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
2011 Commencement Student Address
2010 Commencement Guest Address
2010 Commencement Student Address
2010 Commencement Student Address
2010 Commencement Luncheon Remarks
2006 Head of School Induction
2006 Commencement Guest Address
2006 Baccalaureate Address
2004 Baccalaureate Address
2003 Memorial Day Address
2002 Convocation Address
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.
2011 Commencement Student Address
By Kendall Carpenter ’11
Commencement Address, May 29, 2011
First Monday of the first week of my first year at Deerfield. Tying my sneakers tightly, I waited at the horse’s head for my first trip to the all-famous Rock. Nervously I surveyed the scene, boys and girls oozing the same curiosity I knew I must have been exuding. Squeezing her hand, I desperately clung to Victoria—one of my first friends at Deerfield—for some form of security. Our steps careful, thoughtful, and deliberate, we moved up the hill from where the gravel turns into dirt and eventually forks. Led by Dr. Curtis, the group veered to the right, the wooded path opening up to a clearing and panoramic view we were not at all expecting. Deerfield, this strange land, drawn out in front of our eyes. Attempting to situate myself in this maze of roads, buildings, and fields, I found Mather, my freshman dorm, and worked my way out from there as on a topographical map. I dug out coordinates, the English classroom I had entered today and the soccer field we had played on that afternoon. The map lay in two dimensions: just a classroom, just a soccer field, just a river. I looked on, seeing just a school.
Last Monday of my last week of my last year at Deerfield. Hanging a left out of Harold Smith Dormitory, I walk with slow steps up to the now familiar Rock. Pillars of sun streaming though the storm clouds dapple Albany Road in pools of light. Upward and upward, my routine steps push into auto-drive, propelling me up the path. I perch myself in the crevice, before the rock juts downward, eyes skating over the scene I have seen so many times before. The buildings like little doll pieces, the river a ribbon through the landscape, and the green sea that is the south fields. From this distance I can just faintly see a Green Machine, a green sports van, rolling down Albany Road. I imagine I can even hear “The Cheering Song” bounding from the windows, leaping up to my ears; off pitch with mixed screams, it still manages to send a quiver through me. The volume, “loyal though win or lose,” swells as the bus continues down the road.
The Main School Building demands my attention, the four columns and vines sweeping the ancient brick walls denoting our signature monument. Re-inhabiting some of my favorite classrooms, I recall my junior US History class where I found a passion for debating, eagerly listening to the way Palmer weaved her argument, trying desperately to mirror that confidence. Outside lies Senior Grass in its cultivated perfection. I am taken back to the Stepping Up bonfire exactly a year prior. After trying desperately to lose our voices, the sure sign of “getting rowdy,” we all congregated on the regal stone steps. In typical Class of 2011 fashion we managed to turn our energies towards dancing, all trying futilely to mirror Jamal’s wild movements.
The Dining Hall appeals to my eyes, the faint taste of shepherd’s pie and pumpkin bread making me hungry. Raspberry-filled sugar cookies bound to permeate my dreams that night as I sit thinking of them. The winding tree out front, encircled by a wooden bench, takes me back to a late Sunday afternoon when Charlotte hurriedly dragged Miles and me over, claiming she had found her perfect meditation tree for her newfound Buddhism. The quad air sliced by Frisbees on those warm days in May, Jem always diving dramatically for that last thrown disc.
The Memorial Building makes its presence known to my wandering eyes as the sun reflects back from the French doors. Those School Meetings, a couple hundred attended, our class cheer always a highlight of the sometimes-dull Tuesdays. Our tentative claps as freshmen, looking for approval for our newborn cheer, would not have predicted the boom heard from our section now. Also in the Large Auditorium those well-anticipated dance showcases, Grace and Caitlyn always mesmerizing us with their poise and Karon and Gunn making us envious with their Michael Jackson smooth moves—ones we unsuccessfully attempted to replicate at our favorite Crow Commons dances, Rosemary and Nina possibly the closest.
Main Street houses memorized turn from white to brown, yellow, then red, before they cease, and a farm road opens to the great expanse we call the Small Loop. I knew Deerfield really had transformed me when the smell of manure and silage, so pungent at the tip of the Loop, evokes a smile, while all others, not familiar with the Deerfield experience, plug their noses and hope for relief. My gaze slides left and descends to vacant Lower Levels with hills towering above. The storm clouds have moved away, leaving the green fields glowing with lazy afternoon sun. I picture any of those cool fall days, the fields teeming with players, cheers echoing through the Valley, as we watched with amazement as Hunter, our personal Energizer Bunny, leapt for a header goal. The fur coat identifying the man himself, Mr. Morsman stood at the edge of the fields, his spirit always a loyal companion. And as Ariel rounded the perimeter for what seemed like the 100th time, hair billowing in the wind, we ogled her unsurpassably graceful strides. The fields also double for the adored Dorm Olympics and Spring Day, bookends of the school year. I recall the masterpieces created during tin foil sculpture competition and Laddie alarmingly balanced during the Dorm Olympics handstand competition. My epic battle against Hannah on the blow-up obstacle course at Spring Day evoked in me a competitive side I knew not I possessed. The fields then ascend towards the Sports Complex up a steep hill just before the bridge. When the snow sweeps this valley, smothering our fields in layers of white, the hill takes on its true purpose. Winter Sundays: legs tucked in, sled underneath, I pummeled down the slope, tumbling off as the hill flattens to fields.
The river marks the edge of our lavish green carpet and holds its own stream of memories. Hours spent, head back, chest up, legs sprawled across the water’s surface, floating from the jumping point to the entrance path, again and again. A pause, the sleepy current slowed our driven lives. I can picture Emmet, Campbell, Chapin, and Mac Roy boarding their oversized raft in the river, ill-made spears in hand as they attempted to rid Deerfield of the dreaded lamprey monsters.
And then there are the dorms, speckling the campus. Mather, then Ashley, onto Dewey, and finally Harold Smith. We all carved—or rather the housing lottery carved—our own dorm sequence, but within each sit some of the most aggressive laughing fits, deepest philosophical discussions, and greatest comforts. Freshman year, blankets spread out on the Mather quad as the spring sun bathed our skin in warmth, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I was the happiest I had ever been. Little did I know, that feeling would recur frequently in the next three years. And whether I attribute my uncontrollable laughter junior year to fatigue or genuine happiness, it was in my dorm that I could simply let go. Pressure, stress, issues—all morphed into bellowing laughter at the sight of my fellow Dewey girls and Trig’s welcoming living room.
Now sitting here, looking down from this Rock, I’m no longer seeing a topographical map: just a dorm, just a field, just a river. This map, now packed—no, jam packed—has assumed three dimensions, obtaining volume to hold the millions of reflections, memories, thoughts, laughter, and dance moves. Funny anecdotes line each pathway. Those classrooms, and the teachers within them, fostered academic passions, each with their own memory of a discovery: Wordsworth and Coleridge teaching me that I didn’t have to hate all poetry. Those fields where I would spend days if I could watching game after game, where cheering is a sport in itself, the booming battle cry resounding from one team to the next. It is in that fourth dimension, however, where my love has grown so thick. Unable, at that moment up on the Rock, to be seen through my teary eyes, this dimension of time washes over me. Four years ago I sat on the Rock, a different person, and while the view physically was the same, this fourth dimension has changed what I am seeing.
Yet, in fear of simply reminding us of what an amazing place we are leaving behind, we must recognize that these memories, while sheltered in the Main School Building or floating on the river’s soft current, remain also in us. As we leave, we are not abandoning that instinct to do the robot whenever we hear the first cords of Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” or our automatic “hello” we offer up even while passing a stranger on Albany Road, or the tendency to float, head back, for hours, cherishing those serene pauses in life. No, those will come with us, beyond this tent. So I guess this has become a thank you note, a thank you from me to Deerfield and the Class of 2011. You have defined me, given me the passion to challenge that with which I disagree, given me the ability to drop everything and dance, and to fill—no, stuff—each place I encounter with memories bursting from the windows.
2010 Commencement Guest Address
by Rush McCloy ’92
Commencement Address, May 30, 2010
Good morning. Dr. Curtis, Mr. Greer, distinguished guests, members of the faculty, parents, and especially the graduates. Class of 2010, I can not tell you how honored I am to give this commencement speech, mostly because I stand here in fullest admiration of what you have done with your time here. Your class, once again, set a new standard. I graduated 18 years ago and know I got into Deerfield in just the nick of time because since that time your class and others, each and every one of you, have consistently increased the value of a Deerfield degree. Thank you. Keep doing what you are doing admissions, until my children apply.
I tend to focus best when I can somehow connect to the person or lesson taught. Lessons can be ineffective when merely expressed in words without any relevance to your life. The only effective way to figure out whether the stovetop is hot is to touch it yourself, since lessons are best learned through experience. Therefore, all I can do is to encourage you to touch three specific stovetops, because they have been so meaningful in my life and I really want them to be meaningful in yours. Deerfield has played a significant role in each one for me, so I hope you too will see the connection.
Stovetop 1 – Serve others and you will inevitably serve yourself.
Stovetop 2 – If you aim too long, you will miss the shot.
Stovetop 3 – Keep humility close to your core.
FIRST STOVETOP – Serve others and you will inevitably serve yourself.
So much good in my life has been a direct result of serving others; I can say, without hesitation, that if you serve others, you will reap the reward.
We should enter any form of service with altruistic intentions, but you will end up receiving more than you gain. Part of that reward is in your character, because service not only builds character, but also reveals character. What is important is that you are aware of your community, however you define it, and when something strikes a chord with you, take the plunge in whatever capacity your heart dictates.
And for leaders such as yourselves, it is important to realize that leadership is also a form of service and when you aim to serve those you lead, you will also see true reward.
No single event triggered my desire to serve more in both of those capacities than the events of September 11th, 2001.
I was in New York when we were attacked. My initial plunge occurred on September 12th. My heart yearned to get down to Ground Zero to help and I found a way to join an early crew willing to suit me up and head down to look for survivors in the rubble. I will never forget the fires, the smell, and the blanket of ash that wiped away a history of color. Those hours spent in the rubble triggered an even bigger plunge. I signed up to join the military. I did not know the pending sacrifices it might demand, nor did I care.
I began as an enlisted man before becoming an officer and then, six years to the day the towers fell, on September 11th, 2007, I got the call to deploy. I was sitting at my desk in New York trying to build a company I started with a partner directly out of business school when my phone rang. Readiness Command said I was to report to Ft. Riley, Kansas for training. From there, I would ship out to Afghanistan.
It certainly did not seem an ideal time to pick up and deploy for a year. I had to put my business and pending marriage on hold. As is it usually is with service, it was exactly what I needed in my life. I was blessed with the ideal job function which was to build a counterinsurgency campaign through civil and psychological affairs. Our campaign stretched from the eastern border near Pakistan to the western border closer to Iran. I worked with locals, built wells, schools, roads, met with insurgents, and shared chai tea with tribal elders to explain why we were there.
During the deployment, I worked every day for a year and yet, for the first time in my life, work never felt like work. I learned that I loved leading teams more than following financial markets, that I am more of an optimist than a skeptic and the experience drove me to take on a new private-sector career trajectory. I was there because I was motivated to serve God and country, but I feel like I have gained and been rewarded with so much more than I ever could have given.
As I mentioned, leadership is a form of service and serving those you are leading can also amount to a meaningful reward. On my tour, I came to realize that the only way to get the most out of the Afghan National Army forces we were training, and any US unit, was to serve them first and in the best manner I could. How could I gain the confidence of career US and Afghan military personnel as a reservist fresh off the streets of New York? I spent time learning to understand all the nuances of the members in my unit on any given mission. Only by investing in them, making sure they were taken care of, placing them in positions where I knew they could succeed, could we maximize the efficacy of our missions and minimize the risks. Results followed.
Never was this principle more evident than June 13th, 2008. We were heading east to work in a town preyed upon by insurgents when we were ambushed. We fought for over four hours; everyone played their part bravely, and we captured three enemy prisoners of war. It is not easy to capture and not harm the person shooting at you, but our unit, side by side with the Afghan security forces we were training, did it in sync. We all were paid the ultimate reward; we never lost a soldier, something that only happened because everyone involved aimed to serve those in their direct command.
Looking back, I know which part of my development played a large part in giving me the will to raise my hand after September 11th. When I was a student here at Deerfield, service and teamwork were woven into the school’s fabric. Not because it meant getting into a better college, but because we were drawn to serve our community, our school, and each other whether through peer counseling, big brothers, or helping each other study for an AP exam.
I was in Afghanistan on September 11th, 2008 and I was given the opportunity to raise an American flag on my forward operating base in the face of the enemy. Although I loved my college and graduate school, I knew I was serving there in large part because of Deerfield. This school gave me much of what I needed, to want to sign up to serve, to care about my community, and to benefit from a support network that prayed for and kept me company throughout the deployment. The American flag I raised that day was flown in honor of Deerfield where it now resides with its corresponding dedication certificate.
SECOND STOVETOP – Aim too long, and you are going to miss the shot.
You can spend the rest of your life aiming, but you will miss the shot if you don’t pull the trigger. Pull the trigger in that moment of clarity, however brief, and your life will become more interesting. Too often, that moment vanishes while it is still in your crosshairs, and regret has a long tail.
In fact, I had a moment of clarity here at my 10th year reunion. I was giving a slide presentation around having run the Antarctica Marathon and the Leadville 100 Mile Marathon to raise money for pediatric cancer research. When I finished and looked out at my classmates, I knew I had a split second to capture some of the greatest characters, minds, and hearts I have or will ever know to join me on another adventure – the Beijing Marathon. I did not know at the moment if the trip was totally feasible, but instead of sitting down, I seized that opportunity and asked “if any of you want to join me on a trip to Beijing, we will run the Beijing Marathon as a Deerfield team and raise money for pediatric cancer research.” Within 10 minutes, we had a team of 12, some running their first marathon. Off we went to raise a substantial sum, run the race that started in Tiananmen Square, and laugh to and from Asia. I saw the shot to recruit the team and I took it.
And that is not the end of the story; it gets better. Stepping up in that moment of clarity also inadvertently gave me the chance to up my game. Shortly after the reunion, I was at a cocktail party in New York City. At the time, I felt like I was in a muddy trench professionally. My start-up company was running out of money and I was funding a business on fumes. At the party, I saw the most beautiful girl laughing in a way that just felt so comfortable to her and she had eyes to mimic her smile. I recognized her as a Deerfield alumni. We overlapped briefly at school, as she was a freshman when I was a senior, but let’s put it into perspective. Here I am, a scrawny 5’9” if the truth can be stretched and I had the dumpiest old Ford Station Wagon parked outside that you had to kick the passenger door from the inside to open. Plainly put, I had no game. None. But I had a trump card in my pocket: Deerfield.
Again, I took the shot. I went up to her and after stumbling through a lousy introduction, I said “Do you want to come to China with some DA folks to run a marathon for cancer research?” She said she needed to think about it and would call me in the morning. I thought that was a polite no, but because she has the spirit and every amazing character trait I could imagine, she called with a yes. She is now my wife and we just had a child four weeks ago.
We never would have pulled off the trip if I did not quickly answer my heart at the end of my presentation at reunions. Also, look what happened to me by serving others. While raising money for cancer research, I found my wife, someone way above my rank. Had I aimed too long, I would not have Brooke as my wife and I would not have served overseas, both of which led to some of the most meaningful things in my life. So any of you who have been waiting to ask that person out for the past three or four years, you have one day left to take the shot.
The backdrop behind all of this is to have the confidence not to aim too long, and that you can pull it off. I know you can, because we learned all the blocking and tackling right here at Deerfield. We learned the fundamentals of how to approach a problem, address competition, and embrace the importance of service and leadership right here. It is not because those skills are generically formed in high school, but because Deerfield is unparalleled in instilling and honing them whether you recognize it now or not.
Start a business while you are in college; do something bold in honor of someone no longer with you; teach, volunteer, or work in some capacity in a remote region across the globe; take a year off to join an expedition regardless of how much it might frighten your parents. Again, if it is in your crosshairs and feels right, go for it. And if you need anyone to accompany you, there are always some willing companions to your right and to your left. I guarantee it. And if they won’t, then call me.
THIRD STOVETOP – Keep humility at your core.
The third stovetop is one we all need to keep turning up to remind ourselves of its presence. That is humility. There are many facets to humility, but I have found a few important ones thus far: 1. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and be able to laugh at yourself. 2. You have something to learn from everyone. 3. Don’t celebrate your own victories; instead, celebrate those who helped get you there.
The benefits of not taking myself too seriously, and finding a way to laugh at myself were so apparent my senior year here at Deerfield. By the end of my junior year, I associated much of my self worth with getting into college. I started to take myself way too seriously, and my ability to focus on meaningful parts of my life was distracted by this goal. I needed to shake things up a bit.
I am a terrible singer, beyond atrocious. Serendipitously, there was an audition for a musical. I thought I would use the audition to add some levity in my life, but did not think it would go beyond that. Mr. Reese is a brilliant director, but apparently subpar at casting. I pulled the wool over his eyes with some acting and to his future dismay, he cast me. Getting a part in a musical when you can not sing is bad enough, but the kicker was that I was cast as Linus in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”. I, at the very least, wanted Snoopy, a chill, cool character hanging out on the top of his house watching the world go by. No, instead I was hanging out on center stage with a blanket in my hand sucking my thumb in front of all my friends and teammates. It gets worse. It was the gift that kept on giving. My singing was so terrible, and not salvageable after countless hours of extra work, that I was strongly encouraged to speak my solo, which, for the record, was called “My Blanket and Me”. When we all had to sing together, I was strongly encouraged this time to lip sync. Everyone knew and we all laughed together. I am glad my wife never went to the show as a freshman or we might not be married today.
Soon, my focus returned and I felt more engaged; I gave more to my friendships and I felt incredibly confident and relaxed rolling into my college interviews. It paid off.
The second facet, you have something to learn from everyone, is relevant because if you are inquisitive with a thirst for learning, you will continue to become elite in your accomplishments. That being said, you still have something to learn from everyone. And as Emerson once said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior.”
When I was enlisted in boot camp, I had finished a swimming exercise and noticed that one of the guys to my right, named Ron, was voraciously writing notes. As I did as a student here at Deerfield, I figured if he were writing notes, I should probably be writing notes. Problem was, nobody was speaking and I had no idea what I was supposed to write. I poked Ron and asked him what he was doing. He said he was writing a plan for the company he runs in Texas. Company? I was impressed.
I knew I would learn about myself at enlisted boot camp and I wanted to be part of the backbone of this country, but I was beyond sure nobody was going to teach me hard lessons about my private sector career. Heck, I was the one who had been admitted to a top business school. I was not expecting to learn business and information storage principles at enlisted boot camp, especially since many did not have a college education. How wrong and arrogant I was. Turns out, Ron teaches employees at Fortune 500 companies how to store data and use their minds more effectively. He is in the Guiness Book of World Records for his ability to store numbers and recently won the 2010 memory competition. His principles continue to help me.
It hammered home that pedigree and stature do not preclude anyone from extracting as much as they can from those around them, in whatever form. Even though you were the pupils here, I guarantee you that all of your teachers here at Deerfield used each class to not only impart learning, but to also to learn from you. You teach teachers about themselves, and they are teaching you because they are eager and natural learners.
The last facet is to celebrate those who help you progress more than you celebrate your own accomplishments. One of my favorite quotes related to this topic came from Winston Churchill, a man whose quotes and poignant use of words I venerate.
In the summer of 1941, the Victoria Cross for bravery was awarded to Sgt. James Allen Ward for a brave act he did while defending Britain against the Nazis 4,000 meters above the North Sea.
Some months later Prime Minister Churchill, while managing a war, took the time to summon him to Downing Street to congratulate him.
Obviously, Sgt. Ward’s adam’s apple choked his air passage in the presence of Mr. Churchill, so noticing his obvious discomfort Mr. Churchill inquired “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence?”
“Yes Sir”, replied Ward. “I do.”
Mr. Churchill looked him in the eye and said, “Then you can begin to imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours.”
In closing, I want to once again express how humbled I am to speak in front of such a distinguished group. You now have a Deerfield degree and nobody can take it away from you. The education and accolades will fade, but the spirit and bond only becomes stronger and closer with time. I grew up with the bond given. My grandfather was involved on the Board and my father and brother both graduated from here. Since then, I tacked on a few more as now my wife, father-in-law, and sister-and-law also all graduated from here; in fact, nine of my twelve groomsmen at my wedding went to Deerfield. That bond is evermore important as the world is becoming evermore collaborative, requiring teams to succeed. Well, you are at such an advantage, because the team you have sitting to your right and to your left is unparalleled, and will remain so throughout your life.
If you remember one thing from today, then hold on to the Deerfield bond, leverage it, and suck the marrow out of what it offers. Regardless of where you end up at college or potentially graduate school, nowhere will you find the bond in any group that better promotes adventure, intellectual curiosity, and philanthropy. We are in a remarkable support club, one that only exists here. They will encourage you to always run with the swift because it is always better to come in last in the Olympics than first in a local meet. You will undoubtedly do some winning, but when you don’t, to paraphrase, what matters is how you react the next morning after losing. Luckily, you can risk to be bold, because this support network will always get you moving and charging forward again. So now embrace it and use it to serve others, use it to throw the normal and practical aside and move mountains. You can.
God bless you. Beat Choate
Rush McCloy, ‘92
2010 Commencement Student Address
by Johanna Flato ’10
Commencement Address, May 30th, 2010
In fourth grade, I ran for student council. However, I forgot to write a speech, so instead I just stood up in front of the class and giggled. Don’t worry though, this time I did prepare something, so let’s hope it goes over better!
On Monday, I left my dorm for class in the Koch Center. It was seventh period, the end of the school day, which meant graduation was already drawing that much closer. But I’m the type of person who convinces herself that six days is plenty of time—practically a week. Everyday for about the past three weeks I’ve felt like I was being sucked into the relentless whirlpool of graduating, and mentally I kept fighting back, trying to ignore the vicious pull. I had only just started to realize that resisting was probably futile when Monday rolled around. Over the course of one forty-five minute period, a handful of workmen drove stakes into the ground every few yards around the perimeter of this Quad, unfurled a humongous green and white tarp, and before I could get my emotional defenses in place, the quad was shaded by the tent we stand beneath today. Given, I knew today was fast approaching, but watching that tent go up in forty-five minutes was too dramatic. I had no chance to mask what the tent meant, it just popped up.
That tent outside of the Dining Hall, that one I could accept rather matter-of-factly. It’s just a white tarp, and we’ll eat some ceremonial meals there. But this tent I’ve stood under as a freshman-verging-on-sophomore, excited that I would soon join the ranks of returners. I stood under this tent when I was about to become a junior—an upperclassmen, with more status and more privileges. Every time the class of 2010 stepped up, I felt as if we were more a part of Deerfield, that we were becoming a fixture in the community. And now, we were supposed to walk under this tent, be handed diplomas, and leave.
Beneath the chairs you are sitting on are the paths that we walked everyday to classes, instinctive shortcuts that everyone keeps taking despite the efforts of the wonderful Grounds Crew to keep the grass pristine for days like today. In the winter, these paths become well-worn furrows in the ice, but everyone continues to walk and slip on them—it’s routine. From the dorm I lived in freshman year, Harold Smith, a shortcut across this Quad could get me to classes in four minutes. From Mac, where I lived sophomore year, the same shortcut would get me there in seven. It’s a shortcut so comfortable, so regular, that it is a simple staple in my Deerfield experience.
So to have this imposing symbol of graduation constructed so quickly and casually right on top of paths I had comfortably walked on almost daily for four years—it unnerved me. I felt like Deerfield was giving me the old proverbial “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” I was coming to terms with leaving, but they didn’t need to force it by propping up a giant tent when I still had six days left.
When my dad graduated in 1973, he left and didn’t return until I came as a freshman in the fall of 2006. Then of course he got incredibly nostalgic and it all came rushing back—those paths that he had walked across, this campus, the buildings he had lived in, been taught in, seen constructed in his three years here. My mother, dad, and sister all flew up with me from Texas to get me settled in, and while my mom and I were stringing up posters and meeting my proctors, he swept my little sister off on his own personal tour of the school, pulling her one way and then another as they traversed paths he still knew, narrated by memories he hadn’t forgotten. The places my tour guide showed us were generic—he wanted to get a daughter under his arm and show her where and how they’d snuck into the Dining Hall to steal trays on which they could go sledding; to illustrate with elaborate hand motions how the Bookstore, or the Hitchcock house, had once housed four doubles composed of himself and seven friends. He was a little thrown off that Plunkett Dormitory had been leveled into a lawn in front of the Dining Hall, and proceeded to tell a story about sending a kid in a laundry cart flying down one of the dorm’s long, well-waxed hallways, straight through the new hall resident’s door. I laughed and may have teasingly rolled my eyes—typical alumni reminiscing. It was fun to imagine a chaotic, seventies version of Deerfield, but now it was my turn, and everything was current, new, and exciting.
As much as I had thought my dad so dated for living in dorms I’d never heard of, I recently realized that, in ways, I was also already somewhat dated myself. Countless times last spring, I spread my striped towel out on the yard behind John Louis dormitory, “JL Beach,” settling down to sunbathe with dorm mates. And it occurred to me, most of you never even knew the Mods—those technically temporary yet deceivingly complete math and science classrooms that predated the Koch center and less than four years ago sprawled across that same back lawn. Never thumped up those rubber-coated, plywood-railed ramps; never sat down at a desk in those very simple yet capable classrooms; never cut through the recently relocated and refurbished “Bewkes” House for hot chocolate and coffee from the Dean’s office before class. I made some of my earliest friends in one of those science classrooms, but now that freshman biology class seems like so long ago, and I can’t tell you which corner of the yard has grown over the blueprint of my old classroom. I’m turning into my father—“back freshman year, this field was stuffed with microscopes and computers,” answered by stares of “so what?”.
I also miss the Name Game, an almost-forgotten pastime now that room phones have gone extinct. Freshman year, when a senior would bellow down Albany Road, “No cell phones!!” I’d leave my little Nokia in my room the next day, terrified. Sophomore year, some students just started switching their phone to the other ear when confronted. Junior year, I never even bothered to activate the voicemail on my room phone (much to the chagrin of my mother). Senior year, the school did away with room phones altogether. With the phones went Name-Gaming—a great pastime. Stuff all your friends into one dorm room, designate someone to play, hold him or her away as you and the rest of the crew thumb through the Student Face Book in search of an appropriate target (it was still a book back then, hadn’t yet been uploaded online), punch in the extension, and then, giggling, thrust the phone to your friend’s ear. Proceed to shhhh your laughing, coughing friends into a decent silence so that you don’t miss a word as the student on the other line yes’s and no’s your friend closer to guessing who he or she is. It was always most fun if said friend had a crush on the one on the other end. It wasn’t foolproof—often, especially if you called annoyingly late at night, the phone might be slammed into the receiver as soon as a voice offered, “Want to play the ‘Name Game?’” Now, cell phone numbers are published on the DAinfo and “Name-Gaming” has become a lost art. I’m confident that soon enough you rising seniors, juniors, and sophomores will come up with an appropriate replacement entertainment. In the meantime, I’ve found that cell phones actually can be incredibly useful in the event of brainstorming a graduation speech—I was able to spontaneously type up almost a page-worth of notes using the “memo” app on my Blackberry.
So, while things have already changed here since I first came, just as the campus has been altered since the years when my father and other alums were students here, there is nothing wrong with that. A little change just means we’re joining the ranks of Deerfield’s distinguished alums. Plunkett is just the name of a field now, but I still had an incredible four years. The school is co-ed now, and we are the first class that Deerfield’s first female head-of-school has known from Convocation to Commencement, and its still been an incredible four years. Two graduating senior girls tried to tell me my sophomore year that Deerfield was going down the drain—I am so pleased to graduate today and know that they were absolutely, utterly, completely wrong.
It didn’t faze me too much to step up from being a freshman to being a sophomore; to have classes in the Mods one year and the neon blue-lit Koch Center the next, to gradually replace my room phone with a cell phone. It was just a progression—maybe I made casual comments here and there about things being “different,” but then the new way simply became a new routine. Abruptly getting rid of the daily bowls of green and white M&M’s in the Main School Building riled students up for a bit. They calmed down and forgot after a while, and maybe if it had simply been a subtle, gradual decrease in M&M amount, they would never even have noticed in the first place.
Maybe if the tent had come up one post at a time, been raised up a few feet a day, then maybe I would have been able to keep pretending that things were still following the same routine, that I could keep wearing down that same path across the quad for as long as I liked. But the tent had to come up one way or another, and the end would have been the same—we would walk under it as we did today, and graduate.
So yes, this tent made me take some detours from my usual paths for a week, and graduating will do away with routines I made, paths I followed, and a schedule I grew immensely fond of over four years. But I think that in worrying about all of the changes that tent would bring, I fixated on the wrong aspect of graduation. Yes, my comfortable routine will be disrupted, but the values of Deerfield that stood out in my experience here will remain and continue to support me. Not only my inspirational teachers and devoted coaches, but also the thoughtful staff and my diverse and enthusiastic peers, taught me to have self-confidence; to have respect for, collaborate with, and learn from everyone around me; to always work hard no matter the outcome; and above all, to love what I do, where I am, and who I am with.
I can find another routine later. The best part of graduating from Deerfield Academy, of having spent my high school years in this historic town and this beautiful valley, is that I’ll go forth with the energy of a nurturing and influential faculty, of the class of 2010, and of this entire community behind me.
So now, standing here, I’m not feeling anxious or bothered as I was when I first saw the green and white billow into this huge tent overhead. Rather, I am reassured that an entire community is here with me, to see off the class of 2010, and I feel confident and proud of us. I think I felt upset because I was looking at that tent from a distance, thinking too much about what it symbolized. Now, gathered underneath it with friends, family, teachers, and peers, I remember that a tent’s purpose is actually to prepare us for the possibility of rain or oppressive sunshine, not to scare me. Similarly, Deerfield is sending us off, each having developed a personal relationship with this place, and each with a different experience behind us. It has prepared us for rain, and if you are prepared for rain, it’s usually sunny. So here’s to it being sunny when we step out from under this unique, majestic, and path-altering tent.
2010 Commencement Student Address
by Stephen Kelley ’10
Commencement Address, May 30th, 2010
“Boom.” The door flew open as I hopped down the back staircase of the Arms Building and strolled across the foggy Main Quad on that Thursday morning in October. I had finished my World Cultures test early, and the only thing on my mind was what movie I was going to watch during my free period. Turning right onto Albany Road, I loosened my tie, put it in my jacket pocket, and continued towards my dorm where How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days, Old School, and The Time Traveler’s Wife were waiting for me.
At about the halfway point of Albany Road, a little before the Greer, I saw a slim figure emerging from the thick fog. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but whatever it was it seemed to be moving a mile a minute, alien-like in my direction. The closer it approached, the clearer it became that it was a person. It was Mrs. Creagh, and she was doing that kind of really fast run/walk thing that she does. She was like a tornado and I was an innocent young cow just minding my business, but I happened to be right in her path. I had only been at Deerfield for about a month, so I didn’t want to get on her bad side, and I couldn’t figure out why she was coming at me! I put my head down and quickly ran through a checklist in my mind: How’s my facial hair? Did I shave this morning? How can I shave every morning? My face is sensitive! Is my cell phone on vibrate? Suitcoat? Shirt? Am I wearing pants? Is it against the rules to wear the same thing two days in a row? Is my dress too revealing? Wait! THE TIE! Oh boy, I’m cooked. Should I try to put it back on now? I look up to check out my surroundings, so many ideas running through my head. I narrowed it down to three plans of attack: A) Turn left and duck into the Greer, B) Turn around and sprint in the opposite direction, or C) Jump into the bushes. Considering Mrs. Creagh is about ten times faster than I am, option C seemed like a real winner. But I had taken too long and before I knew it, Mrs. Creagh was about ten feet away from me. I noticed that all too familiar look in her eyes that had “you did something wrong” written all over it.
We both stopped walking, and I was bracing myself for Accountability Points or even some sort of punishment like Restrictions, and then I muttered the standard words.
“Hi, Mrs. Creagh, how we doin’?” I said, as I did some hopelessly awkward arm cross, trying to cover up the vacant space my tie was supposed to fill.
“Stephen, you need to come with me.” She said in a serious tone.
“Okay, sure. What’s the problem?” I sighed, still assuming I did something wrong.
“I just got off the phone with your mother, Stephen, something happened to your father last night.” She added “He had a heart attack. Your mom wanted me to come find you because she tried calling you repeatedly.”
I stood in shock. A minute ago, all I was thinking about was a slap on the wrist from the school, but this felt more like a punch to the gut. When Mrs. Creagh and I called home, my mother picked up with a little more aggressive “hello” than I was used to. She went on to tell me that Dad had a heart attack, was rushed to the Emergency Room, had to be revived, but was now in stable condition at Beth Israel Hospital. I asked if she would be alright, and if my brother, Jamie, was with her. After finding out the answers to both, I told her I loved her, and that I would see her soon.
The next order of business was finding out how to get back home. I pleaded with Mrs. Creagh that I had probably had my license for a lot longer than half the faculty, even though I was only a sophomore, and that she could trust me enough to take one of the school’s brand new vans for the weekend. It was worth a try! She helped me find a bus leaving from Greenfield instead.
“Stephen, wait,” she said, pulling money from her pocket “this should cover the cost of your ticket.” My advisor, Mr. Creagh, had offered to take me to the bus. He could tell that I was still confused about everything that had happened in the past hour. He started telling me stories, jokes, or anything just to get my mind off of the current situation. As we arrived in town early, he asked me if I wanted to get something from the deli across the street. He had only known me for about a month, but even he understood that I couldn’t pass up a nice sandwich no matter what the situation was.
We sat and talked over our sandwiches, and when we finished I told him that I didn’t want to keep him and that he could head back to campus.
He smiled and said, “Please, it’s either this or faculty meeting for an hour. Besides, I get to give Emerson a hard time because he had to go to the meeting and I didn’t. It’s a win-win.” Before I knew it the bus was waiting for me out front.
During the long bus ride from Deerfield to Boston, I tried to fall asleep and forget about the pain my father had gone through. It was difficult to imagine my Dad, who seemed like Superman, in such a vulnerable position. But as tired and as boring as the journey was, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed long enough without thinking about everything. I had been at Deerfield since September, but I had only spent one or two weekends on campus, both of which were closed weekends. I was content going home on the weekends to be with my family, and see my old friends, as if nothing had changed. So when I heard that my father had a heart attack I became furious at myself, disgusted even, that I wasn’t there for him. I left my house empty with only my mom and my dad. What if for some reason, my mother needed help getting my dad to the car? That could be the difference between life and death. I sat on that bus alone, with these thoughts running through my mind the entire way home, never looking back toward Deerfield.
I spent five days in that hospital with my family; greeting visitors, hearing my mother recount the story to every new nurse, and watching my father struggle after quintuple bypass surgery. When it came time to go back to school, I was reluctant. I was afraid to leave my family’s side. When I came back to Deerfield, I walked off the bus at the Greenfield Town Hall and Mr. Perrin sat cross legged on the hood of his car for me. I thought I would have had to take a cab back to campus, which was only a short drive. Being back on campus, I thought that all I wanted to do was be alone. I figured that being alone and spending all of my time feeling sorry for myself would make me feel better. So I locked my door, and shut the lights off.
The next morning I sat alone in the Dining Hall for breakfast before class, but that didn’t last long, because shortly after I sat down all of my friends came to the table. Every one asked me how my dad was throughout the day, even people I barely knew. It became almost overwhelming when I was talking to a group of friends in the dining hall before lunch. West Hubbard seemed geninely interested in my intricate story… until the end when he told me that he created a computer program while I was gone, so that every time I opened up Internet Explorer it would say “West has taken over your computer.” Thanks for the support, West.
Matt Doyle, Albert Ford, Dave Mackasey, and Erik Bertin all came up to me and asked the same question “How’s big bad Spidah Kelley doin’ after surgery?” in the weakest excuse for a Boston accent I’ve ever encountered. But as repetitive as it was, it helped me to cope. I realized that these accidents happen all the time in life, and that I couldn’t have done anything to stop that heart attack. The people on campus became an extended family to me, and they were there for me when I needed them the most.
That’s the beauty of this place. Here at Deerfield, every one of us becomes part of a caring network of friends, teachers, faculty, and staff. It is true that in places where there are high-achieving people, they all work really hard. The difference here is that people are working hard selflessly in the service of the community. Students balance class, sports, arts, extracurriculars, and a social life for the entire school year and still at the end, we wish that we could go on longer. Faculty members work tirelessly, and push their own pleasures off to the side in order to do their job to the best of their ability. They put off their “family time” to spend extra time conversing with a student. I have come to admire the faculty and staff who genuinely seem to love their jobs. Because they make Deerfield a great place to work, they also make it a great place to learn. It is truly a community with a culture of self sacrifice. Everyone has each other’s backs. As an individual on campus, you can count on the people here. In a society in which so many people are working for themselves, here people are working for each other, for the community. Whatever we go through, we go through together.
A person hopes to claim that about his family, it is remarkable that we can claim that about our school. Deerfield is a better place, because of faculty members like Mr. Morsman, a man who has dedicated almost sixty years of his life to the Deerfield community. Deerfield would not be the same without Morsman saying a prayer before each sit down meal, his unbelievably stylish fur coat he whips out only on Choate Day, or his classic dog cheers. Dr. Ott is, also, one to keep tradition and Deerfield’s core values in check. On the first day of classes last year, I did my normal routine; strolled through the doors with black shades, flip flops, and a bright orange and blue Elmo backpack. I sat down, removed my blazer, and hung it on my chair.
“What would Mr. Boyden say? What would Mr. Boyden do, Steve?” he asked as he smiled and nodded his head. “About what?” I asked, puzzled. “Well do you think Mr. Boyden and the boys years ago went without blazers?” He said jokingly.
Needless to say, he could have just asked me to put my jacket back on. But Dr. Ott explaining his reasons for upholding the rich Deerfield traditions makes being in his classroom so great. I’ll keep my blazer on, Dr. Ott, no matter how hot it is. Or hall residents, like Mr. Langione, who always have their doors open even if they are not on duty. No matter how many papers he has to correct, he gladly pushes his work off to have fireside chats about chick flicks, Boston sports, and nice bottles of red. But these are the types of faculty members that Deerfield is famous for.
Above all, I have come to respect my classmates who define the spirit of Deerfield. One Thursday night this winter after a long day of classes, and practice, I rolled into the Greer (rest in peace) with an empty stomach. I had the late practice and was unable to get to dinner before going onto the ice. I walked up to the register to place an order, and saw the dreaded nightmare of a sign that all of us have seen at one time or another; the sign read “grill closed”.
From the back of the kitchen, right next to the grill, Ashleen Wicklow calls out to me as I was walking away. “Steve, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Ashleen,” I say. “I’m fine, I am just dying of starvation.”
“Alright, well, I’ll just fire up the grill for you, what do you want?”
My eyes lit up, no questions asked, cheeseburger and fries. Classic Greer order. To me, that embodies what Deerfield is all about. When someone is down, or in trouble, another member of the community is there to lift them up.
Another day, I was sitting at a table in the Dining Hall long after dinner had closed. I had a lot on my plate that night. We’ve all had our share of those nights here at Deerfield; I had a meeting shortly after, as well as two tests to study for, and I also had to return four movies to the library that were a week overdue. After revealing the long night ahead to the table, Ashley Gordon volunteered to return the movies for me. Not only did she return the movies, but she persuaded the librarian not to bill me with overdue charges. Which was great, because it brought my overdue charges back down to three digits.
It’s clear that the spirit of generosity extends to every reach of campus. I’ve come to admire Emily Blau, for example, because she knows everyone’s name including the Dining Hall Staff and Grounds Crew, and always asks them how their day is going. She knows how important these people are to this Academy.
For the seniors, ahead lies the most difficult task that we will have ever faced during our days of glory at Deerfield. We have come together at the end of the road, whether we were here for four years or only one. We have excelled in the classroom, competed ‘til the final buzzer on that green grass, mingled in the Greer until the minute it closed, and made friendships that will last forever. Most importantly, we have loved Deerfield.
But now we must go forth and perpetuate Deerfield by exercising its morals beyond these walls but never without the security of this community at our backs.
As we reflect in sadness upon our departure from Deerfield, it is important for us, the class of 2010, to look back on our time here in celebration. I reflect on my years here and realize that there is no other place where a person I barely know will support me when my father had a heart attack. No other place where someone will turn the grill on for me after it’s closed simply out of compassion. No other place where someone will talk you out of an overdue charge at the library. No other place that will be like a second family to me. At this point, it seems difficult, impossible even, that we will be able to move on without Deerfield. It is difficult to let go of the place that has loved you and supported you during these crucial years.
But as we leave, we must never forget the lessons that Deerfield taught us. We must bear in mind the traditions, the community, and the compassion we all shared for each other and pass them on to our future friends, children, and colleagues. We must bring a little bit of Deerfield into the lives of others that were not lucky enough to be a part of this community. We have been lucky to be surrounded by those who truly care about the people we end up being when we leave this campus. Most of us have that one Deerfield brother or Deerfield sister or faculty member that we look to when we need someone. As we move on, we want to honor those faculty members and peers by being “that someone” for our friends somewhere down the line.
Upon leaving this campus as alumni, the Deerfield student leaves with all the necessary tools to be successful in life. A strong leader, the Deerfield student is conscientious, moral, sophisticated, and above all, well rounded. The ultimate cosmopolitan, unable to be summed up in just one word. Only six hundred and thirty students are fortunate enough to be here at once, and it is our job as we walk as graduates to thank the Academy by sharing the ideals we have acquired with others. We have all been educated, but as we move on, we must become educators, too, at some level. We must teach our friends and companions, our sons and daughters how to be generous and compassionate, as well as how to value the past and become part of a receptive community.
I will never forget that genuine look of compassion and sincerity on Ms. Creagh’s face as I left her office that day. I will never forget the prayer Mr. Morsman says before each meal. I will never forget the lovely parents of students I met here. I will never forget the good advice on red wine from Mr. Langione. (I will be ready when the time comes.) I will never forget the community that loved me from the very beginning, and held me to the end.
So as we walk down Albany Road and cross the senior grass for the last time, I would encourage us all to look back on these halls and fields we’re leaving and embrace them. Embrace all of the lessons we have learned in and out of the classroom, embrace the compassion, the will to succeed, and the humility of the Deerfield student. Embrace it all so that as we move on with our lives into the new unknown world, we can put our learning to the challenges of the future. As the class of 2010, we move forward with the confidence to take on everything we face in the Deerfield way. We will move forward with the confidence that the skills we needed to succeed in the classroom and on the field are the same skills we will need to succeed in the office, in family life, and in the world. When we exemplify these values among others, we will leave the same impression on the people we meet, that Deerfield has left forever upon us. This way, we will carry in our hearts the school that has made, us and that we have made, together into the future, a future beyond, but never without our eternal Deerfield.
2010 Commencement Luncheon Remarks
From Margarita O’Byrne Curtis, Head of School
Commencement Luncheon Remarks, May 29th, 2010
You are graduating in exciting times… the world needs you! The first decade of this century is quickly coming to a close—a decade framed by 9/11 at the outset and a global financial meltdown at its end. In these ten years—perhaps the most dispiriting period since World War II—you have journeyed from childhood into adulthood. While you have dutifully focused on school—exploring a wide range of disciplines, developing your talents, expanding your circle of mentors and friends, and pondering the meaning of a life well-lived—our country—indeed, our world—has been diminished by a series of sobering, unprecedented events.
Our sense of security, even in the safety of this serene valley, has been shaken by attacks on innocents like September 11th and the senseless tragedies at schools like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and the University of Alabama. The rising struggle of reason against extremism around the world, including the sacrifices our sons and daughters have made in Afghanistan and Iraq, are a sad reflection of calamities on the domestic front—conflicted by corporate bankruptcies, Wall Street scandals, Ponzi schemes, and the most precipitous drop in the financial markets since the Great Depression. We read with compassion about increases in poverty and unemployment, we puzzle over a record federal budget deficit, dramatic rises in healthcare costs, and a faltering social security system. Energy and water are said to be in short supply to meet the demands of a crowded, untidy world. Our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels, and the countries that have them, have held us hostage to ‘old ways’ at incalculable costs to the environment and our national security.
(I must sound like Woody Allen, who said to a graduating class… “You are at a crossroads in life, one path leads to ruin and hardship, the other to certain defeat!”)
The truth is, the world you are about to enter is not so kind a place as Deerfield—fewer seconds in the Dining Hall or midnight feeds in the dorm, and not as tidy. But, if Deerfield has taught you a few things, first among them are the value of community, the value of joining your individual efforts in the fulfillment of shared aspirations, the value of reaching beyond your needs to address the needs of others. Vested with the ability to think critically and creatively, with perseverance and compassion, with high expectations of yourselves, and a strong communal spirit, you, the Class of 2010, are now called to lead. And I cannot imagine a more exciting time to lead than when the world is off its game, and new systems to run it properly are in high demand!
The challenges ahead, and forgive us if we call them ‘your challenges”, require the same discipline you have learned here, e.g. your ability to focus, to give time and attention to friends in need, to look beyond “the little things” that distract us, to serve others and improve the world around us. To be sure, the world has its problems, it always has, but you are up to the challenge, more prepared than your parents’ generation, more agile, more articulate, more engaged in world affairs at an earlier age than your parents and grandparents were. You have strong hearts and minds, and will use them wisely… whichever path you take from here.
As you head off to college, and beyond, don’t forget your sense of humor, nor your sense of wonder—both are essential tools in your survival kit. Don’t confuse financial success with happiness or respect—those you must earn from the people you love most…
Doing well is not always synonymous with doing good.
Along your journey, you must give serious thought to how your talents and imagination can benefit others less fortunate and how your work can have a positive impact on the world around us. A well-lived life is one of service, and you, in your time on this earth, will have endless opportunities to give back a bit of magic learned here. At Deerfield, you have learned how to observe others thoughtfully, to honor those who excel, to listen to the strengths and flaws in argument, to think through the solutions of nettlesome problems, and to celebrate the differences in belief and culture. Apply those same skills, and you’ll make the world a better place. Your search for a life of consequence, rich in purpose and meaning, is sure to succeed if you see your destination as that special place where “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
That quote is from writer Frederick Buechner, but one of YOU made this point eloquently earlier this month, shortly after I spoke at the Senior Alumni Dinner. You said: “A good education can give someone ability, but how a person uses that ability is most important. It is only worth something if it is applied to a worthwhile cause. The world would be a much better place if all powerful people used their power in the interest of the world… many people at Deerfield will find themselves in positions where they have to choose between helping and hurting.”
The world, like you, finds itself at an important crossroads. Choices we (you) make in the next five to ten years, to conserve energy, water, food, and health, will determine whether we have a sustainable future or one troubled at every turn. Guess what? You have places at the table. It’s your turn to lead. How lucky we are to have you and your ideas in the game. It lifts my spirit; honestly, you give me hope!
Deerfield has prepared you well for your journey. You know that there are no shortcuts—and that excellence requires rigorous effort and unshakeable commitment. You have gained the ability to discern “when you are hurting and when you are helping,” and you leave here knowing that an inspired mind amounts to nothing without love.
Today, take every opportunity to tell your friends how important they are to you. You have amassed a great fortune in friendships here, lifelong friends who care deeply for you and with whom you now share a permanent bond borne of shared experience. Tomorrow, as you leave this valley, take all the memories and values that will sustain you for a lifetime. And return often to share your achievements with us. We can sing together.
Mr. Boyden is with us in spirit today as he was a half a century ago. He liked to say… “The test of the worth of any school is, in the last analysis, the record of her alumni… it is our sincere hope that the tradition of service instilled and nurtured here … may endure always to the lasting benefit of the country and the world.”
That’s why I am very proud of you, all. Congratulations.
2006 Head of School Induction
by Margarita Curtis
2006 Head of School Induction Address, September 17th, 2006
I stand before you today, as we begin our first year together, full of hope, yet humbled by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary institution. I begin with deep gratitude to Jeff Louis, who as Head of the Board led the thoughtful process that brought me to this community. His dedication, and the level of collaboration he inspired throughout this process are not only praiseworthy but, as I have discovered, truly emblematic of Deerfield. To the members of the board, thank you for your vote of confidence. The energy you have invested is such compelling evidence of your love for this place. Faculty, staff, and students, thank you also for your participation in the search process. Along with many of the members of the surrounding communities, I am indebted to you for the warm welcome you have extended to Manning and me as we settle into this beautiful valley. To the members of the Physical Plant Office and to the Dining Hall Staff, whose tireless efforts make this celebration a reality today, thank you.
I would also like to extend a warm welcome to guests, family, and friends, and especially my predecessor, Bob Kaufmann. Welcome also to James Schoff, former head of the board; Barbara Chase, my former Head of School at Andover; and Paul Bassett, Andy Chase, and Shelley Jackson — Heads of Schools in the Pioneer Valley. Thank you for honoring us with your presence today. Finally, I welcome with great joy my parents, Maria Teresa and Alvaro, and my two children, Heather and Patrick, whose unconditional support and love I count as my richest gifts.
A new chapter in the history of this venerable academy begins today. What better time to reflect on two basic, interwoven questions: one that predictably looks to the past, the other, to the future. What elements of this long-standing academy should remain constant in the face of change? What aspects, on the other hand, should be subject to review and respond to the demands of time? As the pace of change and the volume of information reach bewildering proportions, these questions seem more relevant than ever.
But, Deerfield Academy has faced this 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. On this campus, the Deerfield Door and the Koch Center for Math, Science, and Technology stand within yards of each other, heralding a place both for tradition and innovation. In this valley, our day-to-day work constantly gains perspective by a “look to the hills,” and toil is framed by majestic permanence.
Deerfield’s current position of strength, regarding its human and its financial resources, inspires confidence as we prepare ourselves to define excellence and leadership in the context of the 21st century. Identifying the new skills, cognitive dispositions, interpersonal sensibilities, and cross-cultural understanding that will be required of our next generation of leaders; sustaining and developing a talented and inspiring faculty; increasing our resources to make this educational opportunity affordable to deserving youth — are the matters that will determine what it means to “be worthy of our heritage.” In these months to come, as we get to know one another, we will define these goals.
Let me now tell you a personal story that portrays the importance of seizing new beginnings as an opportunity to both affirm a mission and to embrace growth.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the summer of 1965, as my parents, my four siblings, and I traded the land of earthquakes and the towering Andes for a steamy city on the Mississippi, built under sea level and prone to hurricanes, I knew my life was about to change in dramatic, unforeseen ways. You new students who received my welcome letter may remember how I felt. As I faced the beginning of my school journey in an unfamiliar country, I was filled with uncertainty and trepidation, but also with optimism. Was I well prepared for the challenges of a new school? What would my teachers expect of me? What courses and activities would I enjoy most? Would I excel at anything? How long would it take me to speak English proficiently? And most importantly, would I make friends easily?
What I haven’t told you yet is that, as a 12-year-old, I was supposed to start 8th grade — not begin high school — that September. However, when my mother began the process of placing her five children in the best schools she could find in the middle of that summer, she was told, at the all-girls, Catholic school she had selected for me, that I could not be admitted into the 8th grade. The class was full. Any other mother, fully aware of her child’s rudimentary command of English, might have asked for a slot in the 7th grade. But then, you don’t know my mother. To my horror, I heard this feisty, “no-nonsense” lady ask, convincingly, about a place in the 9th grade. The rest is history. That September, a timid, bewildered, tal, and lanky 12-year-old began her life as a student in America.
What do I remember? Two of the sentences I had been taught in my grammar school English classes year in and year out — “How do you do?” and “How tall is the Empire State Building?” — were never uttered by anyone, anywhere. I’m still waiting! In the school cafeteria, I wondered for weeks about that sticky, brown paste so many of my peers ate with jelly, on their bread, for lunch. Jelly, in my view, only went with butter, and it was for breakfast, not for lunch! I loved basketball. Being 5’8″ at twelve was no longer a curse but a much appreciated advantage. And what a relief it was to attend algebra class! Numbers I could understand, and going to the board to solve an equation was the one accomplishment I could feel good about.
Long Sunday afternoons, formerly spent with more than 20 cousins at my grandmother’s house, playing Monopoly, Parcheesi, or chess, were now filled with hours of undecipherable, demanding homework. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” assigned for my freshman English class, seemed to take forever, including consultations with my father — but what a riveting introduction to American literature! My parents’ heavily accented English sounded so sophisticated and refined to my ears back then. If only I could speak fluently like them, I kept lamenting!
Looking back, through a career studying language and literature, I see this period essentially as a continual attempt at two types of translation, one cultural, the other developmental. Both, however, implied a journey from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from comforting predictability to challenging, disorienting newness. As I struggled to decode this new language and the expectations of a new culture, I had to abandon my childhood and begin to negotiate the rigors of adolescence. Seldom have I engaged in the level of self-questioning and reflection that characterized those first few months of my life in New Orleans. I was translated from Colombian child to American teenager, a stage that most of you know well, but a term that curiously defies an exact translation in Spanish or many other languages. You may want to explore this cultural riddle in your language classes tomorrow…
But why, you are probably asking, have I shared this story with you today? Because it highlights two complementary processes in which all of us engage, both as individuals and as communities, at regular intervals in our lives. One generates meaning, coherence, and perspective, while the other thrusts us into the unknown, and onto experimental ground. Life constantly challenges us to balance the centripetal pull of tradition — that grounding, stabilizing force — with the centrifugal energy of adaptation and growth. Tradition represents one part of the equation, but so does the translation of those very same traditions to changing realities.
While “tradition” is a term familiar to us all, “translation” seems a puzzle. We think of translation first as a means of transforming a text from a language we don’t understand into one that we do. But translation helps us understand anything “foreign.” Social scientists often present their analyses by translation into sports metaphors. Natural scientists translate complicated phenomena into diagrams or equations. So translation is really what we always do when we use the known to understand the unknown. It is what we must do to help us use the past to understand the future.
This negotiation between tradition and translation, at an early age, taught me to reflect on both of these processes. As I attempted to translate myself into a new reality, my values and assumptions came into sharp focus. Detached from familiar surroundings, I had to ponder basic questions about myself and my culture. Why do I do things the way I do them? What gives purpose to my life and how do I remain true to that purpose? It was my very uprooting that challenged me to encounter the other.
And think about it. When you, students, decided to attend boarding school, that home away from home for many of you, with peers from all corners of the globe, were you not signing onto a similar journey? Aren’t you now engaged in the same process of inquiry and self-discovery, of affirmation and growth? As you delve into a world of new perspectives and possibilities, what values and practices will you seek to strengthen? What changes, on the other hand, will you contemplate in the face of new learning
These questions touch us as individuals and as communities. Both tradition and translation defined me. And for an institution, a change in leadership is just such a thing. In this moment, we are called to reflect, yet again, on the importance of each of these two elements. Only then can we write the next chapter of this academy’s history.
So we begin again: What do we stand for? What core values define us and provide direction for our collective endeavors? How, in short, do we live up to our school motto and make ourselves “worthy of our heritage?” As we consider these questions, we must not neglect their counterpart: How can we translate our basic principles into our rapidly changing, unpredictable, conflicted world? The academy’s past and present offer valuable guidance as we recommence.
On New Year’s Day, 1799, as the academy prepared to open its doors for the first time to thirty-nine boys and eight girls, Reverend Joseph Lyman, a Charter Trustee, clearly articulated the central tenet on which the school still stands today. He said, “Wisdom renders men useful… 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.” From the academy’s inception, the pursuit of excellence and superior performance has been inextricably tied to moral distinction and the notion of service. In this sense, we are all called to do well, not with the exclusive goal of self-advancement, but with the intent to do good, to have a positive impact on the lives we touch, directly and indirectly. At a time when our culture seems increasingly focused on consumption and the quest for comfort, our founders challenge us to consider not what we can have, but what we can be and do for others.
One hundred and forty five years later, in 1944, Frank L. Boyden, the legendary Headmaster who transformed our school from a small, regional, financially-shaky institution into an academy of national stature, underscored this very principle in his dedication of the first issue of the Alumni Journal. I quote him:
“The citizens of any state, and particularly a democracy, can never achieve the more abundant life if those who have been privileged by birth or by education do not fulfill their obligations to society and take their rightful places in community, state, and national life. The test of the worth of any school is, in the last analysis, the record of her alumni… it is our sincere hope that the tradition of service instilled and nurtured here under such wise guidance may endure always to the lasting benefit of the country and the world.”
Let’s fast-forward to the school I visited last fall, under the leadership of Mr. Boyden’s former pupil, Eric Widmer. As founding headmaster of King’s Academy in Jordan, Mr. Widmer will not only be instrumental in translating the Deerfield ethos of service into a distant, yet critical area of the world, but will continue to open valuable educational opportunities for those of us back home. It was King Abdullah himself, class of 1980, who in his address to this year’s graduates in June, urged them to sustain this finest of the school’s traditions. He said:
“That sense of character, that heart, is what you bring to the future, and it has never been more important. That’s because for all that has changed, some things haven’t changed enough. Vast numbers of people across our globe still suffer poverty, hardship, and relentless conflict… no person, no nation can ignore the hopes of others around the world. We are tied by inseparable kinship and shared dreams.”
As many of you heard me say at the school meeting last fall, this is why I value the school’s growing commitment to a global perspective in curricular matters and faculty development initiatives. Contact with people who are different from us is no longer a question of choice, but a matter of fact. The solutions to the more serious problems we face today, from terrorism, to climate change, and infectious disease, to name just a few, demand transnational, collaborative approaches. Therefore, the education of leaders for the 21st century will require that we equip you, our students, not only with a firm knowledge and understanding of the self and of our traditions, but also with the flexibility of mind and appreciation of the other that will prepare you for responsible world citizenship. What better way to achieve this goal, than to open our doors to students from different regions of the globe, from the Bahamas, Bermuda, Botswana, Croatia, France, Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, Panama, Singapore, Thailand, Ukraine, Korea, Canada, and Hong Kong, as is the case this year?
As we further consider how to translate our founding values into our current context, I also applaud the emphasis on merit as the main criterion for gaining access to this community of learners. This emphasis is embedded in the school’s commitment to redress what the late John Rawls called the “undeserved inequalities of (inherited) wealth and natural endowment.” For, as he explains, “the natural distribution (of advantages) is neither just nor unjust… These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way institutions deal with these facts” (Theory of Justice). What could be a more compelling testimony of the academy’s response to this challenge than its determination to make the experience available to an increasingly diverse group of students? Isn’t this the worthy principle that Bob Kaufmann, as Headmaster in 1989, invoked in opening again the school’s doors to talented young women? Without his leadership in this regard, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
What an exciting and promising opportunity this historical juncture brings us! Our success, as we move forward, will depend on our ability to translate our founding traditions to the Deerfield of the future, a task that will demand hard work, but also creativity, courage, spirited debate, as well as a joint sense of purpose.
Let me end by reflecting briefly on our school’s motto. It calls us to “be worthy of our heritage.” It is a motto that wisely embraces past and future, the certainty of former accomplishments, and the challenge of becoming the shapers of a better world. My sincere hope, as we begin yet another chapter in the history of this academy, is to live up to the formidable legacy of my predecessors, and to join you in our collective effort to translate this age-tested maxim into relevant, responsible action.
By Bob Merriam ’43, Former Faculty
Reunion Weekend, June 8, 2006
Though I never heard Mr. Boyden state it, I believe he had a vision that by bringing boys from all over the country to Deerfield he could develop leaders with a sense of responsibility and humility that would guarantee the democracy of the nation. He often said Tom Ashley was responsible for the mission.
Beginning in the twenties he began to refine this vision and hired teachers who taught values along with responsibility and humility. They were not scholars but schoolmasters, and they built the school with a heart that has been carried on to this day.
Many of those whom he hired stayed on for thirty years, making a lasting contribution to the school and the vision. The first of these were Red Sullivan, Emmet Cook, and Babe Baldwin.
Red was in many ways the person whom Mr. Boyden depended on. His devotion to his students was exceptional though he would not give any evidence of it. Master of the John Williams house, he often sent his boys off on night runs when they were out of line. He told me that he tried during his first year at Deerfield to have heart to heart talks, but he changed that when one boy said: “Mr. Sullivan, please just hit us; not all that talk.” Every three weeks Red, Tony Mahar, and I would plan the Dining Room table assignments. During study hall one night a boy sought permission to get up from his desk. Red nodded and said, “When someone asks what my contribution has been to education, I can say I gave permission to more than 2000 boys to go to the bathroom.”
Emmett Cook was strong and steady, well known for reading the roll. Many graduates can still recite the entire roll call they heard night after night. As the Boydens did not serve coffee on Sunday nights, Dick and Emmett would invite the bachelor faculty for coffee before the Sing. It was a wonderful half hour. Dick is 99 and lives in Kentucky.
Babe Baldwin provided the classroom strength, humor, and support, which Mr. Boyden could call on.
Of course, Mrs. Boyden was the strength behind her husband and believed strongly in him and in what he was building. More of her later, but anyone who was at the New York dinner the year of Mrs. Boyden’s retirement will remember her talk in which she said, “There are some who would be amazed at how far that little frog has jumped.”
There were and there are many faculty who have stayed on for thirty years or more, and they were and are significant in what is here today.
Edgar Nichols was sure he was the ultimate determiner of social behavior. He looked forward each year to the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis when he could join those whom he thought were his social equals. When Mr. Coolidge came to visit, Edgar would be called upon to provide proper conversation. On a trip to Northeast Harbor for a visit with Nelson Rockefeller, Mr. Boyden asked Edgar what time he thought supper would be. Edgar replied, “Mr. Boyden, I am sure the Rockefellers speak of it as dinner.”
Mel Hitchcock’s wife explained the rules of behavior to new faculty wives by calling them aside and telling them that the women of Deerfield did not smoke on the campus, and then she would light up. Every afternoon Mel was in the locker room in the gymnasium keeping order and squeegeeing the water that often flowed from the main shower room. One of the strengths of the school was that the faculty could be called upon to do all sorts of jobs that in this age might not be considered important. During the 1936 flood, many were moved to the dormitories. When the dormitories were filled, some of the older ladies in town were sent to the station. Mel was put in charge and took great delight in tucking the ladies into their cots.
Mr. Boyden was highly respected by the gymnasium janitors throughout New England for he insisted that when Deerfield teams leave the visiting team locker room they picked up all of the trash and that towels be neatly piled in one place. He had a thing about towels and many afternoons checked the Deerfield locker rooms to make sure towels were not hanging out of lockers. If they were, he took the locker number and at the Evening Meeting asked to speak to the boy whose locker it was.
Bart Boyden of vocabulary test fame, 125 word paragraphs written on the blackboard, topic sentences, great truths, and soccer believed strongly in whatever he did. One of the reasons Bart liked to teach George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss was that it was loaded with great truths, such as “It is the women who bring grace to the house.” In my senior year I lived with the freshman in the Arms helping Bart and Lee. When I began to teach, I followed many of Bart’s theories, 125 word paragraphs and topic sentences. Mr. Boyden often walked through the dormitories during study hall and one night found me wrestling with one of the freshman. He taught me a lesson in school mastering when he pulled me aside and said “This is a school not a camp.”
Art Williams was the ‘Ah!’ man of Ancient History. A competitor who would run over an opponent to get to the soccer ball, he headed the soccer system and was a great tactician. He traveled with me on all away games and sat on the bench during home games. Though he would make suggestions to me, he never took over.
Ralph Oatley, the director of the Glee Club had his problems, but Mr. Boyden stuck with him because he brought such recognition to the school. His Glee Clubs were better than all competitors. One evening at Glee Club practice in the Barn, Mrs. Fairhurst arrived in her fur coat and joined in the singing. She was the wife of Judge Fairhurst, the lawyer who defended the teacher thought to be the man who shot the Mount Hermon headmaster. She had a history of wearing a fur coat, but nothing else. Arriving at her destination she would remove her coat to the consternation of those around. Ralph let her sing, but I was summoned to talk to her. She came out of the Barn like a real lady saying she had come to see Mrs. Boyden, but thought the singing was so wonderful she decided to do that instead.
Nelson West was a very bright and capable language teacher who loved the hills and his garden. Another great gardener was Charles Huntington Smith, better known as Beaver. He was a distinguished teacher of Latin. His students stood when they recited and were called upon as their names came up on the cards Beaver had made for each student in the class. He shuffled the cards so that no one ever knew when he might be called. He believed in punctuality and one night was asked to address the Garden Club at 8:00. He began to speak at 8:00 though there was no audience. At the Sunday afternoon meetings, Beaver stood at the back of the room, hoping to be called upon to tell a story. If he was called upon, he was delighted and told stories such as the drunk who asked the conductor how many days it was between Christmas and New Year. “Seven,” replied the conductor. How many days is it between Christmas and New Year? “Seven, I told you” said the conductor. “No. It is 359.”
And there was Ernest Coffin, always known, even by his wife, as Mr. Coffin. He also believed in punctuality and closed the door of his classroom as soon as the buzzer sounded. His desks were completely free of any marks by pen or pencil and were inspected before and after each class.
Ben Haviland, the lacrosse player, was held in great esteem by lacrosse coaches and players throughout the country. He continued to scrimmage with his teams throughout his career. A cheery man who taught German, he greeted everyone with “Wie Gets.”
John Suitor played the piano and the organ for all the Sings, taking directions from Mr. Boyden who would hold up two fingers when he wanted John to play another verse. John was a very good English teacher and fond of the poetry of Robert Frost, whom he often quoted. He was a fixture at Deerfield as his mother was the school nurse and his stepfather the Superintendent of Grounds.
Sheldon Howe came on to the faculty from Princeton, which he left because he did not wish to write. He wanted to teach. I was always amazed at his ability to recognize the students the first day of athletics when he walked the fields taking attendance. He was well known for reading every word in the New York Times. His reading often got the better of him, for he read newspapers in chronological order, and was often behind, so there were stacks of the newspaper sitting in his study, waiting for him to get them.
Margery, for years was Mrs. Boyden’s companion on trips abroad. She also was in charge of any art or furniture the school owned. She made and dressed the students for the plays. For the 150th she made loin cloths for all the Indians. They were rather skimpy affairs and had a tendency to rise up showing the jock strap underneath. That was not quite right, so she weighted them down by sewing pebbles into the lining. She was a wonderful lady and became quite well known for her expertise in tying the netted canopies for canopy beds
Claude Allen became very important to Mr. Boyden. He left Deerfield to take over Hebron Academy, which had closed during the war. Claude was a big man, confident in every way. One time Mr. Boyden and Claude were on the dock of a sea coast town in Maine. One of the locals turned to his companion and said “There goes the famous Headmaster from Deerfield.” “Oh,” said his companion, “I would know, him but who is the little squirt with him?”
A few years ago Connie, the Allen’s daughter, told me that one Easter she lost her corsage coming home from church and Gordie McRae picked it up and pulled the petals off one by one saying she loves me, she loves me not. Mrs. Allen heard about this, found Gordie and blasted him for not returning the corsage to the little girl. Gordie was upset and a few hours later knocked on the Allen door with a large bouquet of daffodils he had picked from Bart Boyden’s garden. This is the same little girl who when she applied to Northfield, John Boyden told her he hoped she wouldn’t, because she might marry a Mount Hermon boy. She did.
There were some wonderful staff people throughout the years. Ed Bundy used to weed the gardens and trim the grass along the walks. Ed had difficulty walking and sat while he worked himself along, but Mr. Boyden kept him on. When he heard that one of the boys had made disparaging remarks about Ed, there was a special meeting called in which the entire school was told in no uncertain terms that all persons needed to be treated with respect.
Josephine Gexlar was in charge of special dinners at the Boydens’, as well as in charge of the ladies doing the cleaning in the dormitories. Trustees meetings in those days were short and sweet; usually two hours, followed by a luncheon. Mr. Boyden did not want the trustees to have too much time to give him directions. Mr. Boyden heard that one of the trustees, who probably had asked too many questions, liked oyster stew, and so Mrs. Gexlar was called upon to prepare the stew. She was delighted and ordered the oysters at a local market. This upset Eddie Root who ordered the food for the Dining Room, and he cancelled Mrs. Gexlar’s order and refused to order himself. I was asked to discuss the situation. We reached a compromise and the stew was created. The trustee was so pleased he became very understanding during the remainder of his tenure.
John Boyden was often placed in a difficult spot by his father who would override John’s decisions in the admissions office. This situation sometimes created misunderstandings about John, but he was truly a fine person well thought of by the faculty and staff.
Larry Bohrer was a quiet and capable chemistry teacher who worked closely with Mrs. Boyden. Larry and his wife, Ruth, were most helpful to Mrs. Boyden in many ways, even keeping her bottle of sherry in their home for those times she needed a little something. Larry lived to be 92 and continued to be the gentleman he had always been. During his last years he did not recognize anyone, but Ruth took him every place. His stock answer to all whom he met was, “Of course, I know you.”
Dick Hatch was a great English teacher, but he did not support all the ideas of Deerfield. His particular dislike was the announcements made over the squawk box to the classrooms. One day he pulled the box off the wall, determined not to have his lectures interrupted again.
Frank Conklin and Hazel Clark were the founders of the Deerfield Development Office. They created an office in which all alumni were treated with respect and interest and you can see how it paid off.
They were followed by Bob Crow who loved his job for it took him to the homes of the wealthy where he could hold his own. He was also a good Republican and in his history classes would act out the great speeches of the political right. One night one of the boys in his corridor decided to take off to Greenfield. When a boy was not in his room at check in, the Corridor Master and the Headmaster would not go to bed until it was determined where the boy was. About 1:00 am the student arrived after his trip to Greenfield and found Mr. Boyden and Bob waiting for him. Bob was angry. Mr. Boyden said, “Mrs. Boyden has been very worried about you, and so tomorrow morning when she will be working in the greenhouse at 5:00 am, I want you to be there and apologize.”
Mrs. Boyden, I am sure, carried off the surprise visit with her usual understanding and would probably have put the student to work carrying pails of water or dirt until she had completed her gardening for the morning. Mrs. Boyden always took the boy’s side when her husband was upset about the behavior of the student body. In class she would refer to the incident by suggesting that the Little Man would get over it. She was the perfect foil for him. She told Mary that when she became upset with her husband, she threw her wedding ring under the bed and by the time she had crawled under the bed to get it, she had forgotten what the difficulty had been. One day when entertaining a visitor at lunch the conversation was about Dr. Schweitzer. “Who is he?” asked Mr. Boyden. The visitor was aghast. Mrs. Boyden smoothed out the moment when she said, “Ask him who Jesus Christ was.”
On a fund raising trip to Florida, which Mrs. Boyden did not wish to attend, she asked for a few days away from The Breakers in Palm Beach. She liked the Gulf and Bay resort that he chose, but called it the Gulp and Pay Club.
When I asked Mrs. Boyden if she would like to come to our dormitory Christmas party, she said “No, if you want me, ask me. Don’t ask if I want to.” That was a good lesson. She was always giving lessons, as many in her classes discovered.
There are so many faculty and so many stories. Bill Hart stepped into my room one day raving about a book he was reading. I asked what it was about. “Oh,” he said, “I don’t know. I have read it three times, and I still do not understand it.”
Craig Colgate had a crossed eye and one day told a student who bumped into him to watch where he was going. The student replied, “Mr. Colgate, I suggest you go where you are looking.”
I understand that Russ Miller’s father drove him to Deerfield and left him there though he was not on the accepted list or ever had made an application to attend, but a room was found for him. He returned to Deerfield where he was on the faculty for over forty years. He loved his job and was a good teacher. He was taken under the wing of Bill Avirett, who taught history before leaving Deerfield to become the Education Editor of the New York Times. During the war he would give a weekly war report at the Evening Meeting. He never had any notes, but pretended that they were written on his thumbnail. We all could place where the fighting was occurring, because he would relate everything to Deerfield as the center. So Berlin would be Deerfield and the Russian front would be Canada, Italy would be New York, and so forth. Russ took over as Headmaster before Bob Kaufman was hired, and brought an easy transition to the school at a point when it needed the calming steady influence of a well respected teacher.
Al Schell served the athletic stock room for years. He took great pride in the look of the Deerfield teams.
There were many fine men who went on to run their own schools. At one time there were thirty five other schools run by Deerfield men, including Ted Eames, Jim Wickenen, Don Hagerman, Jack Pidgeon, Bobby Marr, and Twit Sheehan. The tradition is continuing with others such as Skip Mattoon at Hotchkiss.
Daddy Bogues taught English and was fascinated by essays, particularly those about the White Cliffs of Dover, which his classes studied for six weeks.
Eddie Switzer, Amherst storekeeper and coach of hockey, would once in a while put on skates, and lean against the boards as he worked himself up and down the rink.
Phillips Bill taught mathematics. Seldom rising from his chair, he wrote on the blackboard by writing over his shoulder.
One of the great teachers at Deerfield was Bob McGlynn, who had his job at Deerfield because Andover would hire no Catholic. His classrooms were a delight for he had a bit of whimsy connected with his love of literature and the Irish poets. He befriended Seamus Heaney, Peter Fallon, John McPhee, and others. His connection with the Irish poets led to the creation of the Deerfield Press along with John O’Brien and Tim Engelland.
There are many who are still here or have recently retired who brought their spirit to Deerfield. Jay and Mimi Morsman are ones we all know. Jay has been at Deerfield more years than anyone, except Mr. and Mrs. Boyden. Jay brought Mimi to Deerfield and she constantly had to explain to parents she was a faculty wife, rather than one of the student’s little sisters.
Larry Boyle, a Latin teacher and swimming coach, endeared himself to thousands of students.
Art Ruggles came to Deerfield as a chemistry teacher, ran the skiing program, and the waiters in the kitchen. Many knew him as Santa Claus, which he played for years at Santa’s Land and for various families in the area.
Jim Smith, football coach and loyal faculty member for years is still coaching football; now at Mohawk Regional High School. He does it because he can instill something beyond football to his players. I love the story his wife, Carol, tells about one of their recent players who telephoned wanting to talk to Jim. Carol asked for his name so she could give him a message. “Sure,” said the boy, “tell him number 16.” When the school had a dinner honoring Jim, there were 14 speeches and 250 people, all but one of whom hugged him. When I told Carol I wasn’t going to hug him, she suggested Jim was a good hug and well worth it. Jim tells the story of the day of the Andover football game, which was also the same day as when President Kennedy was speaking at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library in Amherst. Mr. Boyden was invited to the dinner following, but excused himself as he wanted to be at Andover for the game.
Every person who met Mr. Boyden has a story about him. As a young man he wanted to tell the world about his school and weekends during the summer he sat on the back porch of Ephraim Williams House in hope some visitors would walk up Albany Road. If they did he would intercept them and ask if he could help or show them about. One group of ladies took him up on his offer and after completing the tour of the John Williams House, one asked if he ever saw the Headmaster. “Most everyday,” he said. “Well, you tell him to keep up the good work and here is a quarter for your help.”
One of my jobs during the summer was to sit on the back porch in order to greet visitors. One day a huge man walked up Albany Road. I intercepted him and showed him around the school. He was Herman Schleiker, Hitler’s iron and steel commissioner, who had been cleared by the Allies of War Crimes. His son, Gero, was in the Class of 1959.
Of course, Mr. Boyden disapproved of liquor, and said his mother told him not to drink. When Charlie Titsworth became minister of the church, he one Sunday substituted wine for the usual grape juice served at communion. Mr. Boyden was getting deaf at the time and sometimes spoke louder than he should. “Helen,” he said, “I think this grape juice has gone bad.”
Fund raising became an art to Mr. Boyden. When we called on Mrs. Phipps in Palm Beach, he justified the Cadillac by saying the butler will expect anyone coming in a Cadillac would be acceptable. When he stayed at the Breakers he often invited Claude Fuess of Andover for a ride in the Cadillac, but when he went to Hobe Sound to call, Dr. Fuess had to stay in the car. Mr. Boyden didn’t want to share any gifts with Andover. When he broke his ankle he kept the cast on longer than necessary for it was helpful in getting the donor to feel sorry for him. Mrs. Boyden, however, when she broke her ankle could hardly wait to get out of the cast. Charlie Merrill called him “the greatest beggar he had ever known.”
He liked horses for they provided him with an entry to people he would never had known. He loaned President Eisenhower one of his carriages, and newspapers throughout the country covered the story of the carriage and Deerfield. He took anyone of importance on a ride through the North Meadows. In his younger years he drove through the valley and the hills around Deerfield selling his school, and chose a horse that would stand still while he visited.
There are many stories about Eric Widmer, but I like the one about the girl, who while playing her instrument at Baccalaureate missed a few notes. She was very upset, and Eric knowing it, found her crying behind one of the buildings. He told her, she should not worry anymore than the soldier did who misplayed the trumpet at the service for President Kennedy.
There were many others whom I have not mentioned, but who contributed to the school and who stayed on there for years. There was Clem Schuler who directed the band and the Glee Club, Red Ball who used to throw his shoe at the television when he didn’t like the play of one of the professional athletes, Dick Cobb and his wife, Helen, who served wonderful feeds to the boys in Dean Hall. She also was in charge of the Browsing Library and censored the magazines with pictures she felt too revealing for boys to see. Burt and Roberta Poland were two fine scientists. She gathered and recorded orchids throughout the valley and found her way out of the woods by two compasses to a spot where Burt waited. If you were invited to dinner at their house, you were offered seconds, but only after Burt addressed his dog, saying too bad there would be none left for him.
Many of you have stories that should be told, and there are many more faculty who should be mentioned, so if you have some good stories I would like to know of them. Let me know your thoughts.
2006 Commencement Guest Address
by His Majesty King Abdullah II ’80 of Jordan
Commencement Address, May 28th, 2006
B’ism Allah, alrahman alrahim, In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Headmaster, friends, it is a tremendous pleasure to be back at Deerfield among all of you. And students, I am honored to help celebrate your commencement.
In life this is one of the rare moments, not so much a turning point, but a poising point when you can stop, look back at real success and think about the path ahead. Allow me first to congratulate some of you who have really been looking forward to this day, from that first Deerfield visit, through all the lessons learned, term time and vacation time, papers and reports and college applications, the worries and the joys, the late night emails, the love and support, and all of those phone calls. Deerfield parents, please accept our respect and thanks.
Men and women of the class of 2006, this is your day. I am here to welcome you to a remarkable community, the community of Deerfield alumni. You will find us all around the world. Each and every one of us knows what it means to look up to the hills and be part of this experience and school. You learn when you come here that a great institution is not just a place, it’s the people who give this school its continuity and character, its unique spirit of community and excellence. For you, as for all of us, that experience does not end today; it simply begins a new phase.
The Deerfield ethos is for a lifetime. As you carry that spirit forward you will shape the future more than you know. Your class comes of age in a world of change in global economics and politics and human knowledge and capability. That’s a reality my own class is very familiar with. In 1980 when we graduated the Cold War was in the daily headlines. Now it’s a chapter in the history books. Technologies that were cutting edge just a short time ago are today in museums. Do you know that the first IBM PC wasn’t even on the market until 1981, and it held 256 kilobytes of memory. Kilobytes. All the technologies we take for granted today, cell phones, laptops, global communications, were barely on the horizon. I can guarantee you in a few years you and I will be working with whole new capabilities and facing new challenges. Now how do we prepare for that kind of future?
In Jordan, in America, in every other country it starts with a command of the basics, a foundation of knowledge and skills. There’s an old saying in my part of the world: Knowledge is the best kind of wealth. It’s easy to carry, nobody can take it away from you, and it has value wherever you go. Let me add, contrary to what it felt like when you were studying for exams, your brain cannot overfill. The more we know, the better we can understand what’s coming. In business and technology, in the environment, in global affairs and world civilizations, the message is ‘keep learning.’ But in a dynamic, diverse world success requires more.
To thrive throughout your life you must be prepared to think your way through change, and growth, and challenge. The best schools foster critical thinking and a restless curiosity. Strong ethics, respect for other people, other viewpoints, honesty, responsibility, compassion. At Deerfield we’ve all heard it said ‘keep it on the high level, and finish up strong.’ That sense of character, that heart, is what you bring to the future, and it has never been more important. That’s because for all that has changed, some things haven’t changed enough.
Vast numbers of people across our globe still suffer poverty, hardship, and relentless conflict. In my own region, too many lives for too many years have been shattered by violence and hopelessness. It’s difficult to stand here today without thinking about students in Iraq, Palestine, and Israel whose futures have been derailed by years of conflict. My friends, no person, no nation can ignore the hopes of others around the world. We are tied by inseparable kinship and shared dreams. Your fellow students everywhere want what you want, justice and safety, and the opportunity to build lives of prosperity and peace. As long as these hopes are unanswered, our whole world pays a terrible price.
But friends, we have choices. We can’t turn away from them, and thinking about all the barriers and stagnation this will bring. We can work together to build the peace people need to live in security and confidence. We can expand opportunity and win-win development. We can open a new dialogue between faiths and cultures in genuine acceptance and respect. The job for tomorrow’s leaders is to find the opportunities that lie within the challenges. Each and every one of you will play a vital role. More than ever people need to understand each other, our common bonds and interests, as well as our different histories and sometimes views. Deerfield Academy has made a huge contribution, especially in reaching out to the Arab world.
Now there will be a new opportunity to work together as King’s Academy opens its campus in Jordan. We wanted to bring the Deerfield model to the Middle East, a coed boarding school where faculty and students are close, academic studies encourage great work, and life is enriched with competitive sports, lively arts, and real community service. We are deeply grateful for the support and encouragement of so many people in the Deerfield family, especially the great Class of 1980. We look forward to a continuing special relationship between the schools. Indeed, when King’s first term starts we have just the right Headmaster to welcome the students, a superb educator and great leader, Eric Widmer. I guess Eric isn’t the retiring type, and let me say we are heartily thankful for that, sir. Sir, we look forward to welcoming you and Mira to Jordan, and I hope that every one of you will also pay us a visit.
Let me say a few words to faculty and staff. Deerfield graduates are the living legacies of people who inspired us and believed in us, and were there for us. I was in one of the first Deerfield classes taught by a great young teacher named Tedman Littwin. He went on to encourage and motivate decades of students, and his loss this year cannot take this legacy away. Our prayers are with his family as well as with his friends. Ask any Deerfield graduate, and you will hear about the teachers who made a difference in our lives. And by the way, not every great teacher was in a classroom. I think we’ve all received a few life lessons from people like Norm and Dottie in the stockroom. And to every one of you, thank you for all you give.
Here in Deerfield, and at King’s Academy too, the spirit of community and achievement will continue. But just as real, as the way the spirit continues in every graduate who reaches out to make a connection and to make a difference in our world. In a sense, that’s the idea behind the Green Key tradition; a hand of friendship, student to student, and a chance to mentor others in your turn. Now you graduates will be Green Keys in a larger world. Each of you, in your own way will choose what doors you open, and each of you will choose whether you hold those doors open for others as well as for yourselves. Carry the Deerfield spirit forward, choose great things, and believe in your power to make a difference. The century is yours.
Congratulations, and may God bless you all.
2006 Baccalaureate Address
by Terry Driskill, Deerfield Academy English Teacher
2006 Baccalaureate Address, May 21st, 2006
Your invitation to speak arrived fifteen minutes after Tyler Littwin’s news of his father’s release. Indeed, in our collective mind’s eye, “a good man was whole again, with lines untangled, a steady breeze filling his sail, and a quiet wake left in spring waters.” In a better world, Mr. Littwin would be up here tonight; in our imperfect space I can hope only to speak for him. More understated, even than usual, but no less rye, Tedman waited four full days to announce to me the topic; he was, understandably, somewhat miffed for my not having heard him the first time. Remember, I read to you a month ago that he had driven life into a corner, “spending his last days here with his family, on walks around the valley, and yet another rereading of Walden.”
Thoreau’s Walden, the only sacred book I know to have never been coerced into persecution, bigotry, and war, unless you point to the “Battle of the ants,” and there the only casualty a painfully extended metaphor. Not wanting to bother Lisa for the loan of Tedman’s first copy, I checked out the second, lying pacifically on the shelves of room forty-eight. And as is true with all our most thumb- and eye-worn books, Walden‘s spine readily revealed a trail of its most frequently visited passages. Its covers pinned against the ancient oak tables, the book opened its pages to tell me that when Thoreau felt the necessity to deepen the stream of his life, he “never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” that companion’s discourse silence, “the sequel to all duller discourses, the only language in which we hear and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” In the name of Ralph Waldo, Henry David, and the Oversoul, Amen.
The need to go inside yourself is so obvious, I fear that that we hesitate to say it; so obvious, in fact, that in emerging from our year’s conversation with some of our best authors, I can’t think of one who didn’t tell us that the self resides in the interior; and yet, since they insisted on repeating the lesson, I assume they thought we needed to hear it once again. It is so obvious that we tend to forget how essential and yet how damnably difficult it is to get there. Essential, because a life that fails to search inwardly for its self is, quite simply, a failure; difficult, because, first it demands that you oppose the intellectual habits we have told lead to success; and, second, because it swims against the current cultural tides that allow neither of its conditions — time and silence.
“The secret way leads inward. Withdraw from all outward things, retreat into the ground of your own being, and there in the inmost depth of the self you will come to self-knowledge,” so silently says the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Mystic, the Existentialist and, yes, the Transcendentalist. By having you leave the sanctity of your bedrooms to come to us, we may well have implied that all important knowledge lies outside in the teachers, who have, in turn, gone outside themselves to find what they know in books. We have subtly, but assuredly, redoubled the suggestion that all important knowledge is exterior to you, by having your intellects judged externally, by invoking the horrible specter of the testing services to evaluate, codify, and quantify you with their relentless battery of acronyms: the AP’s, the ACT’s, the SAT I’s and II’s, and, inexorably, some day soon, the SAT III’s. With all our external pressure to satisfy the ‘God of Transcript,’ we probably forgot to tell you the self-knowledge that resides within you is inborn knowledge, knowledge a priori. Only you possess it, only you can draw on it, only you can evaluate its progress. Last Tuesday night, Solomon’s last memory was of Mr. Littwin’s surprising announcement, on the first day of class, that he didn’t care at all about his student’s grades. Now do you understand why, Solomon?
So remember, tonight marks the commencement of Commencement, that you are about to begin stages of your lives that may last a long time; and that if you don’t pause now to know yourself, you will be vulnerable to all those who will be more than happy to define you, and to direct that fraudulent self toward their fraudulent ends.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Silence: The self, as Thoreau knew, paradoxically speaks to us in silence. As Herman Melville wrote in Pierre, “All profound things and emotions are preceded by and attended by silence.” Pico Ayer mused that, “We often say that silence is where we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below ourselves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.” Surely, this is what Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Ramsay discovers in her “wedge-shaped core of darkness,” where “silent, alone, all the being and the doing, expansive glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity to being oneself.” Your self, then, attempts to communicate to you in intuitive whispers; unless you build into your lives the habit of silence, you will never hear those above the shouts of all the others who try to define you in their coarser tongues.
A world that confuses increasingly means and ends, that devotes infinitely more effort to the stylish production and diffusion of sound than it does to the thoughts that might be communicated with that sound, increasingly robs us of those moments in which we are allowed an intimation of ourselves. For decades, adolescents, tired of formulas and vocabulary lists, locked the door against parents and siblings, and lay on the bed thinking–according to the world’s currency–about nothing. They were, in fact, beyond and below thought, in the intuitive discovery of self, the mind’s natural complement to the body’s frightening and wonderful changes. Now the decibel din invades the mind through those ubiquitous little wires, so that the thirteen-year-old confounds his Ipod’s insistent bass with the very beating of his heart. The adult hand, mistaking silence for loneliness, moves reflexively from ignition to surround sound as we enter the potentially fruitful isolation of our car. The thumb, even more fearful of silent spaces, fills the senses with television’s vapid babble should we ever find ourselves home alone. The cycle, sadly, is predictably vicious: strangers to silence, we become strangers to ourselves; fearful of that stranger, we become fearful of silence. Victims of this most ironic sort of xenophobia, we employ our machines as weapons to protect ourselves from ourselves.
Time: Modern cultures, and none more so than our little subculture at Deerfield, have been even more methodical in filling time, than they have in filling silence. Much of this comes, I fear, from the beliefs behind a cliche that, like many cliches, have the nasty habit of revealing the soul of the cultures that concoct them. “Time is Money,”meaning that in a world that has systematically denied the importance of all but material value, time invested in knowing yourself-since self-knowledge doesn’t appear as an indicator of your gross financial worth-diminishes you. These cultural accountants are, of course, according to their own criteria, right. People who know themselves are notoriously indifferent to the world’s measurement of worth. As far as I can tell, Mr. Littwin possessed only two, equally tattered coats: the one that sat undisturbed for 30 years on the back of his chair in Room 48; the other, this one harder to locate, must have loitered for thirty years in the faculty cloakroom, because we never saw it on him immediately before or after a sit-down meal.
When I was about to leave the Marine Corps, a perverse curiosity suggested I attend the recruiting lectures by the head hunters from the FBI, the CIA and IBM, and several other corporations who hide their real intentions behind the slick efficiency of initials. All three speakers–curiously, memory suggests they were all the same fellow–agreed on one thing. They wanted their recruits to report for duty within six weeks after their discharge from the Marine Corps, which, as far as I could figure out, meant that they didn’t want anyone to get far enough away in time and space from a para-military existence to, in the diction of the day, “find himself.” They obviously worried that the fellow who has a good sense of who he is might resist the self they hoped to create in their indoctrination.
An anecdote–stuff from a bad novel, but true. As I shaved one last time on the day of my discharge, my Marine Corps watch slip-slid off the porcelain sink and broke. I didn’t buy a replacement for a decade. I can’t remember that Mr. Littwin ever wore one.
And just as we see our self with washed eyes in silence and time, thus do we see the world when we emerge. Leslie Hotchkiss eloquently told us how quickly Mr. Littwin could descend into silence and time, and, then, without transition, emerge with pearls for his students:
I remember walking into a dark classroom one day – Mr. Littwin often held class under only the natural light from the three large windows that lined the far side of the classroom. Instead of commencing class immediately, Mr. Littwin simply sat in his chair, silently, peacefully, glancing between the three windows. We all sat, waiting, knowing he would soon reveal that day’s life lesson. “Each window,” he explained “reveals a statue of our country’s history.” He then proceeded to explain that from his angle, from that particular seat, from his sole point of view, he could see the Brick Church, the post office, and the branches of the tree pressed against the glass of the middle window. These three images, he explained, represented religion, government, and nature -the three pillars of American History.
Now, I wouldn’t be bothering you with this lofty idealism unless I thought it could be applied to your lives almost immediately. Next Monday morning-probably very late-you will awaken to one of the most important spaces in your life. Many young people have found it to be an enemy; I suggest you recognize it as a friend. Many have found it a lonely space; I suggest you fill it with yourself. It is unlikely that you will ever again be as free from the world’s impositions upon your time and silence; from being the self that classmates, parents, teachers-almost always with the best intentions-have demanded you be. We have all implied that you could see yourself in the images we reflected back to you. We were so emphatic in defining you, in fact, that it probably seemed presumptuous to doubt us. But all people can ever tell you about yourself is what you are in relation to their world or, even more dangerous, what they would have you be. Eager to please, we accept this handful of fragments as our selves; hungry as we are for human affection, we gladly piece ourselves together accordingly.
From tomorrow until you set foot on campus in the fall, you will be free of our definitions of who we think you are; you have three months to discover who you really are. And believe me, before those special interest groups–the young Republicans, the politically correct bunch, the hyphenated American clubs–; before the Greeks try to circumscribe you within, once again, the narrow compass of three letter–Delta Delta Delta, Phi Sigma Kappa–you had better arm yourself with your self.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I am not suggesting that once you take this interior voyage you should refuse to come out again. I am suggesting that, unless you find your self in time and silence, you are little good to us who so desperately need you. It is, in fact, in that silence when our self speaks to us beyond words, we find, too, the other, our neighbor, not so much right beside, as inside ourselves. Having discovered the depths and worth of our own being we recognize in the other the same interior worth; we realize that they are not other at all.
When my wife and I first looked out across the New Zealand bay that has become our summer home, we could see only a single shiny tip of rock, about the size of, say, Paris Hilton, breaking the surface. When we returned the following morning at low tide, the base of that tip spread walrus like across the entire crescent, the geological feet, in fact, of the two craggy cliffs standing guard at each end of the bay. Volcanic, mollusked, the rock, when you walked out to touch it, felt like eternity. Mrs. Ramsay, asking always, “What is this thing called ‘knowing people?'” intuited that the apparitions, the shiny tip, the things you think you know us by are childish. And that it is only when we discover the base of ourselves spreading limitlessly, do we intuit that others too are unfathomly deep.
The theologian Paul Tillich, wrestling with the “riddle of inequality,” tries to understand what his Christ could have meant in the ostensibly offensive claim that “to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mk. 4-25). Tillich argues that, if we define what we have as “material goods, intellectual gifts and the advantages to increase both,” we cannot deny that life confirms Christ’s words abundantly. This morning’s news revealed that some of the desperately poor who had lost the little they did have to the a 9.0 earthquake and the attendant Tsunami, had to leave behind what little they could amass in these last two years in the face of an erupting volcano. Tillich concludes that to live with ourselves in such a world “we must realize the ultimate unity of all beings, how our deep and eternal self is inextricably tied to that of all others. We participate in each other’s having and we participate in each other’s not having.”
As King Lear finally figured out, we, who have so much must “show the heavens more just.” We must experience what Jean-Paul Sartre calls anguish, the feeling that we cannot help escape from our deep responsibility to others; the gnawing realization that even when we act to shake the superfluous to those who have not, inequality will remain a constant in the human condition, a realization that leads not to complacency but to the resolution that we must give even more to our other selves. Sure, many of those who have fled from their responsibility appear to have eluded, too, their anguish; surely, these people, Mr. Littwin would have argued, have eluded themselves. He gave his life to make such an escape impossible for you.
(With gratitude and apologies to W. H. Auden.)
For Tedman it was his last morning as himself.
Lisa had heard all night his other side arrangements,
Watched his fingers find an elusive chord.
Then the provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his students.
2004 Baccalaureate Address
by James C. Kapteyn ’79
Baccalaureate Address, May 23rd, 2004
When Juliet’s mother asks her how she feels about marriage-this is before she has fallen in love with Romeo-she says, “It is an honor that I dream not of.” I’ve always thought that was a remarkably clever response: what Juliet wants her mother to hear in her reply is, “Wow, getting married is such an honor I don’t even dare dream of it,” but what I think she really means is, “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t dream of getting married.” Well, until you all asked me, I would have said being your Baccalaureate Speaker was “an honor I dream not of.” Interpret that as you will.
Nevertheless, here I am, and here you are, and it is, indeed, a tremendous honor to stand before you.
I not only stand before you as your Baccalaureate Speaker, though; I also stand here before you as an alumnus and a teacher. And what standing here really makes me think of is back to the days when I was a student at Deerfield. Twenty-five years to the day I was sitting where you sit. In fact, I was sitting right there in that very seat.
I have no doubt that my memories of Deerfield will sound familiar to you.
When I first arrived on campus in the fall of 1976, I knew I had stumbled into the middle of a school whose history, beauty, stature, and strength towered above me. I felt small and feeble. At the same time, though, I was exhilarated because I somehow sensed that even as I, a newbie from nowhere, was just a little atom in the mass of Deerfield, that same mass of Deerfield was becoming part of me. Though the challenges in front of me were daunting, the school infused me with its strength.
Back in those days, ten years before Deerfield’s return to coeducation, just about the only time we saw girls was when they arrived by the busload for dances. I remember those dances all too well; basically I would cower against the wall in an agony of bashfulness for about three hours, until I finally got up the nerve to ask a girl to dance just as she was supposed to be getting back on the bus. My memories of my Deerfield days are all but devoid of romance.
I do remember loving the chicken cutlet sandwiches, however, and the shepherd’s pie. I remember the Dining Hall’s four great light fixtures that ever so slightly swayed in the cavernous air above us.
I remember Geometry class. I loved the procession of axioms and corollaries elegantly marching one after another to an impeccable proof. Given that angle ABC is bisected by line DE, prove that angle ABE is the complement of angle DBC. I could do that. I loved it. In Geometry there were no questions without answers, no loose ends, no dark mysteries. What at first might have seemed groundless and faint became absolutely rooted and fine.
I remember following our cheerleaders in songs and cheers, writing a term paper in U.S. History, playing Frisbee in front of Barton, first-waiting and second-waiting, painting banners for Choate Day, hiking to the rock, swimming in the river. I remember running the small loop. I remember memorizing Chaucer, playing backgammon and blackjack, singing and snoozing in School Meetings, directing strangers on Albany Road, meeting college reps in the Caswell.
I remember my English teachers. Mr. Durgin, who was Head of the Theatre Department, had the odd habit of somehow putting his unfiltered Camel cigarette to his lips by wrapping his arm around his head something like this. It was in this somewhat unsettling posture that he looked at me in the middle of a rehearsal for the senior play and summarily announced, “Kapteyn, you can’t act, so just pretend you can.”
I especially remember Mr. McGlynn, the dashing and astoundingly articulate gentleman ,whose portrait by Mr. Engelland hangs in the Faculty Lounge. I still have the essay grading rubric that he handed out to his AP English students; in it he explains the criteria he considered when grading our papers. One of the differences between an A and a B paper was, as he put it, “a certain felicity of style.” I loved that. He was one of many teachers who inspired me to push myself beyond where I had ever been. Like all my English teachers, he helped me to see that the epiphanies of understanding that occasionally illuminated my study of literature were invaluable treasures.
I remember the exhilarating exhaustion I felt after double session pre-season soccer practices. I remember reading the Scroll, reading my Economics, reading Sports Illustrated. I remember the nicknames we had for each other (like Ob Job, Sapper, and Greezy) and for our teachers (like Uncle Chuck, Park Bench, and the Titanium Cranium). I remember arriving at other schools and stepping off the bus with my teammates in jacket and tie.
All these memories stir my heart as in one way or another similar memories must stir yours, and I think of them fondly. Even before I left Deerfield I knew there were things and people that I would miss dearly, and I had a vague sense that I would never be in another place quite like it. Yet I was ready to move on. Deerfield had begun to feel a bit small, and I had begun to feel a bit restless. I was eager to sail out of the safe harbor of this valley and to challenge the waters of the world beyond.
But though I left Deerfield after graduation in 1979, Deerfield certainly didn’t leave me and, and though I can’t say I went to bed every night humming the “Deerfield Evensong,” the lessons I learned and the values I embraced in this valley in some small measure have ever since informed my decisions and shaped my longings.
Let me tell you about some of the pivotal points in my life over the past twenty-five years and then let me try to explain to you how Deerfield’s influence urged me along. I share these episodes with you not because they are interesting in and of themselves, necessarily, but because I think they’ll help me articulate what is truly great about what we all share and perhaps because they’ll help you to understand how you might think about your future as you plunge into the world beyond these hills.
After college, I followed my friends to New York City and secured a position at a leading and enormous advertising agency. My job was to evaluate the various kinds of advertising and to help determine how and where our clients should spend their advertising budgets. I found the work fairly easy and was promoted at a satisfying rate. After a little more than two years, I had become a head of a small group working on the media plans for some big accounts, namely B. F. Goodrich and Canon Copiers. My chief responsibility was to oversee the crunching of piles of numbers to determine, plan, and justify their advertising spending. I was doing exactly the sort of work that I thought would befit an ambitious graduate of Deerfield Academy and Trinity College.
In truth, however, I began get to the office later and later and to spend more and more time not preparing the budget reports, but reading the newspaper. When my supervisor finally called me in to give me a proverbial kick in the pants, I was ready to render my resignation.
My last day of work was fittingly anticlimactic. After a farewell lunch with some of my closest colleagues, I returned to my empty apartment and sat on the couch. My roommate, who, by the way, was a Deerfield classmate and who remains my dearest friend, was still away at class at the New York University School of Law. I was wearing a hand-me-down chalk striped suit that looked pretty good from a distance, but in truth the lining was in tatters and the pockets were full of holes and the fabric was irretrievably worn.
It was a hot summer day and I was still damp with sweat from the Lexington Line subway. I sat on the couch in a swirl of hollow elation. I kicked off my highly polished tasseled loafers, took off my jacket and tossed it over a chair. I peeled off my wrinkled shirt and tie. Then, with a surge of energy, I grabbed my threadbare suit pants at the knees and literally ripped them off my body and dropped them to the floor. There I sat in my boxers and knee-high socks wondering what was next.
About a year later, I was in Australia looking for a job. I had found a room in a dirt-cheap hotel on Bondi Beach on the outskirts of Sydney. I went to a bar to inquire about work. The bartender told me I wouldn’t want to work there–it was a rough place–but told me the manager would be in later that evening. I drifted to the adjoining pool room. A local and I had a bit of a run on the tables and we won three or four games in a row. When we lost, I went to the bar for a pint of beer. As I turned from the bar, I saw that two women had started to fight. I had never seen women fight before. As a gentleman with a boarding school background my instant reaction was to jump in and stop them. They kept fighting. My glass hit me in the teeth and spilled my beer. For an instant I met their glare. Their eyes were livid, their arms cocked. Someone stronger than I yanked me out of the way.
When I went to top off my pint, the bartender said, “You shouldn’t have done that, mate.” As I looked around at the scraggly hair, dirty fingernails, and greasy jeans, I felt that I had missed some crucial social signal, some key to the meaning of the past few moments. The fight was over. I swallowed an inch of my beer and returned to the relative calm of the pool room. Soon I was back on the table and my partner was on a roll.
While I was watching him shoot, a group of men from the bar came into the pool room. They came right to me. I leaned my pool cue on a video machine, but it fell over. I was slammed back against the machine. I thought how hard I must have been hit to slam back with such force. I was getting hit. There were four or five men taking shots at me. One had lifted me up in a bear hug while the others punched me. Though I could feel the knuckles connecting and though my face was snapping from side to side, somehow it didn’t hurt.
I looked out over their heads and fists. Some of the guys I had played pool with were watching. I looked back at the men beating me. I watched as one of them stepped to the front and started kicking me. He was kicking my torso with alternate feet, first one side and then the other. I tried vaguely to deflect the blows with my hands. I looked right at the man kicking me and tried to read his motive. Someone hit me in the side of the head. The blows came less frequently.
Then I found myself outside. My heart was beating loud and fast. I could see the white line of the surf on the beach off to my left. I looked at my hands. They were unmarked; no torn skin, no swelling, no blood. Most of my shirt was gone-I hadn’t heard it rip-some of it was still draped on my back. The breeze off the ocean was warm and humid, and slowed my shaking.
I hadn’t gone very far when a man from the bar appeared at my side. He was scared and small with a full beard and he talked fast. “Here’s your shoe, mate,” he said. “Get the hell out of here. They’ll kill you.” Then he ran away. I held my shoe to my chest. It was still tied tightly. I didn’t remember losing it, didn’t remember walking through the crowded bar without a shoe. Then I felt the sand on the sidewalk. I felt the spilled soda and the sand and the fried food under my foot.
After a few more steps, I heard a scream behind me. I ducked–my hands hit the ground–and the two screaming men who had dived at my back hit the pavement in front of me. Somehow they had missed me. They rolled, elbow, shoulder, knee, elbow, and then I couldn’t see them. I sprinted through back alleys, from darkness to darkness, to the rickety fire escape I had seen at the back of my hotel.
I got into my room. There was a low bed and my books on the right and a window with barbed wire on it on the left. Beside the window were a stainless steel sink and my toothbrush. I turned on the only light, a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. I ran the water and spat in the sink, tasting the sweet tang of blood. From the inside, my face felt lumpy. Both of my eyes were throbbing. I sat down on the bed and looked at my hands. Then I took a deep breath and looked up into the mirror above the sink. My left eye was swollen, already. The white of my right eye was red. The curve of my mouth was exaggerated and bloody. My ears, both of them, were bloody. I stuck my index fingers in gingerly. There was pain there, along with crusts of blood. As I looked into the mirror, a few tears fell into my hands. And, with some surprise, I saw that I was smiling.
When I came back to the States almost a year later, I returned to Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts where I had grown up. My first two jobs were in advertising, the first working for a small marketing firm that, as it turned out, couldn’t afford to keep me on the payroll, the second working as a sales manager for a resort and conference center that also fell on hard times when the owner was brought to court for embezzlement. I then turned to carpentry, a trade I had learned from several summer jobs as well as a six month stint in New Zealand. What I loved most about carpentry was framing. Framing is what you call the early stage of construction when you build the wooden skeleton of a building. It is not the slow and painstakingly detailed finish work that requires a carpenter’s greatest skill, but rather the much more athletic and speedy work of banging together the timber frames of floors and walls. I loved finding the rhythm of pounding big nails into joists, and studs in rapid succession. The progress is fast and the results are obvious. At the end of a day of framing, as you drive away in a pick-up truck, you can look over your shoulder and see a chunk of the house that wasn’t there when you arrived in the morning.
Eventually my carpentry skills reached a new level. I was soon charged not only with the construction of walls, but also with their layout. That is, I was made responsible for reading the blueprints to plan and measure where to build the walls. It was my job to make sure that the pieces of lumber were put together in a way that would allow the next phase of construction. I had to plot where the doors and windows and closets would be, and where the stairs would start. It was a rewarding challenge, sort of like geometry.
One afternoon, as was his custom, our boss arrived to check our progress. I was pleased to read his satisfaction as he walked around the first floor deck affirming the accuracy and quality of our work. At one point he stopped on a bare spot and looked over our work into the air. He asked to see the blueprints. After a moment of consideration, he said, “This won’t do; that wall is in the wrong place. When you build the second floor, you won’t be able to see through the window at the top of the stairs.” I looked over his shoulder at the plans. We had built exactly as the prints dictated. What was the problem? His explanation revealed that I had made no mistake in my layout. The problem was in the plans themselves. Nonetheless, I saw my future as a builder shrink. What I realized in that moment was that my boss possessed a power of visualization that allowed him to see the building’s progress in his imagination in a way that was utterly beyond me. I realized that I might never progress beyond the literal in my building skills. Sure I could bang nails, I could bang nails with the best of them, but, when it came to building houses, I simply didn’t have the vision to foresee the shape of things to come.
Jump forward to 1992. I was studying the poetry of William Wordsworth at Lincoln College of Oxford University with a professor who was at the time the world’s foremost authority. Mrs. Kapteyn, Ingrid, and I (Ilse had yet to be born) were living just at the edge of the center of the city. One night, in the middle of one of several all-nighters I pulled that summer, as I sat at my desk in the midst of curling paper and open books, I looked into the darkness over the stone city and listened to the thumping trains approaching Oxford station.
Somehow my explorations into Wordsworth had lifted me even higher than the top of our four-story flat to a place free from the ubiquitous whine and roar of the combustion engine, to a place where only the palpitating tremors of train couplings rooted me to earth. There I was, thrilling to the elevation of my spirit through the vigorous exercise of my intellect, connected timelessly to the thinkers that had graced that academic Mecca for centuries. I was transported above the city, in the dense dark of night, sifting over the familiar streets and hidden quads, absolutely exulting in the precious joys of scholarship.
And now jump ahead again, this time to the fall of 2000, under the canopy of golden leaves arcing over Albany Road. I was walking from west to east, from Field to the classroom, this time not with a sophomore’s armload of textbooks and binders, but with a teacher’s briefcase full of novels and gradebooks. And with a deliriously mirthful smile in my heart.
What brought me back? The answer lies in more than the memories I spoke of before. The answer lies in the promise of the world that I lived in, but could not fully appreciate when I sat where you sit, a place that has long been singularly invested in a tradition of teaching individuals to contribute to and to honor the whole, a place where the worst of the world has no hold and where the best is cherished.
If you’re like me, I think in the years to come you will be surprised to discover where Deerfield exerted its most lasting influences.
First, nametags. Yes, nametags. When you look back to how we all begin the year with nametags at Deerfield, you’ll see that they are a vital manifestation of a commitment to community. On the one hand, when you and I wear our nametags, we simply demonstrate that we want others to know our names. On the other hand, however, by partaking in the tradition of nametags, we signify our investment in a custom that proclaims that not just our, but everybody’s, name is important. Thus this tradition establishes a principle tenet of the Deerfield ethos: my name is no more nor no less important than anybody else’s; I am important, but so, too, is everyone else.
Another fundamental manifestation of this idea is our tradition of sit-down meals, and, believe it or not, you will recall sit-down meals in the years to come with a great fondness. Think of your best sit-down meals. What characterizes them is the sense that each of the ten people at the table contributes in significant ways to the good of the whole. The most obvious contributions, of course, are those of the first and second waiters. But the best tables are those where each member contributes. When we each play by the rules of good manners, when we pass instead of reach, when we ask instead of grab, when we wake and stretch ourselves to contribute to table conversation, then those meals are an absolute pleasure. I am certain you will remember them as such.
Think of Deerfield’s dress code in this light. When we get dressed for class, when we fasten our top buttons and knot our ties, or when we button our blouses and smooth our skirts, we not only demonstrate our respect for each other, we honor the education that is at the core of the Deerfield experience. By adhering to the dress code we tell each other that we care about what we do here. The dress code, as old fashioned or, even, as pretentious as it might sometimes feel, is nonetheless an unambiguous proclamation that what we do here deserves our respect.
I have no doubt that you will also recall the beauty of the Deerfield campus in years to come. You will find few places in the world that offer so much natural beauty, but as central to your Deerfield experience as that beauty might be, it is not exactly what I’m talking about. What you’ll remember is how much human effort we expend in the cultivation and maintenance of that beauty. What’s more, you will come to cherish the part of the Deerfield culture that fosters our active appreciation of that beauty. When we stop to thank Denny, when we pause to compliment Denise, when we toss our litter in the garbage, or better yet, when we pick up someone else’s litter, we become a participant in the beauty that distinguishes our school.
And, if you think about it, nowhere at Deerfield is our devotion to the idea that an individual’s best strengthens the whole more vibrantly apparent than in our elemental role as students. For our commitment to learning, our commitment to the best education we can possibly get, is a remarkably powerful acknowledgement that we are not yet, perhaps never will be, perfect, and that we always have more to learn.
What all these fundamental traditions have in common-what nametags, sitdown meals, the dress code, and our devotion to learning all have in common-is what I consider the greatest lesson of Deerfield Academy; that the first step to strength is humility. That is what Deerfield is all about. And that is what your experience here has taught you over and over. To sit in the Caswell Library, to walk up Albany Road, to sing the Deerfield Song in School Meeting, to be immersed in the massive strength of Deerfield Academy, is to feel small just as it is to feel huge.
Finally, consider the tradition of the Seal. All of us have walked into the gym through the Trophy Room where the portrait of Tom Ashley hangs on the east wall. And all of us have conscientiously, though perhaps not consciously, avoided stepping on that big brass Deerfield Seal in the middle of the floor. Why do we go out of our way in deference to a spot in the middle of a heavily trafficked room? Because the Seal symbolizes a strength that we value, and in valuing that strength in that way, we are confirming our own contribution to the very future of that strength.
That’s what “Be worthy of your heritage” means to me. The first part is imperative; we are told to be worthy. The pronoun at the end of the motto is the critical piece for me, though. We all bring our own heritages to Deerfield; we have the heritage of our family, our relatives, the heritage of our own past. But, as signified by the pronoun “your,” once we get to Deerfield we gain another heritage. The motto, in asking us to live up to Deerfield’s past, includes us in the ownership, even the responsibility, of that glory. It is our heritage we are to be worthy of. “Be worthy of your heritage” humbles us before the past and uplifts us for the future.
And that is why I came back. Because when I was a student here I learned that I could be worthy of something great. When I ripped my suit off in Manhattan, I knew I wanted a life I cared about. When I was bewildered and bruised in Bondi, I knew I was not beaten. When I was disillusioned and deflated on a construction site, I knew I would aspire to more. When I was exultant and elated in Oxford, I knew I had discovered what I loved. And when I was back on Albany Road with a smile in my heart, I knew I was charged with purpose and I knew I was at last worthy of the expectations that were planted in me when I sat where you sit.
That is why I came back. And that is how I would like to send you off. You have all accomplished tremendous things here. You have studied, sang, acted, and played. You have memorized, motivated, and managed. You have declaimed, you have calculated, you have conjugated. You have explored the unknown, determined what is difficult for you, and discovered strengths and talents you never knew you had.
And now, members of the mighty and memorable class of 2004, the first and only Deerfield Academy class of 2004 the world will ever know, the time has come for you to leave, to move on to the horizons that hearken beyond the cradling hills of Deerfield. But, whatever paths you take, whatever challenges you face, whatever dreams you chase, you will bring the best of Deerfield with you. And, as the best of Deerfield is the best of you, I know you will bring your best to the world. The world needs your best; the world needs your intelligence, your integrity, your generosity, your humor, and your passion.
Go forth graduates. Go forth with the faith that you can give your lives great meaning. Go forth with humility. Go forth and be strong. Go forth and be huge. Go forth and be worthy.
2003 Memorial Day Address
by Trevor Nagle ’89
Memorial Day Address, May 26th, 2003
On April 15th, 1969, while flying a routine reconnaissance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Japan, a U.S. Navy EC-131 aircraft was suddenly and tragically shot out of the sky by two North Korean MIG fighters. This was not a combat engagement, but a routine flight in a peaceful arena. All thirty-one crewmembers onboard PR-21 perished. Only two bodies were ever recovered.
How many here this morning have heard this story? How many Americans have perished in service to our country, in wartime and in peace, only to be forgotten in the annals of time?
In speaking before you this morning, I am humbled to remember the sacrifices of so many Americans. Their willingness to pay the ultimate price for our freedom and our way of life, cannot be forgotten. Veterans throughout the ages have understood all too well the dangers and risks of military service, both in battle and in eras of relative tranquility. And yet, they have not run in the face of peril, but stood their ground, side by side with their fellow servicemen and women, regardless of politics, ideologies, ethnicity, religion, or social class.
While the realities of our country at war have become strikingly clear in the past eighteen months, the idea that one of you may indeed serve in the next major world conflict is possibly more difficult to comprehend. Take a moment, if you will, to look around you. Look at the person seated to your left and right…in front of you…behind you. As a Deerfield Academy alumnus, I remember well sitting in your place, with my classmates, my peers…my friends. Little could I imagine that less than two years after crossing the stage as so many of our graduating seniors did yesterday, I would be making a far different walk…to a waiting aircraft, deploying as part of the Desert Storm coalition forces – the first in a long string of deployments and real-world missions as an Army light infantry scout, and later as a Russian linguist in the Navy.
It is not only possible, but likely that one or more of your classmates here today will be involved in military action before you graduate from college a few short years from now. I make this comment not to evoke fear or apprehension, but merely as a statement of probability.
At the beginning of my remarks, I recounted briefly the story of the 1969 downing of a Navy reconnaissance plan over the Sea of Japan. Most of you have never before heard of PR-21. This account provides a stark example of our endangered American heritage, a story of heroism and sacrifice known to only a handful of Americans. The importance of Memorial Day lies here…in remembering and revisiting the sacrifices of those who have died in this country’s defense. For many Americans, the significance of Memorial Day is lost in the faceless identities of those who have served so willingly.
So how is it that I first came to know the story of the downing of PR-21?
In Misawa, Japan, each year, a small handful of sailors and marines pause to remember the crew of PR-21 – tolling thirty-one bells, one for each of the men lost that fateful day in 1969. I count myself proudly among those who recall this particular tragedy. For in the hours and days following each annual memorial service, we took to the skies on missions that mirrored that of PR-21 thirty-four years ago.
On one particular flight three years ago, our EP-3 Aries II aircraft, which we affectionately referred to as the “Sky Pig” banked sharply a mile offshore over the Pacific Ocean and broke through the layer of low clouds at an altitude of 1,000 feet. Navy Petty Officer Rodney Young and Marine Sergeant Mitch Pray provided their usual running commentary and comedic critique of the day’s 9-hour mission and the impending landing. The final approach on this day was unusually turbulent, a result both of a malfunctioning number four engine and extremely inclement weather. With the Japanese shoreline in sight and visible whitecaps on the 10-foot swells of the Pacific Ocean beneath us, our plane suddenly and violently lurched to the starboard side and plummeted toward the sea. As our stomachs lurched, I recall hearing through my helmet intercom Sergeant Pray quip, “Well gentlemen, it’s never a good day to ditch at sea, but today it appears we have no choice.” Rest assured none of us found any humor in this comment, but it represents well the dedicated camaraderie we each brought to our missions. Thankfully, as quickly as the sudden descent had begun, it ended, several hundred feet above the water. Less than two minutes later, we were safely on the tarmac, unnerved to be sure, but safe. Surprising as it may seem, this flight differed little from many others flown during my time in the Navy.
However, less than one year later, on April 1st, 2001, this same EP-3 ( PR-32) was knocked out of the sky as a result of a mid-air collision with a Chinese F-8 Finback over the South China Sea. The Navy surveillance plane managed an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island. Following 13 days of detention, all 24 crewmembers returned safely home. Among the crew of PR-32 were Marine Sergeant Mitch Pray, Petty Officer Rodney Young, and a dozen others with whom I lived and served – many of whom are still flying these same missions and fulfilling a legacy… a proud heritage, knowing all too well that, while this incident ended safely, the next time might be much more tragic, as was the case in 1969.
Many of you probably remember this highly publicized international incident, if only for the brief two weeks of “around-the-clock” reporting on the “U.S. Navy Spy Plane'” story by the news media. Although these reports and so-called “expert” commentary were frequently inaccurate and overstated, for two weeks these 24 souls captured the attention of this country. For many of you, however, I imagine it is already difficult to recall the details of that incident, but for my wife, Kristin, and I, those two weeks will never be forgotten as we awaited word on the fate of those servicemembers…our friends. For us it was very real and very personal.
It is my hope that each of you will take away from this Memorial Day a renewed dedication to learning about those individuals, who have not only put themselves in peril in service to this country, but have lost their lives so that the rest of us may live in freedom. Take the time to personalize your heritage. These thousands of Americans lived selflessly for the ideals that so many of us take for granted. It is not enough for us to live life in the present. We need to be mindful of those who have carved out our heritage over time. Through their willingness to serve and die in service to this country, each and every fallen servicemember proved that they, indeed, were “worthy of their heritage.” By honoring their memories, we can, in small part, be worthy of ours.
2002 Convocation Address
by Brian A. Rosborough ’58, P’03,’06
Convocation Address, September 15, 2002
As the farmer said at his first town meeting, “Before I speak, permit me to say a few words?”
“Mr. Boyden, I know you’re here someplace! You wouldn’t miss it. This was not my idea; your successor, Mr. Widmer, is very persuasive. You remember; you trained him. Look at the hills, Mr. Boyden! The foliage is beginning to turn, just as you promised. And smell that air! The farms are still with us. While some things are different, nothing has changed. That’s why we are here—to remember your ways and reflect on our times. I promise to keep this on a high level, to be mobile, and to finish up strong. It’s only 30 minutes. If things go wrong, I’ll see you in your office at nine in the morning!”
Thank you. Let’s hope he’s taking one of his naps.
In the 18th Century, a young republic founded private academies before the nation had public schools. Deerfield Academy was chartered in 1797 to accommodate youth “who might wish to tread the paths of truth and virtue,” assuming they could be found. It was a place to prepare young people for citizenship, to exercise their minds so they could serve church or state when their time came, and no doubt to keep them out of trouble in the good old days of corporal punishment. With notable exceptions, such as Headmaster Edward Hitchcock, the Academy remained a spartan village school—unremarkable, under funded, and to many, uninteresting, but important for the farm children who toiled in the brick museum down the road.
Matters turned for the worse a hundred years later near the end of the 19th Century when state monies were channeled to public schools in nearby cities, siphoning off faculty and students from Deerfield, forcing the town to consider its closing. In 1899 no one showed up for the centennial of the Academy. The call went out for a new Head of School. The locals joked, “It best be an undertaker.” In August, 1902, one hundred years ago, a young Amherst graduate, a mere wisp of a man, Frank Learoyd Boyden, accepted the position for $800 a year, as a temporary job to earn a year’s wage so he could go to law school. They had no other candidate. He liked no other offer. It was a convenient arrangement, with low expectations on either side, or so they both thought.
The rest we inherit as legend, chronicled by fine writers like John McPhee, Brian Cooke, and journalists of that time. I am indebted to them for their insights and humor in preparing this reflection, and especially for the anecdotes contributed by faculty, alumni, and friends who knew Mr. Boyden.
Girls, please forgive the weighted references to boys, no gender bias is intended. People forget that Deerfield educated girls for 162 of its 205 years, including the first 46 of Mr. Boyden’s 66 years. You might say boys-only was a 40-year experiment, with marginal success, and then abandoned.
When I was sitting out there with you, Mr. Boyden was 77 years old—not exactly a whippersnapper. Tomorrow is his 123rd birthday. He’d been running the school for 55 years when I arrived from Jacksonville, Florida, by train in my Palm Beach suit. My dad said, “Boy! You’ll be messing with Yankees your whole life, time you get up there and see how they think.”
On first sighting, I sized up the Headmaster to be venerable and rather staid, in tones of charcoal gray, but oh so quick. He was nimble of mind and wit, bemused by teenagers, impish, intuitive, restless, thoughtful, stubborn, kind, discerning, shrewd, inventive, and quite energetic. He was the sort of person you would get off the sidewalk for. With a loss of hearing, his trim, gold wire-rimmed glasses had been replaced by thick, black, Onassis-plastic horn-rims, with a tiny wheel on the right frame that allowed him to tune in and out. His age did not matter, but his hearing did. He was a good listener. It was clear to us, that he was determined to do right, with his life, with his school, for his students.
“I think we can build the best school in the country, and if we do, it will be your success,” he would say to students. “If we can only do this, we will do it right.” What was right for his time? What is right for your time? Everything is different, but nothing really changes.
Mr. Boyden’s time spanned 66 years as Headmaster, from horse and buggy to the moon landing. He was present at the dawn of electric power, the telephone, the automobile, air travel, income tax, radio, television, penicillin, several wars and a depression. I asked him once, after he retired at 90, “Mr. Boyden, do students change over the years, with wars, Depression and the like?” He smiled. “No. They were all puppies.”
His time was an industrial revolution. Your time is an information revolution. You both started your adult journey at the beginning of a new century, with the same puzzlement over how to manage conditions beyond your control, e.g. the economy, greed, poverty, oppression, and threats to our security. He used his time to build a school that we hope will last for a thousand years. What will you build?
If you haven’t guessed by now, this song is about you.
What you build is less important than how you chose to build it. In our crowded, competitive, high velocity world, a healthy family, constructive work, and close neighbors are a cathedral of accomplishment. But it is not the buildings and grounds of Deerfield we celebrate today, rather the values and ethical compass of a man whose sense of mission enlightened the way for three generations of students who knew him. Why is he so fondly remembered, you must wonder?
He was soft-spoken, but could quiet a room of rancorous teenagers with a single clap of his hands, or divert a major highway with a phone call. He was diminutive, five feet and change, 120 pounds, always dressed in a tattered charcoal gray suit, but he earned the respect of seven U.S. presidents. Heads of State entrusted their children to his care. Behind his back we called him “Quid,” an affectionate moniker akin to a wad of chewing tobacco, but we would never knowingly disappoint him out of concern that it would lower us in his eyes.
Given his impressive size, I can’t imagine what endearments you have reserved for your headmaster.
Frank Boyden had confidence—in himself, in the future, and most importantly, in young people. He had what you look for in hiring a fighter pilot—no apparent fear of failure. On September 15, 1902, he faced his first class of fourteen students, ‘including seven boys, four of whom were feared.’ He had neither taught nor coached nor managed anyone before. He simply followed his instincts, with customary enthusiasm. He broke his nose twice coaching and playing ball those first seasons. He recruited farm boys from nearby fields promising the afternoon off for sports, if only they would study in the morning. In football, playing quarterback, he once was picked up and carried down field into his own end zone by the opposing line. Perhaps he was the father of the forward motion rule! The next season he had straps sewn to the backs of the britches of his linemen so he could hang on. Confidence was the mother of his invention.
Mr. Boyden, like each of us, was a product of his times, e.g., conservative parents, attended church three times on Sunday, farm work through high school. He taught himself sufficient Greek and Latin in nine months at age 16 for admission to Amherst. In college he was unremarkable, but for his diminutive size and his grit. They called him Plugger Bill. He never made a varsity team, nor ever missed a practice. His maternal grandfather, Otis Cary, many say, was his role model. Cary was an energetic entrepreneur who ran a factory in Foxborough, a dart-about, who was known for short naps and abundant energy. “If you can’t find Mr. Cary, stand in one place, he’ll be around in five minutes.” Years later Mr. Boyden did him one better. He put his desk in the hall of the Main School Building so every student passed by five times each morning. That was management by sitting down. For Boyden, it was research into animal behavior. He could tell by the droop of your shoulders or the shuffle of your step if you were off your game. He knew whom you hung out with, or whether you were alone. He watched for leaders, he watched who followed, he listened for laughter, for confidence, for camaraderie, all signs the school was in high morale. Back then Deerfield was a singing school. The sons of Deerfield rallied, marched, and cheered on cue. We had an undefeated glee club and trumpet fanfares at ball games. The tall good-looking boys always went first, to make us appear stronger. Appearances mattered when you were poor. He picked up the crumbs under the admissions tables of Andover, Exeter, and Choate. If you could not pay, it did not matter. But listless singing would bring him to his feet with the famous spread eagle and putrid scowl. Sloppy dress, late meetings, litter on campus, unfilled time, were signs that his instruments were out of tune. He was the conductor; we were his chorus. He had a good ear.
Before it was called community service, Deerfield students bagged potatoes to help the farmers. He knew what it meant to be a good neighbor, bagging 30 acres of potatoes. He taught students how to greet a person, walking straight at them, hand extended, as if you liked them.
His credo became the school’s raison d’etre. His values were school values, and values worked better than rules. He was patriotic, believed in public service, celebrated family life, respected farmers, revered community, loved politics, hard work, wholesome living, and horses. This was the right kind of living, and being upright was central to his philosophy of life.
Shortly after taking on the Academy, Mr. Boyden began to reveal his strategy to anyone who would listen, “Conditions in the country are changing,” he would say. “Trolleys, automobiles and such things have tended to break down the influence of the home. Times are changing in the country and somebody has got to right things up… The high school seems to be the place to begin. Some people say teenagers have gone to the dogs, I don’t believe it!” said Mr. Boyden.
Today’s permissive, provocative, consumptive culture would not impress him much. He would wonder, “Who let the dogs out?”
There you have it. Deerfield’s bedrock. The Academy was founded on the belief that it should stand for the right things. To Frank Boyden, that was you. His calling was to build the character of youth. If done well, the future would take care of itself. He found mission in the philosophy of those he admired. His president at Amherst College, Frank Harris, believed that “College was not to make scholars but to make cultivated men, physically sound, intellectually awake, socially refined…all in proportion, not athletes simply, not scholars simply, not dilettantes, but all-rounders.”
Gifford Pinchot, founder of the Forest Service said, “The first condition of success was not brains, but character…People of modest intelligence come to the front because of courage, integrity, self respect, steadiness, perseverance, and confidence in themselves, their cause, and their work.” Mr. Boyden concurred.
Robert E. Lee once said, “A boy is more important than any rule.” At Deerfield, we lived by that.
His beloved student, teacher, and friend, Tom Ashley, reaffirmed for him that a life without purpose was aimless, and that sacrifice for one’s principles was noble. Ashley is buried in a French field where he fell during the Great War, cut down by a machine gun. Mr. Boyden used monies donated for his monument to build a dormitory and with it, Tom Ashley’s dream.
But by far, his greatest indebtedness for sage advice would have been to Helen Childs, his mentor, wife, and affectionate companion, whom he recruited and hired during his third year, then wooed and married, breaking every rule in the book. “If you ever have a disagreement with the students,” she warned, “you’ll find me on the other side.” Together they raised three devoted children, each proudly independent, all educators, inspired to leave their mark on the next generation and so they did: John, Ted, and Betty Boyden.
From their mother’s legacy, we learned the Head had a soft underside. “There’s not a nick of paper he wouldn’t pick up on this campus, but not one of his knickers at home,” Mrs. Boyden reported. “At times, the truth is simply not in that man.” “Why he’s the least scientific person in the world. He has some of the craziest ideas!” “If you play cards with the Headmaster,” she told one class, “watch him! That man cheats!” “Where is he now?” she would ask the switchboard. Once in Washington, D.C., he disappeared down the hall moments before they were to meet with an important member of Congress, also a generous alumnus. When Mr. Boyden reappeared miraculously just as they were called to convene with the Congressman, she asked under her breath, “Where have you been?” “Visiting with Mr. Eisenhower,” he replied. “I bet you were. What did you talk about?” “Boys” he replied. Sure enough, a year later, Mr. Boyden got a call from the President, asking to borrow a horse carriage, which he used to ride into a GOP fundraiser in the ballroom of a New York Hotel. Boys will be boys.
Never to be outdone, she held her own and the respect of her students. The Head was a teetotaler; neither smoked nor drank, not even hard cider. But he did have a weakness for sweets, animal crackers, and root beer. On one occasion at her afternoon tea, he took a huge wedge of chocolate cake with a wicked butter rum icing. The ladies present had been sworn to secrecy by Mrs. Boyden, who took obvious pleasure when he wondered aloud what was in it, then cut himself a second piece.
“You don’t have a mean streak in you,” she would say, then pause, “You have plenty of other failings.” “Yes, you would have to add that,” he would reply. Like the school, the marriage was built to endure.
For each story about his moxie and shrewdness, you will find three remarking on his kindness. He never gave a student bad news at night. “Let him have a good night’s rest. He’ll have some tough nights ahead. I’ll tell him in the morning.”
When a boy went missing after his grandfather died, Mr. Boyden joined the search in his horse and carriage. He found him in tears on the Lower Level. He stopped and talked, shared memories of his grandfather, took him to church, fixed him lunch, arranged a car and driver, then rode home with him to tell the boy’s grandmother how very sorry he was. One day invested; one boy saved. That was Frank Boyden. ‘The student that needed him most was the most important student that day.’
Homesickness was his specialty. B Johnson missed his ranch in Texas. Didn’t care much for Yankees. He wanted to go home. Mr. Boyden noticed his slump and asked if B knew anything about horses. “I’m having a problem with my mare,” Boyden said. B spent the day in the barn. Boyden checked in to say that he had to go to New York the next day, would B mind taking care of the horses while he was away? Four years later, B Johnson graduated high in his class, and returned the favor as trustee and generous donor.
It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from. He treated everybody the same. As a first term faculty, Bob Binswanger was assigned to watch the right balcony during compulsory Brick Church on Sunday. “But Mr. Boyden, I’m Jewish!” said Binswanger. “Oh, you don’t need to participate, just take up the collection!” he replied. Mr. Boyden relished fundraising. If it helped, he would invoke scripture, “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” On one occasion, Mr. Boyden was stopped on Main Street by two women who asked if they might look inside one of the old houses. He obliged and gave them a tour with a bit of history. On the way out, one lady gave him a quarter. Realizing her mistake, she apologized. “I didn’t recognize you, Mr. Boyden.” “That’s all right. No one ever does.”
He taught us humility and not to take ourselves too seriously. It is surprising how much you can accomplish in life, if you don’t need the credit.
Mr. Boyden used his size and self-deprecating humor to great effect. He would delight in stories about himself, crafted to keep order at Evening Meeting or to pass on values to his students. A favorite was playing catch with a boy who decided to show up the Headmaster, returning each throw with a faster, blistering hardball. It escalated to a standoff, before a crowd of students, until the boy dropped out. Boyden would pause and then came the throwaway line, “But then, I was wearing a glove.”
Everyone has a favorite Boyden encounter. My moment came the last week of my senior year. Late one evening Bob Merriam, the Assistant Headmaster, asked me to bring a book and a toothbrush, he had an assignment. They were always asking seniors to intercept misdeeds, to avoid handing out punishment. Half way across campus. I said, “What’s up?” He replied, “Mrs. Boyden is away. I’d like you to spend the night with the Headmaster.” “I don’t want to go!” I replied. He assured me it was ok, I’d sit up in his guest bed, reading, until the Head stopped by around 11 pm after his rounds to say goodnight, then I’d sleep, and slip out in the morning. Just as he promised, Mr. Boyden stuck his head in my room, thanked me for staying over, and said if I got hungry, there were some cookies and milk in the kitchen. I was a slow reader, and by midnight was hungry, so I tiptoed down the backstairs toward a light in the kitchen, rounded the corner and there was Mr. Boyden! In his underwear! Some legs! Some shorts! No one had every seen Mr. Boyden out of his gray suit, not even Mrs. Boyden! I knew I would have to be blinded! My first thought was to dart into the broom closet, but before I could, he said, with great compassion for my predicament, “There you are! Milk is in the icebox. Cookies are in the jar.” And there we sat trapped by our misfortune, both trusting that the encounter would be soon forgotten.
Nothing seemed to faze him, except rudeness and un-sportsman-like conduct. Indeed, he liked to win, but with grace. He seemed more pleased to have you pick up an opponent, than to have first knocked him down. “Introduce yourself after the match. Walk them to their bus. Invite them back to Deerfield.” None of today’s “Good game, good game, good game, good game?” Two years ago, I was at Exeter for the Deerfield lacrosse games, and was shocked to see one of our players deliver a severe whack to the back of an opponent, in frustration or retaliation. The refs and coaches were across the field and missed it; only the two players, a few fans, and I saw the foul. “Cut that out! You can’t do that!,” shouted an older fellow near by. “No! No! That’s wrong!” he pleaded. The players ignored him. At the end of the match, I felt ashamed that I had not spoken up, so I went over to the Exeter parent to apologize. He smiled. “Oh, I’m not from Exeter, I went to Deerfield. We never did that in Boyden’s time.”
Fair play to Boyden meant you only challenged a ref’s calls, when they were wrong in your favor. If you showed anger, you were benched. If you complained to the refs, you were out of the game. He was almost benched himself when he corrected a plate umpire saying the Deerfield catcher had not made the tag out that would have given his opponent a tying run. He was overruled. One of his hockey captains, Rutger Smith, refused to accept a goal made when the opponent’s goalie was down, injured on the ice, away from the net. Taking advantage of a slow whistle was not right. Deerfield went on to win 4-3 in overtime. Winning the right way was a mark of character, and still is today. Character was not something like charm, that was switched on and off to suit the occasion, you either had it or not. “Better to lose with dignity than win and gloat over it,” he would say, but losing was hardly an option. “This is a strong school we are playing today, they have a much better record,” he would say, “but we can take them. Let’s have a victory, by 40 points if possible.”
His management style was conversational, in discipline and in praise. Often he would blend the two. We should all do so, as well. One student found Mr. Boyden and Red Sullivan, his beloved hit man, waiting in his room at the wee hours after a night of revelry. “I hope you’ve had a good time of it,” he began, “but Mrs. Boyden has been up much of the night, worried sick over your disappearance. You know how fond of you she is. Do me a favor, meet her in her garden when she begins her day at six tomorrow morning, and tell her where you’ve been.” Or more indelibly, with another miscreant, “We both know what you’ve done was not a quality act, and should not be repeated.” He never threatened, just let you know how he felt about your behavior. He was even effective when he was foggy on the facts. The Academy Switchboard used to be in his house, as he delighted in answering calls after hours. After one evening meeting, he told the operator a few boys might drop by, something had gone wrong; please call him when they arrived. There was a stream of them, in two’s and three’s, building to about 30 when he arrived in the living room. As overheard by the operator, Mr. Boyden spoke to them in personal terms, about how very sorry he was to hear about the trouble, how disappointed he was to learn they were involved, and how it reflected poorly on the school and the other students, so on and so forth, for about 10 or 15 minutes. He said he looked forward to a better effort, beginning tomorrow, and they filed out, chastened. When they’d gone, Mr. Boyden passed by the switchboard, paused to read the newspaper, and said, “I wonder what they’ve done.”
Much has been made of his love for horses. Head of School is a lonely job. They were his companions. He had an eye for picking spirited horses. He would even sneak off to western movies in Greenfield to see them run, then doze off during the love scenes. Most afternoons he would encircle the playing fields, horse and buggy at full canter, like St. Nick dressed in black. You could hear him call, “Go Blackie! Go Ready! On Lippit! On Madagascar!” as if to remind us that it took courage and daring for a man of his size to be reining in the 500 colts who attended Deerfield.
If he had an eye for horses, he had a genius for picking men. Deerfield owes its legacy to a remarkable faculty who were beguiled by Frank Boyden. Drawn to his mission, it appeared some took vows of celibacy and poverty to serve us, each paid a pittance to start, then a modest raise after 35 years. Such talents, recruited for their humor, personality, optimism, and receptivity to the ideas and problems of youth. Many had offers to go elsewhere, but they stayed for decades, loyal to his vision, loyal to the school, and loyalty was the only currency you needed to be happy at Deerfield.
At the day’s end, the All School Meeting was perfected to an art form. Hundreds of gangly, cross-legged teens were packed like sardines for 20 minutes of news, information, and homily. The largest rug on campus set the limits for his admissions policy and on it goes. Look around and you’ll recognize the anthropology of Deerfield that sets you apart from other clans, as if marked in some way by a Boyden tradition.
High standards. Fresh flowers. Free meals for visitors. Snappy uniforms. Away games. Few signs on campus so visitors ask students questions. A triple threat, live-in, round-the-clock, caring, coaching faculty. Home cooking. Sit down meals. All School Meetings. A respectful dress code. Sports for all. Single rooms. Lots of ice cream.
Today you have less singing and more rules, perhaps to compensate for more freedom. We were checked in 17 times a day. No kidding! Five classes, three meals, two study halls, before and after sports, Evening Meeting, and bed, and once when we weren’t looking. It was like the U.S. arms policy. “Trust, but verify.” Faculty meetings and student government were oxymorons. School officers were appointed the last week of senior year. The prom occurred after graduation. We rarely left campus, unless we tunneled out. Radios and television were time wasters, not allowed. One dance a term was believed to keep the libido in check, each choreographed to match frightened boys with frightened girls by height and geography. Dances were assigned, doors locked, the music was to die for. Squads of faculty on bush duty lined the walls and walks so you couldn’t make a break for it. When the girls’ buses arrived and departed, you could overhear the Head say, “Oh my!”
Those were Mr. Boyden’s times. Happily, we have returned to the enlightenment of coeducation, now a residential offering that seems closer to Heaven. But your times are different in other ways. A splendid diversity of students enriches your experience. The only language Mr. Boyden ever spoke was Yankee. Your curricula is dynamic, faculty more independent, students smarter, facilities more robust, and the school is as financially solid as the granite it sits on. Deerfield is no longer a striver, but a leader in private education and first in civility. In your language, the place is hot.
Nor is America an innocent upstart nation, that city on a hill in virtuous isolation, the most admired of the 20th Century. In one transforming moment, we peered into the abyss of September 11th, and realized that America is no longer a safe and separate place. We are burdened by awesome power and wealth in a crowded, untidy world teeming with potential, teetering on mishap, and in need of ethical leadership. Our ‘just do it’ culture, a reflection of our national values, has become troubling, threatening, if not deeply offensive, to a growing number of cultures, faiths, and societies less fortunate than our own. In Mr. Boyden’s time, the world was just as complicated. What is new is America’s ‘paradox of power’, i.e. how to manage our wealth and might with grace and imagination. In a more consensual world, we will need to share decision-making, resources, and the environment more equitably. From sharing to work, we need leaders with compassion and humanity, with an instinct for honesty and fair play, and the ethical strength to back their convictions. That’s where you and Mr. Boyden may have a ‘rendezvous with destiny.’ Just as he prophesied, the Academy would prepare legions of young people for service to others. He would hammer away at youth on this village anvil, until he shaped goodness and character, camaraderie and common sense, befitting the requirements of his times. And so they did serve; statesmen, 15 college presidents, 50 Heads of School, hundreds of teachers, countless chairmen, CEOs, artists, engineers, composers, scientists, and writers all met the challenges of their day.
And with equal rights and equal pride, so will you.
By some magic during your Deerfield days, you become reflective and responsible, critical and creative, aware of your potential and the endless possibilities that stretch out before you. As ‘books fall open and you fall in,’ you discover capacities you’ve never known, not only to think, but to think about thinking, to muse and wonder about the future, and to ask what it all might mean. It is here you will find the enduring values and friendships that compose the points on your ethical compass enabling you to navigate the foggy times ahead. All too soon it will be your turn to fashion and shape events that will impact your generation, and those beyond, your mark left in the depths of time.
When it was his time to retire, Mr. Boyden called a meeting of the school as he had done so often before. After the day’s announcements, he told the boys it had been a privilege to build a school with them. It was their success. He introduced his successor before the boys read about it in the morning papers. Then suddenly, ‘he saluted his school with a wave of a paper, tightly rolled to conceal what he might of said.’ The boys were stunned. Who would speak next? Without a cue, they stood, like the flash of sunset’s light from a hundred ancient windows, a last reflection of everything he stood for, and they sang mightily, “The Sons of Deerfield Rally.” Alone on the stage, Frank Boyden stood respectfully; content that Deerfield’s days of glory would never end.
With gratitude for unattributed quotes borrowed from the works of John McPhee and Brian Cooke and for the inspiration of my teachers, Eric Goldman, Joe Nye, and David McCord. In appreciation for the memories and mirth shared by Mr. Boyden’s friends Bob and Mary Merriam, Eric Widmer, Meera Viswanathan, Bob Binswanger, Ruth and Larry Bohrer, Martha and Roland Young, Vicki and Bob Hammond, Chuck Schmidt, Cynthia Travers, Flip Charron, Larry Boyle, David Hirth, Jay and Mimi Morsman, Tina Cohen, Art Ruggles, Dick Wheeler, Priscilla Butterworth, Edie Corse, Hank Flynt, Dick Boyden, Frank Yazwinski, and Frank and Alex Ciesluk. With special admiration for his daughter Betty Boyden, and enduring gratitude to my parents for sending me to Deerfield.