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 <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!

 

Groundbreaking News (Literally)

 

What’s better than sharing good news?

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with students about the new Arts and Humanities Wings coming in the Fall of 2018. We gave students a heads up about groundbreaking before March break, but wanted to explain the new addition in the context of our  vision for St. Luke’s. As I said to students today:  “The world changes so fast and we want to make sure you have a campus and spaces that fuel and inspire learning.”

Addressing the Upper School

 

General Reaction: Smiles

Lead architect Jim Rogers joined our student meetings. Jim shared images of the project and illuminated why space matters. He also outlined three goals of the new addition:

  1. We wanted to create light, bright, open spaces with a lot of flexibility in the layout. The ideal is to  that students come into a space and make it their own. Whatever the activity, we want the work areas to be comfortable, appealing and user-friendly.
  1. The new design brings the Art Department into the fold. The distance between art and the rest of the school can be a roadblock to the arts working with other disciplines—for example a collaborative history and art project. We wanted to eliminate this physical and mental distance between art and the rest of the school.
  1. Creation of a Humanities Wing gives English and History a new space and more of the collaborative, flexible spaces seen in the Science Wing. With all our core departments in the main building, the School will be united. And just as the Science Wing clearly announces to visitors that St. Luke’s values the sciences—the new wings will send the same message about the Arts and Humanities.

Jim Rogers Talking with Middle School

More Smiles from Middle School

 

As Jim and I pointed out to students, achieving these goals brings another major benefit:  St. Luke’s will have distinct Upper and Middle Schools. Right now, the Upper and Middle Schools share classrooms and that requires shared schedules. It’s long been a desire to have enough space for each school to design classes and schedules around what’s best for students. Once these buildings are complete, that vision too will be a reality.

Earlier in the week, St. Luke’s Trustees gathered to lend the construction crew a hand. Take a look to see how that went…

 

Happy Holidays Video

We have many beloved traditions at St. Luke’s—few more eagerly anticipated than our annual Holiday video. Once again, I am amazed by Visual Media Director Desiree Smock’s ability to capture the spirit of our Hilltop.

 

Get ready to smile…

 

May friendship and goodwill be yours this holiday season…and always.



Teachable Moment: Civil Discourse

Every four years the St. Luke’s History Department organizes and oversees a mock Presidential election at school, with advisories dividing up into states to “replicate” the Electoral College.  Last week’s mock election showed that we had many students and faculty supporting each candidate, with roughly one third voting for President-elect Trump and roughly two thirds voting for Secretary Clinton.  Our outcome mirrored Connecticut’s but not the national results, and we saw democracy in action.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that emotions were high on all sides going into this election, and we have seen that continue in the days since November 8th.  Not surprisingly, the divisions we see in our country at large also play themselves out here at school.  In a few instances, this has led to behaviors not in keeping with our core values, school culture or Honor Code.  Knowing this, and wanting to remind everyone of our expectations, I made the following points at this week’s Upper and Middle School town meetings:

-At St. Luke’s we value respectful discourse and encourage discussion of different viewpoints.

-Among other things, respectful discourse means not making your disagreements personal.  For example, it’s not in keeping with our values to call someone an idiot, or to suggest that they are a bad person, or a racist because you disagree with their point of view.  We expect that no one will engage in behavior or use language intended to intimidate or humiliate anyone.

-If you’re struggling with how to manage a difficult or emotional conversation, seek out a faculty member or an advisor for advice.

-Our culture of kindness doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or strongly argue your point. In fact, debate – respectful debate – is the essence of a healthy democracy, and a core element of what it means to participate as a citizen of a democracy. Whichever candidate you supported, and whatever policies you agree or disagree with, now and in the future, I hope every one of you will not shy away from understanding the issues, debating them with others, and working hard to make our democracy strong and healthy.

What I didn’t say, but perhaps should have, is that everyone has a right to feel how they feel.  If you feel excited and optimistic because your candidate won, that’s understandable and OK.  If, on the other hand, you feel sad and fearful, that’s also understandable and OK.

Since November 8th we have seen a spike in overt harassment of minorities in schools, including schoolyard bullying, taunts, and even the Royal Oak middle school students seen chanting “Build the wall” on a video that went viral.  It’s not a partisan act to condemn these things and to assure those people in our community who fear what could happen to them or their loved ones that we will keep them safe here at school. This is how a school community acts with integrity and stays true to its fundamental values.

And so we will encourage—no, insist on—civil discourse at St. Luke’s.  While we have no wish to monitor every interaction among students, when we learn of students not respecting each other we address it and will continue to do so.  As the St. Luke’s Honor Code reminds us:

As members of the St. Luke’s community, we will maintain and encourage integrity at all times.  We will be honest in what we say and write, and we will show respect for ourselves, each other, and all property.  We will treat everyone with kindness, and we will accept responsibility for our actions.

Read Look for the Beacons for more about honor at St. Luke’s.

 

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

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…

SOS blog-Sam INSPIRICA

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

Visionaries on the Hilltop

Some of the most forward-thinking minds in the fields of technology, finance, education, and politics have or will soon be on the Hilltop—visiting, inspiring debates and sharing theories that resonate across campus.

David Pakman addresses St. Luke's Board

David Pakman addresses St. Luke’s Board

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist David Pakman, a St. Luke’s parent and Board member, spoke to trustees about “Technology, the Future, and Us.” David, a partner at Venrock, specializes in researching and predicting the future. We sat riveted as he covered everything from driverless cars (much sooner than you think) to artificial intelligence. The big take-away: St. Luke’s investment in STEM curriculum is well placed as professionals of the future—regardless of chosen fields—need a firm grasp on how their digital world works.

David arranged for John Katzman to share his insights into the future of education with our board. John,  a well-known educationalist, is currently CEO of The Noodle Companies. He also founded and served as the CEO of The Princeton Review, the SAT prep company, and created 2U, an educational technology company. John shared provocative ideas about the future of independent schools and their need for increased technological sophistication.

Our faculty and Board had a private screening of the Sundance Film selection Most Likely To Succeed and a discussion with the education consultant for the film Stephanie Rogen, a leadership expert and St. Luke’s Board member.

 

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott-Haims and Mark Davis

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott Haims and Mark Davis

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the best-selling book How to Raise an Adult , spoke last week to faculty, students and parents. Her core message, which clearly resonated with all audiences: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids way.”

St. Luke’s parent Aris Kekedjian, GE Head of M&A/Business Development, spearheaded the sale of roughly $200 billion of GE Capital assets in a whirlwind 18-month period that helped strategically position GE as a more nimble industrial company.  In this year’s first Lunch and Lead sponsored by the Center For Leadership, Mr. Kekedjian delivered a tour de force of leadership lessons gleaned from his personal and business experiences to thirty-five students and several faculty members.

On September 27, the day after the first Presidential debate, Ari Fleischer, St. Luke’s parent and former White House press secretary, will speak to grades 8-12 about the election. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the campaigns and the issues at stake, Mr. Fleischer will respond to questions from our students.  Yes, you can bet I plan to be a fly on that wall.

Wow. These thinkers bring to the Hilltop much more than just their expertise. They bring their ideas. And they bring their questions.

How can schools stay relevant and sustainable in the crush of new information and network technology? How do we encourage a love of learning, not merely a quest for achievement? How do we provide an exceptional education—one that lights up each student’s curiosity and leadership qualities—while thriving in the competitive world of standardized tests and college admissions? How do we, as a country in 2016, elect our next President, and how do we talk with students about the controversial nature of this year’s campaign? (See my “Hamilton” Meditation for more on those last questions).

It’s electrifying, a bit daunting, and the perfect challenge for a community full of people who love to learn. What an exciting time and how fortunate that St. Luke’s has visionaries from whom we can learn.

 

Welcome (Back) to the Hilltop

A few weeks ago, I sat with my daughter in a Manhattan coffee shop. I couldn’t help but notice a pair of twenty-something young men hovering around a laptop and talking excitedly. I was intrigued by their energy and asked what they were doing. “We’re working on a movie pitch,” explained one young man. I couldn’t pinpoint why at the time, but these guys gave me a happy charge. Amid a summer tainted by ugly politics, violence, natural disasters…these two reminded me that life goes on, creation and excitement go on, young people full of ideas and ideals go on.

Today I welcome 111 new students to St. Luke’s. In their presence I feel that same optimism fill me. Every student walks onto campus with hopes of friendship, belonging, trying and accomplishing. Every teacher looks ahead to a year of new relationships with students—as mentors, coaches, and friends. It’s a time brimming with promise.

"Veterans" greeting newcomers

“Veterans” greeting newcomers

I’m going to leave you with a little video I shared during faculty meetings. Like my coffee shop meeting, and new student orientation, it left me exceptionally positive about the spirit of our children.

My Summer Letter

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.”

                                                                                     ―E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Do you hear the crickets?  I’m afraid they’re right.  Summer cannot last forever, but happily its end means we return to the Hilltop for a year of learning, friendship and growth.

Summer offers so many opportunities for us to use our time in ways we can’t during the school year.  For me, it especially means more time to spend with family, more time to play golf, and more time to read.  I trust everyone has embraced the summer reading.  Thus far I’ve read:

How Google Works, by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, by Frank Bruni

The Second Machine Age, by Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

The Elon Musk Blog Series, by Tim Urban

The Libertarian Mind, by David Boaz

Buddhism, by Huston Smith and Philip Novak

Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda

 

Hoping to make a further dent in my imposingly high stack of books as I begin a two-week vacation. So many books, so little time….

Meanwhile, the Hilltop has been bustling all summer.  The Fifth grade renovation has kept our dedicated facilities team on full throttle, as has their determination to keep the entire campus beautiful for our families’ return.  Between our own growing summer programs (i2 Camp, Maker Camp, Writing Workshop), St. Luke’s summer squash programs, and the various sports camps hosted on our fields—it’s quite easy to forget the school year ended in early June.

In less than two weeks, our new faculty arrives and then full faculty meetings begin. We’ll share profiles of our new teachers in the coming weeks. We also have several internal promotions and new hires  including:

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, formerly Dean of Upper School Student Life and Director of  Diversity, joins the Center For Leadership as Director of Inclusive Excellence and Leadership.  In this key role, she will work closely with CFL staff and the entire St. Luke’s community to assure that inclusive thinking and leadership support the School’s Mission and all academic and co-curricular programs.

Dan Clarke takes the helm of the Storm Zone as our new Sports Information Specialist. Dan replaces Ethan Pearce ‘11 who heads to law school. You may know Dan as St. Luke’s Varsity Girls soccer coach—a role he will continue to play (the crowd cheers).

Barbara Clayton becomes our new Parent Liaison, replacing Heather Freeman who served so well in the position for two years. Barb was a St. Luke’s parent for 15 years (Will ‘09, Henry ‘11 and Sally ‘16) and twice served as the PA Board President, most recently last year.

Eli Fendelman is our new Academic Technologist. Along with Bruce Strothenke and Matt Bavone, he’ll be working with teachers and students to leverage technology for learning. Take a look at Eli’s distinctive job application for a sense of his skills and personality.

Anna Knechtel transitions to Assistant Athletic Director–a role that recognizes her contributions to the Athletics program. Anna will spend half of her time in the training room, where she leads the effort to provide the best care for our student-athletes. She is supported by Athletic Trainer Nicole Guido who moves to full time. Jennifer Besgen remains in her crucial role as Associate Athletic Director, focusing on the Middle School program.

Stephen Vehslage is our new Associate Director of College Counseling. As a St. Luke’s parent (Wiley ‘13, Bailey ‘16, Henry ‘16 and Sadie ‘20), Stephen is a familiar face. He brings sixteen years of experience at New Canaan High School where he  served as chairman of the faculty and taught AP Government, Law, and other Social Studies courses. Prior to his career in education, Stephen worked as an attorney.

Matt Ward is our Upper School Dean of Students. As Director of Athletics at Kent Place and Miss Hall’s, he worked closely with each Dean of Students. He comes to St. Luke’s with great energy and is looking forward to working with students and parents. Matt will take over many of the student life responsibilities Stephanie Bramlett formerly had. He will work closely with Noel Thomas, who assumes a new role as Assistant Upper School Dean of Students. Noel brings a great deal of wisdom and experience to the team. Matt and Noel will lead Upper School culture, discipline, and activities with the support of the eight Class Deans.

As outlined in my June 10 letter, Associate Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Mike Rupp is serving as Interim Director, with Elisabeth Evans serving as Interim Associate Director until Ginny Bachman returns as Director in January.

There is much more to share. Keep up with summer news on  St. Luke’s Facebook and Twitter (@StLukesSchool, @MarkDavisSLS).

New parents, please save August 24 for the annual New Parents Barbecue, a great way to meet other parents as well as many school administrators, teachers and trustees.  And all parents should reserve October 6 for The State of the School — the perfect opportunity to gather with friends, learn how St. Luke’s is doing in the marketplace of independent schools, and hear all about our plans for the future.

Wishing you a wonderful August filled with family, books, playtime, sunshine and crickets.

See you soon on the Hilltop,

 

 

When Possibilities Bloom

I know what Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote her poem entitled “I dwell in Possibility.”

I am right there with her: every morning when I arrive on the Hilltop and see the faces of teachers and students with dreams and plans; every evening when I leave and hear the echo of things tried and goals met.

I feel it at the start of the year when the sense of possibility is everywhere, and I feel it even more now, as I see those possibilities turn into accomplishments.

Upper School Academic Awards

Upper School Academic Awards

When we recognize the academic, leadership and character accomplishments in our Upper School Awards Assembly and Middle School Day of Celebration, we dwell in possibility and inspire others to work hard and value the St. Luke’s culture of excellence, good character, and kindness.

When we practice good sportsmanship, not only do we dwell in possibility, but also we triumph on the courts and on the fields as our teams become champions in varsity Softball, Golf, Girls Tennis, Girls Soccer and Boys and Girls Basketball.

When we focus on communication and language, we dwell in possibility and celebrate stunning performances in our World Language Department—where our French students took 1st place at the Olympics for World Languages and attained national recognition for their excellent performances on the 2016 National Spanish Examination, National French Contest and National Latin Exam.

At the beginning of the year, those who saw potential in debate and in the Social Justice Leadership Summit transformed that belief into big wins for the debating teams and the largest Summit ever.

Finding da Vinci Challenge

Finding da Vinci Challenge

When our students identified themselves as potential problem solvers, Middle Schoolers rose to the Finding da Vinci challenge, and 9th graders workshopped action plans for issues as big as poverty and gender identity—then acted on those plans for the culmination of J-Term.

The possibility of practice blossomed into virtuoso performances in this week’s musical concerts and two recent plays: This is a Test and Avenue Q. Earlier this month, eight St. Luke’s students were invited to the selective Connecticut Music Educators Association All State Choirs.  Just days ago, St. Luke’s theatre students received 18 Halo Award nominations—Connecticut’s high school equivalent of the Tony Awards.

18 Students in Connecticut Art Education Association Youth Art Celebration

18 Students in Connecticut Art Education Association Youth Art Celebration

Emily Dickinson wrote poetry all her life, but it was not until after her death that 40 volumes—1800 poems—were discovered, rocketing her into the pantheon of American poets. She described “the possible” as a “slow fuse lit by the imagination.”

On June 3rd, when we gather for Commencement—the ultimate St Luke’s celebration of what’s possible for each and every one of us—we will feel that glow.

 

More Than Lunch

Mark Twain wrote that in the spring, “oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

It must be time for junior lunches, one of my favorite St. Luke’s springtime traditions.

Every year at about this time—with spring fever at its height—I sit down and break bread with all 75 juniors—in small groups of five or six.

mark-davis-lunch

It’s an important time in the life of a St. Luke’s junior. In just a few weeks, they will watch while the seniors move on to the next phase in their lives. Suddenly, it will be very clear to all of us that next June, it will be their turn to leave the Hilltop.

Having lunch with them now gives us all a chance to think about what kind of experience they want to have, as seniors here on the Hilltop, as college students and beyond.

It gives me a chance to find out who they are—right now, in this time of transition— when there is time to dream.

And there is no better time for dreaming than spring.

St. Luke’s Success

Many very different people make up the St. Luke’s community. Yet, without exception, we share a common goal: we want our children to be successful now and in the future.

I think a lot about success. I’m fascinated by how hard it is to define. Its meaning changes—like a chameleon—with every use.  For some it brings to mind wealth or fame. For others, it might include a strong family life or contentment.

At St. Luke’s, we measure our success by our mission—instilling a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead. That, to borrow from Head of Upper School Liz Perry, is what gets us up in the morning.

St. Luke’s interpretation of success defines us. It keeps our ladder leaning up against the right wall. Learning, stretching, becoming compassionate, confident, intellectually and emotionally well-rounded people. Those words have the ring of St. Luke’s success.

One does not have to look far for examples..

Such as twenty senior scholars sharing a year’s worth of hard-earned knowledge during the Scholars Symposium. Students boldly took on topics such as: The Role of the Internet in a Free and Closed Society, The International Oil Conflict, The Effectiveness of Commerce-Based Philanthropy in Combating Global Poverty and Setting the Stage for Augustus, Rome’s First Emperor.

Such as Middle School students working in mixed-grade teams to design an interactive sculpture for our science wing. Our designLab launched the Finding da Vinci challenge during a Middle School assembly. Students were confident, curious and creative. They collaborated, built prototypes on the fly and “pitched” ideas. They embraced the process of trial and error, and felt the triumph of figuring it out.

On the Hilltop, we see success in glorious art on our walls, professional performances on our stages, and the sportsmanship that defines our playing fields. We see it in a young writer reading a personal story, beautifully crafted and expressed. And we see it at the COLT Poetry Contest—the Connecticut  Super Bowl of language competitions—where St. Luke’s students took first place in five categories.

Even more indelibly, we see St. Luke’s success in the reflections of a 9th grade girl who learns something about herself, the world and her capacity to make a difference:

I have just left the two hour J-Term showcase, and I have a feeling of accomplishment that I have rarely had throughout my life. I have always thought that the feeling of getting a challenging test back with the big red A on the front was one of the best feelings you could have at a school. However, right now, I realize that I was wrong. After the J-Term showcase, I feel that I have professionally pitched an organized idea that does true good for the world…Doing a week of hard core research on this topic has truly opened my eyes to the world around me. Before this week, I considered poverty to be an issue that was more prevalent in other states or countries. However, this week I learned that poverty is a much more local issue than I thought. This topic is so sad to think about, and I really learned a lot about myself this week. I think I realized that I should be less ignorant toward the issue of poverty and try to do more to help.

What does success mean to you? I’d like to know. Share your thoughts using the comment feature on this page—or write to me directly at davism@stlukesct.org.

 

                            

No Unicorns

Mindfulness is not going to solve your problems. It’s not going to render your life a nonstop parade of unicorns and rainbows. Nonetheless, this is a superpower.

– News Anchor Dan Harris,  Why Mindfulness is a Superpower

I love this statement from Dan Harris. It pokes fun at the “feel good” aspects of mindfulness without diminishing its tremendous potential. The superpower Harris refers to is focus. Mindfulness helps quiet and calm the mind. Sounds simple, but consider the firehose of distractions at work, school and home. Learning to focus, despite the cacophony, is an invaluable skill.

“Meditation—more than anything in my life—was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.”  

– Bridgewater Associates Founder, Ray Dalio

I began practicing yoga and meditation about fourteen months ago. I’d read a lot about CEOs—such as former St. Luke’s parent Ray Dalio—who employ meditation to manage stress and improve performance. Dalio was interviewed at Georgetown University’s meditation center and explained that meditation “opens my mind and relaxes me…it gives me an ability to look at things without the emotional hijacking, without the ego, in a way that gives me a certain clarity.”

Like Dalio, Nick and Michelle Seaver had life-altering meditation experiences. You can learn more about their journey in How Meditation Changes a Go-Go-Go Couple and Nick’s TEDx video The Gift of Silence. Nick will co-host the March 5, Fathers & Friends Breakfast with me. Our topic: How Mindfulness Makes You A Better Parent, Partner & Leader will touch on our personal experiences and the growing body of research behind the mindfulness movement.  Register for Fathers & Friends

At St. Luke’s, we’re exploring ways to bring mindfulness into our school day. With benefits that include lower anxiety, greater resilience, and increased focus, incorporating mindfulness seems like a no brainer (pun intended).

I’ll leave you with links to some worthwhile articles. Please share your reactions, ideas, and experiences. Use the comments feature on this page—or send me an email.

 

New York Times: The Hidden Price of Mindfulness

The Atlantic: How Mindfulness Could Help Teachers & Students

CNN: Calming the Teenage Mind in the Classroom

NYT: How Meditation Changes the Brain & Body

TedX: Neuroscientist Sara Lazar on Meditation & Brain Growth

Mindful: How the Brain Changes When You Meditate

Harvard Business Review: Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

Forbes: Why the World’s Best Leaders Want to Meditate on It

Harvard Business Review: Why Google-Target- And General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness

Harvard Business Review: How Meditation Benefits CEOs

Bloomberg: To Make a Killing on Wall Street Start Meditating

Mindful: Free Mindfulness Apps

 

Opening Eyes

This week I turn my space over to Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, St. Luke’s Director of Diversity & Student Life…

“Does my office always look like this?”

This was my first thought as I walked into my office on Monday morning. The brightly colored handouts strewn about the floor, post-it notes plastered to every surface, and hastily scribbled ideas on the dry-erase board, made it look like creative genius had exploded.  As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sipped my coffee—I smiled.  It has been a busy month at St. Luke’s.

The St. Luke’s community works hard to ensure all members are able to be themselves— regardless of race, gender, financial aid status, family structure, or learning difference.  This is how we envision our school.  This busy January, it was clear our students have the courage and character to do the hard work of building an inclusive community.

A few weeks ago, the Student Diversity Leadership Council led a meeting to train faculty on how to facilitate difficult conversations.  Faculty used these skills in an upper school conversation about the “N-Word”  The objective of the conversation was not to police language or tell people what to think, but rather to open an honest dialogue about the intent and impact of language.

In the last week of January, our 9th graders participated in J-Term, a five day long project-based learning experience themed, “Our Shrinking World.”  The 9th graders’ task was to design a community service project that tackled a local manifestation of a global social injustice.  Our whole community was invited to attend an exhibition where the 9th grade project groups pitched their service idea and the whole community voted on which service project we would do.

During the exhibition of project ideas, students enthusiastically called me over to explain the social injustice they had studied and tell me about their plan for restoring justice.  The two winning projects were from the Poverty and Gender Equity groups. The Gender Equity group’s service idea was to engage the whole upper school in a conversation about gender equity.  Our children are eager to talk about social justice issues and we are committed to finding the time and space for them to have these conversations.  

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

On January 31st, the third annual SLS Social Justice Leadership Summit and Ally Workshop boasted a record number of participants.  Forty-four students and nine faculty facilitators gathered for a day of learning about  race, class, gender, ability, religion, and other social and core identities.  In an epic fourteen-hour day, we shared perspectives, learned from one another, and brainstormed ideas for making SLS an even more inclusive community.

Sophomore, Kate Stamoulis comments, “I had never been a part of something so meaningful, and I can definitely say that it was indeed life changing.  I feel as though I have really found a passion for social justice, and it has opened my eyes to so many things about our world.”

We are teaching students how to articulate their perspectives and how listen to someone else’s perspective.  We are asking them to become scholars of their own epistemology and to think about why they think what they think.  In conversations about our differences, we are teaching students how to find common ground and shared understandings.  

In Mark Davis’s Unafraid blog, he said “There is nothing more valuable than teaching our children to think, debate, and learn from one another.”  Seeing our students’ eagerness to dive into tough issues and make a difference in their world…put that smile on my face.