is: LOOK OVER THE HORIZON, and at THE END OF THE NOSE.
The second behavior of excellence is: MANAGE THE BELL CURVE.
For those of you who didn’t take FST, there is a concept called the bell curve. It is also called a Normal Probability Distribution. Apologies to the math department. But, basically if you observe the same event or attribute enough times and then plot it, a curve that looks like a “bell” emerges. And either side, with the fewest data points, is called a “tail.” So, if you plotted Height in the class of 2013, basketball centers would be under one of the tails and coxswains under the other, and the rest of you arrayed in the middle, under the bell.
Height can’t be changed, but behaviors can–and that’s my point. There are times in life to be under the bell, and there are times to be under the tail. Often skills are obtained under the bell (as that’s where all of the training tends to take place) and those skills are applied to great effect under the tails.
But if you don’t oscillate between the tail and the bell, opportunities are missed. If you’re under the tail for your entire life, you can lose connectedness with people and the isolation of idealism can creep in. Conversely, if you spend your entire life under the bell, by definition, you’re just like everyone else.
This puts math to Oscar Wilde’s great quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Knowing when to play it safe and when to take a risk is essential.
Think about Bill Gates: He went to Harvard…under the bell. Dropped out of Harvard…under the tail. Went to IBM as a distribution partner…under the bell. Partnered with Steve Ballmer, his social and skill antitheses…under the tail. Befriended Warren Buffet…under the bell. Retired with a vision to eradicate polio…under the tail!
For you, this oscillation is going to be harder than any generation before you for a few reasons.
First, no other generation is as influenced by the power of a “brand” as you are: Vineyard Vines ties. Hunter Boots. Patagonia. Everything! The list goes on. But when I was at Deerfield, it was harder to find a “polo shirt” with a logo, than without. Ties were ties. Beanboots were still beanboots, but mostly, today’s fashion-industrial complex has conditioned you to wear and want what others wear and want. So think about it: For your generation, brands are under the bell. For mine, they were the ultimate tail.
Second, since Facebook is only six years old, you’re the first generation in which you are overwhelmed with technology-aggregated and quantified peer pressure. Every action of your life is “voted on” with “likes” or “dislikes”–from a photo to a song to an off-the-cuff post. Mark Bauerlain, who wrote The Dumbest Generation comments on this fact when he says, “Never before in history have people been so dominated by peers by the time they reach age 23.”
Third, you get most of your world news from “preference-engine” web sites. Those are web sites that monitor your browsing behavior and push more like-minded content your way.
Here’s an example.
In my line of work, I worry about currency relationships, so my news feed is filled with stories about the Yen and the Euro and the Rupee. A few weeks ago, I stupidly clicked on a story about some young celebrity doing something foolish. During the next few days, more and more stories about Taylor Swift, the Kardashians, Snooki, and every other member of the celebrity-industrial complex began to crowd out financial news. I was beginning to think Selena Gomez was our next Treasury Secretary! Long story short, I learned that even though Google apparently knows “what I want,” I need to manage my own bell-curve so that Lindsay Lohan is always–always!–very far under a tail.
Your news realities are increasingly determined by preference engines. Since you essentially live online, how will you determine your actual reality?
So this combination of brand supremacy, likes and dislikes, and preference engines will color your crucial career-building twenties. How are you going to get the confidence and the knowledge to step out, to develop your own gyroscopes, to create an accurate bell curve of your own opportunities?
Mark Bauerlain (The Dumbest Generation author) has an answer: “To develop intellectually, you’ve got to relate to older people, older things: 17 year-olds never grow up if they are just hanging around other 17-year-olds.”
Good news, Class of 2013: Deerfield has you covered! Where else do young people like you spend so much time learning from, and living with, “old people” and fawning over antique doors and “old things,” in a centuries’ old village?
You spend a lot of time with old people and old things!
Deerfield has “bell” and “tail” attributes. Academic excellence: BELL… Sit-down dinners and dress codes…TAIL. As you navigate between the tail and the bell, you have to be authentic and aligned with your own skills and desires, and pace of life. There’s a time to be safe and a time to take risks…and Deerfield has demonstrated that behavior, and given you that knowledge.
So, two great behaviors are: LOOK OVER THE HORIZON and at THE END OF THE NOSE and MANAGE THE BELL CURVE.
The third behavior is the ability to DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THE CYCLIC and the SEISMIC.
Great individuals and institutions are able to separate the fads, or the cyclic, from truly seismic changes. The resurgence of Denim and Diane von Furstenburg (DVF) wrap dresses as fashion statements is cyclic. The need for enhanced quantitative education: Seismic. Making the academic offerings relevant and aligned through interdepartmental, team teaching: Cyclic. Periodic assaults on sit-down meals and the dress code, cyclic.
An example of recent seismic shift that required a response by Deerfield is co-education in America. By the 1980’s, in spite of decades and generations of glorious accomplishment, all the accomplished boys wanted to go to school with girls. Totally fair, right? At first, Deerfield didn’t think so. In spite of a shrinking applicant pool and a sharp reduction in program quality, Deerfield didn’t recognize co-education as a seismic change–with the notable exception of Phil Greer, that is.
Phil began his first stint as President of the Board at the peak of this controversy over co-education. For those of you who don’t know him, Phil is ever the conservative and loyal son of Deerfield: I’ll bet he sings “The Evensong” in the shower. Phil saw that co-education was not a cyclical craze–it was a seismic shift within independent schools and Deerfield needed a fundamental shift in outlook. Despite some severe opposition from tradition-minded recent graduates and nostalgic alumni, Phil fought hard–and eventually achieved–the seismic change that enabled Deerfield to sustain its tradition of excellence into the 21st century: Co-education.
Phil took a decade off from the Board, but his instinct for and courage to swiftly address seismic change has also been a hallmark of his second stint as President of the Board. In 2009, he saw how deeply the “Great Recession” reverberated through Deerfield. Fighting the common refrain that the recession “was just another bad business cycle,” Phil led a swift, and deep, internal financial review. So, we have smaller Christmas trees, and Mrs. Gimbel gave up her Green and White M & M’s, and we had to initiate some very difficult cutbacks in our facilities departments. But, like any family managing their budget in a tight year, we lived within our means and didn’t touch our savings. This preserved Deerfield’s commitment to “intergenerational equity,” and promised that Deerfield would still be “Deerfield” for the Class of 2020!!
Phil knew that this wasn’t a business cycle, it was a seismic shift.
What’s on the horizon? Now, I can’t claim to have quite a sixth sense for the seismic that Phil does, but I do think the next one is the combination of the Internet and “Big Data.”
I have a belief that this combination will restructure the services industries in the coming decade just as it did the goods industries in the past decade. By services, I mean armed services (think cyber warfare and drones), legal Services (think eDiscovery and email), Consumer financial services (look how different checking and mortgages are), and educational services (billions of dollars invested in eLearning opportunities by venture capitalists).
Anything that is place-based, with lots of real estate and lots of human capital is under attack by the twin warriors of the Internet and big data analytics. Human capital and place-based physical capital? Does that describe prep schools?
We all know that both the travel and retail industries have been changed in the past decade. Both have essentially bifurcated into an elite group and a commodity group. There is little left in the middle. In retail, Sears and JC Penny middle-level retailers are struggling while high-end Niemen Marcus and mass-market Walmart flourish. In travel, high-end, exclusive agents focus on safaris, and low-end package-tour companies focus on Disney. Those in the middle have been supplanted by airline web sites, crowd-sourced forums, and Trip Advisor. We must remember that both of these industry restructurings were initiated by companies from outside the industry: Amazon and eBay; Expedia and Orbitz.
Now education, likely, is next.
Throughout history, there have been what software geeks call “point solution” technologies: Ms. Ellis’ French classes survived two generations of Language Labs, and now Rosetta Stone. Mr. Marge’s Math classes survived hand-held calculators, and recently Mathmatica. Mr. Carey’s English Composition survived spell check and auto-footnoting. Mr. Heise’s History survived Wikipedia. Those are normal technology cycles. So it would be easy to treat this coming assault like all the others: a cyclic technology evolution, filled with point solutions. Transformations in other industries tell us otherwise.
In five to ten years the combination of wall-sized and pervasive HD video, a proliferation of Kahn Academy-like videos, MOOC’s, Skype, iPads, near infinite data availability, enhanced search, and falling Network costs will create an alchemy we can’t imagine. This combination is seismic.
Falling technology costs are colliding with the ever-rising place-based costs of human capital and real estate. Will increasing tuitions and more frequent capital campaigns fill the gap? What about Financial Aid? Will it be five years? Will it be ten? How will we respond? Will there be an eight-school consortium creating a prep school version of Coursera or Ed-X?
It is not if. It is when. The burning question is: Do we ask Phil Greer to come back for a third, 10-year, term to help us through this seismic change?
So, Horizon/Nose; Bell/Tail; Cyclical/Seismic and …
My fourth, and last, observation is that vibrant people and organizations produce, rather than consume, energy. As people, “energy producers” are catalysts; using a clear set of personal values. They look for opportunities–whether academic, professional, or social–to bring about meaningful change within their community, organization, or the wider world. Most importantly, “energy producers” are unafraid to empower other people!
In my experience the most successful institutions are the ones that come out exothermic. All successful institutions rely on a diverse mix of energy producers to propel them forward.
To give you a sense of exactly how diverse “Energy Producers” can be, I want to introduce you to protagonists in two of my favorite movies: Colonel Frank Savage in 12 O’Clock High, a WW2 film, and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, a 2001 rom-com.
The first, 12 O’clock High, is a WWII movie in which a young Gregory Peck, playing Colonel Frank Savage, turns around a dispirited squadron as they struggle with the path-breaking challenges of daylight bombing. Publically focused, yet privately uncertain, the young colonel exudes discipline and confidence while seeking support from his staff. He is an “energy producer” cast in the military model. Success is obtained by a persistent focus on the collective goal, and on professional behavior.
The second, Legally Blonde is a rom-com in which Reese Witherspoon, plays valley girl-turned-Harvard-law-student named Elle Woods who manages to stay true to her inner values. Even in the face of a small clique of east-coast establishment kids who deride her, in an effort to maintain their self-perceived superiority. Her exaggerated Beverly Hills dress, intonation, mannerisms, and independent beauty habits evidently threaten them. However, Elle’s sheer hard work, smarts, unwavering personal values, inclusive friendships, and persistent energy, propel her to succeed–and, importantly, to help others–like a downtrodden hairdresser–to succeed as well.
Gregory Peck manifests positive energy production through tough, hierarchical leadership. Reese Witherspoon creates positive energy through open, honest, and facilitative leadership. These cinematic constructs demonstrate that energy and optimism come in many packages.
Fortunately, energy producers exist off the silver screen too, and assume a similar variety of shapes and sizes in real life. One of my favorite journalists from the nineties was Mary McGrory of the Washington Post. She drove this point home in an inspirational column about three ex-convicts. Who were those three ex-cons, those energy producers, those great leaders?” Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela.
Even within this very specific category of energy producers–political leaders with apparent criminal records–there is huge diversity. “It isn’t appearance that determines esteem. To be sure, Mandela, scion of a royal family, walks like a king, but Walesa is stocky, and Havel is slight. Moral stature comes in all sizes.” If “Moral Stature”, to borrow her phrase, is the first ingredient in an exothermic leader, then it stands to reason that the energy producers here at Deerfield also take on many shapes and sizes.
- The Deans who maintain a collective social order, while leading us by example through their family-centric, healthy, and athletic lifestyles.
- The drum-playing classics teacher who led the swim team to win the New England’s;
- The coach who “gets you focused” by pulling a superior athlete from the field to send you a message to “up your game,” as she knows you have it in you.
- The Faith-filled physics teacher who reconciles “The Particle that is God” and “Particle Physics,”
- The Husband and Wife team from the Dining Hall and the Library, who cheerfully support our daily needs, while quietly raising their severely disabled child with love and optimism;
- The teams in the stock rooms and the mail rooms who greet you with a smile, facebook you on your birthday, and go out of their way to see if you’re having a good day, or to be sure you get your Mom’s care package before the weekend.
- This community is filled with too many public and private “energy producers” to name. However, they all lead in their own quiet ways, and demonstrate an inclusive moral stature. You have been surrounded by that special breed of mankind; the energy producer.
So: Horizon/Nose; Bell/Tail; Cyclical/Seismic; Energy Producers/Consumers.
These are but four of the behaviors possessed by great people and great organizations; around the world; in small teams and in large organizations.
And Deerfield is deep with these behaviors. They don’t just happen. They take hard work, reflective moments, bold commitments, personal confidence, and community strength.
Graduation is a day of looking to your next horizon, while embracing what’s under your noses.
Graduation is a day of being under the bell, as you are seated with your classmates for one last time, and being under the tail, as you reflect on the extraordinary experience you’ve enjoyed.
Graduation is a cyclic event for the school, yet a seismic event for you.
Graduation is a moment of energy production – the hugs and songs and accomplishments – and it foreshadows of the dynamism that the class of 2013 will release into the “real” world in years to come!
Deerfield Graduation is not a “Leave-Taking exercise.” It is the final fusion of Deerfield’s behaviors and values, with your unique character and skills. You have been infused with this special privilege called Deerfield.
In closing, a decade from now, you’ll not remember what I’ve said. But I have every confidence that you will remember the people who have dedicated their lives to your learning and development. And without a doubt, you’ll remember an individual without whom the majority of this tent would not be present; Pat Gimbel. She lives these values every day. Think about this task of building a Deerfield class:
There are over 6,000 enquiries which yield over 2,000 applications from which we have to cull the right combination of quarterbacks, oboists, swimmers, artists, Deerfield loyalists, Asian adventurers, African superstars, academic winners, actors and actresses, legacies and siblings, and a big dose of good old fashioned “glue kids” who keep all of these individualists joined as a community.
Now, remember that this applicant crowd is divided among three classes and PG’s, as well as boys and girls. And we’re competing with five other schools. Yet Pat has to land the plane within +/- five students, or the classroom, athletic, and residential program just doesn’t work. All of this has to be handled on a near need-blind basis–in booming and challenged economies, with diverse domestic and international representation.
Oh, and did I mention that we have to give special consideration to faculty and administration kids, as well as maintain our century-long commitment to the town of Deerfield and the day student population?
One of her “awestruck” peers has commented that Pat “builds a fabric of families, rather than a class of kids!” Think about that: “A fabric of families!”
And this has to be executed with elegance, optimism, and end-of-the nose grit, as NO is said a lot more then YES. One class would exhaust me, but Pat has done this more times than I can count!
Pat, where are you? Could you please come to the edge of the stage? I want to do what everyone in this tent would like to do: Give you one final hug of appreciation!
Congratulations, Class of 2013!
Trust the gyroscope that you’ve developed here at Deerfield.
2013 Commencement Student Address
By Emma Witherington ’13
I thought that it being our last day together at Deerfield, it would only be fitting begin by talking about my first day of school here. For me, and I’m sure for many of you as well, my first day was some blurred combination of excitement and uncertainty. I remember my first sit down meal, a sit down breakfast, Monday morning, 7:30 am, September of 2010. It was a pretty quiet meal. For some reason at 7:30 in the morning my table companions and I weren’t exactly brimming with conversation, but this silence, though mildly awkward, gave me time to think about the day to come. I wondered what my first classes would be like, what my teachers’ first impressions would be, and how much homework I would get after my first day. My thoughts then traveled to the upcoming weekend, as I grew anxious about my first soccer game, and debated what to wear to my first DeNunzio disco. As the second waiter hustled our dishes back into the kitchen, I looked around the dining hall at the expressions of the then strangers around me; I wondered if anyone else shared my new-student anxieties. Watching the waiters load their trays with glasses and plates, I too loaded myself with new questions and concerns,and I felt uncertainty creeping up on my initial excitement as I prepared to plunge into my first day as a Deerfield student.
Flash forward three years to spring of 2013. Last Tuesday, I sat down for sit down lunch at my senior table with seven other senior girls and Connor Sullivan. Our table head, Mr. Dickinson, soon arrived. Mr. D carried with him to the table a little pink diary for all of us to sign in honor of our last sit down meal together, sort of an ending tradition for his sit down tables, with signatures dating back to 2002. Soon after we had all signed the book, we figured out that our last sit down meal together was in fact on Friday instead, but for the sake of making a point we’ll just continue thinking it was Tuesday. As we passed the little pink book around the table and signed our messages, we started talking about all of our other “lasts” at Deerfield—our last spring day approaching on Wednesday, and our last school meeting coming up on Friday, among others.
This talk about “lasts” has come up more and more throughout the spring. It felt like with graduation day growing closer, everything became numbered. A Sunday brunch, a dinner at the Deerfield Inn, or a hike up to the rock, all of a sudden became our last. Despite the presumed reputation of senior spring, in which we spend every waking moment at the river, while the library, desolate and forgotten, becomes home solely to the juniors, there is a certain sense of urgency that comes with the spring, as well. This urgency drives us to appreciate every moment to its fullest before it’s gone. Whether an athlete relishing your last time competing on the field, or a performer coveting a final performance on a Deerfield stage, these moments, once relatively ordinary, suddenly feel fleeting. As the final moments pass, it dawns on us that our time to leave this campus has finally come.
It’s too easy for us to dwell on these “lasts” as we finish our time here at Deerfield. Whether having been here for one year or for four, Deerfield is what we know, it is what we’re used to, it is our home. We’re caught in a strange state of being as seniors on graduation day, trying to look forward to what’s to come with summer and college and what not, but not wanting to fully relinquish our hold on what we must leave behind. The same sensation of excitement and unease returns.
In his Baccalaureate address last Sunday, Mr. Heise said to us, “Don’t let nostalgia hold you hostage.” I thought about this as I sat at sit down lunch last Tuesday. Though we had spent the early part of the meal talking about our last days and last special moments here at Deerfield, I knew that these would not be my last days with these friends, not just those sitting around me at the table, but those friends in my dorm, in my classes, on my teams, and beyond. Though our time together at Deerfield has come to a close, I know that the relationships we forged here will not end when we receive our diplomas and depart.
It’s true that Deerfield provides a sense of place unique to anywhere else. Just in having been here together, we will always share something indescribable. However, when teachers and parents ask us what we will miss the most, I think that the majority of the senior class would echo, “the people”. In the end, it is the people that make a place. Of course there are the little things around campus that we will miss: floating in a raft down the river, talking in the dining hall, and even just hanging out in a dorm room. But again, it is the people that give this place its life, and those that we share these ordinary moments with that make them memorable. So yes, it is our last day here as students, but it is not our last time together. While we must leave Deerfield, the place, behind, we will carry these relationships and memories made with us onto our next step and beyond. Through these shared experiences and more to come, we will always maintain an enduring connection to the place where it all started. Thank you.
2013 Baccalaureate Address
By Tom Heise
To our Deerfield parents and guests and friends, to my colleagues, to the Class of 2014, and above all to the wonderful Class of 2013, welcome. Teddy and Cleo, thank you for inviting me to speak to your class this evening. I am honored.
With just one week to go before you receive your diplomas, you may at last be worrying less about what’s due tomorrow and reflecting more on your time at Deerfield: your highs and lows, friendships you have made, your favorite classes, productions or seasons, things you will miss, and things you won’t miss at all. Many of you have found that your time here passed quickly, even though some moments seemed very long, so perhaps it’s a good idea to reminisce, to imagine yourself climbing aboard a Green Machine one more time and rolling down memory lane to your favorite moments, your days of glory, or to other Deerfield days, ones that are important to you perhaps because they were difficult.
Just for fun, let’s imagine you become distracted–looking down at your phone and not out the window–and you roar past the stop signs for whatever September brought you to this valley and race toward deeper reaches of time. Worried at first, you then find the prospect of time travel so exciting that you choose to push onward, which is to say backward, into the twentieth century and well before. Where and when to go? Where would we find earlier days of glory, a golden age when all was right with the world?
Let’s agree that the past decade and the 90s are off the table. One of you is plenty, so you don’t get to go to a time where you already exist. And you shouldn’t go to the 80s either. Do you really want to see your parents when they’re your age?
And let’s frankly acknowledge the thrill of possessing superior information. Imagine what it would be like to always know more than everyone else, to have absolute certainty about what was going to happen next. The possibilities are endless.
Mark Twain understood. He sent his time-traveling Connecticut Yankee back to the 500s, to King Arthur and Camelot. And there Hank, the Connecticut Yankee, pushes past his initial confusion and alarm at a land of knights, slaves, and a malicious magician named Merlin, and embraces his good fortune. “I was actually living in the sixth century,” Hank says, “and in Arthur’s court, not a lunatic asylum…Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains, pluck, enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country…and all my own; not a competitor; not a man who wasn’t a baby to me in acquirements and capacities.” “Here I was a giant among pygmies, a man among children, a master intelligence among intellectual moles.”
Fired with ambition, Hank promptly sets about the happy project of bringing the triumphs of 19th century American life to Camelot: a lacework of telegraph and telephone lines, railroads and highways, newspapers, munitions factories, dividend-paying stocks, bicycles and baseball and soap–all the elements of a well-ordered republic. A warning: it doesn’t end well. Hank has a nasty falling out with Merlin, and Twain, who sometimes struggled to end novels gracefully, simply has Hank detonate Camelot out of existence.
So perhaps Twain has ruled out the 500s. What about the remaining 1500 years between now and then?
Do everything in your power to avoid the 600s through the 1400s, the so-called Dark Ages that stretched across Europe following the collapse of Rome. While exciting inventions appeared in that era–the stirrup and the padded horse collar, to name just two–political instability, low intensity warfare, and feudal injustices were pervasive. So was bubonic plague, especially in the 1300s, when it wiped out a third of Europe’s population. Well, what about the New World? Great food, bad weather. Pre-Columbian Indian peoples were perhaps the greatest farmers the world has ever known, yet from the 900s through the 1200s significant parts of the Americas confronted rising temperatures and epic, civilization-destroying drought. That same warmth encouraged Vikings to colonize southern Greenland, only to be driven out by the little Ice Age of the 1400s.
Skip the 1500s. And the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. Why? Despite bringing us our first age of globalization, in which market economies arose and innovative, far-ranging ships and telegraph wires linked the far corners of the world, these centuries also witnessed imperial and sectarian wars, the rise of race-based slavery, Inquisitions, a grinding poverty in rural life exceeded only by the misery of pre-modern cities and, above all, woeful medical understanding. There was no answer for smallpox, measles, polio, flu viruses, malaria, cholera, or other bacterial infections and, therefore, no end to the haunting horrors of disease, especially in the Americas. A mere scratch or poorly-aimed cough could carry you away forever.
Nothing has made a bigger difference to us than modern medicine and advances in public health, so if you actually want to live a long time and enjoy your information advantage, you should choose a moment in the last 100 years, an era with clean water, vaccinations, antibiotics, scientifically trained doctors and well-equipped hospitals. Still, I’d pass on the turbulent war-torn teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s. And you should steer clear of the 50s too, that time of supposed contentment and lofty, shared purpose which expected women to aspire only to suburban motherhood, black Americans to accept the cruel indignities of Jim Crow, and all of us to believe that ever larger nuclear stockpiles were part of a carefully calibrated plan to keep us safe.
Well what about the 60s? Surely, there’s much to like here. For people nervous about change, the decade began with the calming reassurance of President Eisenhower. For those who wanted more change, President Kennedy called us to action, to the glories of a new Camelot. Progressive social movements of all kinds transformed our nation, great music filled the airwaves and, just as JFK had promised, men traveled to the moon and returned safely to the earth. Yet it was a hard decade too. Assassins claimed the lives of President Kennedy, and his brother Robert, of Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Urban riots ravaged American cities. Hundreds of thousands of Americans fought in the Vietnam War; millions of people died there. We faced a rising tide of pollution. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. And a poisonous drug culture took hold.
If you showed up in the mid-1960s, you would discover that my twin brother John and I had a drug problem. My sister Anne skipped downstairs one evening and asked my mother if it was okay if the twins were eating all those little white pills. In a panic, my mother ran upstairs and discovered us sitting side by side, with white powder smeared on our faces. John and I were three years old. We had eaten an entire bottle of aspirin. She raced us off to the hospital to have our stomachs pumped. The child-proof cap was invented shortly afterward and appeared widely in the 1970s—too late for us, but well in time for you.
So what about the 70s? You could get in on the ground floor of the modern technology revolution; in the greatest insider trading scheme of all time, you could bet it all on Microsoft and Apple.
But if you have any self-respect, this is a decade I implore you to miss. I was there and it was bad. When I was a high school student in Bloomington, Indiana overalls were in, mostly worn by kids who didn’t work on farms. Weird. Leisure suits were weirder. For guys, shorts were really short. Hair styles were silly and so was the music. In just a few years we had gone from the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.”
At the national level, we experienced runaway inflation and Richard Nixon. For all the glory of a space program that was sending Americans to the moon, it is worth noting what the CEO of Intel said last year: that NASA computers of that era had less computing power than a single smartphone has today. We had gas shortages in the 70s, but maybe that was okay because the tanks we waited to fill were in cars that were ugly, shoddy, and dangerous. Ford Pintos sometimes exploded when they were rear-ended. A few of us used to ride home from school with a friend who had a Pinto. We all tried to sit in the front seat.
By now, our journey through time has made the problem clear. However tempting it is to find a golden age when harmony and happiness reigned, in your life or in the history of the larger world, every time had its ups and downs, its triumphs and hardships. The good old days were only good some of the time. Even the Garden of Eden had a snake.
Let your hearts hold memory bright, but don’t let nostalgia hold you hostage. Embrace what is in front of you. Step into an uncertain, dimly-lit future, into the lives for which you are so well prepared. You have good lives to live and important work to do.
A few final words to keep you company along the way:
Use technology well. Technology amplifies our power in ways that are sometimes magnificent, sometimes terrifying. That technology fundamentally changes us is less clear to me. We have more information within our reach, but are we any wiser, dumber, more loving, more hateful, better or worse than we’ve ever been? Modern technology does distract us, however, so every now and then turn away from your screens, turn off your phones and your music, and go outside. Remind yourselves what the world really is, not just what it appears to be, and how wonderful it is to feel the sun on your skin, to hear a soft spring breeze in the trees, to gasp in the icy Deerfield River, to know friends by the sounds of their voices, by the love you see in their eyes. I hope that’s something you’ve learned here.
Believe in something bigger and better than you. Embrace the deepest, noblest teaching of your faith, whatever that may be, and live out its meaning. Comfort those who suffer, serve those in need, raise up those who have fallen, bring justice to those who are oppressed, build a greener future for us all. Narrow self-interest has little to offer the problems of this world.
Be hopeful, not cynical. Life has a way of living up, or down, to what you expect of it. Life won’t always be fair and it will bring disappointments, but it will bring wonder and joy and new chances too. If you are hopeful, you’ll hold on when times are hard. If you hope, others will too. In your hope, there is hope for us all.
Above all, love with all your heart. “Faith, hope, and love abide,” writes Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “but the greatest of these is love.” “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So love. Love, as Vanessa has loved her Little Sister on Friday evenings. Love, as Warner loves the hills and hollows of Kentucky. Love, as Adam has loved his teammates. And love as the people of Boston loved when they raced to help people injured in the marathon bombings and opened their homes and hearts to those in need.
As you think back on your Deerfield days, remember when you believed, when you hoped, above all when you loved, when you shared the most precious gifts we have with one another. Those were your best days, and ours too. As you leave us, please carry the memory of those days with you and share all that you’ve learned with the world that awaits you.
Thank you and good luck to you all.
2012 Commencement Student Address
“It Was a Glorious Experience.”
by Nolan Doyle ’12
May 27, 2012
“I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”
Thank you for the introduction, Dr. Curtis. My role as president of Deerfield’s own “Chick Flick Appreciation Club” didn’t make the final cut on my college application so I suppose it was appropriate to leave it out of the introduction today.
Thank you all for coming out today to celebrate our graduation, the Class of 2012. To fill you in on why this is such a beautiful ceremony: over the course of the past few months, our class, like the classes before us, has engaged in a series of pranks with a purpose. We all snuck out of the dorm, citing curfew as more of a “suggestion” than a hard and fast rule; we held hostage all of the school’s backpacks and made the boys and girls fight for them a la the Hunger Games after lunch one day; and we stole all of the utensils from the dining hall before a sit-down dinner, among others. The purpose is to ensure that the faculty and our fellow students will be happy, rather than sad, to see us leave. So, 2013, if you want a beautiful and successful Commencement Day–I’d recommend scheming up some pranks, or else people will be sad to see you go.
So, when I heard that I would be delivering the commencement address a few months ago–I did not take this task lightly. First, I watched a few Youtube videos for inspiration. In the process; I saw Stephen Colbert’s address at Northwestern, Steve Jobs address at Stanford and Conan O’Brien’s address at Dartmouth; among others. Of those addresses, the one that really stuck with me, and I think will be relatable for you all as well–was Conan’s. So, taking Mr. O’Brien’s lead–I let the idea of a commencement address (without an actual one in mind) simmer for a few months. Until last night, when I returned from the Senior Cry, cracked open a Red Bull and my now 4-year old International Business Machine to begin.
Now, I’d like to address the elephant in the room. That I’ve been selected as your VALEDICTORIAN. Bear with me, for a moment, as this deserves an explanation. The valedictorian is the academic title conferred upon the student who delivers the farewell address at the commencement ceremony. Usually, the valedictorian is the highest ranked student. That aspect has never been more flagrantly violated in human history than today. I, who was once called, and I quote: “A waste of my parents’ money and of human cells,” by Mr. Silipo, after cutting his class three times in a row freshman year. I, who was mere points away from not being permitted to walk, much less speak at, this graduation. It would have been alright, though, I had been in touch with IT about Skyping in my graduation address–to which they said: “No, you cannot have Chatroulette open in another window, the camera on your computer doesn’t work that way.” To which I naturally replied, “Oh, it works that way.” Today, the word valedictorian can only be used in the traditional Latin sense of “to say farewell.” I am here to do just that, to bid that to all of you–class of 2012–farewell at the next station in your life’s journey, and that to you–underclassmen and women–farewell at this one.
I promise this is the final portion of the disclaimer: My time in philosophy class always flew by, the class would seem to be over in seconds rather than minutes. I was engaged and interested. My time in chemistry also flew by, the class would seem to be over moments after I arrived–I suppose it was because I was sleeping. In any event, I hope these next few minutes are, for you all, like my philosophy classes were for me. If they aren’t, then I hope they’re at least as restful as my chemistry classes. Either way, I hope this feels brief.
I’d like to use this time to recount a dark hour of mine. Not my “darkest hour” which, as many of you may know, took place my freshman year in the old Greer in my smelly greens and greys on a Friday night. This dark hour was a deep and inexplicable depression into which I fell this Winter Term. I don’t know why or how it happened. Some have suggested it was “inner Nolan”, in other words my subconscious sneaking out, depressed that he’d been repressed and scrubbed away with so many showers since freshman year. Some say it was an existential angst, as I was studying Friedrich Nietzsche at the time. Still others suggest that it was not that I was reading Nietzsche, but rather, living Nietzsche. For those of you who may not know Mr. Nietzsche’s life story–he was celibate for the lion’s share of it. In any event, in my want to learn about why I was feeling this way I fell into an even darker place–I began watching TED talks, an educational series of speakers, excessively. Most compelling to me at the time was the series on happiness, particularly Harvard professor Dan Gilbert’s “Why are we happy?” There are two worthwhile quotes from this examination of happiness which I’d like to share with you today. The first one, I already have. At the start of the speech, I said: “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.” And I meant it. But, actually, the quote is from a man named Moreese Bickham. Mr. Bickham was wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years and exonerated at the age of 78, the preceding quote is what he had to say about his time in prison. Now, here are two things that I don’t mean to say–that Deerfield is like a prison–though I expect that would excite a rise out of some of you, or that you all should go out and get arrested (I’m looking at you, Class of 2012: stay safe). What I mean to say, and the next quote will explain this well, is to have less confidence in your predictions about tomorrow and more confidence in your ability to make the best of whatever tomorrow may bring. We, humanly, have an incredible mental capacity to create synthetic happiness. With that ability, it is necessary that you know–come what may tomorrow, I’ll be able to handle it. For example, if after four years of Deerfield–Ian Ardrey said, last night: “I don’t regret a single minute.” And Mr. Bickham said the same thing, after 37 years of federal prison. Obviously, Ian has it slightly better–but Mr. Bickham synthesized happiness and created an experience. Adam Smith articulated this well, when he wrote: “The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another…” This one is particularly important at this point in our lives, as we’ve just undergone all of the misery and disorders that come with selecting a college. Good luck to the juniors, by the way. Mr. Smith would laugh at the way which we approach it. In the end, the difference would not be that great whether we went to college A or college B, yet we make our best efforts to convince ourselves through rankings and all the rest that one is a “dream” school and the other a “safety”. What I say, in joining Mr.’s Smith and Gilbert, is, in the future, to be more humble in your ability to predict how much you’ll like a college, a job, or living in a parent’s basement and to be more brave in your ability to make it, like you made Deerfield, a glorious experience. Be more humble and be more brave.
My final message will be to the underclassmen, whom I envy, for they have hundreds of Deerfield days ahead of them. My advice to you all will be a reiteration of the beautiful poem called “The Station”, by Robert J. Hastings, which Charles Jones read at Baccalaureate, one week ago. To briefly explain the work, the poem examines you as a passenger on a train–seeking a destination, at which point you think everything will be alright. The passenger seeks college, a promotion, and retirement among other things. To quote from the poem: “gently close the door on yesterday and throw the key away. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.” So, do not waste the short time you have here in regret. There are two basic types of regret–regret of action and regret of inaction. Never regret an action, but learn from each one going forward. Never regret inaction, for it is an endless cycle that is difficult to break. Do not squander your time thinking of tomorrow, either, is the best advice I could leave you with. Live the short time you are here, with your classmates, friends, and teachers do not think about the next station (college), for when you arrive–you will realize all the beautiful scenery you missed along the way. Enjoy the Pocumtuck Valley while you have it–it is yours for the next few years. Arden Arnold mentioned last night at the Senior Cry that the sunrise at the rock might be the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Hike to the rock and splash in the river.
So, seniors, join me in humility and confidence as we arrive at the next station.
Underclassmen–you must live and love Deerfield as you go along. The station will come soon enough.
2012 Commencement Student Address
“Our Past Inhabits our Present”
by Hadley Newton ’12
May 27, 2012
There is an acronym, which has recently become popular among high school students: YOLO. Y-O-L-O. You only live once. Rappers Drake and Tyga included the phrase in their song, “The Motto,” and students at Deerfield have been using the term ever since. Urban Dictionary clarifies that this phrase has an interesting connotation. It is to be used in situations when one acts outside the normal routine, when one takes a risk, because “playing it safe is the most popular way to fail.” But, with frequent use and overexposure, the meaning of this acronym has eroded. YOLO has come to be an empty excuse, muttered by those shrugging responsibility. For example, one might say, “I haven’t started writing my Commencement speech and graduation is in two days. Whatever, YOLO.”
I personally dislike this phrase. To me, it sounds like a tech-age, empty regurgitation of “Carpe Diem”, seize the day. It’s not that I disapprove of living in the moment or valuing the present, it is that this term implies that the past does not matter, that it is irrelevant, and that we do not care about our future. We may only live once, but this does not entitle us to shirk the past and evade the future.
Such a saying is a contradiction to our campus as well. We live in the midst of a historic village. Every time I walk down Main Street, I cannot help but think of the past, of the generations of people who have lived in these saltbox houses. These people do not only live once. They are revived each time a student walks past and thinks of an older time, of a different incarnation of Deerfield. We wander the same halls as the ghosts of the past. I mean this quite literally, ask Dani Pulgini about the Poc ghost, if you don’t believe me.
We live among the phantoms of recent history as well. Every building, every corner, every path is endowed with personal memories. Take for example, the field beneath this tent. Making my way up to the stage, I saw myself walking across the grass to class, stopping to talk to Mr. Lyons on his bicycle. I remembered sitting on my blue bedspread, listening to KFC performers, hugging my knees against the cold evening air. Beneath one of the trees, I saw myself sitting with my art class, fumbling with paint brushes, hastily scribbling outlines of the Memorial Building, while Mr. D rambled on about some Greer date he had with Bobb-e or his children Spike and Ike.
Sometimes, it is difficult to sort through these memories, to distinguish the order of their occurrence or their context. But, nevertheless, these images are as real and alive to me as my current reality, standing on this stage. It is easy to become overwhelmed, crushed by an onslaught of countless half-forgotten recollections, weighed down by the sheer mass of memories collected over our stay in the Pocumtuck Valley. Mr. Palmer, my English teacher, recently asked me, “If you could relive one moment of your Deerfield career, what would it be?” That is to say, if I had choose one memory to carry with me, to account for my entire experience, what would I choose?
I first thought of all of the scheduled events, of Disco, Semi, Prom, Hoe Down, and Greer dances. It is for these events that we take photos, that we all dress up, stand before a camera and hold stiff smiles. The photographer then uploads the pictures onto Facebook. During study hall, we find ourselves clicking on the little blue compass at the bottom of our computer screen, opening up “the social network” and looking through these photos, these constructed memories. When we take a photograph, we make a choice to consciously remember. The photo now exists as a separate object. The smiling girls and boys in the frame are not in fact us, but an outline of our past, a reminder of an old experience. But, I find these posed photos are somewhat void of significance. Why did we take these photos? Because, well, it was Prom and we wanted everyone to know that we attended and what we wore. The act of creating a record of the event becomes more important than the event itself. So, while my Facebook profile indicates that I did indeed attend school dances, it says little about those quieter moments, those times which were not created and planned, but rather fleeting and spontaneous.
I immediately thought of one evening in the spring of last year. It had rained all day, which made students restless. They shuffled from class to class, heads down, moving like herds of penguins, sheathed in plastic, Technicolor raincoats. No one seemed to look at each other. It was as if the rain had somehow made our feet exponentially more interesting. Even teachers sulked a little, saddened by the impending weekend of gloom. May was not supposed to be this way. It was on this day that routine, which is an inevitable part of any high school student’s experience, became too rigid, too constricting.
Forgoing the usual unspoken 9:00-11:00 PM Friday required event, Greer Night, a few friends and I decided to take a walk. We dressed in thin sweatshirts and shorts, unwillingly to acknowledge the cold wind or occasional raindrops. At first, we spoke quickly and energetically, discussing everything from gossip to the benefits of eating kale.
Soon our conversation waned, and we walked in silence, listening to our flip-flops slap against the pavement. Walking behind the Koch center, we looked out at the Small Loop. The sidewalk before us dissolved into a rocky path, cutting through the fields beyond. It was here that I ran with my field hockey team on cold, fall days, inhaling the sharp air, wishing that I were more athletic. It was here that I walked with English class, gathering up the sights and smells of the farm, writing poems in my spiral. It was here that I stood with Ms. Fan, as she brayed at the sheep, opening her mouth and letting out deep, guttural sounds that I never thought such a small woman could emit.
We walked onto the track and circled several times, as if unsure where we wanted to go, where we wanted to be. We drifted to the center of the turf, sitting down on the megalithic, frosty white DA insignia. The turf was soaking wet, but we didn’t care. Picking rubber bits out of the plastic, crackling turf, we watched the fog roll in around us. Soon the Koch center disappeared, lost folds of mist and cloud. The walls of white collected around us, stopping high in the sky, leaving an oculus of sorts. Through it, we could see the stars, glittering in the heavy, damp air. It was in this moment, strangely, that I felt most connected to Deerfield. The buildings were gone and we were left alone with each other, with the land, with the sky. We forgot our French tests, our projects, our upcoming games. In the fog, shadows lurked. I thought I could see the outlines of figures, appearing and then gone. Those invisible ghosts of the past whom I felt on Main Street, materialized here, floating among us, inhabiting our present. I don’t know how long we sat there, but soon a car rolled by, its headlights breaking up the layers of cloud cover, and we got up, moved on, returned to our jokes and chatter. As Virginia Woolf wrote in Mrs. Dalloway, “But the close withdrew; the hard softened. It was over—the moment.”
That scene cannot be inserted onto my Timeline page on Facebook. Unlike pictures of Prom or indeed days like Graduation, Mark Zuckerberg cannot place this event on my newsfeed. I didn’t update my status, or take a picture, or post on a friend’s wall. This moment cannot be watermarked with a small gray time and date, spelled out in Lucinde Grande font. No, this moment lives outside of the chronological flow of the world. If I could relive one moment in my Deerfield career, it would be this one. And the truth is, I do relive it again and again, each time I think of my time here. Because, it is in this moment, that my own existence at Deerfield seemed to intersect with some larger presence. I was allowed to peer into the past, to see the phantoms of days gone by and the shadow of the future.
Today, we, the Class of 2012, leave Deerfield, parting ways with teachers, friends, and the campus itself. But, Deerfield does not leave us. I know that when I look into the sky, rain or shine, day or night, I will remember that evening on the track. Lurking in the fog, the ghosts of the past were actualized and internalized. We carry lifetimes of memories with us. I will remember sitting with my friends in the dining hall for hours, taking study breaks in the basement of the library, and the joy of jelly-filled cookies after lunch. Those things will never leave me. Our past inhabits our present. We do not only live once.
2012 Commencement Address
“Show, Don’t Tell”
by Margarita Curtis
May 27, 2012
The year was 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution…
Abigail Adams, exhorts her husband to take action: “You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator… We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.”
These words are as relevant today as when they were written. Almost two hundred and fifty years later, the world is still too full of high-sounding words, with too little action to back them up. Here, at Deerfield, we strive to teach this same lesson. We frequently urge our students, our entire campus, to align rhetoric with practice… and as a student of literature–and a fan of high-sounding words–what that means is that I expect action from our students, our teachers, and our graduates. Show, don’t tell.
As you prepare to go beyond this valley, three key words of the DA lexicon should serve as guideposts in your journey ahead–character, community, and service. Through our studies and exercises, through our daily focus on competence and learning, we express a relentless commitment to give these “high sounding words” concrete meaning. At Deerfield, the actions we take on a daily basis are training for the real world–quite literally practicing what we preach.
Our ultimate goal at Deerfield is not simply to transmit information, to acquire knowledge, or to develop a skill set. It is to consider the broader human experience, not just our own, to develop the character that leads to achievement, prosperity, and service to the common good. Small habits of civility and empathy pave the way.
The seniors here today might remember my convocation speech back in September–one which emphasized the importance of respect–an element of character which is often reflected in how we comport ourselves daily. Not just the big things, but the little things. The way we listen in class, yes, but also on the corridor and at the dining table. It’s the dress code. It’s arriving on time and staying until the end. It’s holding the door open or offering to share an umbrella. It’s the way we look each other in the eye and say hello.
And yet, you come of age in a time when community values are being mediated in new ways… You’ve learned to greet each other on the paths and fields at Deerfield, but Facebook and text messages now compete for your attention. Here, you’ve learned to share your stories and experiences face-to-face, to be joyful, and lighthearted, and supportive of each other, and to gain a sense of place–of being together. Those values are challenged by Instagram, status updates, and your following on Twitter. But as you know “a connection is not the same thing as a bond. “
Yes, GPS can give you a sense of your location, but not a sense of place. To borrow from Mr. Cary: “there is no app for that.”
Communities are not built through status updates. At Deerfield, you often walked across campus to see a teacher, when you could have simply called. You dropped in on friends without knowing if they were in the dorm. You meandered around campus on a Friday night–you lingered in common rooms, on benches, and on the quad. You set out for the dining hall or the Greer, with no particular purpose in mind. Keep doing that. Don’t let the transmission of status supplant the humanity in your life. Don’t let the efficiency of your smart phone dull your emotional intelligence. And don’t fail to recognize the affective and social nature of learning. Because we know, relationships strengthen in the pursuit of common goals and lead to prosperous, vibrant communities.
I’m not simply instructing you on how to live a happy life. Make no mistake–in our smaller, faster, more uncertain world, knowing how to build meaningful relationships will be a key asset. Your generation will collaborate, form teams, and work with more people of different backgrounds than any generation before.
You graduate during an information revolution, a shrinking of the world through globalization, and in the most competitive and uncaring landscape we’ve ever experienced. As historian Niall Ferguson claims, “we are living through the end of 500 years of Western ascendancy.” America remains at war, in a sluggish economy… with high unemployment, unprecedented debt, alarming dropout rates, prolonged underinvestment in research, and stiff competition from emerging economies, but perhaps most importantly, all of this is occurring in an ethical vacuum.
The world is begging for people of character who refuse to be passive spectators. Ultimately, fulfillment–the promise of a life well-lived–will depend on your capacity for empathy–the disposition in your heart to look beyond your own well-being and to apply your talents to shaping a more caring world. You’ve been well prepared. It’s your character–your ability to turn mistakes into venues for learning, to persist in the face of obstacles or disappointments, to think of others, to practice honesty and respect in everything you do. These are the traits that will serve you and the world.
This year I’m particularly proud of you, our seniors. You provided leadership during a time when the school focused on the daily practice of respect–and you took it one step further. The legacy of 2012 will be our new honor statement, which not only emphasizes the value of respect, but demands action. It echoes an imperative with which you are all familiar. Deerfield’s motto is not limited to a noun or adjective–it is unique in its demand for action. “Be worthy.”
As you go from Deerfield’s structured environment to one of greater independence–where you will not need parietals, or get AP’s for class absences…or be put on probation for drinking …. You will be solely responsible for making wise, deliberate, meaningful choices…. You have developed the inner discipline and fortitude to make your own decisions and defy the crowd mentality. You will be a leader, not a follower. You will realize that your ability to change the world extends beyond competence, and derives more from character–the courage to value community, to serve others. To be more than an inactive spectator. To be worthy.
Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1774. The rest, as you know, is history. Such is the power of putting actions behind your high-sounding words. With this premise in mind, Mr. Boyden transformed our school, and always reminded us that “the test of worth of any school is the record of service of her alumni.”
I’m proud of you.
2011 Convocation Address
by Margarita Curtis
September 18, 2011
Every September brings us the opportunity for renewal, the gift of a new beginning. The “glint of bronze in the chill mornings,” as poet laureate Merwin said, announces the arrival of fall, invites us to consider the possibilities that the new year holds. But as we look forward and outward, filled with anticipation, we also stand to benefit from looking inward, for a moment of introspection. We come together today to reflect on our aspirations, not only as individuals but as a community. We come together to affirm the values and traditions that make our school distinctive, and bind us in a common purpose. If you are in this auditorium today, as a student or as a teacher, it means that at some point in the past you made a deliberate choice to be a part of Deerfield. Close to a third of you, students, and twelve of you, faculty, are new to the school this September. The specific reasons for choosing Deerfield are therefore fresh in your minds. Others among you made this decision more than fifty years ago — this is the case of our longest-serving faculty member. But regardless of when you made Deerfield your school, you sensed the promise of this community, and accepted both the joys and responsibilities this choice entails.
So, why are we here? We are all here to learn and grow –as scholars, athletes, artists, yes, but more fundamentally, to affirm a shared moral framework, a set of institutional values. We are here to acquire knowledge and proficiency in a number of areas, but also to develop habits that build strong character and healthy, caring communities. Our strong communal spirit derives from anchoring our self-improvement efforts in a commitment to impact those around us in positive ways. In this sense, we remain true to the mission set forth by charter trustee Reverend Lyman at the school’s founding more than two hundred years ago: “Wisdom renders men useful,” he said, “[but] nothing is important or valuable, in the character of man, which does not render him beneficial to others, either by his example, or by his labours… The higher are his attainments in science and wisdom, the more extensive are those effects which benefit human society.”
The world has changed in profound ways since these words were spoken, but their relevance hasn’t waned. Yes, technological change and globalization continue to affect every aspect of our day to day lives, as well as the way we teach and learn. Technology speeds access to facts and opinions, and the result is an astonishing renaissance in human thinking—an information revolution—as people around the world share ideas effortlessly, at the speed of light. But navigating this new landscape has its perils. The same technology that shrinks the globe has the power to isolate us, eliminating our sense of community by accepting casual connections over meaningful relationships—by valuing narrow facts over worthy ideas. This is why we cannot lose sight of our fundamental mission, even as we adapt to the challenges and opportunities the world presents us. This is why you have often heard me say that our pursuit of excellence and superior performance must be tied to moral distinction and a commitment to service. In coming to Deerfield, we all accept the call to do well, but not with the exclusive goal of self-advancement, but with the intent to do good, to benefit the lives of those we touch.
If we consider the current political and economic landscape in our country, many would agree that our challenges have less to do with lack of knowledge or competence and more with our inability to look beyond personal or partisan interests, to focus on the common good, to engage in open/honest, civil discourse. Over the summer, for instance, we witnessed several weeks of partisan wrangling in Congress over a national debt-reduction deal, which may have saved us temporarily from default, but which could not prevent Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the U. S. Credit rating for the first time in history. As the world watched, we put on display a level of self-centeredness and obstinacy that signals our inability to deal with long-term, intractable problems, and our penchant to postpone necessary, difficult decisions. For the past four decades, the federal government has spent more money than it has brought in, which simply means we have been living beyond our means for a long time. But the problem is not lack of awareness, but incapacity to face the facts with courage and discipline. The list of challenges is long, whether we focus on energy, immigration, infrastructure, education or most urgently, unemployment. In a recent article, political commentator Fareed Zakaria, deplores the level of dysfunction in our day-to-day government life, made so apparent during the recent debt ceiling debacle, and I quote, “The world once looked at America with awe as we built the interstate highway system, created the best public education in the world, put a man on the moon and invested in the frontiers of knowledge… We have taken something the world never doubted –the credibility of the U.S.—and put it into question” (TIME, Aug 15/11, p.33)
What does all of this have to do with us at Deerfield? What does our mission have to do with this disconcerting reality? If we believe that our national crisis is one of character rather than intellect, then Deerfield’s emphasis on citizenship and strong moral character can make a difference. You, our students, will have a critical role to play in restoring confidence and optimism to the national psyche, and you will do this by demonstrating the very values we cultivate here: respect, honesty, diligence, resilience, humility, empathy, and a commitment to service. How we treat and speak to one another here and now, how we make choices and decisions that affect our school community, provides excellent practice for your future roles as citizens. When you engage in rational discourse about school issues, rules, policies, and decisions, whether they have to do with student housing, the dress code, disciplinary actions, parietal rules, study hours, or choice of student leaders, you are developing the very skills and attributes you will need to deal effectively with the challenges of citizenship.
A healthy community invites debate, and should expect the exchange of different perspectives, but these perspectives need to be grounded in evidence and information, and the ability to think critically and empathetically. A healthy community can grow from disagreements that are dealt with openly. Let me give you an example: I know the revised dress code announcement was a source of much debate and emotion this past August. While I suspect this issue will generate more conversation, I would like to publicly acknowledge the constructive role Theo Lipsky and Charles Jones played shortly after arriving at a temporary solution. They explained their concerns logically and constructively, and urged an emphasis on more regular communication. I presented my concerns about a school policy that is currently not followed consistently. Let’s keep the lines of communication open, and collaborate in identifying an effective policy. In the future, as you enter adulthood, the debate will be on far more serious issues, and you will be well served by practicing the art of debate and compromise now. In the spirit of open dialogue, I would like to remind you of my open office hours, every Tuesday after sit down dinner. I value my conversations with all of you.
I have dwelled on the importance of character, and the development of certain attributes at Deerfield, because I realize how easy it is to speak about them, and how much harder it is to demonstrate them. All schools speak about these values, but how many actually deliver in practice? My hope for this year is that we focus on “showing” rather than ”telling,” that our values are evident to any visitor by how we comport ourselves, by our dispositions, behaviors and actions, rather than our words. Let me make this real for you. If I were to walk into your dorm room right now, what would I see? What about your common room, the Greer, or the Dining Hall? If I looked inside a recycling bin, what would I find? Are all of you in dress code now? Every day? If I walked into your dorm during study hours, what would I see and hear? And I haven’t even touched on the most significant issues: your level of honesty with one another and your work, how you include or exclude your peers, how you support or criticize one another, how you represent Deerfield off-campus – you get the point. The truth is that it takes a lot of effort and practice to behave honorably all of the time, but it is practice that develops good habits, and good habits that build strong character.
You may have heard about the “10,000-hour rule,” which is simply the most recent interpretation of our grandmother’s maxim, “practice makes perfect.” Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, states that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” It seems that the magical number to reach excellence in any endeavor hovers around 10,000 hours, but I am less interested in the specific number than in the general concept. How much effort does it take to build strong, honorable character? What if in addition to grades in math, biology, or music we gave out grades in respect, generosity, resilience and so on? Some schools in New York are actually experimenting with this notion, and are talking not only about GPA but CPA, “character point average.” What if colleges asked us to rank you along these lines? The point I want to make is that character is also formed by practice, and that strong character is as critical as intellect in leading fulfilling, purposeful lives.
Let me end by highlighting a concept I heard about repeatedly during my travels in Africa this summer, and which captures the spirit we all seek as members of this community. If you are a basketball fan and you follow the Boston Celtics you will have heard this word before, because it has been used in the past as a rallying cry for team unity. The word UBUNTU, which has its origins in the Bantu languages of southern Africa, is hard to translate into one single English word, but it has to do with the importance of relationships and community life, with a way of being that is grounded in a keen awareness of our common humanity. Loosely translated it means, “I am because we are.” May the spirit of UBUNTU guide us throughout the year.
2011 Convocation Address
by Pam Bonanno
September 18, 2011
This past summer, on July 18th to be precise, sitting in my New York City apartment, I was contemplating the remaining days of summer. After travelling in China for three weeks with 10 amazing colleagues, I was astonished at how long it took me to re-acclimate to East Coast time. No longer was I bouncing out of bed at 3 in the morning only to find the darkness. I opened my Deerfield email that morning to be greeted by Jessica Pleasant, Mrs. Morsman’s assistant. She had a simple question. How long was my Convocation speech? What Convocation speech?, I asked myself horrified. It didn’t take me more than a minute to realize what had just happened and exactly how I got myself into this situation. So I wrote back to Ms. Pleasant thanking her for the opportunity to speak, but I graciously declined her offer. The second sentence of my response said,” If that doesn’t work, the answer is easy, short.”
Today we assemble in this Memorial Building to mark the official opening of the school year. This Convocation brings together our community to welcome its newest members, to congratulate our award winners, and to listen to the hopes and dreams of a student leader, our Head of School, and one humble mathematics instructor as we begin this year together.
I have experienced many “beginnings.” Given that I have indicated that this speech will be short, I will not start with my first day of elementary school, but I could. I do remember that day vividly, even though it was a good number of years ago. The “beginnings” in my life that I can recall, with specific detail as if they were yesterday, were the ones that were the most challenging. I have little memory of a multitude of beginnings that proceeded smoothly.
The three experiences I would like to share with you today come under the headings of teacher, parent, and student. My teacher experience began before I graduated from college. I was a mathematics major in college, no surprise here, with a minor in secondary education. In my senior year, student teaching was a requirement. My first assignment to a public junior high school in the South Bronx was complicated by a bitter teacher strike that fall of 1968. After two weeks we were moved to Catholic schools in the same neighborhood. Not many days went by when my professor presented me with a third option. She asked if I would consider teaching two math classes in a school in Yonkers. A teacher had become ill and the school could not find a replacement for two of her classes. This was not another student teacher position; this was flying solo. I suspect my professor saw my hesitation, but asked if I would meet with their principle the following morning to learn more about the school and my responsibilities. My “interview” consisted of walking into the principal’s office, introducing myself and being handed two textbooks. She looked at her watch and said that I was right on time as my first class was waiting for me. I suppose she walked me to the classroom; that I do not remember. But I can see today, as I see you sitting before me now, 40 pairs of eyes looking at me as I walked into the room. It was an Algebra 2 class, and the next class was Geometry. After my second class concluded, I was again greeted by the principal, but this time she handed me the daily schedule. “See you tomorrow,” she said. How could I possibly do the job of teaching mathematics to 80 students when I had only taught perhaps 5 math classes up to that point? Somehow I took a leap of faith and spent the next 7 months with those students. It was a team effort; 2 teams of 41 in the classroom learning at the same time. These students knew that I was determined that they would learn Algebra and Geometry and experience learning as fun, though sometimes exhausting. They forgave my lack of experience. I am confident that I learned more that year from my students than they learned from me.
Let’s jump ahead 20 years. Now it is an early September day in 1988. I am driving in a car headed north to Concord New Hampshire. My then 14 year old daughter Clarissa was beginning her freshman year at St. Paul’s. I knew this day would come, as she had been bugging me for years about attending boarding school. She would say that she had lived in boarding schools all her life, why couldn’t she attend one? Deerfield was an all boys’ school in 1979 when Mr. Bonanno and I made the decision to leave Kimball Union Academy to teach here. I knew that it was inevitable that Clarissa would not attend Deerfield. But the Board of Trustees in their infinite wisdom had made the decision to reopen the doors to girls entering in 1989. Couldn’t Clarissa wait one year to attend Deerfield? No. She wanted the full boarding experience. We had to leave Mr. Bonanno home that day; the car was full. Clarissa was quiet for the first half hour of our two hour drive up the winding country roads of Route 10, then onto Route 9 in New Hampshire. But I saw her deep in thought. “I suspect that I will be the only admissions mistake,” she finally blurted out! I quickly realized that I had an hour and a half to address these insecurities. Of course I would say that she was wrong, but I knew that alone would not change her perception. When I told her years earlier that she had written an amazing poem for homework, she shrugged off that comment by saying that she expected praise from me because I was her mother. Before I had a chance to respond to this first statement, Clarissa said in a voice indicating real fear, “I hope that I do not have to change who I am in order to be accepted.” The remainder of that car ride is a blur, but she did spend the next four years at St. Paul’s. Parents indeed live the boarding school experience along with their child, even at a time when there was only one phone for 40 girls in her dormitory. While she learned how to thrive in this educational community, I learned from her how to be a better parent and advisor of students who share those common concerns and insecurities.
Another beginning, another day in early September, this time we will add 14 more years. Mr. Bonanno and I drove south to New York City. And I am again emptying the car and heading into a dormitory. Well, it actually is not a dormitory, but an apartment complex for married students. Yes, this time I am the student. I was on sabbatical from Deerfield, attempting to earn a master’s degree in one year. I am the one with butterflies. I was about to embark on a different journey, sitting in front of the teacher rather than behind a desk. I already had jumped over one hurdle the prior year, standardized tests. For graduate students, it is the GRE’s. They are just like the SAT’s but are computer based. You get your score immediately. My students asked me why I was nervous; I should do especially well in the quantitative reasoning, was their thinking. What I was thinking was how I would feel if I didn’t receive a strong score. Luck was on my side and I jumped over hurdle number one. My son, Jonathan, a graduate of Deerfield’s class of 1991, gave me his words of wisdom before my first class. He said, “Mom, you know the key to success in school is to make every teacher your friend.” I suspect we did teach him something important at Deerfield. But here I am moving into an apartment I have never seen, living on my own. There was another car being unloaded at the same time by another couple. We introduced ourselves and I found that John was to be a classmate of mine in the same Klingenstein program for Private School Leadership, so we exchanged apartment numbers and chatted for a few more minutes about our previous schools. He had just finished his first master’s degree at Harvard. My stomach hit the concrete sidewalk on W 122nd Street. How was I going to compete with him in the same classroom? What I didn’t know until the end of the year when we spoke about our first impressions of each other was that he was intimidated by me. He said that he had asked what I taught at Deerfield and whether I had any administrative experience. I must have answered mathematics, and I was one of Deerfield’s Assistant Headmasters. This struck terror in John as he had years of schooling but no administrative experience. I had not remembered any part of this exchange. How often do we make assumptions only to find out later how untrue they were? How many hours do we spend in needless anxiety? My year at Teacher’s College was exhilarating. I will give you one of my educational experiences. Marketing for non-profits was one of my second semester classes taught at Columbia’s Business school. Since I had jumped into teaching thirty years earlier with no experience, I was teamed up, with three other classmates, to offer New York City’s Board of Education a marketing plan for the inauguration of their Leadership Academy, a training program for aspiring school principals. After all, I had completed two or three marketing classes when we were given the assignment to develop a marketing plan for any non-profit organization. The 100+ hours developing our plan and the two hour presentation to members of the Board of Education was nothing compared to the intense questions that flowed from Robert E. Knowling, the then CEO of the Leadership Academy for two additional hours. He knew that we were all experienced private school teachers. He also knew that for a few hours each week members of our program interned in a number of public schools in Manhattan. Mr. Knowling began the discussion with one question: “Can you define those programs that make private schools successful which should be adopted by public schools?” The CEO of the Leadership Academy realized our real value to the future principals of New York City’s public schools was not in our marketing plan, but in our answers to his question. That project was for one class out of a total of 10 classes I took that year. I was either at my desk, in class, or working on group projects with my classmates for 12+ hours a day, seven days a week. I had told scores of Deerfield students to take risks and not back away from a challenge. I am glad that I listened to my own message as it was my most rewarding year as a student in a classroom.
We are at the beginning of another school year, another September. You have opportunities in front of you. You will walk with amazing classmates, talented faculty and dedicated staff. What will be the contents of your story?
- Will you celebrate resilience in overcoming obstacles?
- Will you be persist in the pursuit of knowledge?
- Will you be kind?
- Will you realize the importance of self reliance?
- Will you express gratitude for the role of others in your life?
- Will you strive for positive citizenship in the local and global communities to which you belong?
- And most importantly, will you make integrity your central virtue?
Wisdom is a tapestry woven from many strands. A purposeful and fulfilling life will contain many, if not most, of these strands. Go forth and construct a great story.
2011 Commencement Address
“Resilience, Slowing Down, and Making Decisions”
Matthew H. King ’77
Good morning Class of 2011! It is so exciting to be here to celebrate YOUR day. Let me give a quick nod to Neil MacFarquar – a classmate of mine who was supposed to be standing here, now, addressing you. Neil is a New York Times reporter who was called away on assignment in the Middle East to cover some of the issues of which you might be aware. Neil and I were dorm mates in a small dorm just over there, which I hope has since been torn down. You see there were thin walls and thin ceilings and I can’t tell you how many times we were ALL being rowdy in Neil’s room – which happened to be over Mr. Larkin’s apartment – when Mr. Larkin would storm up, take one look, and routinely banish ME to the Library all day, with permission to return to the dorm only at night. I didn’t like the Library, at least as a place to live for 12 hours a day. It was never Neil in the dog house. And Neil was not shy about gloating… So I hope it’s uncomfortably hot in the Middle East right now – I mean really hot – and I can happily say, “What goes around comes around Neil!” It goes without saying we wish Neil Godspeed and a safe return.
I met many of you a few months ago during Pathways and we chatted about the circuitous route I took in my career… how I got to where I am – not linearly as with some who have a specific calling, but through a series of conscious decisions I made which ended up, as I look back, tangentially related to each other. For me I loved being a part of something intensely the finest- the proud history and tradition, and that strong, loyal sense of camaraderie. And I like to think I first tasted that here, in this incredible place, at this incredible institution. That has been a touchstone for me in my career choices.
So for a few minutes I would like tell you about RESILIENCE, about SLOWING DOWN, and about MAKING DECISIONS. These simple tenets have served me well.
First to resilience: A few years ago I was the Team Leader for the U.S. Customs Special Response Team in San Francisco. To us fell the execution of high risk warrants. Well trained and heavily armed, we would be sent in to go get people who needed “getting.” There was a heroin dealer we called Dracula- he only came out at night. And he had a muscle bound enforcer named Ai Jai Lin- we called him Odd Job because he looked like that character from the James Bond movie who would throw his razor derby hat to behead his Master’s foes. In this case, Odd Job carried a meat cleaver and as our undercover agents would make heroin buys he would stand behind them flicking his cleaver over their heads again and again as a warning. Odd Job was mentally handicapped and to us fell the duty of arresting him, then Dracula.
They inhabited a run down inner city apartment complex with hundreds of rooms over numerous floors. The informants had told us his exact location – and it was imperative we arrest him very early in the morning before the rest of the complex became aware so they might not give warning to the main heroin distributor. Silently in the pre-dawn chill, we made entry into the building – we had rehearsed many times – and in a line made our way to where we were told his apartment was… The only problem was our arrest warrant specifically stated it was room 312 – and there was no room 312 where we had been told and where we had rehearsed for months pouring over the city blue prints. There we stood – 12 men in black outfits, armed to the teeth, the clock ticking, with absolutely NO CLUE as to where to go. As the complex came slowly alive, doors would open and quickly close – it was obvious the alarm would soon be sent to Dracula and Odd Job… The plan had decidedly fallen apart and the two-year undercover investigation hinged on these arrests! We obviously had to adapt our game plan, and immediately. Rather than split the team we quickly snaked around the endless corridors – it seemed to take a lifetime – and finally we found room 312. To make the story short, we made entry and there he was, wide awake from the commotion, with meat cleaver in hand. After a brief tussle with all 12 of us, we arrested him, then located Dracula and arrested him. It was only 06:30 in the morning…
Now, I had been taught in the Marines to adapt, overcome, and improvise, and that we did – this time. Another adage popped into my head- “Failure is not an option” – but we might have. However, a corollary my mother taught me is perhaps more appropriate: “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes we DO fail. Maybe it’s a try out for a team – maybe it’s a test – and sometimes, just sometimes, it’s a matter more important. We have all tanked a test, we’ve lost a big game, perhaps we have lost a loved one. I have been taken to the proverbial woodshed for corrective “lashings” – some quite unpleasant – many times. I have been passed up for promotions. So sometimes the guy in the white hat does NOT always win… What do you make of it? HOW RESILIENT ARE YOU? Awhile back I was hooked up to a polygraph and went through a battery of psychological tests and the tester asked, “How is it that you haven’t been set back by some of life’s disappointments?” My answer was simple – They were only speed bumps. They have been offset by life’s simple joys. I didn’t have three children yet – they are my joy, as I suspect at least SOME of you are the pride and joy of your parents sitting here today – but I had other inchoate pleasures then: The smell of spring when it finally hit DA; the happiness of a college acceptance letter; the giddiness of sharing an inside joke with a friend; the deep sense of grounding when I returned home to be with family… We live in a complicated world with tons of pressures. You have to be able to find things, great or small, that give you happiness and then spend time reveling in them. What are your touchstones when the going gets tough and you have to bounce back to tackle the problem another way, another day? If you stumble, and you will, you have to get up and TRY, TRY AGAIN.
Once, many years ago, my squadron was deployed to Honduras when the Contras were mixing it up with the Sandinistas. My orders were to fly my gunship to a jungle clearing and pick up “a team” – no further information. We found the coordinates and landed and then spent the next six hours sweating heavily in the eerie silence of the jungle. We waited…and we waited. We saw a truck with armed men looking us over…and then we waited, and sweated, some more. My crew chief, one year older than you all by the way, did a brief recon in the immediate area and came back excited as we were not far from a beach. Parched with thirst and soaked in sweat, with radio silence from the aircraft carrier I finally made the command decision that we could perhaps take a very quick look at the beach. Leaving my door gunner to protect our gear we quickly made our way down a jungle path. We stopped short when we saw the water with ash tray white sand and azure water lapping the shore…. It was only a matter of seconds before our child-like exuberance took over and we stripped down and ran into the water naked for a very quick swim. It was several minutes of that brief uncomplicated joy I just mentioned – it was Deerfield rowdy mixed with Conde Nast Traveler –dunking, splashing, and cavorting, with not a care in the world… until that sickening moment when my door gunner burst through the jungle in a panic yelling that a group of men was arriving. He just didn’t know what side they were on. In that brief, “Oh Crap” moment time seemed to stand still… then we sprinted up the beach in our birthday suits to madly struggle into our now wet and sandy flight gear, just as the group emerged from the shadows of the triple canopy jungle. And what a team it was- reporters from Time and Newsweek and others, with a Marine Public Affairs officer – their cameras clicking away at U.S. Marines “fighting the war against Communism.”
Lessons learned? Sometimes you have to force yourself to take a step back. I am not sure in retrospect I chose an appropriate moment or location to do that in the jungle that day. But none of us ever forgot it. (Neither did my superior officers). Look – I have a blackberry that incessantly buzzes and I react like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I get hundreds of emails a day and all night. I sleep with it near my side. Sometimes it is very important – perhaps even a matter of National Security. And many times it’s NOT that urgent, though there is a sense of immediacy that has become the work place norm. I have had to learn to put it away while I listen to my youngest describe, in excruciating detail, his paper on the Gold Rush, or to look at my wife across the dinner table and actually listen – not just hear – what she is saying. Maybe that’s down the road for you all, but we are always wired in and switched on –my 17-year old daughter certainly is: Facebook, studying, exams, social obligations, cell phones, papers, lax practice, texting, emailing, meetings, running…running, always running. Guys- SLOW IT DOWN! Carve out some time to be alone and off the grid. Take time to smell the roses… Just have a damn good excuse why you are skinny dipping on a beach with a bunch of Marines in a war zone.
About a year ago I deployed to Haiti with a small team of Special Agents just after the earthquake – I spoke to some of you at Pathways about it. Our team lived under very chaotic and demanding conditions. There was one shower for 500 of my “closest” friends. Angry mobs were lined up outside the Embassy and, because we were only evacuating U.S. Passport holders, many were forced to make Sophie’s Choice: choose a U.S. citizen-child to go with you to the USA and leave the other behind. It was gut wrenching and exhausting. The dead and dying were all around us. We ate when we could, we showered sometimes, we slept on the floor for a month, sometimes in the middle of after-shocks that further compromised the ceiling we slept under… and at any moment we had to make decisions on the spot with no guidance except the law and our conscience to guide us. Late one night a U.S. Army Sergeant Major sought me out and asked if I could help. He had a young U.S. soldier whose entire extended family had been killed in the quake except for a little peanut of a girl who was found in the rubble – his niece, maybe three years old. I had heard the story a hundred times… By regulation, only a parent could be evacuated with a child. He was clearly not her parent and the policy was he would have to return to his unit in the U.S. and the little girl would have to go to an orphanage in Haiti. Maybe it was the tears in the young Uncle’s eyes, or maybe it was the innocence of that tiny girl, filthy but for a clean little dress – maybe it was that I hadn’t slept in 20 hours or was too emotionally drained from days and days on the line. But I decided then and there that we would help this family.
Not one of my agents grumbled once as I roused them from their sleeping bags and we mounted up to go to the evacuation site at the airport to try and find an available seat. We formed an unlikely convoy – my agents, some army troops, the little girl – in two civilian cars, bristling with weapons. We wove our way though the bedlam on the streets in the middle of the night to the chaos at the airport – with screaming military transport jets and thousands of people lined up for evacuation. We wove our way through the seething gauntlet, the child clinging tightly to her uncle’s neck, until we found the equally exhausted State Department person creating manifests for the departing planes. She looked at us and said they didn’t qualify for evacuation. I looked at her and in that instant we both realized that somehow we would find one small way to make something right. The young uncle grasped my hand, but couldn’t speak – I wouldn’t have heard him over the engines anyway. The girl hugged me hard around the neck and they were then swallowed by the huge transport plane, soon to be in the U.S. to divine their own way forward… We made our way back to the embassy – had to work in about an hour – and I wept silently knowing I had broken the regulations, but had saved a little life, maybe two.
In life, you will have to make DECISIONS. If we have time, we make pro and con lists… We discuss with friends and family… We weigh the odds and then we come to that moment when we have to decide a course of action. It can be as important as what college do I accept, or as seemingly mundane as which car do I buy? What major do I pursue? I remember my big choices – I chose to make every effort to get that child out of Haiti… But I think – at the very instant you make a decision – you cannot look back later and doubt WHY you made that decision, then, at that moment in time, because circumstances change. You can obviously correct a bad decision – change schools, change majors, change careers. Conversely, you are less able to take back bad choices, the “What if I hadn’t…” or… “Only if I could go back and…” The point is you made a decision right THEN, and cannot beat yourself up considering what could have been different in 20/20 hindsight. I’ve questioned some of my choices. I have often wondered how I ended up where I am… just as you will face decisions large and small as you embark upon your next great adventure.
And your choices will be personal. In college, in desperation over what to do after graduation, I took a career type of test. It said I exhibited the traits of a military officer or a registered nurse. I don’t know in retrospect if that validated my decision to go into the Marines – there were many other factors on my pro/con list – like I couldn’t really picture myself being a nurse. But it was one more piece to throw into the decision making matrix. Even without that road sign, I weighed my first and subsequent career decisions guided in some large measure by wanting to do the RIGHT THING. For the BIG decisions, whether you pursue business, or law, or medicine, or education, or government service – that’s YOURS to weigh and to make, pro and con.
How will YOU know if you are making the RIGHT choice? Sometimes – often times – you won’t! You have to weigh your odds and throw in. However, let me point out something that’s been under your noses for the last few years– it’s the Deerfield motto – “BE WORTHY OF YOUR HERITAGE.” I never really thought about it while I was here. When I did, it didn’t mean much – I had too much going on. However, I think I have come to understand it now. I think it means BE COUNTED. Not for laurels and accolades, or ribbons and badges, but because it’s the right thing to do, and the right thing for YOU. For me, at that moment in time, I took the “road less traveled.” And in big brush strokes it turned out to be the right choice for me.
I’ll be honest – there will be days when you do have to look at your choices in very big brush strokes. I come home many nights like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, wondering if I had embarked on the right career for the right reasons, or wondering if I have made a difference… At other times I know with certainty that I have. It can be a sign as small as the hug of a filthy three year old on the tarmac of an airport. I’ll end with some words that inspire me. It speaks to, in part, being counted, and perhaps about resilience in dealing with the uncertainty of the outcome of making decisions. If I had a dime for every time I have seen this Xeroxed, taped to a person’s wall at work… It’s called: THE MAN IN THE ARENA–President Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, and sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Thank you for letting me share this incredible day with you!
2011 Commencement Student Address
By Eliot Taft ’11
Commencement Address, May 29, 2011
I remember my first English class of freshman year. My teacher, Terry Driskill, began class with a discussion of The Bean Trees, a summer reading book. I remember in the heat of the classroom on the second floor of the Arms Building on that afternoon in early September, nervously listening to a few mumbled words from my peers while awaiting the end of the first day of school. It was hot; no wind blew through the open windows. Towards the end of class that day, Dr. Driskill eyed his seventh period freshman section and told us, simply, as we move forward through school, as we begin to make our own choices for the next four years at Deerfield, and as we dive into new texts, to “keep your wits.” “Keep your wits”, he said, “The most important thing you can do is keep your wits.” Dr. Driskill left the school after that year, to travel once again to new places around the globe, but his words from that afternoon years ago have never left me.
And so began a four-year journey—a journey, in a sense, which consisted of studying other journeys, watching and learning from other decisions made. As freshman year continued, we read the Odyssey, and then Macbeth, and then, for the next three years, we diverged in our courses. Some read Pride and Prejudice sophomore year, while others read Heart of Darkness. We joined together with Gatsby towards the end of junior year, and then, as seniors, we dove into a variety of options, of texts to read. Each book followed characters and the decisions they made, the wits of the authors instilled in their stories. I took a course about memory, about returning to places. I finished Deerfield, this spring, with Toni Morrison’s Beloved. As I think back to my first English class at Deerfield, I think I’m starting to realize what exactly Dr. Driskill was hinting at, about “keeping your wits.” He wanted us to read books with perception, keenness, and attitude—an awareness about the choices the characters made and an understanding of the author’s intent. An understanding that translates into the choices we make in our own lives, into how we consider and remember the places we’ve seen and been.
Toni Morrison once said, “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I read this quote at the river during my senior spring, at the end of my time at Deerfield. Members from my class, and the classes below, splashed in the moving waters, as I sat on its banks with some friends. The river water pushed onwards; it carried itself over the sleek, brown sand before it flushed into the rapids, tumbling over round and polished stones. And then, as any river does, it cut out of sight. I began to think about Toni Morrison’s quote, how water is like memory, how it is constantly moving and trying to return, to another river, to the ocean.
The thing about a river is that you can always return to it, as a piece of a landscape set in a particular place, it is easy to find over and over again. But even though a river is always there, it is also paradox, it is constantly moving as well, always changing. The water in the Deerfield flows from the mountains in Southern Vermont, from the snowmelt and springs up north. It then pulls and stops itself through a series of dams in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts before it flushes into the Pioneer Valley and hooks its aqueous body northward into the Connecticut. And we stand along its shores, watching the water push ever onwards. Deerfield students read books for English class on the river’s shore; we do homework under the sun in the springtime. Our minds bounce and tumble like the rapids, and sometimes our thoughts sit, calm and meditative like the deep pools in the middle of the river. Water, in the river, moves in different ways. The water at the main beach, where most students swim, moves in a circular motion—one big eddy. It flows upriver and down, it turns itself over and over again.
If Toni Morrison is right, if water is like memory and it is constantly trying to get back to where it was, then our own memory is itself returning to places from our past. In picturing my own memories of Deerfield, my personal returns to the faces and scenes of my class, I feel like I am stepping into the Deerfield River. It’s easy to find, always there in my mind, but each memory changes slightly as life proceeds onwards, as I, myself, change—each memory is constantly flowing like the river. Each one of us in this class has a part of every other in our minds; over the past one, two, three, or four years we’ve adopted traces of each other’s drive, passion, spontaneity, love, and creativity.
I will always remember my first English class at Deerfield—Dr. Driskill’s words of wisdom on that remote afternoon years ago. I will always remember, on Spring Day of freshman year, swimming in the river with Jonathan Tam and Justin Kwok and almost collapsing afterwards from staying in the cold water for too long. And my memories of this place, too, flow onward, away from recollections only about the River. I will remember playing Risk at two in the morning in the Field basement with Jamal Piper. I will remember cross-country skiing to the Rock with Miles Griffis. I will never forget Tatiana Soto’s proposed freestyle rap, instead of a freshman class cheer. I will never forget the craze and enthusiasm of everyone in this class. I will never forget Hunter Huebsch eating full packets of Emergen-C powder without water in the locker room before soccer games. I will take with me, to college and beyond, my memory of Ellie Parker’s junior declamation, of the accomplishments of my peers. How could I ever forget Charlotte McLaughry’s hunger strike junior spring in order to protest the Dining Hall’s reluctance to label vegan foods. I will remember Shanae Lundberg stopping shots in the rink, Laddie Trees throwing a javelin hundreds of feet in the air. And I will never, ever forget Izzy Marley’s kind, gentle stare, her smile, her carrying golf clubs in the spring between class and practice.
But my memories at Deerfield are only part of a singular consciousness. Sitting down with others in my class and discussing these past four years is like watching multiple creeks pouring into one river—listening to the stories of others spill together into one collective memory. As stories from freshman year are unburied, it is like watching the water by the beach at the River push upwards against the current, circling endlessly in the eddy by the shore. We cannot return to the past, but we can see semblances of what has been through personal accounts, memories, that hold in them a power that makes time, itself, feel circular. But time isn’t circular; it pushes onward like the Deerfield River. As we return, over and over to these memories at Deerfield, to the faces and voices and spirits of the people we’ve lived with, we must also push forward and not dwell forever on these memories. I know that as I go forward, I will remember and reincarnate the madness and spontaneity and beauty of my peers to make new, more memories later on.
Dr. Driskill told my freshman year class to “keep your wits” for the next four years and beyond, but I realize now, that people are marked by change, and it is difficult to hold a single line or a single truth to one person or to one memory. Our past, our memories, are constantly moving, constantly returning to us, but our lives, too, push onwards and are marked by change. From all the crap I’ve learned in high school, I think that I will always bear with me that it is never about saying who you are; rather, a good person is marked by understanding change, by the act of figuring out how to say who you are. As my memory of Dr. Driskill’s freshman English class returns, I see the classroom; I see his words, in a new light. “Keep your wits” isn’t supposed to be a lesson on making the right decision, but it is about teaching yourself the strength to learn from the decision, from the changes that have altered life, as you know it. And today, of all days, is a day of change, of pushing onwards. As we all go forward, as we flow into a new school like a river flowing into another, bigger river, we must remember that time never goes backward. It flows forward, and we must have the wits to adjust ourselves to the changing nature of our surroundings, our peers, and ourselves.