Commencement 2017

…I see my friends here before me, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude as I am flooded with memories of the times we’ve shared.  Although my personal recollections are probably a little different from yours, one thing is for sure:  We’re all very lucky to have had such transformative relationships with our teachers, and to have benefited from such invaluable opportunities to learn.  This, indeed, is St. Luke’s.   

                         – Luke Martocchio, St. Luke’s Salutatorian 2017, Attending Harvard


In his impeccable address, Salutatorian Luke Martocchio captured the spirit of Commencement—a time to reflect and enjoy a flood of memories—before the next journey and new memories begin.

I referenced Luke’s “stratospheric GPA” and “the quality of his intellect” when introducing him. But as we listened to him celebrate his teachers—from Mrs. Olsen in fifth grade through a host of Middle and Upper School faculty—we knew Luke’s greatest asset is his huge heart.

Awe-inspiring “intellectual prowess and acumen” describe Valedictorian Grace Zaro. As I cautioned the Commencement audience: “Do not be fooled by her casual demeanor.  This is a scholar who combines innate brilliance with both discipline and a fiercely intense focus.  In high school this has brought her to valedictory heights.  At Stanford and beyond, the sky seems the limit.”

Gracie gave a provocative address. She used “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy to demonstrate humor is not a cop out:  “When a situation is hard or frustrating, it is the little one-liner, the ability to self deprecate, that makes the fight easier. Humor is not a cop out, it is an advanced defense mechanism. Think about it: it is free, it is legal, it is harmless. It is your opponent’s worst nightmare.”

Class of 2017

Each year, I marvel at the skills of our young speakers and the intense emotional impact of this day. When will I become desensitized? Never, I suspect. It’s an honor to send these wonderful people out into the world. And a beautiful sorrow to bid them farewell. Below is from my Commencement farewell:

“Whatever you achieve in your lives, remember to seek out communities like this one.  Places that offer you connection, the feeling of rootedness, and the timeless values that St. Luke’s has.  We live in a time of constant change, of uncertainty about what the future will hold for us…or ask of us…and of relentless questioning of what many of us considered timeless truths for most of our lives.

As any great skipper will tell you, your moorings matter.  Without that safe harbor, that tether to something stable and comforting, that thing to which you can cling when storms seem otherwise overwhelming – without that, moving forward feels scarier and more difficult.

Soon – at college and throughout your life – you will face tough choices, in new communities and in unfamiliar cultures.  You might encounter a fraternity brother or sorority sister who wants you to drink yourself into oblivion, to prove…who-knows-what.  Maybe it will be a roommate – or a boss – who seems to lack a sense of honor.  Whatever the circumstance…remember us.  Remember St. Luke’s, and all the people who love you.  Remember that here you have constructed a strong moral compass…within yourself.  It’s there.  Use it.  Whenever you feel untethered, remember St. Luke’s.”

Enjoy this Commencement 2017 Photo Gallery (we’ll keep adding photos so check back).

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Lessons from Penn State

Early this month, 18 fraternity brothers were charged in the death of a young man. He died during a drunken “pledge night.” From every angle, this story is pure heartbreak. For the senseless loss of a life just beginning. For his devastated family. For the 18 “brothers” who did not set out to cause harm—but whose actions and inactions will forever haunt them.

In the wake of this sadly familiar tale, I received the email below. It was written by St. Luke’s alumnus Drew Lord ‘14 to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) at Cornell. In addition to serving as president of the IFC, Drew is president of Cornell’s Cayuga Watchers group which aims “to become an established national model for combating high-risk drinking.”  USA Today wrote about Drew and the group in 2016.

As our class of 2017 prepares to leave the Hilltop and make their way in the world, I’m eager to share Drew’s wise words. I am deeply grateful for his leadership. He is living every element of the St. Luke’s mission and has indeed gone forth to serve:


From: IFC President <>

Subject: Lessons from Penn State

Date: May 7, 2017 at 3:30:37 PM EDT


Hi everyone,

At this point, I’m sure you have all heard the news of the horrifying death of Timothy Piazza, a member of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State, who died after falling down the stairs at his chapter house following a fraternity “initiation ritual.” While the details of this incident are beyond disturbing, they are important for us to reflect upon.

First, we must all recognize that under no circumstance is it acceptable for any of us — or for our peers — to reach a dangerous point of intoxication. Indeed, it seems like there might have been forced drinking involved in Piazza’s situation. It goes without saying that forcing anyone to drink copious amounts of alcohol is unacceptable. However, in more general terms not related to Piazza’s situation, be safe with your alcohol consumption — pace your drinks, do not drink with the goal of blacking out, and be aware of your limits. It’s also important for us to realize that we all have a place when it comes to mitigating the harms of high-risk drinking. Sometimes your brothers, or your peers, need an active bystander to help keep them in check. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that person.

Second, and most important, if someone is to ever be in a situation like Piazza’s — call for help. Many times we hear our friends advocate for letting a drunk or injured person “sleep it off.” This is problematic — oftentimes, we don’t know whether the BAC of this person has reached its peak and is declining, or if it has rather not yet peaked and still rising in their sleep. Keep in mind Cornell and New York State’s Good Samaritan Protocol, and remember that immediately taking action to do the right thing will always have a favorable outcome for all parties involved.

Third, do not — in any capacity — try to “cover up” any type of incident. The results of the grand jury investigation demonstrate the consequences of acting in the way of the brothers at Beta Theta Pi the night of Piazza’s death. Following a review of GroupMe messages, texts and surveillance video from the night of his death, the fraternity and its brothers faced over a total of 850 charges. Eight of the brothers were charged for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing. Four brothers were charged for reckless endangerment and hazing. Six were charged for evidence tampering, while the chapter itself is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing. In a situation like this, there is no other option than to seek help from a medical professional as early as possible.

Cornell is not immune to the harms of high-risk drinking or hazing. The situation at Penn State serves as a somber — but incredibly important — reminder of the incident that occurred at Cornell’s SAE chapter in February 2011. Ever since, we have taken great strides to make our fraternity community more safe, responsible, and aware. With a few high-risk days coming up, let’s hold the lessons we’ve learned close.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks for reading through, and I hope you have an awesome week.


Drew Lord
President, Interfraternity Council
Cornell University


Drew Lord @ Cornell

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!


Scholars Symposium 2017

“If Blues Band is the day in the fall when I feel most happy and proud of our community, the Scholars Symposium is that day in the spring for me. I realize what good hands our futures are in when I hear these incredible students sharing their knowledge, ideas, and passion with such remarkable poise and conviction.”

                                                                              -Liz Perry, Head of Upper School

Liz took the words right out of my mouth. Blues Band and Scholars Symposium bookend the school year spectacularly. And I know why: both events leave you in a bit of awe.  You know you’ve witnessed something truly exceptional.

St. Luke’s Scholars 2017

An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.

St. Luke’s Scholars are the School’s mission come to life. Listen as a teenager educates the room about Infectious Disease in West Africa, or Genetic Luminescence, or Damnatio memoriae in the Roman Empire…it’s the epitome of deep learning.

These students become experts and that’s learning that lasts. When you develop a topic, execute a research plan, put forth a thesis, draft an extensive research paper and present your findings in public—I can promise you, it’s something you will remember forever.

Last year, my daughter Sarabeth worked on her Global Scholars project. She studied healthcare and nursing in India. I saw firsthand how a student moves from passionate but fairly superficial understanding of a topic to deep understanding. For Sarabeth, progress came through research, questioning, writing, rewriting and translating her findings into something meaningful for an audience. P.S. She’s studying to be a nurse.

In a few weeks, videos of the Scholars presentations will go online. I’ll share and urge you to watch a few. I bet you’ll find yourself thinking “This is exceptional.”


St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

State of the School 2016

“I’d been told that the State of the School evening was not to be missed. That’s certainly an understatement. My wife Meghan and I walked out of the building and we both were virtually speechless. Truly, I’m at a loss for words to express what a fantastic, inspirational evening it was. Best I can do is, simply, wow! I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to say it, but that one unsophisticated word seems to say it all.

—St. Luke’s Parent, Christopher Rosow

Many years ago, someone asked me: “What’s the goal of the State of the School?” I answered: “To make sure every parent feels informed and leaves thinking—I’m so happy we chose St. Luke’s.”

When I receive a note like the one above, I think mission accomplished. This year, the St. Luke’s mission was front and center as Board Chair Bob Wyckoff and I—along with several guest speakers—presented Living the Mission. It was the first State of the School to feature student speakers and as you might ascertain from Christopher’s comment, they were a big hit.

My thanks to these poised, articulate students, to the Jazz Band and their leader, Bob Leinbach, who sent us into the night still buzzing from their electric performance, and to Co-Chairs Barb Clayton and Michelle Diliberto whose parent team once again executed a truly exceptional dinner celebration.

If you missed it…


Click to view slides and photos from the State of the School 2016.

More Masterful Meditations

St. Luke’s Mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.

Last post featured Jim Foley’s Meditation. I said it was one of the best I’d ever heard. Doug Lyons, the Executive Director of CAIS, watched it and left a comment on this blog:

You “took my breath away” Jim. Important message – powerfully, artistically delivered. So proud to have you in the CT CAIS family. 

Love to you and the St. Luke’s community.

Shortly after reading Doug’s comment, I listened to Frank Henson deliver an outstanding Meditation. In fourteen minutes, his story (and magnificent story telling) brings the meaning of a strong moral compass to life.

On a similar, mission-focused note, Liz Perry masterfully turns up love of learning and turns down the pressure on her Upper School listeners. She tells of a morning, many years ago, when she did the unthinkable and overslept for an important test—shattering her grade and her self-image. Told with humor, the message of self-love and acceptance is invaluable.

My deepest gratitude to these exceptional educators. Give a listen; these are wonderful lessons for students of any age.




A Good Boy Gone Way Too Soon




I have received so many calls and notes of support since the devastating loss of Ryan Adams. All beautiful and deeply appreciated. One in particular has sustained me. Duncan Edwards is the Executive Director of Waterside School in Stamford. He is a special man, as you will see in his note below, and a dear friend. I could not keep his words to myself. Our whole community needs the comfort and love contained within. I chose the truest statement from Duncan’s note as my title.


Dear Mark,

Reading through the local papers this morning, read of the crash of a small plane in upstate NY.  Saw that two who died tragically were fairly local and students at Colgate.  Felt awful for the families and for all those affected but, sad but true, there seem to similar tragedies reported every day and my distance from the pain and heartache appeared to be a safe one.

That all changed when I got to the office this morning and discovered that one of those lost was/is one of yours.  I thought of you, your teachers, all his friends, his family and, most of all, his sister. I could not help but sense and see and feel more clearly the pain, the hurt, the loss, the tears.  And I thought of a place, one of great joy and spirit and purpose, now with halls filled with sadness, grief and despair.  Seemed only right to craft some magically healing words but, I’m afraid, life does not work that way though I know we both wish it did.

All that can be done now is for all of you to be there for one another; to find some strength in the deep hurt shared; to do whatever can be done to lessen in even the smallest way the horror of a family’s worst nightmare; to soldier on as he and He would want; and to remember always the goodness of Ryan and the lessons for us all that can be found in the loss of not being able to see the boy become a man.

I am sorry Mark, so sorry.  The greatest joy in your work is being able to share so fully in the beautiful moments that fill so many lives; sadly, maybe unfairly, the greatest cruelty is that you get to share equally in all those moments anything but beautiful.  Endure the latter—cherish the former—love Ryan always—and know that this community grieves in full sympathy with all of yours and with a family in the midst of their bleakest possible day.

This one won’t pass quickly; in fact, likely it will never pass and I am not sure it should.  Lead as you can; love all of yours as you do; and know that the pain—for the family, for you, for Luke’s, for all a part of this tragedy—is simply testament to the goodness and fullness of the souls now grieving and to the vast promise of a good boy lost way too soon.

Strength with and through all of this—be unafraid of shedding tears—stay true—be well.


State of the School 2014

Once again, St. Luke’s parents did not disappoint. Close to 400 of you came to participate in our annual State of the School. You socialized with friends old and new, celebrated our wonderful community, and learned more about St. Luke’s accomplishments, current plans, and future vision.

My personal thanks to our State of the School Committee led by Heather Freeman and Cindy Holland. This team of parent volunteers prepares for months and successfully turned our Commons into a festive space filled with great food and even better cheer.

Below, please find a video of the State of the School. Included you will find:

Presentation of the Edward B. Blakely Distinguished Faculty Award—to Mitch Murphy.

Board Chair Bob Wyckoff’s State of the School Presentation – featuring a moving        St. Luke’s Alumni video.

A Jazz Band Performance – led by Bob Leinbach

My Preserve & Innovate Keynote – featuring the On the Horizon video. This spotlights several educators and new curricular concepts.

Please enjoy and do share your thoughts via the comments tool on this page. We’d love to hear what you appreciated about State of the School—and what you think could be improved.

Above & Beyond Defined

Listen to the stories emerging from St. Luke’s, and you will soon hear the phrase Above & Beyond. We began using it years ago, after research showed our parents regularly employed these words, or similar sentiments, to describe St. Luke’s, and in particular, our faculty.

Today, I share four examples of Above & Beyond as embodied by a cross-section of our community…

The Administrator:  Guy Bailey 

Last week, Guy Bailey, our Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, gave what I consider to be a perfect Meditation. It had every element a of great presentation: It was personal, funny, and meaningful. He used his youth, his mistakes and his hair to share important life lessons. Students were laughing as authentically as I’ve ever heard them laugh. With Guy’s retirement racing toward us, this Heroes & Hair Meditation was a bittersweet reminder of all we’ve grown to love about Guy and will soon be missing

The Student, Maria Juran ‘15

Maria Juran has a wonderful way with words. She’s been featured in St. Luke’s literary magazine, The Pendulum, and has won numerous poetry and writing awards. Most recently, Maria nabbed the High School Prize from The Poetry Center at Smith College and both a Silver Key and Honorable Mention from Scholastic’s Art & Writing contest.

Maria is also a staff writer at the St. Luke’s Sentinel. She recently wrote an excellent  article regarding the new Leadership Studies Department.  I came across it and was struck by how well and succinctly she covered this Center for Leadership initiative.

The Alumnus: Zach Pearce ‘08

By now, many of you know Zach as St. Luke’s Sports Information Specialist.  Zach’s Above & Beyond abilities were quite apparent in his recent coverage of the Fathers and Friends Breakfast, featuring our new Athletic Director, Mike West.

Having a former student return to the Hilltop full of enthusiasm and love of his alma mater, not to mention sporting some impressive professional skills—doesn’t get much better.

The Parents:  St. Luke’s Parents’ Association

With record-breaking attendance and fundraising, the Spring Gathering, Motown on the Hilltop, exceeded all expectations. Co-chairs Alicia Wyckoff and Heather Freeman were unstoppable examples of leadership and tenacity. Sixty-plus committee members were stunningly generous with time, talent, and support of the School on every level.

A special shout out is required for SLS parent Jon Jodka, who executed the auctioneer role with humor, aplomb and serious skill!

Thank you, St. Luke’s parents. We never cease to be amazed at your willingness to go Above & Beyond for our school, our children, and our one-of-a-kind community.


Frank Henson: A Shower of Knowledge from Botswana

It is my pleasure to turn this week’s space over to English teacher Frank Henson. Frank was the first to participate in St. Luke’s teacher exchange – a Center for Leadership initiative. The exchange provides faculty with opportunities to immerse in a different country and culture. Frank blogged throughout his journey and was kind enough to write the following reflection upon his return:

Before I left Maru-a-Pula(MAP), the 40-year-old host private school in Botswana for my recent teacher exchange, I asked my students what they had learned during our three weeks together. I was gratified (and relieved) to hear many of the answers I was looking for. This was the perfect ending to my African trip, which is now a memorable blend of fascinating people and culture, hospitality and kindness, adventure, and the many eager and smiling faces of my MAP students.Now it is time for me to say what I learned during my three weeks at MAP. In consideration of space, I will reserve the full download for faculty posting, but a small list for sampling includes a powerful program that encourages outside reading, the “streaming” of students, and the benefits of spending eight months parsing Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar line by line.But my most transformative learnings were macro in scope. They transcend literacy, Cambridge exams versus SAT’s, and grammar. They are about vision in building student leaders, and they form an inspiring connection to St. Luke’s mission and offer potential lessons for us. I will detail these below, but first, some context about Botswana is in order.

In its 2012 edition of The Economist Book of Vital World Statistics: A Portrait of Everything Significant in The World, The Economist magazine’s annual report on some 196 countries, Botswana is listed 14 times. Within a population of two million people, the country has the second highest incidence of adult HIV infection in the world. Not surprisingly, then, the average life span is 58 years. Botswana is second in having the highest disparity in wealth between the upper and lower classes, and the average level of education is 8th grade. Despite a strong diamond industry, 25% of the country’s population is out of work. Lastly of note, 100% of the Botswana energy is generated by coal. Imperatives, needs, challenges, and change.


Although there are many goals and factors that have gone into the forging of MAP’s mission, the implications in the numbers above have driven two of the school’s key distinctions, certainly as they relate to education, both public and private, in Botswana.Distinction number one:knowing that service is critical to building leaders, but also recognizing the gravity of the country’s problems, MAP has devised a service program that is immersive, continuous, and embedded within the school’s ethos. MAP begins its service program in 7th grade, extending through 12th grade and post-graduate years, sending all 600 students out three times a week to community programs that the school has been servicing, in some cases, for 30 years. Fleets of buses leave at 2:00 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, as impressive a display of coordination as anything we’ve ever mustered, driving students to schoolhouses in need (as near as 10 kilometers away); or to a food distribution center to the north; or to a home for the elderly.

To see these missions in service is inspiring, and I was fortunate to go on three trips while I was there (they were winding down for the semester as exam preparation began). I saw upper students actively and enthusiastically teach lessons in schoolhouses without prompting from teachers, calling on children whom they had known for years; I saw students converse with familiarity and compassion with elderly women to whom they had been providing weekly rations of maize for four years; I saw students sit with 50 year old students in rural one-room schoolhouses and help the students read pre-school and kindergarten picture books.

Although I saw one school-wide toiletries drive for the destitute, MAP’s missions are not mostly about treasure; they are about time and culture, experience and evolution, and familiarity and interactivity.

Distinction number two: in stark contrast to other schools in Botswana (and nearby South Africa) whose student populations are largely white and affluent, the student population at MAP is more than 65% students of color, with the remainder represented by some 33 nationalities. A full 50-plus % of the students are Batswana (plural form). Roughly one-third of the students receive financial aid. And here is one of the more critical numbers: MAP provides full scholarships to 28 orphans and vulnerable children who are now full-time boarding students. These numbers are a multiple of equivalent schools’ admissions and scholarships for these groups of students. Rather than be an educational island within Botswana borders, MAP offers students a truly African experience. The net result of MAP’s service commitment and scholarship support of Batswana students in need shows in the many careers chosen within the country. The school has produced leaders in national government, national arts programs, the sciences and healthcare, indigenous craft collectives, and teachers. Many of MAP’s alumni will attend colleges and universities in the United States and Europe and then return to Botswana for their careers.

These are not just my observations. The school’s administration is fluent in expressing their goals of immersive service work, providing an African experience, and shaping leaders for Botswana. To me, their strategies for achieving these goals are incredibly wise, and they constitute ideas I have learned from and will never forget. MAP students make a difference every week. The red dirt of Africa…the desire for food, work, and learning in the countryside… …the dedication and compassion of young leaders…Maru-a-Pula, whose name means “clouds of rain” in Setswana. Although it was my experience — I was there, I saw it — I think we can all benefit from MAP’s shower of wisdom.

Distinguished Alumni Dr. James E. Smith

Last week was a very special Founder’s Day for me. I had the honor of presenting the 2011 St. Luke’s Distinguished Alumni award to Dr. James E. Smith II. In addition to being an absolutely wonderful human being, Dr. Smith is a professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social

Worker, and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. He is also a proud member of the St. Luke’s cla
ss of 1971.
After listening to Dr. Smith’s introduction, which included a long list of military and service medals, I was moved to see our students welcome him on stage with a long, heart-felt standing ovation.
There are so many fine moments in my role as Head of School and this topped the list. Meeting and getting to spend time with a St. Luke’s graduate like Dr. Smith reinforces all that we do here on the Hilltop. This is a man who is living our mission. He is an inspiration to all of us lucky enough to cross his path. Thank you Dr. Smith.