When Mike Torrey asked me if I would speak at this assembly, my first response was uncertainty, thinking of my analogy about public speaking. I view talking in front of large groups the same way that I see lunch duty—it’s something I know I have to do every once in a while, but it’s not a task that I look forward to or enjoy. He reminded me that I have spoken in such situations before, notably at GA’s graduation in 2005, which got me thinking about that speech. For that occasion, I was able to share my thoughts about the things that are important to me and I got through the speech without a major meltdown. So, with great hesitation, I said yes to this assembly, with the caveat that I could use the same theme. I’ll add that I know that I’m repeating my thoughts from that address, but I guess it’s OK to plagiarize myself. Additionally, Ms. Lintgen said she’d have a barf bag ready if I need it and Dr. Torrey bribed me with the promise of lots of bacon, so here I am.
Like many of you, I’ve heard tons of speeches in my life, but of the dozens that I’ve listened to, there’s only one that really stands out in my memory. When I was teaching at Staten Island Academy, many years ago before I came to GA, our school was lucky enough to have then-Governor of New York Mario Cuomo give the main address at our graduation. He impressed and inspired me by speaking, very simply, about love. I thought his theme and his words were beautiful in their sincerity and power, and since I’m not really known for great creativity, and with apologies to the late Governor Cuomo, I’m going to borrow his theme again and share my thoughts on love.
I believe that much of the happiness of life is created by having some place, some thing, or someone to love. It’s wonderful if you can have all three, but I think it’s vital to have even one of the three.
There are many things that I love in my life. As I hope my students realize, and outing my inner nerd, I’ll happily admit that I love history—and herstory. To me, history is at its root about telling stories. I’ve always been intrigued by stories of the past—of the people, events and circumstances that have shaped our world today. From a pretty early age, that love was encouraged by my father. I used to complain about him dragging me to every Civil War battlefield or historic site that he could find, but in retrospect, I realize that he was opening up a new world for me by allowing me to learn the stories of the people and places that we’d visit. I regret not recording or writing down the stories that he told me about his time in the Navy in World War II. I still love learning new things, especially about history. I have a bumper sticker in my room that says, “The truly educated never graduate”, and it’s something I wholeheartedly believe. I follow a bunch of historians on Twitter—I know that might strike you as weird, but I already admitted my nerdiness—and Joanne Freeman, who teaches at Yale and helped Lin Manuel Miranda on “Hamilton” is one of my favorites. Recently, someone new to teaching asked her for her secrets to success. She responded “let your interest in and passion for your subject shine through. Anecdotes that stick in your head? They’ll probably do the same for your class. Focus on people and the choices they did and didn’t have.” That Tweet really struck a chord for me, because it’s something I’ve always tried to do. I love finding new information, which I often incorporate in the stories I tell in class. This is why I spend a lot of my free time—especially over spring break and in the summer—reading, especially nerdy history books. My friends bust on me about this, but it’s something I love doing. Each summer I try to read more books than I did the year before. (I should also add that I’m really competitive, even with myself). I especially love biographies, such as a book I recently read on major badass Alice Paul, since I feel that people’s stories give you insight into what makes them tick. (Kind of like what I’m doing now) I’m also intrigued by weird things like presidential assassinations and the so-called “zero factor”—the fact that every U.S. president elected in a zero year between 1840 and 1980 either died or was killed in office. President Kennedy was assassinated when I was in first grade, and clearly this had an impact on my life. I get that history isn’t everyone’s thing, but I hope that my students will leave my class with a greater appreciation of the past that will help them when they become the leaders in the future. As they say in “Hamilton”, “history has its eyes on you”.
Another thing that I love is music. I’m obsessed with Brandi Carlile, have been on a Sara Bareilles kick since her new album came out and have recently been intrigued by Lizzo. (I know, right?) Growing up, there was always music—on vinyl—playing in our home. My parents were from Manhattan, and they were especially fond of playing the soundtracks from Broadway musicals. I appreciated the way that these shows could interlock music with a story. We’d go back to visit family in NYC a couple of times a year, and, when they could swing it, they’d take us to see a Broadway show—whether a play or a musical. I can still recite the lyrics from shows like “South Pacific”, “Camelot” and “The Sound of Music, and I was in productions of all three of those shows in high school, despite the fact that I’m a lousy singer and am hardly graceful enough to walk, let alone dance. That experience that only added to my love of theater. I must note that I was always in the ensemble, which was fine with me—I got to be part of a team without having to be in the spotlight. Living so close to New York allows me to see shows several times a year and, I was practically giddy a few years ago when I first heard about “Hamilton”. Combine history and a Broadway musical? Be still my heart. FYI—before Hamilton, there was a musical written by Steven Sondheim called “Assassins”, which told the stories of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, and other, “would-be and successful presidential assassins”. I was psyched when I found out a few weeks ago that they’re reviving this show off Broadway. I’ve had the opportunity to see GA grads like Jarrod Spector in shows, which is amazing and inspiring, am going to see recent grad Nate Mann in “A Soldier’s Play” in a few weeks, and hope to see another student from my pre-GA years in “To Kill a Mockingbird” this spring. These are a few of my favorite things.
There are many places that I love, starting with where I live, in Glenside. It’s awesome to be able to walk to the Keswick Theater and see great shows and I’m grateful to live near such an amazing venue. However, if I could reside in an ideal place, it would be near a beach. I can sit for hours with my feet in the sand watching the waves, and I love to sit out in the sun. I’m already counting down the days until I go to my happy place in New Smyrna Beach, Florida over spring break and am glad that a trip to the Jersey shore is again on the horizon for the summer. For me, an ideal day at the shore is a walk with my dog on the beach in the morning, many hours spent sitting in the sun, reading, in the afternoon, and going down to see the sunset at nightfall. That, to me, is a day that’s practically perfect in every way. Closer to home, I have to admit that one of my very favorite places on earth is the cross country trail at GA—the site of so many exhilarating runs and walks, but also a place that is a constant reminder of the numerous positive experiences I’ve had with cross country over the years.
For the someone I love, I’ll start with my dog Kipling. Yes, she’s a dog, but she’s also my furry daughter. From the moment I first saw her picture on Petfinder, I knew that I wanted her to be part of my life. Come on, how can you not love that face? Turns out that we have a lot in common—she loves to be outside, especially walking on the trails of GA or on Forbidden Drive, she enjoys treats and toys, even though what we eat and play with may be different, and we’re both stubborn and independent. It’s hard for me to imagine my life without a dog to greet me when I come home. I also love my family and appreciated the fact that we were able to get together for the holidays this year. I wish I could see them more often—especially my two little great nieces. I think I won Christmas this year because Emmy, my oldest great niece, wore the Elsa dress I got her for five days in a row. I love my colleagues, especially GA’s professional history nerds, the BDD—the Best Damned Department in the school. I spend way more time with my friends—my GA family—than I do with my actual family—and appreciate the love, support, fun and shenanigans we’ve shared over the years. One of my favorite parts of each weekend is coming to GA for PPG—our doggy play group that we’ve been doing for a long time. I cherish starting my weekend that way, seeing a place that I love, doing something that I love with people that I love. Finally, I love and appreciate my students and the girls on my teams. You want me to sit around each day and talk about a subject I love with some of the smartest, best kids in the school? Sure--sign me up. Special shout out to my semester one Women in American History class. I hope that you all had as much fun as I did. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to practice tough love, as my students who are late to class will realize, but I’m still going to love you, even if I don’t always show it. After school in the fall, I get to go out and share time with GAGXC. These young women inspire me, entertain me, make me proud, and always show that they internalize the message of our motto of “head, heart, hustle”. Cross country is, to me, a sport that epitomizes the idea that you get out of something what you put into it. I love seeing our best runners shoot for the stars, but also get a charge out of seeing younger girls finish their first race or improve their times. It never gets old to me. One of the highlights of this school year is remembering the looks on the faces of the XC girls when they realized that they had won second place at the PAISAA state meet. By persevering, they saw the fruits. A great thing about teaching at a place like GA for as long as I have is that I get to see former students grow up, and some of them become friends. Earlier in the year, you saw a video including thoughts by Drew Tye Ruby-Howe. It’s been a joy to watch her grow, find happiness and love, and her little girl Caroline is kind of like another great niece to me. She’s just one of many former GA students who play a role in my life and have a place in my heart. Not too many jobs allow you to have these kinds of experiences.
If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that many of the things I love involve GA. I’ve been lucky to be here for 32 years, which is a long time. Our retired colleague Ted Haynie used to say, of teaching at GA, that it “sure beats working for a living” and I’d have to agree. Is my life perfect? No, but it’s good. I can’t say that I love grading DBQ’s, I wish that I had more time to read, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to afford to spend more than a few weeks a year at the beach, and sometimes wish I could spend more time with friends and family, despite the fact that I treasure my time alone. I’m not a morning person and never will be, as anyone who must be around me at 8:00 will tell you. Having XC practice in the rain or when it’s too cold isn’t exactly fun. However, all things considered, I have a good life and have enjoyed my many years on this campus. I love GA, but I’m already looking forward to retirement in a few years, and not having to set the alarm every day. For you future students—don’t get too excited; the mortgage company isn’t going to free me yet--but it’s almost time to pass the torch to a younger generation of educators. This is my dream view of how my post-GA life might look. I only wish that there were puppies in that picture.
I can only hope that, in the future, you’re all as lucky as I am. You may not love where you work, perhaps you won’t be friends with your colleagues, it’s possible that the hours will be too long and the paycheck too small, but hopefully you’ll have someone to go home to, a place to escape to, or a hobby or interests to fuel your passion and fulfill the need for love in your life. I hope that you’ll seek happiness and love even more than you pursue financial security or material possessions. Stuff is stuff, and maybe it will make you happy. Perhaps you’ll even find love through your money, but I don’t think that’s the be-all and end-all. Search for love and embrace it. That’s my wish for the future for all you--I hope you have and find happiness and success, but mostly I hope you have and find love. Oh, and Mike Torrey, it’s time to pay up with that bacon.
Thanks for listening.