Opening of School | September 7, 2011

Opening of School

In keeping with the tradition of "Tree Speeches" given at The Beard School graduation, Headmaster Peter Caldwell gave his first "Bench Talk" to the MBS community during Morning Meeting on September 7th.

This morning I want to make an argument for engagement, both engagement as a community member and engagement as a student, and often those two intertwine.

Schooling is something I know about, having spent my entire life on campuses, first as a faculty child, later as a student, and still later as a teacher and coach, then back as a student, then back as a teacher and administrator, and now as Head of School. I have spent only three years of the last 55 years not on a school campus, and this morning I would like to make an argument for the kind of education MBS offers you, and what you need to do to actually get that education.

All of us are lucky to be a part of MBS. Whether you are new to the School or a "lifer," you are aware of our emphasis on being kind, responsible, caring members of the community. I don't think you could matriculate at MBS and not be aware of the culture of kindness that we foster here. But what does that look like? Exactly what does it mean?

It means that you are aware of what you say and how you act towards others. It means that there is no difference between your private self and your public self. The things you say and do with your close friends are consistent with the kind of behavior you demonstrate in public when everyone is watching. Being a part of MBS means you are getting to know as many members of this community as you possibly can. It means you constantly have your eye out for ways you might pitch in, whether this means picking up trash that is not yours or helping a visitor to the school find his or her way.

Being a community member of MBS means you are developing skills and habits of stewardship, stewardship for the School, for our natural environment, and for our local, state, national and international communities.

Being a community member of MBS means you are developing skills and habits of a leader, and throughout this year we will talk about leadership. In fact, I began the discussion of leadership yesterday with the seniors. For now, know that you do not need a title to be a leader, and you do not need to be an older student to be a leader. Each of us has the capacity for leadership, and at MBS I hope you can develop a sense of your own leadership style and ways to lead even without a title. In fact, I want to point out that you can also be a leader by being a follower. At some point this year, I want to talk about the importance of the first follower. Sometimes it is the first follower who actually ignites a movement started by a leader, and in this way a follower can be a leader, too.

Being an MBS community member is perhaps one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, and it requires constant vigilance and awareness of those around you. But most

of all, it requires engagement, engagement with people, with activities, with clubs, sports, with the arts and classes.

So what about being a student? What, exactly, does it mean to be a student? Like being a community member, being a student means being intellectually engaged, and you can intellectually engage through conversations with your teachers, even if you have no formal relationship with these adults in the classroom. All adult members of the community are your teachers, and I want you to reach out to them. Let me repeat – all adult members of this community are your teachers.

I challenge you to get to know as many teachers as you can. Your teachers are from all over the world, and they have a greater abundance of collective world experiences than any other faculty I have ever seen. Beyond the international diversity, they have enormous diversity in life experiences, and they are deeply committed to you.

We have teachers from Serbia, Italy, Wales, and South Africa, teachers from the island of Oahu, from Chicago, from Peru and from NJ. We have one teacher who has taught in five different countries. (France, Venezuela, Ecuador, Norway, and Turkey).

We have a former air force pilot, army spy, financial journalist and pharmaceutical research scientist. We have a former executive from the construction industry, at least two international bankers, classical guitarists a rock guitarist and a flautist. We have a former Division 1 runner from the Patriot League, and a passionate avid alumnus from Michigan State University, who will shout "Go Green" every chance he can. We have teachers from NASA, from the music industry, and from Broadway. Get to know these mentors; these friendships with your teachers will change your lives in ways you never dreamed of.

Beyond getting to know your teachers, I encourage you to read on your own outside of class. I encourage you to find the writers that speak to you. Discover the kinds of books you like, and go after them. The books that touch you during these high school years are often books that stay with you all of your life. Do not feel you must limit yourselves to fiction; read nonfiction, too. Experiment with narratives of scientific discovery, athletic achievement, or cultural acquisition. See if you like war stories or travel stories or biographies. Find out what kind of literature or writers you prefer and go after those books.

The summer after my sophomore year in high school I became infatuated with the Russian classics. That summer I discovered Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. I do not say this to inflate your sense of my intellectualism at a young age. For me, my reading had nothing to do with going to school or being intellectual; these books captured my imagination, and I was obsessed with the lives of the characters. These were the first books that I got through on my own and read in a way that I never read for school. I read The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, Anna Karenina. I liked the grandeur, the scope, the Russian character that was so full of vitality and life, but even though I read them for fun, in my adult life, those books became for me one of the most memorable educational experiences I had because I read them for myself --and not for class. Although this Russian reading binge was short-lived, I will never forget it.

So on that note, I invite you to take command of your educations. Get to know each other; get to know your teachers, and read as much as you can because you want to not because you have to. We have a lot to offer here at Morristown-Beard School, but we cannot give you an education. You must decide on your own to seize it.


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