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.

Best,

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!

 

A Life-Saving Night

 

Before you leave for vacation, or settle in for stay-cation, please mark your calendars for March 31: The Power of Prevention: Success Stories and Strategies for Healthy Teen Years. The event is hosted by the RAM Council, an organization built around New Canaan students who lead substance-free lives.

I’ll be speaking on a diverse panel (see flyer below). We’ll each address substance abuse through a different lens.  I will share my story of watching a loved one struggle through addiction and recovery. Several other panelists have personal stories to share as well.

RAM Council president, Joyce Sixsmith, said the goal is to make the threat and pain of addiction real:  “…if we recounted stories that brought to life how heroin has affected families it could make a difference.”

You can read more about RAM and Power of Prevention in this New Canaanite article.

There are no reservations or tickets required.  I hope to see many of you there—with teens in tow.  See the flyer below for more information.

P.S. If anyone doubts the need for this talk…see links below:

Heroin Has Killed Six Young People from New Canaan – New Canaanite

Heroin Use Becoming An Epidemic in Fairfield Community – Norwalk Daily Voice

Heroin Killing Connecticut Residents at an Alarming Rate – New Canaan Patch

Pair Arrested for Heroin Possession in New Canaan – Eyewitness News

New Canaan Police Have New Tool for Fighting Heroin Overdoses – New Canaan News

Heroin Epidemic Increasingly Seeps into Public View – New York Times

 

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A Good Boy Gone Way Too Soon

ryanadamslighthouse

 

 

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.

-DE

Welcome Back to the Hilltop

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

 

There it is again. That buzz, that palpable energy flowing down hallways and across campus. Students and teachers filling the school with warmth and excitement.  It began with today’s new student orientation—tomorrow that energy will swell as our full student body arrives, ready to make a new beginning.

For the first time ever, I’ll miss greeting students as they arrive for the first day of classes. A small cohort of St. Luke’s teachers and administrators will attend Jim Decatur’s service in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Wild horses could not keep me from Jim’s family—but I am saddened to miss the fresh faces and endless possibilities of the first day.

I cannot adequately thank this community for its support. In true St. Luke’s form, we came together to deal with a terrible loss. Parents, students, and alumni wrote, called, and came to the Hilltop in droves wanting to know one thing: What can I do to help?

Our teachers, though still deeply shaken, have made our students top priority. Classrooms are sparkling, lessons are primed, and everyone is ready to make this a wonderful year.

I’m back on campus Thursday. Jim will be in my thoughts—his big smile in my heart.

In Honor of Madison

Sadly, there’s been no shortage of follow-ups to my last post about depression and anxiety in young people. I hesitate to share this latest, as it will leave you heartbroken. But where will we be if we don’t continue this dialogue?

Madison Holleran could easily be a St. Luke’s student. Bright, accomplished, athletic, beautiful and—seemingly—Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.07.19 PMvery happy. She had an adoring family and what appeared to be a dazzling future ahead. In January—halfway through a “successful” freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania—Madison jumped to her death.

Her family has been admirably outspoken about suicide prevention (you may have seen Madison’s Dad on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel). In honor of this courageous family, I share Madison’s story—which could be any child’s story.

May is Mental Health Month. Kudos to Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, Camille DeMarco-Havens, and the St. Luke’s Student Council who developed activities designed to turn down the pressure knob (during what can be a particularly stressful time of year). Yesterday, Upper Schoolers ran around during a good old-fashioned recess period. The next few weeks include a nature walk, a group meditation, yoga and dance. The goal is simple: Have fun and relax a bit.

Small but worthwhile steps in a much longer journey.

P.S. My thanks to Stefanie Ciaccia who shared Madison’s story with me.

Update: This just in from Ginny Bachman: NPR’s On Point—Teenagers: The High Cost of Success. Worth a listen. Features guest speakers including psychologist Madeline Levine.

 

 

Thinking About Emotion

People with purpose, autonomy, relatedness, and competence live happier lives, both immediately and deeply. Success is not a matter exclusively of the heart or the mind, of thought or emotion. It is both. Which makes it hard. Which explains why self-esteem or engagement or grit, or other undeniable virtues, never amount to much in and of themselves.”     – John Chubb

The above is from NAIS President John Chubb’s current blog Thinking About Emotion. I have the privilege of serving with John on the NAIS Board of Trustees. His focus on the subject of student mental health and well-being is well placed and his observations—spot on. I encourage you to read his post and welcome your thoughts.

 

Building & Breathing

“I can’t breathe.”

I cannot get Eric Garner’s dying words out of my head. As everyone knows, those three words have become a symbol of the struggle to make sense of Mr. Garner’s death.  In the aftermath of his death, “I can’t breathe” also became a rallying cry for those who wanted to express the feelings of black people who, perceiving an unjust policing and legal system in America, felt (and feel) stifled and fearful for their lives.  “I can’t breathe” also means “I feel trapped, isolated, unable to do anything positive about my second-class position in America.”

I have also heard people use “I can’t breathe” in a mocking fashion, to discredit the belief that Eric Garner was a victim of police brutality.  In this version, people say, sarcastically, “If he could say those words, then obviously he could breathe.”  In that view, the police not only needed to use deadly force to subdue Mr. Garner and protect themselves, but sympathy for Garner comes from a place of reverse discrimination and political correctness.  Even if intended as a joke, such a statement feels callous at best, and makes it even harder for people with differing perspectives to talk it over in an atmosphere of mutual trust and safety.

Starting with the first word (“Building”) of our school year theme, we have acknowledged that we have important work to do, together.  Building an inclusive community requires creating building blocks, the foundation for having difficult but trusting conversations.  Sometimes that means finding areas of widely shared agreement, such as the fact that, though tragic, Mr. Garner’s death should not lead to anger at ALL police officers. No story has only one side. Acknowledging that can enable people to express more emotional perspectives such as fear, anger, and confusion.

On our hilltop, during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and the December break, I watched and listened as St. Luke’s students, faculty and parents tried to express their opinions and feelings about race and the best ways for St. Luke’s to build an inclusive school community.  This was entirely appropriate, as we have named “Building an Inclusive Community” as our school-year theme and those three weeks saw the national reactions to grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island as well as the horrific shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

I kept asking myself:  What is the proper role of a school—St. Luke’s specifically—in responding to such historic, painful events?

I watched and listened to students and adults who felt scared, isolated and diminished by what had occurred.  I witnessed others who felt galvanized to action, or at least to frank and deep conversations.  I saw others, black and white, who preferred not to enter the conversation.  Their fears included feeling even more exposed as an outsider in a majority culture, or being accused of either racism or political correctness.  I myself felt many of these very fears, and was not-so-subtly accused of some of these tendencies.  If that made me feel a little gun-shy about entering the conversation, I can only imagine how others felt.

What, indeed, should St. Luke’s do to explore, understand and express what it means to have an inclusive community?  How can we create respectful and safe space for students, for faculty, and for parents to listen to and learn from each other on this urgent, thorny topic?  How can we honor people whose ideas differ from our own?  And, most important, how can we make everyone feel they are full members of the St. Luke’s community?

One answer to these tough questions is to speak up, or Speak Out, as several brave students did during an Upper School gathering just before break and then again at today’s Meditation (see video below). Another is to invite inspiring and unifying speakers like Wes Moore onto our campus and into our hearts. And then there is St. Luke’s Social Justice Leadership Summit. I can’t say enough about this event led by Director of Diversity Dr. Stephanie Bramlett and Director of Academic Technology Grant Russell. I’ll quote myself from last year’s post about this summit: I did not know what to expect when I signed on to attend the summit, or even when I walked in.  But I walked away with something special – in my head and in my heart.  I saw adults and adolescents engaged in ways moving and profound, creating a memory both beautiful and uplifting.  In more than thirty years as an educator, I have never participated in an event that built as much trust, or inspired as much faith and hope as the SJLS.

While I lay claim to few definitive answers, one thing I know for sure:  talking, compassion and respect are the building blocks for our inclusive community. When we nurture these skills and values in our children, we honor our mission of lifelong learning and social responsibility.

As we head into this Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I leave you with these words from Dr. King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Recommended Reading: St. Luke’s Sports Information Specialist, Zach Peace, wrote a thoughtful piece about sports and MLK: St. Luke’s Sports Zone

Peace On Earth

Last night I came across this “Remembering Sandy Hook Victims” article. I admit, it’s a struggle to focus on the faces of the children. I don’t want to feel that mix of anguish and sorrow moving through my gut again. The re-realization that this actually happened.

I look at their toothless smiles. I read the stories about what they loved (horses, dancing, arm-wrestling, dolls). I read again about the teachers and administrators who leapt in front of bullets. I can’t change what happened, but I can remember them.

Recently a video of Samaria Rice appeared in my email. She describes the night her 12-year old son, Tamir, was shot dead. Though the circumstances are completely different from Sandy Hook, I feel the same obligation to bear witness. This should not have happened. I need to hear and feel this woman’s grief and anger. I need to remember, in the words of Dr. King, “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.”

Peace on earth. Sometimes it feels like a wish we bring out during the holidays—like ornaments soon wrapped up and stuck back on the closet shelf. How do we change that? How do we make kindness, respect, and justice for all a tangible, reachable goal?

In a few weeks, our ninth grade will begin St. Luke’s first January Term (J-Term). This will be an eight-day cycle when regular classes will suspend and students will study one domestic or world problem, collaborate on solutions, and present their findings and ideas at a symposium. While still in eighth grade, students were asked what topic they’d most like to explore. Their collective answer: human rights. Students at this age are ripe for asking big questions—Why is there unfairness in the world? What can I do about it? We want to fan that flame and show our young people that they can use their hearts and minds to change the world.

Later in January, St. Luke’s will hold our second annual Social Justice Summit. Student and faculty participants will engage in activities and examine case studies that deepen our awareness, strengthen our capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, and foster trusting relationships across the perceived barriers of race, ethnicity, religion, identity, gender, age and power. 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 scholars.

Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.”  St. Luke’s does not have all the answers, and we’ll certainly uncover areas of disagreement and misunderstanding even as we seek to understand each other better. But I know we’re walking the right path. Our Center for Leadership encourages students to find your voice and make a difference. Imagine the difference every community could make by teaching children to respect all people— not because it’s good manners or politically correct—but because it will bring peace on earth.

 

My Meditation: Baseball, Injustice, Hope & Honor

This morning, I delivered St. Luke’s first Meditation of the year. It was part explanation, part expectation, part confession, and hopefully, part inspiration. I hope you will take a moment to listen, if you are so inclined. I did my best to connect the dots between our summer read, our inclusion work, the Honor Code and the world at large. Whew.

Addiction Assembly II

As promised, below is a video of the Upper School (and 8th grade) Assembly re: Addiction.

So many of you wrote to me with heart-felt words after my “heads up” letter and after the assembly. I’m sure some parents felt reservations about this heavy topic, but every one of the emails, calls and notes I received applauded St. Luke’s determination to come at this issue head on.

Several parents and colleagues have since told me how addiction has affected their families, with stories running from tragedy to recovery.  Many teachers told me that their discussions in Advisory after the assembly were the most engaged and important Advisory sessions of the school year, with students moved, curious, and hungry for more information and advice.  Several parents told me of their car ride and dinner table conversations about what their kids heard, and that those conversations have continued. I also received some beautiful notes from students, who, in addition to being moved, said they were glad I had raised the topic so it could be discussed openly without fear of sanction or stigma.

And that lesson – that kids should be talking about these issues with the adults in their lives – stands above all, I hope.  More than anything else, I hoped my talk would open the door to more of those conversations – with parents, with teachers, with any trusted adult.  Many, if not most teenagers will engage in risky behavior.  Some percentage, as I said in my talk, will become addicted to substances that could ruin their lives or end them.  All kids need to know they can talk with an adult, to help themselves or to help a friend.

Below are just a few of the responses received, with names removed for family privacy.

“I appreciate you addressing this sensitive subject! Being that I work with families that often have substance abuse I find this topic very important. Thank you so much for always being creative in your teaching and even when needing to discuss “sensitive” topics you make it a point to address it always thinking of our children’s future!”

“Hi Mark – I applaud you for addressing this issue with the students.  I do hope that alcohol is included in this discussion as abuse and addiction to alcohol causes more deaths and accidents than any other drug AND is a gateway for someone prone to addiction towards other substances like heroin.”

“I think this is a GREAT idea.   I speak to [name] about these issues  —  he is always telling me he is not around this and upset that I assume the worst.  He has said to me that he does not have an “addictive” personality — ???? — such a typical statement from a young adult that feels it can never happen to him.  It is a very slippery slope and I thank you for taking the initiative.“

“The conversation I shared with [name] was long and heartfelt. In the end I simply said ” if you want to live the life you want to live never touch or try drugs never. Your life choices will no longer be yours. Thank you for the courage to address a topic that could save [lives].”

“Thank you for this powerful initiative. It is wonderful you are doing it especially with the introduction you wrote and the headlines we do see. Good luck with the presentation tomorrow.  I am sure it will tap into a deep core nerve with Michael’s addictions….and now his health ( some nice sunshine and growth from a dark spot ). Be strong and thank you for doing this for all of our children”

“As a parent at St. Luke’s, I am awed.  As your friend, I am proud and honored to know you.  Thank you for your courage today and for changing our children’s lives.”

“I wanted to thank you for the assembly that you held today with our children.  When we discussed your interest in addressing this topic you mentioned that you had a story that you wanted to share but I did not realize how deeply personal this experience was for you and your family. Your willingness to share this with our students was truly generous.  Thank you for caring so much about (name) and all of the students at St. Luke’s to share something so personal.  I believe being open about the topic of addiction will help our students to make positive choices and more informed decisions and will perhaps allow someone who may be struggling to come forward and ask for help.

Thank you Mark for your kindness and generosity.”

“I wanted to also express my thanks and admiration for your decision to hold an assembly to address the addiction issue.  My kids came home buzzing about it, and were particularly moved when you put your son’s picture up and spoke from the heart about his personal challenge with drugs.  It took a lot of courage to do that, and that is what leadership is all about in my book, so well done. Your comments regarding having some sense of responsibility to others when it comes to this issue also resonated with my kids, and was a critically important message for our tight knit St. Lukes community.  It all led to a family discussion around the dinner table that was necessary, timely and much more meaningful and robust than it would have been otherwise.  I trust the feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly positive,  I surely hope so.”

“I just wanted to let you know that (name) and I spoke at length this afternoon about today’s assembly. She was very moved by your words, as was I as she recounted your speech.  For so many reasons – some of which you highlighted in front of the students – the timing of your talk was perfect. More so, your sharing such a personal story will remain with them forever.  What you did was brave and selfless. I imagine that on some levels it was a difficult day. But know that your words were a gift to all who heard them. And for that – and especially on behalf of my daughter – I am very grateful.”

Lesson learned:  On the issue of drugs and alcohol, talk is never cheap.  In fact, it’s the best investment you can make in your children.

Thank you, to everyone who listened and watched, and to everyone in our school community as we do our best to take care of each other.

Head of School Mark Davis: Special Assembly On Addiction from St. Luke’s School on Vimeo.

SLS Assembly Re: Addiction

The following was sent via eblast to St. Luke’s Parents today…

Three weeks ago, on February 1st, Philip Seymour Hoffman died because of heroin. This past summer, Cory Monteith, star of the popular Glee series, died because of heroin. Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, John Belushi—just a few on the long list of people who seemed to “have it all,” but in the end, had only heroin.

Yet this problem is not confined to the super rich and famous, nor the terribly poor and unfortunate. Heroin has become frighteningly common. Gone are the days when we could ignore it as a drug for urban junkies or Hollywood stars. In the last several years, in fact, heroin use, addiction and deaths among young people have increased dramatically in suburban communities such as New Canaan and in rural areas. Last month, the New York Times did a feature about Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoting his entire State of the State Message to “a full-blown heroin crisis.” That same article stated: “In the past few years, officials have reported a surge in the use of heroin in New England, with a sharp rise in overdoses and deaths, as well as robberies and other crimes common among addicts. Those same statistics are being replicated across the country.”

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, 2/25, I will hold a special assembly for Upper School Students and eighth graders. I intend to raise a red flag about addiction, point out common and dangerous myths, and share a personal story. After the assembly, students will attend advisory sessions in which advisors will facilitate follow-up conversations. Students will be given the names of faculty who can provide resources and guidance should questions arise.

Why now? This quote from the Chicago Sun-Times captures the sad opportunity Hoffman’s death presents: “Hoffman’s performance in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” as the subversive Plutarch Heavensbee, made him visible to our kids—just as their generation struggles with drugs for the first time in their lives. His death can teach them—and us—a lesson.”

Timing is key. Our children are at a critical age. It’s their time to experiment. To take risks and to be curious. We encourage these qualities. But they are also at an age when they think they can try anything, the danger doesn’t apply to them, and they will live forever. There is unreliable influence all around them. It’s up to us to tell them the real truth about heroin and drug addiction.

I will share more about this assembly, including articles and resources, in next week’s blog. I welcome your thoughts.

26

If, like me, you have never thought much about that unremarkable number, I’ll guess here that it makes an impression on you now, especially today.  Lacking a place in the pantheon of numbers, “26” now reminds us of a horrific tragedy that took place a year ago.  For other horrific events in our past, such as 9/11 or December 7, 1941, we tend to reflect on a date.  But as I reflect today on the anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the number “26”– more than December 14th, 2012–brings memories, sadness, and confusion to the surface.

 In his Meditation on Thursday, senior Ben Decatur shared his recollections of that fateful day and reflected–feelingly and powerfully–on how he continues to think about it.  As Ben talked, so movingly and generously, and as the Acafellas joined him to sing “Prayer of the Children” (which many of them also sang last March at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czeck Republic –video and recording), I felt less confused, moved to a simple but poignant gratitude by the potent mix of sadness and grace that he and his comrades conveyed.  I felt gratitude for Ben, for his fellow Acafellas, and for my good fortune to work in a school, surrounded by children and the adults who have committed their lives to working with them.

 Since then I have also reflected on the close timing of Nelson Mandela’s death with the anniversary of the “26.”  Mandela, a personal hero, achieved a form of grace through his strategic application of mercy and forgiveness.  Still living in the wake of a deed that feels unforgiveable, and keenly aware of the failure of our nation’s leaders to put aside political considerations to protect innocent people from our sick gun culture, I continue to hope for a Mandela-like mix of strategy and grace to lift us up, together, to a sensible, shared commitment to end gun violence.

 

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.

Boston Marathon Tragedy

I know each of us has been thinking about the city of Boston and all the people affected by yesterday’s horrific event. Personally, it was important for me to hear the voice of my son Matthew who lives and works in Boston.

Each of us will manage our feelings in our own way. As parents and educators, however, we also want to be attentive to the feelings of children who might have questions and may express themselves in ways for which we don’t feel prepared.

Below are several resources you may find helpful. Sadly, I’ve had cause to share these with you in the recent past.

Finally, please be sure to let your child’s SLS advisor know if you feel she or he needs special attention.

Newtown Follow Up: All-School Assembly

Below is yesterday’s follow-up regarding Newtown and plans for talking with students…

Dear St. Luke’s Families,

As we all prepare for our return to school tomorrow, we are feeling our way through many emotions, some of them bewildering, even unfathomable. Two days after learning of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I want you to know that we’re eager to return to routines and to see your children on the Hilltop.

Students and faculty will attend an all-school assembly tomorrow morning. We want them to feel the security and warmth of being together as one community. While I will refer to the terrible thing that happened in Newtown, I will not provide any details that might be inappropriate to share with students of differing ages.

This all-school gathering will replace Middle School Advisory and Upper School Town Meeting.

Gathering in this way represents our intentional way to feel – literally – the warmth, strength, and love of our school community. We have each other. We need to feel that closeness, as it’s our greatest source of strength and security.

It’s also an opportunity for me to tell the kids that each of us will react differently to this terrible event. That’s not only OK; it’s normal and human. Some people want to cry and talk about it. Some people want to push it out of their minds and think about something else. No one should feel guilty about laughing with friends.  No one should feel guilty for not being able to cry. Psychologists tell us that we have the full range of human emotions to give us solace and strength. So tomorrow we want to be together, to support one another, and to feel thankful for the blessing of being in this place.

As I mentioned in my message last night, Blake Bueckman, Middle School Counselor, is available to talk with students and parents every day – on the phone or via email. Additionally, Dr. Ron Raymond, St. Luke’s Consulting Psychologist, is available and will be at school on Tuesday as usual.

Just as we look forward to seeing the beautiful faces of your children, we also can’t wait to see you on campus during this busy week before the December break and in the New Year.  In light of recent events, we ask that you pay particular attention to using the front entrance, rather than knocking on locked doors, and to checking in with Jeanette when you come during the school day.

Thank you for all of your encouraging messages and kind words of support during these last two days. They have helped more than you know.