December Bench Talk: "A Bench Talk by Committee"

A Bench Talk by Committee
Rhetoric of Leadership class delivers December Bench Talk

This month, Headmaster Peter J. Caldwell had a little help with his Bench Talk as the 11 students in his Rhetoric of Leadership class each delivered a short speech that they had crafted.

The students began their assignment by analyzing Headmaster Caldwell's prior Bench Talks and writing a 1-3 page story of their own. "Part of the way through the second class, one of the students realized that each of the anecdotes the class had written had a common theme," explained Mr. Caldwell.

The students condensed their stories into a single paragraph before they sequenced them to present them at All-School Meeting in a cohesive way.

"I must commend them – for this was a truly collaborative effort where the process was messy, challenging and worthwhile," said Headmaster Caldwell.

Here are the 11 speeches:

Blake Bernstein '19: The game started just like every other lacrosse game I had played, until a reckless shot by my opponent changed my entire year. I don't remember getting hit, all I remember was seeing my opponent wind up, and instantly the loudest ringing in my left ear. The impact of the shot broke my jaw, which had to be surgically fixed, and I missed over two weeks of school. I didn't want to talk to anyone, and basically sat around feeling sorry for myself all day. Looking back at it, I wish I realized you can't control everything that happens to you in life, the only thing you can control is how you react to it. 

Emma Kenny '20: In elementary school I had these coughing and wheezing attacks. Whenever these attacks happened I would disrupt class and my peers often would make fun of me. I even had to be taken home almost everyday because my teachers thought I was sick with a cold or the flu. Eventually, at one of my annual physicals, my doctor, Dr. Minhas told me that I had asthma. After I was diagnosed, I was glad because I could use my inhaler anytime I had an asthma attack so I could stay in class or stay in the game. Then, people tried to limit me. Some even advised me to stop playing sports. One instance of this was when my 5th grade gym teacher told me to sit out during the beep test. I was upset and felt marginalized. I love sports. They are my life; all my siblings played sports and we played together in the backyard every day. I overcame this obstacle and my asthma still doesn't stop me today as I play three sports and I hope to continue athletics in college.

Justin Recupero '19: Reckless skiing in a beginner area is never a good idea. While traveling a hundred miles per hour in an attempt to beat my friend down the mountain, I totally disregarded the people around me. I was stopped at the bottom of the mountain by a mountain ambassador and told that I had cut off a little girl and caused other people to careen off the slope. Instead of being apologetic for my actions I was dismissive, disrespectful, and I even tried to ski away. It wasn't until the ambassador took my pass and told me I was on the verge of being suspended from skiing at Mt. Snow that I learned my lesson. Had I been apologetic, asked how the girl was doing, and been polite I would have been shown sympathy and elicited a different response from the mountain ambassador. Not only could I have controlled how I was skiing, I could have controlled how I responded. By making a self-centered choice both times, I almost ruined my entire ski season.

Teddy Koide '19: Towards the end of my freshman year at MBS, I had the amazing chance to be the doubles partner and friend with Matt Giaquinto, until his death. I, along with the rest of the school community, was shocked and saddened when we heard of his passing. Personally, I debated quitting tennis and even leaving the school, until his parents asked if I would speak at his service. I felt that I owed it to Matt and to his family to convey to his loved ones my experiences with him. I was honored that I was asked to take on such a challenge and proud that my speech had made a difference. My experience coping with Matt's death taught me about making good choices, even when life throws something unexpected at you; that although some things in life may be out of your control, the way you deal with it can define you.

Rachel Stulberger '19: One afternoon in Park City, Utah, my family friends and I were on a four-mile hike, in which we reached a beautiful lake. My sister's best friend wanted to jump off a cliff into the lake, but my eleven-year-old sister and I were petrified. When my sister turned to me and said she would only jump if I did, I attempted to make up excuses as to why I couldn't jump. But somehow, the four parents came up with solutions for each pathetic reason. After a long debate, and being made fun of by my siblings and family friends, my dad counted down, 3... 2... 1... and I jumped, screaming in fear, but also excitement. The freezing cold water filled my mouth and nose, as my screaming did not stop. I felt like I could not breathe and I was gasping for air. I swam out of the water, into the large towel my dad was holding, and as the coughing subsided, the biggest smile filled my face. I had faced my fear and made both myself and my sister so proud. Looking back, although I was terrified both before I jumped, and while I was flying through the air, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget because I faced my fear and found a new, more adventurous, side of myself.

Dan Levine '19: When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I was extremely stubborn, and when my parents asked me to do the most basic of tasks, I would usually freak out. In my family, everyone shovels snow. It's just what we have always done in the Levine family. There was a specific shovel that was light and small that I always used. One day, my Dad wanted me to use a slightly bigger, heavier shovel. Now, when I was younger, I was not a "massive athlete" like I am today. When he wanted me to use the heavier shovel, I yelled at my Dad: "I can't use that shovel. I want to use mine!" Like a sane person, he told me "No". So naturally, to manage this conflict, I decided to run away. I went into my room and packed my "go bag" consisting of the essentials: my action figures, and a ripped sleeping bag. I was not the brightest kid, so I thought of the best place to hide: my backyard, which, by the way, is less than an acre, under a small tree. There is a scene from Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex is right by the Jeep, and if you do not move, the T-Rex cannot see you. I decided to use that tactic. Sadly, it didn't work with parents. Around 5 minutes later, I was dragging my feet up to meet my parents. In hindsight, I was not trying to actually "run away" I just wanted to be alone and reflect on how I had just yelled at my Dad over a shovel. My parents did not get mad at me for "running away". They laughed and said, "your shovel is waiting to be used." My 8 or 9 year-old self did not react well to a small and pointless conflict over which I had little control, except for the way that I reacted to it. But now, every time it snows, someone makes fun of me and says: "Hey Dan, remember when you ran away to the backyard?" We always laugh.

William Kelly '20: Every summer of my life, I have always spent a week down the shore in Avalon, New Jersey. One night around 4 years ago, my cousin Webber and I had plans to go and hang out with some friends we made earlier that week. Just before we were going out, my mom came to us and gave us a hefty ultimatum: bring your little sister with you, or you couldn't go out. This didn't sit well with either of us. We were 13 year old boys! No offense to my sister, but hanging out with an 11 year old girl wasn't what we had on our agenda. So we went with the latter, and decided not to go out. But we didn't really not go out. We were going to sneak out to wawa from the sliding door in our room, because if we couldn't go out, we needed some snacks. The wawa wasn't a far bike ride, and we got there pretty quickly. We got a gross assortment of candy and chips, and went on our way home. Shortly into the bike ride home, the chain on my bike locked. Webber and I had to walk home the rest of the way, and for not being a far bike ride, it definitely made a long walk. Our 30 minute excursion turned to an hour, and we were met with unhappy parents at home. Sometimes, you can't control a bike malfunction. But, you can avoid them happening when you're not supposed to go out by not going out in the first place.

Nick Visceglia '19 : I think most of us are familiar with the infamous two lane highway called route twenty four. Unfortunately, I'm required to drive this unholy miserable strip twice a day, sometimes everyday. On a low traffic day, the state highway is clear, but during the other 99% of the year, the road is a complete mess. As someone who struggles to wake up and leave my comfortable queen bed and warm shower in the morning, this overflowing monster is the largest roadblock between me and my advisory. One Monday morning as I strolled into mr Caldwell's Rhetoric of Leadership class a few minutes late, Mr. Caldwell asked "where have you been Nicholas?" I responded my usual "24 on a Monday at 7:30 is a mess." Mr. Caldwell responded, "Get up earlier." Although this was not that response i was looking for, Mr. Caldwell was right. I couldn't control the traffic, but i could control my morning routine.

Kaity Bednarski '19: When Bobby, the 5th grade schoolyard bully and lunchroom dictator decided to start picking on me and my best friend, Alexandra, I knew it wasn't going to end well. Although his insults weren't that offensive given the fact that he was an 11 year old boy with a pretty limited vocabulary, I was hesitant to stand up to him. Though I've never been the type of girl to let others push me around, I also wasn't immune to the fear of older, meaner boys. One day at lunch, Bobby began calling Alexandra ugly and stupid. She tried to pretend it didn't hurt her, but I could see tears forming in her eyes. It was at that moment when I decided that enough was enough. While the rest of my lunch table looked on, I glared at Bobby, stepped in front of Alexandra and said "don't talk to my friend like that." He was completely unintimidated, and told me to shut up or I would regret it, then pushed me down into my chair. I was terrified, but I knew he would never stop being mean unless I made him. Without fully thinking it through, I picked up the bottle of Heinz ketchup on the lunch table and squirted it all over Bobby's shirt. The teachers immediately yanked us out of the room, separating Bobby and me so we could "discuss the consequences of our actions". While I was expecting a harsh lecture from my teacher, I was instead met with the words: "You stuck up for your friend. That's what we've been trying to teach you to do. Next time, just use words instead of food." By taking control of that situation, I got a bully off my back and helped someone who was afraid. I'm still proud of that choice, even if it created a bit of a mess.

Will Watson '20: Back in 8th grade I was fumbling through pages of service opportunities to meet a confirmation requirement in the hopes that something would catch my eye, but to no avail. One day on the way home from school, my mom and I stopped in to our local butcher, "John's Meat Market". Vinny, the ancient store owner, was doing his very best with the cash register. Seizing an opportunity, I decided to chat up the guy. I went on and on about how I couldn't find any service hours that enticed me, causing him to extended a pity invitation to work there for as long as I needed in order to get the hours. I thought to myself 'Wow. I really just fooled this guy into giving ME a job. He has no idea what he's getting himself into...' Of COURSE. I said. Little did I know what I had just agreed to. When I walked in on the first day, I was greeted with a stench of raw meat. My first reaction was a violent case of the dry heaves. Settling into the day and the disgusting smells, I started to observe my new co-workers. There were six men, all with white coats that increasingly got covered with blood over the course of the day. They each had a similar hairstyle, all slicked back. Although these men shared similar style, they bickered endlessly over various subjects. "How is Eli gonna play this Sunday? "Were the Jets EVER gonna have a winning season?" and "You think your arthritis is bad?" and so on. Aside from the bickering, I noticed was how none of these 6 guys ever stopped moving. Customer after customer, argument after argument, they worked... and they worked... and their coats just kept getting bloodier. I'd keep my head down, sweep the floors behind them, carry heavy bags for customers, who seemed to be as old as they were, and mopped and wiped whatever they told me. As I reflect on the market, I knew from the beginning that I did not have a choice to leave that job. Not only because I needed the hours, but I thought that if I were to quit, God would strike me down with a bolt of lighting and THAT WOULD BE THAT. I was forced to work through the discomfort, learning that if you are in unfamiliar territory whether by choice or circumstance, it doesn't hurt to give it your all. Each difficult situation is part of a journey to personal growth. A journey of character building, self-awareness, family, laughter and love.

Emma Duffy '19: When I was younger I did what i loved to do, without recognizing the judgement of others. Every day after school, I would take my mom's laptop, by myself or with my friends, and create videos. Sometimes we just filmed us goofing around baking cookies. Once, we made a sequel to Mean Girls. And I made a lot of music videos. I was so proud of all of these and I uploaded them all to youtube. I look back at and cringe, but at the time, filming and editing those videos made me really happy. Then i went to a new school. Some of my friends found the channel.. they said they really liked it, they thought it was funny. I let them show my videos to the class, and of course, there was some people who passed judgement. This made something I loved turn into something I was embarrassed of. I wiped all my videos from my channel and stopped creating them. I really missed it, but I was scared of being judged. It wasn't until the end of my junior year that I gained the courage to pick up my favorite hobby again. I started my own youtube channel, finally not letting my fears get in the way. Yea, I'm sure some people pass judgement, there always will be people like that. But why choose to pay attention to it? I wish in sixth grade I held my head up high and continued to play my videos to the class. I've learned that I can't control judgement being passed on me, but I can control how I respond. I can quit what I love because of a few people's judgements or I can focus on the all of my supporters and continue with confidence.

I hope from hearing all these stories you now understand the message. WE DON'T HAVE CONTROL OVER EVERY SITUATION, BUT WE HAVE CONTROL OVER HOW WE RESPOND TO IT.

Thank you.


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