Adam Leven's Faculty Voices Speech by Academy Monthly

It’s December, 1983, and I’m lying in my bed, crying.   I’m in 8th grade, 13 years old, and my mom has just tucked me in to my cozy twin bed, which fits me just right at 4 foot 10 and 90 pounds.  I’m a good student, the starting goalie on my hockey team, popular amongst my peers at a small, suburban middle school outside of Chicago.  Life is good.  So why am I crying?  Well, my mother, having recently shut my door and left the room, is now in a shouting match with my father down the hall.  I’d heard my parents argue before, about the typical things that arise when you’re trying to raise a family of five and make ends meet.  Those arguments definitely happen.  But this wasn’t one of those.  No, they’re arguing because of me.  Faced with the prospect of attending the local public high school--population just over 5,000--I am terrified.  Something in my 13-year-old brain is telling me that I will get swallowed up, all 90 pounds of me, in a freshman class of 1,300 students.  So I have begged my mom to send me away to boarding school, a thousand miles away from home.  I love my parents, I love my brothers, I love my cat, but something in my gut is telling me that I’ve got to get out.  So my mom has just shared this insane idea with my dad, and he is NOT having it.  And then, in the midst of overhearing my parents arguing, I hear my father shout this:  “He’s a quitter, he’s always been a quitter!”  So...I’m crying because that hurts.  It hurts coming from someone I know loves me more than anyone in the world.  But it hurts mostly because it’s true.  When the coach made me quarterback of my 6th grade football team and I got sacked 12 times in the first game, did I pick myself up and dust myself off and get back right back out there, like they tell you to?  No, I quit.  When I got sick of playing competitive tennis, I quit; when the French Horn got too difficult, I quit.  And now this, I was quitting high school before it even began.  Or worse yet, my parents agree to send me away to school, and I end up quitting that, too.  It was only later in life that I realized that my dad didn’t want to send me away to boarding school because he really had no idea where he was going to come up with the money to pay for it.  But it was only much later in life that I understood why he really didn’t want to send me away:  because he just could not imagine letting me go, not his youngest child, not yet.

Three months later, it’s the middle of March, 1984, and I’ve somehow managed to convince my parents to let me apply to three boarding schools—mostly, I think, because they were pretty sure I wouldn’t get in to any of them.  Admission decisions arrive in the mail:  Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts:  rejected.  Philips Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire:  rejected.  The Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, Connecticut:  wait list.  OK, so maybe this wasn’t meant to be, after all.  Fine, I’ll go to my local high school, get beaten up every day, and try to make the best of it.  Maybe it won’t be so bad.  

It’s a Friday in early June, and I’m getting ready for one of my last days of Middle School.  My mom is waiting in the car for me and I’m literally half way out the door, when the phone rings.  By now I’ve pretty much forgotten about boarding school, and I’m just looking forward to graduation and summer.  I run into the kitchen and pick up the phone.  “Hello?”  “Hi, may I speak to Adam?”  “Speaking.”  “Hi, Adam, this is Mr. Mark from Hotchkiss; I’ve got good news for you.  If you’re still interested, we’ve got a spot for you in next year’s freshman class.”  “Uhhhhhhh...thank you.”  Awkward silence.  “Do you want to talk to your parents about it and get back to me in a day or two?”  “Uhhhhhhh...yes, please.”   

September, 1984.  I’m 14 years old, and my parents have just moved me in to my dorm room.  I’ll be living on the second floor with 19 other freshman boys, sharing one bathroom.  It takes very little time for me to realize that my roommate and I have absolutely nothing in common—and only slightly less time to realize that he is a habitual loud snorer, and an occasionally violent sleepwalker.  After skating through Middle School with good grades earned through minimal effort, I’m now scrambling to organize my life around the academic demands of an intense boarding school, while trying to figure out how to do my own laundry, who to sit with at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and how to get my roommate to stop snoring without suffocating him to death.  I had never played soccer before, but I decide to go out for the soccer team, and I make the thirds team...because everyone makes the thirds team.  No one ever told me that there are special cleats made just for soccer, so I wear my baseball cleats, and I end up with a horrible case of shin splints, which relegates me to the bench for the season.  When ice hockey season comes around, this “star” goalie from small-town suburbia becomes...the back-up goalie on the thirds hockey team.  And on top of all of this, I feel like an alien at this school.  Even worse, I feel invisible at this school.  I have come from a place where everyone was like me, more or less, and where everyone liked me--more or less--to a place where it seemed that there was no one like me, and no one really even noticed my existence.  So, I’ve traded the comforts of home and family and friends for this abyss of uncertainty and discomfort and loneliness.  But I can’t just leave, I can’t just quit, obviously, so I throw myself into my school work, I try some new things, I try to make some friends—but mostly I just get through it, one day at a time. 

Fast-forward 2 years.  It’s the fall of my junior year.  I’m doing well in school, I have a few good friends, I appear to be thriving.  My dad is a complete convert—having very reluctantly sent me away and having figured out a way to finance it, he now thinks my boarding school experience is the greatest thing in the world.  He’s got all the Hotchkiss gear, the “proud parent” bumper sticker, the whole thing.  So, here I am, at the start of junior year...and I’m in my dorm room, I’m in my bed,  and I’m crying.  Why am I crying this time?  I’m crying because I’m imagining the conversation I’m about to have with my dad, the conversation in which I tell him that I feel lost here and I want to come home.  I’ve tried, I’ve really, really tried, and, yes, it’s gotten better, but I just feel exhausted, tired of trying to keep up, tired of trying to fit in.  And what is resounding in my head and making me cry just thinking about picking up the phone?  “He’s a quitter—he’s always been a quitter.”

Well, I never did have that conversation with my dad.  I didn’t leave school, I found a way to muddle through the hard times, and I can even say that, in many ways, those last two years of high school shaped my adult life as much as any other two-year stretch before or since--and most importantly, I learned in a very real, first-hand, smack-you-in-the face kind of way that everything changes.  

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” “Good things come to those who wait,” “This, too, shall, pass,” “If at first you don’t succeed,” “Time heals all wounds,” “Tomorrow’s another day.”  These cliches about change and patience and perseverance and optimism are familiar to us all.  Perhaps you, like I, in a time of crisis or despair, have heard these phrases uttered by a well-meaning friend or family member.  And perhaps you, like I, in those challenging moments, have found those attempts at consolation to be hollow, unwelcome, or even just plain annoying.  What I have come to realize, though, is that these “cliches” are not just empty words manufactured by the Hallmark company, but pearls of wisdom born from untold lifetimes of common human experience.  And I confess, I do still get annoyed when someone tries to console me with these unsolicited intrusions into my own misery.  But the mere contemplation of the words—and the very simple but very profound truth underneath the words—has often proven to be a source of genuine comfort and hope in my most difficult and darkest hours. 

 You never step in the same river twice.  The only thing that is constant is change.  But rarely does the change you’re looking for happen when and how you want it to…but it happens.  If you woke up this morning so miserable that you felt like you couldn’t even get out of bed and face the day, the fact is that there’s nothing I or anyone else can say or do to make it better in that moment, but please, please believe me, things will change.  Carry on, persevere.  The only thing that is constant is change.  It will get better. 

Thank you.

Richard O'hern's Faculty Voices Speech: "Carpe Diem" by Academy Monthly

Good morning.  Thanks to Mr. Nelson for asking me to do this.  It’s nice to be here to share a little bit about myself with you.  For this talk, I’ve chosen the theme of Carpe Diem.  Most of you have probably heard the phrase before, and many probably know that Carpe diem translates as “sieze the day.”  I’m interpreting it as “take advantage of what life offers, and make good things happen.”  

The opportunity and subsequent adventure that I want to share with you today came by way of a friend from college.  I grew up in Buffalo, NY and attended a public high school.  I enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in the fall of 1978.  I liked the school and the people there, but the science major I chose wasn’t that interesting and I wasn’t doing too well in a few of my classes.  During my sophomore year at Miami, I decided to move back home to attend the University of Buffalo and save my parents some money.  Tuition at UB was $900 per semester!

At that point, I changed my major to geology and I loved it from the first course I took.  It was during the fall of my first year at UB, the fall of 1980, that I got a phone call from a former hallmate from freshman year at Miami, a guy named Barry.  He asked if I wanted to ride across the country on a bicycle trip with him in the summer of 1981.  I said “sure; that sounds like fun.”  I had never taken a bike trip before, though I had significant experience backpacking, and I knew how to ride a bike!  I thought, “What could be so hard about this?”

Fast forward to March of 1981.  Barry called me again, asking if I was still interested in the trip.  I realized that it was time to say yes or no to this great offer of his, so I told him “yeah, count me in.”  It turns out that the trip was to be three of us, with Barry as the lead planner and organizer.  We would be self-supported, carrying everything on our bikes.  I’d bring a lot of the camping gear including a tent big enough for all three of us, a camp stove and a cook kit, and I decided I’d bring my 35 mm camera and a couple of lenses to be trip photographer since I enjoyed photography.  The third participant was to be a fraternity brother of Barry’s named Andy.  I’d never met him, but I was fairly confident that I could get along with just about anybody. 

I’ve always been a procrastinator, like Ian Cummings, and I waited until three weeks prior to the trip to buy the bike I was going to use on the journey.   I probably rode about 200 miles total in training, which really wasn’t very much at all.  I was 20 years old, in good 20-year-old guy shape, so who needed training to ride 4000 miles?  Certainly not me!

In the third week of May, my parents dropped me off in Akron Ohio at Barry’s house, where I met Andy, and the three of us got a ride from Ohio out to Palo Alto California. We were dropped off at the campus of Stanford University, so, I guess I can say “I went to Stanford.”  We spent the weekend  visiting friends and relatives in the San Francisco area; I stayed a night with my Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob who were preparing their sailboat for a trip from San Francisco to HawaiiThey never got there: the story of their near-death adventure on the Pacific Ocean is a tale for another day. 

So, on to the bike trip.  Here is a flyover view of the basic route. One thing you may notice from the map is that we did not just bike “across” the country from West to East.  In fact, we would first ride north about 900 miles along the magnificent Pacific coast of California, Oregon, and Washington before turning East and riding across the northern US back home.

On June 1st, we now-three-amigos set off across the Golden Gate bridge headed north.  Right away, the trip was harder than I had imagined.  I grew up in Buffalo, which is flat.  The Pacific coast is decidedly NOT flat.  Riding up hills, one encounters this little thing called “gravity,” which for some reason always pulls one downward.  I should have paid more attention in physics class.  Also, no one told us that prevailing summer winds on that coast blow from the NW, and of course we were riding N.  The last thing that made it hard is that I didn’t know as much about riding a bike as I thought I did.  My first bike that had multiple gears was a screaming yellow 5-speed Schwinn Collegiate that I bought with money saved from delivering the morning newspaper when I was in high school.  I always rode my bike in 5th gear because I thought that made sense.  Well, I was riding into headwinds, up and down the coast ranges, on cold days, and my knees were killing me.  At one point, on the third day of the trip, I was complaining to Barry about my knees, and he said “gear down and spin faster, doofus” or something less charitable than that.  It was a simple adjustment that made a huge difference.  Remember that even though you might know a lot, you don’t know everything!

If you’ve not traveled the Pacific coast, I urge you to try and make time for it at some point in your life.  It is truly spectacular.  Much of our route took us directly along the ocean’s edge,  as shown behind me.  One legitimate hazard was the abundant presence of logging trucks which never strayed from their lane on the twisty coastal roads and which allowed us very little room as the roads rarely had any shoulder at all.  Sometimes we’d just hit the brakes hard and veer off the road into gravelly soil or weeds and hope not to wipe out when a truck was passing us. Scary!

Another challenge was breakdowns, not of the emotional kind, but of the bicycle kind.  Barry’s bike was by far the worst, mine second.  I had teased Andy the day I met him about his heavy, steel-framed Schwinn bike, yet he got through the entire trip with only one flat tire.  Barry and I had lots of flat tires and broken spokes.  Barry needed to buy a new wheel at one point.  Me, a new freewheel assembly.  We carried tools with us, and some days we’d spend an hour on the side of the road trying to fix one problem or another.  

While the coast and ocean were mesmerizing, our route also took us inland a bit to enter the forests of big trees, especially Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwoods.  They are Earth’s tallest trees, and they were simply magical. One section of our ride was through an area called “The Avenue of the Giants” in N. California, as you see here.  We camped in several state and county parks among the redwoods and were able to swim in the South Fork of the Eel river, one of the few undammed rivers left in California.   

After making it to Seattle and spending a few days playing tourist, we rode north for one more day before turning our bikes to the east to get about the business of heading across the country.  We rode right into, up, and over the North Cascades, which are beautiful, jagged snow-covered peaks in Washington state.  We crossed our first two legitimate mountain passes that day, both at about 5,000 feet of elevation, and on the summer solstice, June 21st , we threw snowballs, helped a guy get his car out of deep snow in a parking lot, and then had a 15 mile uninterrupted downhill ride through the valley you see here on the Eastern slope of the Cascades.  That was the fastest 15 miles of the trip!

One of the most interesting and unexpected pleasures of the entire trip was the large number of opportunities to meet people from all walks of life.  People saw us with lots of equipment on our bikes and invariably asked us where we came from and where we were headed.  Many offered food or a place to stay.  One couple stands out. We were riding across the far northern panhandle of Idaho.  Here I’ll read a short passage from my trip journal that highlights the generosity of people we met.   “Friday we rode along with my slowly leaking tire and finally got to Sandpoint, a real nice little town that had a bike shop.  I spent $21 on two new tubes and one new tire, and put them all on my bike.  Five miles East of town, I got another damn flat tire. How frustrating was that?  SOOOO frustrating! Then, when we were working on my flat tire, as if by magic, along came a little blue VW camper, and out stepped a white-haired older woman to ask us how we were doing, and bingo! – we got an invitation to dinner and a place to sleep for the night.  We rode to Jim and Donna’s along beautiful Lake Pend-Orielle and found their summer trailer and their 5 month old dog Chocolate Charlie Brown. We went for a swim in front of the house, shared our life stories over several hours and beers, had a homecooked meal, and pitched our tent in their yard.”   We met wonderful people all along our route!

 From Idaho, we rode into NW Montana.  Glacier National Park was a highlight.  We spent a couple of days in that gorgeous place, and I’ve since gone back to visit again.  The U.S. National Parks belong to all of us, and I encourage each of you to find time to visit parks both local and farther away, especially west of the Mississippi River.  You won’t regret it. 

From Glacier, we rode south in Western Montana, which was the prettiest part of the entire trip, with fabulous landscapes.  Our destination was Yellowstone National Park.  Put that park on your bucket list.  It has more geothermal features than any other place on Earth.  The wildlife includes elk, bison, deer, moose, and in the last 20 years, wolves.    We came across this elk when we were riding into the park along the Madison River at 7:30 on a July morning.  We spent a couple of days sightseeing and riding a lot (the park is huge), visiting geysers, and we crossed the Continental Divide in the park at nearly 8400’ above sea level.

Moving faster now (both me in this talk, and the trip), we rode East out of Yellowstone along the Shoshone River and within a few hours lost some elevation and all the trees and entered the high plains.  It was hot.  Really hot.  Did I mention there was no shade?   Did I mention the jerks who threw stuff at us out of pickup trucks, and who tried to pick fights with us in bars?  Don’t get me wrong; we had some good experiences and met some fine people there as well, but when we crossed into South Dakota, we decided that a week crossing that nearly treeless state in mid-July was not something we wanted to do.  Barry and Andy bought bus tickets to Minneapolis, and I, being relatively money-free at that point in the trip, decided that hitchhiking 600 miles with a bike and all of my gear was a pretty good option.  OK, the only option.  It turns out that my bike and I had good karma (bikema?) and got a series of 5 or 6 rides with some cool people, including a farmer who was towing a trailer with 140 cute little pink piglets.  I hitched the entire 600 miles in one very long day and was dropped off at the fraternity house in Minneapolis where Barry and Andy had arrived earlier in the day. 

From there, we rode to Madison WI and visited a couple of days with Barry’s older brother.  Barry stayed with his brother for an extended time while Andy and I headed north through the Wisconsin countryside where we encountered a huge irrigation sprinkler. It was a drive through bike-and-body wash!  We continued north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Lake Superior, where I completed my quest to swim in all 5 Great Lakes.  We met up with Barry again in Western Michigan after he took a ferry across the lake.  We did some sailing with friends on beautiful Torch Lake, and we then rode our final couple of days together to SE Michigan.  At that point, we said farewell to Andy as he headed home, south into Ohio.  Barry and I then crossed the border into Ontario and rode one more day together along the north shore of Lake Erie.  He left me and took a ferry across the lake to Ohio, and I was on my own for the last two days.  I was ready to be home; in fact, I rode 140 miles the next day on the single longest ride of the entire trip.  I arrived home to the warm hugs and kisses of family and friends, 10 weeks to the day after we had started the trip.  

So, life presents opportunities.  My life has been richer for the opportunities I’ve taken along the way, and for a few that I’ve created.  If, as you get older, you ever find yourself in between jobs, a situation that I call being “in between opportunities,” consider that itself as a chance to do something different.  Take a trip with a friend.  Build something.  Help someone.  Take a class at a local college.  Fix something.  Or, if you’re Phil Rittenhouse, paint something. 

In 1985, I was in between jobs, had saved some cash, and wrote a letter to a dear friend Margo from my time at Miami, asking her “why don’t you be irresponsible for once, quit your job, and take off with me to travel across Europe this summer?”   She said “yes.”  That was a fabulous trip!   In 2005, my wife Polly was traveling in Namibia, pursuing a goal she had to study elephants, laying some groundwork for a full-year sabbatical she would take the next school year.  I chose that opportunity, her absence, to buy a boat!  Life is full of opportunities.  Carpe Diem!  Thank you.  

Untitled, 2018 Nicholas Wynia by Academy Monthly

The images were taken in Guatemala in 2018. The project follows the routes taken by conquistadores in conquering Latin America in the 16th Century From Pizarro in Peru, Balboa in Panama, Orellana in Ecuador and several others. These photographs were taken while retracing the route of Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado during his conquest of Guatemala. They were taken in a variety of locations from the highland town of Quetzaltenango to the oldest Pacific port town in Guatemala, Iztapa.

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia  If you'd like to see more of Nicholas Wynia’s work, visit his website  www.storycityfilms.com .

Taken by: Nicholas Wynia

If you'd like to see more of Nicholas Wynia’s work, visit his website www.storycityfilms.com.

Robert Moyer's Graduation Speech by Academy Monthly

Welcome esteemed members of the Board, honorable past trustees, beloved colleagues, proud parents, grandparents and family members, my own loving family, and most of all, welcome soon-to-be graduates of the Germantown Academy Class of 2017. CONGRATULATIONS! You have only four more years left to use Memes as historical sources or as the basis for important life decisions.

Thank you Rich for your kind words. It means a lot to me that you asked me to speak today. I would like to start by congratulating you on completing your first year as Head of School. It was not an easy year for you physically, and I speak for everyone here when I say that we are thankful for your leadership. You are surrounded by our strength and our support, and we cannot wait for next year when the Schellhas meter will once again go to 11!

When you lose someone you love, it is natural to mark their loss in the celebrations they don’t get to celebrate, and you, the Germantown Academy Class of 2017, have seen more than your fair share of loss. In each of your years in high school, our community lost someone dear to a lot of people here: when you were freshmen in October 2013 we lost Chris Nunes (class of 2014); when you were sophomores in March 2015 we lost Roger Eastlake (class of 1959 and longtime college counselor); when you were juniors in November 2015, we lost Bobby Taggart (class of 2016), and most recently, we lost Peter McVeigh (class of 1760) this February of your senior year. On this most happy day, it is important that we first honor those individuals, as well as those personally close to each of you, by saying their names and invoking their spirit so that they live on in our personal and collective memories. It is what makes our community so unique and so strong. I miss you Peter, and we all wish you were here. You would be so proud of these amazing young men and women.

I have a confession to make. When I graduated from nearby Upper Moreland High School on June 15th, 1988, I had no interest in listening to the Commencement speeches at all. The ceremony took place outside in the football stadium. The thermometer read 93 degrees, and it was six-thirty in the evening. The sweat had soaked through the black graduation robe I was forced to rent. There was one thought going through my head, and it was, “I cannot wait to get the hell out of Hatboro.”

I was not only hot, I was mad. You see, my speech was not one of the student submissions picked by the faculty graduation committee. And let me tell you, it was good. It was titled “Leaving Upper Mediocrity.” Get it? UM? Upper Moreland? See what I mean? I sure was clever. Fortunately for you, Julia and Decker were your student speakers, and not 18 year-old Bobby Moyer. By the way, beautifully done, both of you. Instead, you get 47 year-old BoMo. Older, wiser, and hopefully with something worthwhile to say in under 15 minutes. I have to admit to some feelings of petty satisfaction when Mr. Schellhas asked me to be your commencement speaker. Ok, it was a substantial amount of petty satisfaction, but after 29 long years, I had finally been picked to speak at a graduation. And I already have the speech!

It is good timing that I am speaking to you this year. I just went to my 25-year college reunion over Memorial Day weekend, and so I have been thinking a lot about my college experience. Alright, let’s get this out in the open right now. I went to Yale. That’s right, I said it. And, yes, I know what you are thinking. I do think I am better than you. Of course I don’t

think that, but that first impression is so ironic. You see, I was the first one in my working class family to go to college. The son of a carpenter, I was living proof that the American dream existed, and going to Yale represented the hopes of my whole family. They loved and supported me, but as a smart, sensitive lad who enjoyed reading, I did not really fit in. I was ambitious, and I wanted more opportunities and more challenges. That’s why, on that hot day in June 1988, I could not wait to get out. I soon found out that I did not really fit in at Yale either. Everyone else seemed better prepared, smarter, wealthier, more articulate, and more sure of themselves. Fortunately, professors and writing tutors gave up their time and probably some part of their soul to teach me how to think and write, and a small but caring group of close friends from both Hatboro and New Haven provided the support team I needed to grow intellectually and succeed academically.

When I think about my level of preparation coming out of high school, I am not concerned about the academic future of any of you. I am confident you leave here with the critical thinking skills that will allow you to determine the truth and validity of an argument, its purpose, and its evidence. Not only that, you also possess the creative problem solving skills that will allow you to construct your own arguments and communicate them persuasively in a variety of ways. You may find it interesting to hear that the most consistent criticisms among my Yale classmates who hire, manage, or teach this iGeneration is that the young’uns these days don’t write well, and they wait around to be told what to do. I seem to recall Baby Boomers saying the same thing about us Gen-Xers! For what it’s worth, highfalutin Yale grads in various fields seek to work with other people who recognize problems on their own, propose solutions, and fix them. Your time at GA, whether it was around the Harkness table, on the stage, in the art studio, as part of the New Community Project, or as part of any athletic team, has taught you how to think in a way that will serve you well in the marketplace. That’s good news, Mom and Dad!

The bad news, of course, is that your skills and your smarts will be needed to address some seriously complicated problems facing our world today, like climate change, the threat of nuclear war, terrorism, artificial intelligence gone bad, synthetic products gone bad, global inequality, and balancing freedom and security for all members of any community. Fortunately, you are all headed off to amazing learning experiences, and you know what needs to be addressed for the sake of the quality of your lives and that of your children. We humans are a funny species, and I don’t mean funny ha-ha. There is a battle waging out there, and it is between education and ignorance. Like it or not, you are on Team Education, and this world needs you.

The problem I challenge you, the GA Class of 2017, to work on solving is the breakdown in communication that seems to be occurring at all levels of society and in all of our institutions. May I suggest by starting small? Next year, I urge each one of you to make the most of every opportunity to engage in sustained conversation—serious and lighthearted, intellectual and personal—with people unlike you, whatever your identity. From the moment you arrive on your college campus or your GAP year program or your military base, make it a priority to talk to and really get to know people from different walks of life, including your professors, your program directors, or your Commanding Officers.

This is especially important right now on campuses across the nation, when debates and physical confrontations over free speech have spread like wildfire. This may sound hokey and simplistic, but I honestly think that students and professors from different backgrounds and viewpoints would be able to debate difficult issues in a more civil and productive manner if they were already talking and listening to each other. Over the course of your time here at GA, you were strongly encouraged to talk to your teachers and peers during and after class. Even if you are naturally quiet, you all developed your own voice around the table. Next year, the responsibility to speak up will lie with you and you alone.

So, ask a professor to lunch! Your CO? Maybe not, but you never know. I think you will be amazed at how flattered your professors are to join you. And if they are not, that’s not someone you want to share a meal with anyway. Actively make friends with people from different backgrounds. Hold history parties and invite interesting people. I was so quiet when I first got to Yale, and I had to work hard at participating in class discussion and seeking out my professors for help. Now, like most people, I consider my relationships with college friends and mentors to be as important to my growth and learning as any class I took or book I read.

While you are out meeting new people with different perspectives, do not forget the people who raised you and love you and are supporting you emotionally and financially! Make it a priority to see and talk with your parents every week. Yes, Facetime or Skype with the people from home as a part of your weekly routine. Don’t just contact your parents when you need something, like say, money. Don’t force them to follow you on Twitter just so they know you are alive. Talk to them about the classes you are taking, the fascinating people you are meeting, your successes, your failures, your dreams, and your frustrations. Remember, they love and miss you, and your repayment for all that they have done and do for you comes through sharing your lives with them. It is now your turn to pass on your learning and your experiences to your parents!

I hope you graduates have the perspective within and beyond the moment to take action when it matters. I truly believe GA has taught you this unique and most valuable skill, but knowing is only half the battle. When the time comes, I know you will be that brave person who refuses to engage in risky behavior you don’t want to, and you will be that person strong enough who stands up and takes care of others who for whatever reason cannot take care of themselves. Choose your friends wisely, and then be fiercely loyal when it matters. When the time comes, I know you will be the student who defends the right of professors and other students to say something unpopular and even antithetical to your views. At the same time, I know you will be the student who challenges anyone spouting hate on your campus through effective organization, nonviolent opposition, and well-timed humor. When the time comes, I know you will be that student who creates more speech, not less. The views you take with you from GA are based on sound, just, and principled reasoning, so remember to trust yourself when you are challenged.

Do not go to college thinking that these situations will never happen to you. They will, and you must be ready to act in the moment. None of these issues is easy, but you are strong and this is what you have been taught here at the Academy. I know; I have seen you look after the younger students on Design Days and in spontaneous interactions on this quad. I have witnessed you argue with each other to the point of tears, and then return to the table and continue to seek understanding together. I have watched you care for your classmates, and for me, in times of deepest heartache. In that spirit, do not ever hesitate to reach out to one of your GA classmates, no matter how much time passes between contact. I speak from experience that you can never underestimate how good it feels to hear a former classmate, even one you may not have been close friends with, say, “I was thinking about you.”

A day like today occupies what some people call the “liminal space.” That is the threshold between what is known and what is unknown, between what is comfortable and what is unsettling. Today marks that boundary crossing, that short period of time that exists between your past and your future and occupies neither. Few genuine moments like this will take place in your life, and these times provide you with a unique moment of perspective, clarity, and beauty. As Mr. Nelson exhorted on Prize Day, stop and hold fast to this moment. I would go further and urge you to write down your thoughts and feelings before you go to sleep tonight, so that you can truly hold on to today, because the fact is you will not be the same person tomorrow.

And you will find your insights from today useful for the many boundary crossings that will take place in the next four years. I urge you to intentionally and thoughtfully cross lines of gender, race, class, religion, and language in your studies and in your experiences. Get used to ambivalence and ambiguity. This isn’t about appropriating another identity or heritage tourism, this is about truly accepting yourself, connecting with others, and understanding the forces of history that bind all of us humans together in education, faith, ritual, art, athletics, and humor. I did not realize it at the time, but I know now that my time at Yale occupied that liminal space for me, and that experience allowed me to return home knowing more fully who I was, what I believed, and what I could do in the service of others.

One final confession. When I graduated from Yale College on May 25th, 1992, I listened intently to the Commencement speeches. The ceremony took place on the Old Campus, not far from the dorms where I had lived for the past four years. The thermometer read 57 degrees, and it was one o’clock in the afternoon. A light chill ran through my body under the second black graduation robe I was forced to rent. There was one thought going through my head, and it was, “I cannot wait to get the hell home.”

Thank you for listening, GA Class of 2017. Off you go. We are all here for you, for whenever you return, changed and yet the same.

Faculty Spotlight: David Love by Academy Monthly

Check out some prints from art teacher David Love!

Artist -David Love   Email –  David.Love@germantownacademy.org     Title –Altered States Series  Date –2011  Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper

Artist -David Love

Email –David.Love@germantownacademy.org

Title –Altered States Series

Date –2011

Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper

Artist -David Love   Email –  David.Love@germantownacademy.org     Title –The Space Between…  Date –2012  Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper

Artist -David Love

Email –David.Love@germantownacademy.org

Title –The Space Between…

Date –2012

Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper

Artist -David Love   Email –  David.Love@germantownacademy.org     Title –Musings and Meanderings  Date –2013  Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper

Artist -David Love

Email –David.Love@germantownacademy.org

Title –Musings and Meanderings

Date –2013

Medium –Ink, watercolor and collage on paper


Gab tells the story of boys and girls by Academy Monthly

Singleton Boys 2010

Singleton Boys 2010

Have you seen Gab Russomango's work? Incredibly inspiring. Gab says, "These photographs explore the small, almost insignificant moments in adolescence that contribute to identity and notions of self. They were made during a ten year period between 1985 and 1995 in various locales in the North eastern United States." Take a look here

Asoluka's ART FOR CHANGE speech by Academy Monthly

There is a scene in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon that I constantly find myself coming back to. It is the scene where our protagonist Milkman is lured to the woods to hunt with the men. Milkman is no hunter. He is a city boy fueled by his privilege, his money, his fame. But a burning need to understand the origins of his name brings him deep into the woods with men who are indeed hunters. During their hunt, they come across a bobcat, and they do what hunters are trained to do: kill it and skin it. No malice intended, this was their food, the source of their family's survival. To Milkman, though, this spectacle, the sheer newness of this experience, leaves him spellbound. The hunters, seeing this, offer Milkman the opportunity to retrieve the bobcat's heart from the depths of the ribcage. Milkman agrees, remarking that the heart "fell away from the chest as easily as yolk slips from the shell" (306).

This is usually the part where my students, taught dutifully to be investigators of symbol, yell out in unison: "The heart, the heart, that means something, right?" And it does: it is the product of his bravery, the large and once undulating thing rendered still because of their action.

This is fragile, Milkman remarks, and we can assume that he is referring to the massive organ in his hands. But the entire arch of discovery is fragile: from the business of asking "What if" or 'How so", to the first steps into our woods, to the successes and failures of our journeys. It's fragile and beautiful.

Once upon a time, I thought my father was the president of the United States. Why? Because I couldn't imagine a man more powerful than my father. Who could raise their voice like my father? Who could snap his fingers and get stuff done like my father? To commemorate what I imagined was a challenging feat, I made him a button made of paper and safety pin that said, DADDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Later, civic class fixed me. But as comical as this scenario sounds, I wonder how many of us form our truths solely on the evidence laid out in front of us? How many us of trek on, go into the woods, to extract the heart?

Thanks to hip hop, the English language made me a hunter. I watched and heard rappers using the English language to ground themselves in this world. They used metaphors, disses, boasts to anchor themselves, to carve their name and place into our consciousness. When I first heard Jay-Z rap, "I'm from where the hammers are rung/News cameras never come", I sat up in my bed and went Yes! That's it! In a couplet, he articulated our paradox: here we are living in great noise, but in the shadows was a great sea of silence. A silence that some of us drifted into and never returned. It made me wonder: how could that be? How can this be a reality here, but in South Orange, only a mile away, kids drank over-priced coffee lattes and laughed at their own jokes? Their green grass is green. Our green grass is brown, Mos Def raps. Music, to me, became the speaker of truths. It was as if rappers wrangled the bullhorn free from the whoever was speaking and said hey you will listen to me now.

Art gives us that bullhorn. But once we desire and then wrangle free that bullhorn we must do something more than hear our amplified voice. We must do something tangible. We must step out of our pretty metaphors and begin to construct cathedrals. Cathedrals of innovation, of change, of real inclusiveness that goes beyond polite tolerance and exotification. We must do the work that brings everyone to the table.

I started The New Community Project this year, a course to get students to do just that. Because I think students are our best artists. It is students, knee deep in their labs and novels and history notes and photo projects and field trips and dissections and dining room gossip, that are our hunters. It is students who are examining the architecture of human interaction, and saying "Give me the heart." And it is our jobs as teachers to point them to the ribcage.  

Asoluka's What's Important to Me Speech by Academy Monthly

guys, it is my fourth year at the academy. four years! it's funny to think five years ago, i lived 100 miles away, in an apartment that overlooked a tennis court and a hair salon. new york's lights, tinny and bold, butted in at night, and the neighbors upstairs seemed to watch law and order on a never-ending loop. & the hallways smelled like old people and their stale conversations. everyone was kind though. me? i lived in apartment 505; you could have found me up there sitting at my computer, trying to put words together. words i thought could explain how much i hated my job. & how maybe i made a mistake becoming a teacher. & how sad i was to know that someone i loved didn't believe in me completely. unfortunately, there were no words. just wild gesticulations. reaching out for things that seemed real but weren't. mirages. in apt 505, angry songs became anthems. & man, i really hated my job. i hated that they weren't creative, weren't inspirational, weren't innovators. at least, in the ways i wanted them to be. but i kept telling myself, even though i was angry, even though i had no words, there was something bright at the end of this. there had to be. i remember, during a lunch break, a co-worker pulling me aside, and asking if everything was okay. i lied and said it was, but he knew. some people are just like that. they just know. & he told me, and i will never forget this, he told me, "people like you are like water. you just can't stop it." he looked earnest, wise. like a father, except he wasn't, just a man who i worked with who saw something in me and needed to share it. & i went home and wrote that in my notebook: people like you are like water. i don't know. something about that resonated in me. i can't lie and say that those words ignited me and made me whole again. but what it did do was allow me to see that it was possible to be whole again. five years ago, i thought i would live all my days in newark, new jersey. i would tell people at cocktail parties that i'm chidi asoluka, born and raised right here in newark, new jersey. that i took my fancy degrees and brought it back to the neighborhood. that i rolled up my sleeves and did "what i was supposed to do.": give back & i am gonna keep giving back until they bury me on mount vernon avenue. i never considered being here as a possibility. you were outer space to me. five years ago, newark was my home. its past, present, and future. but life is a stand-up comic. life will put you in outer space and tell you to make fire. & you gotta do it, your life depends on it. your entire self depends on it. freshmen know this now, seniors will know it again next year. college will be your outer space, and you too must learn how to put sticks together to make fire. because yes, your life depends on it too. whats important to me? having life shift me here to you. i didn't know it five years ago, but i needed you. i needed your energy, your laughter, your restlessness, your creativity, your incredible challenge. i needed you to help me be the man i am today and the man i hope to be five years from now. a self i'm constantly chasing. and i hope you are constantly chasing yourself too. because you, too, are like water.