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 <president@cornellifc.org>

Subject: Lessons from Penn State

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

To: IFCALL-L@list.cornell.edu

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!


The Confidence to Lead

A group of ten year olds earnestly discusses whose life they will affect—the young woman in Indonesia whose village needs water filters, or the young man in Jordan trying to pay his school fees?

 The Fifth Grade Kiva Club is making a difference in the lives of people all over the world. Their teacher (Ty Wieland) provides structure and students take the lead—presenting work to peers, driving support and selecting fund beneficiaries. So far, the Kiva Club (including advisories and families) has loaned $6,400 to more than 120 people working to better their lives .

Take a look at the video below, created by our students (with a bit of help from Ty and Academic Technologist, Eli Fendelman). I watched it and marvelled at the elements of our mission on display—an exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.

I am grateful to these compassionate, young leaders who are living our mission. They inspire their peers, teachers and, most of all, their  Head of School.  



True Patriots

To criticize one’s country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism—a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation.  

—Senator J. W. Fulbright


When Senator J. W. Fulbright told a roomful of students at Johns Hopkins how important it is to question and criticize your country, he was describing what it means to be a citizen. For him that meant criticizing McCarthyism and the Vietnam War during his 30-year career in the US Senate. To him, patriotism was about far more than singing a song or pledging allegiance. It was about standing up for what you believe.

It may seem strange that loyalty and disagreement go hand in hand, but consider this: a real friend tells the truth; learning means asking questions; and honest discourse, the kind that brings about change, begins from a place of respect. Finding that place is tough, and it requires a great deal of practice.

At St. Luke’s we practice finding that place. We practice empathy, and we practice finding our voice. We learn to have difficult conversations and  remain respectful of diverse opinions. Our confidence to lead grows from this practice.

During the course of this Presidential election, a great deal of the discourse has been uncivil, and it’s hard to imagine how Senator Fulbright would have reacted. Appalled at the current culture of personal attack? Or approving of the dissent so essential to democracy? Both, I suspect.

When we head to bed on November 8th, a significant number of Americans will not be happy. Regardless of outcome, true patriots will stand by their country, ready to criticize and improve it and defend every citizen’s right to an opinion and a voice.

On November 11th, St. Luke’s honors the very men and women who defend our rights and secure our freedom. Our annual Veterans Day celebration takes place during Grandparents Day so that we may salute those who served across generations. We’ll sing the National Anthem, learn about the origins of this special day, and remember the courage that defines our nation.

Veterans & Grandparents Day Assembly 2015

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

In her Ted Talk about the importance of diversity, Mellody Hobson describes what it’s like to be seven and the only black child at an all-white birthday party. She asks why raising the topic of race in a conversation is like “touching the third rail.” She challenges us to be “color brave” instead of “color blind.” She reminds us that being socially responsible is less about being polite and more about being “comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

A recent Atlantic article by Robert P. Jones points to “hidden racial anxiety” that persists despite public rejection of blatant racism. Jones warns that the decline of open racism has potential side effects: “For researchers, journalists, and policymakers, the new challenge is that this positive social norm may make the public less willing to speak openly and candidly about race.”

Hobson and Jones place a spotlight on the critical importance of candor. We can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge.

Refusal to ignore injustice is central to St. Luke’s mission of lifelong learning and social responsibility. St. Luke’s Director of Diversity, Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, speaks eloquently of the need to embrace discomfort in pursuit of inclusivity. This message was front and center at St. Luke’s first Social Justice Summit earlier this year.

When we intentionally strengthen our students (and our own) capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, we demonstrate a St. Luke’s tenet—developing good people is as important as developing great students.

At the end of last week, I saw this photo on the school’s Facebook page

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The St. Luke’s Amnesty Group added their voices to the social campaign to bring back the kidnapped Nigerian school girls. Yesterday, the group had a bake sale to raise money for the Malala Fund (http://malalafund.org/), which donates 100% of proceeds to Nigerian NGOs. The image of these students, advocating for fellow students across the world, brings the following to mind:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

                                          – Martin Luther King

P.S. Just saw that Head of Upper School, Liz Perry, tweeted this highly relevant article from Slate.com re: why “Millenials have a hard time talking about race & discrimination.”

Veterans Day on the Hilltop

In gratitude for his years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Richard Farrell receives a handshake and letter from Jeff Lane ’16, a member of SLS Veterans Club. Mr. Farrell is the grandfather of Dominic (’18) and Marguerite (’21) DeMarco.

A 10-year old girl beams as her 80-year old grandfather receives a spirited, standing ovation from the St. Luke’s crowd. He is honored as a military veteran. She sees him with new eyes. Welcome to one of my favorite St. Luke’s traditions. For many years, we’ve combined our all-school Veterans Day ceremony with our fifth grade Grandparents and Special Friends Day. This special event took place November 8th. Eighty-six guests attended, 17 of whom were veterans. The children sang, then jumped to their feet to cheer and thank these men and women who served and protected our country. Students hand-delivered beautiful letters they had written to each veteran. It’s hard to convey the emotion and pride in the room. I cannot fathom a more meaningful celebration.

Today, on Veterans Day, I’d like to share another powerful tribute. This one delivered by  St. Luke’s Senior, Sebastian Bates. In his Meditation, Sebastian honors his grandfather and great-grandfather, two men who, when faced with war, chose very different paths.  I urge you to listen to Sebastian. He offers both an intelligent perspective on the complex topics of war and duty, and a glimpse of the leadership qualities we hope to foster in all of our students.

Please take a moment to look through these photos from the November 8th Grandparents and Special Friends Day.

Come Walk With Me

Last week I wrote “Kindness without action is useless…”

On October 6, 2013 we all have another chance to put our kind thoughts into action. St. Luke’s Student Service Board has organized the “One Step Closer to Home” walk-a-thon. Organized by the St. Luke’s Student Service Board under the leadership of Marissa Ruschil ‘15 and Elizabeth Guillen ‘15, the event will support Inspirica and their mission to eradicate homelessness.

I will walk the walk on October 6th and hope to have your company! Please register today.

Read more about the St. Luke’s and Inspirica partnership here and here.

9/11: A Good Day for Kindness

As one of my first acts as new Head of School at SLS,  I led an all-school gathering on the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. I read the Billy Collins poem “The Names”  to the students and faculty. It was a terrible time, but we made it better by being together.

This week – twelve years after 9/11 – I led my 12th all school opening assembly. I always use this time to focus on the SLS Honor Code and its four pillars: integrity, honesty, respect, kindness and responsibility. This year, I did a deep dive on kindness. What are its origins? Does it belong in the honor code? Is kindness more than manners? My key point:”Kindness without action is useless – in fact, it’s merely pity, which doesn’t go far enough and in fact seems uncaring or arrogant in comparison to the kind deed.”

When we reflect on the tremendous loss of 9/11, I hope we can also remember the many remarkable acts of kindness and courage. I’ll sign off with this selection from Monday’s opening assembly:

“At a time when so many people are suffering, isolated, angry, or waging war, let’s remember that here at St. Luke’s we can take care of each other – every day.  Let’s remember that at St. Luke’s our efforts to become our best selves bind us together, and the Honor Code asks us to be honest, respectful, kind and responsible.  Let’s remember that, here on the Hilltop, we have a special obligation to think about others and to act in ways that make our own community – and the world – better.”

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Bill Mahoney who passed away on April 30th. He lived his life guided by a simple motto: Be Kind.

Welcome Back to the Hilltop

“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

William Shakespeare

On this day, everything is possible. We can ace this course, score that goal, invent the next big thing, and save the world. As we walk into school for the first time, all bets are off, all dreams within reach.

A good summer fuels this optimism. This was certainly the case on the Hilltop, as construction began on the new Science Wing. As you arrived today, you saw a big pile of dirt – or mud – but I see kids and teachers in the labs and hallways, brainstorming, designing, building. I see people of all ages getting pumped about science, feeling it in their veins. So many possibilities!

This summer, St. Luke’s students also went into the world to find their voice and make a difference. Five students (Jojo Brame ’14, Lauren Britt ’15, Doug Butman ’14, Wyett Dalton ’14 and Christian Duncan ’14) joined Sonia Bell (Director of College Counseling) and Kate Parker Burgard (Director of Character Education) on a week-long Youth Service Opportunities Project in Washington, D.C. As Kate wrote on the Center for Leadership blog: “Each day, we got up and traveled to a different site where we helped with some of the many services available to help those in need.  From sorting clothes at the Community Family Life Services, to picking up trash for Parks and People, to packing juices in the Central Food Bank, to preparing food in the DC Central Kitchen we had a great chance to lend a hand to these critical support services…in trips like these I often think the biggest difference we make is in ourselves.”

Jereme Anglin (Director of Theater Arts), Dale Griffa (Music Department Chair), Lisa Hobbs (SLS Parent and Musical Accompanist) and 17 students found their voices performing Godspell at the Fringe Festival in Scotland (photo gallery). A few days into the festival, I received this email from SLS parent Jon Jodka:

“Kim, Henry and I have been here in Scotland since Saturday morning and we are having a ball. We just enjoyed the third Godspell performance in four days and I felt I couldn’t wait to get home to let you know that the St. Luke’s group here is doing you and the entire Hilltop community proud. Their performances have been high energy, filled with great song and heavy drama at the end. Jereme, Dale and Lisa all deserve huge congratulations for the way they have inspired these young men and women to give their all in front of an international crowd. More important than the performances, in my opinion, is just what a great group of nice kids this group is..they seem to genuinely care for and be rooting for each other. Kim and I are so appreciative that Nick has had the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful experience. I’m sure you will hear plenty about it when they all return to CT but I wanted to share my joy and excitement with you while still here.”

Some of us found our voices and made a difference closer to homeWeddingMM & M while reuniting with family and friends. I must say, however, that I lost my voice on my son’s wedding day, July 27th, unexpectedly overcome by emotion as I watched the ceremony that included my other son as officiant and my daughter as bridesmaid.  Sometimes emotion sweeps over us when we least expect it to.  In this case, it had something to do with the joy that any father would feel when seeing his children together in a wedding ceremony.  On further reflection, I realized my tears also sprang from the hopes I have for each of my children.  The future holds little certainty, of course, so in that moment the power of possibility, concentrated by the power and optics of a deeply personal public ritual, felt both potent and overwhelming.

As the new school year begins, I don’t want to lose the meaning of those moments. As we rush toward our possibilities, let’s remember why we’re here.  We come to school for the sake of our children, to nurture their possibilities.  We do so by encouraging and pushing them to be their best selves, and frequently that work manifests itself in one of the many timeless, traditional rituals of school.  Like a wedding ceremony, the many public rituals of school sharpen our sense of what children can become.  That sense of possibility is what keeps many of us coming back, year after year, to this most noble profession and this most inspiring school.  As we begin this school year, I hope every St. Luke’s student, teacher, and parent feels awed by their hopes and dreams, by the power of possibility.

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”

Søren Kierkegaard

Enter to learn. Go Forth to Serve. Welcome back to the Hilltop.