Thank you Kit, Gary, and Lizzie for the kind words, and thank you to everyone for the truly warm and wonderful welcome that I - and we as a family - have received. I also want to recognize my extraordinary wife, Farida, without whose support I would never be standing here, and our children - Leah, who is also here, and Jordan, who might be watching online - I thank them for patiently raising me as a father.
I know the students in the audience particularly are waiting with baited breath for me to provide a deep dive into the roots and current research on effective pedagogy and my personal educational philosophy, but I'm afraid that will have to wait for another opportunity - maybe I'll get to that if I'm brave enough to follow Mr. Burns for a faculty snapshot - or snap chat as he called it. Or if I am ever brave enough to get back in front of a middle school Morning Meeting after Chloe dismantled me in Mr. Trinh's "Spot It" game! For now, though, you'll need to settle for an answer to a single burning question - the one that I know is at the top of everyone's mind and that I have been asked more than any other question since I arrived. The question goes something like this: "Since you're coming here from Minnesota, are we EVER going to get another snow day?" My stock answer, as some of you know, is "I used to live in Maryland, I've seen people in Maryland try to drive in the snow...you'll get your snow days!"
I had my first conversation with members of Garrison Forest's search committee about 14 months ago, and I've spent the time since then getting to know the community, with weekly phone calls with Ms. Lohr and several short trips back over the last year. It's been fascinating, though, to actually be in place and live the reality of the job. For example, the original position description for Garrison Forest's Head of School search listed an ambitious set of characteristics: things like visible, community-builder, positive, embraces challenge, resilient, listener, collaborator...a list that would give anyone pause. But then, when I moved into the office, I discovered another, double-top-secret file that had been "accidentally" left by Ms. Lohr in a hidden safe that truly reflects what the Board was looking for in a new head. And I quote:
The correct mix...is someone with "the physical charm of a Greek athlete, the cunning of Machiavelli, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of a lion, [and] in any case, the stomach of a goat." ... Those who hold this job...should have courage, judgment, and fortitude. They should be bold, compassionate, intelligent, inspirational, energetic, optimistic, prudent, patient, persistent, resilient, responsive, solid, self-confident, stylish, stoical, tactful, trusting, trustworthy, and tolerant. They should have nerves like sewer pipes. They should be good listeners, with good manners and a good sense of humor, and a good family situation. They should be willing to inflict pain, lose friends, and accept criticism. They should be able to live in a glass house, and raise grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles. They should be healthy and vigorous, have one blind eye and one deaf ear, plus white hair for that look of experience and hemorrhoids for that look of concern.
OK, that didn't of course come from the board here - a former university president named Joseph Crowley wrote that in 1994 about university presidents, but I've been told by friends in the field that it's an apt description for head of an independent school - I saw Peter O'Neill nodding vigorously as I read it!
I don't doubt that Peter lived up to - and exceeded - that lofty standard, but for me, it's fair to ask (quoting David Byrne) Well, how did I get here? One answer, I think, comes in the description or phrase that I know multiple people used when they talked about me with the search committee here: "He's a good school person." That's actually a pretty old-fashioned term, but it made me think about what it means. I absolutely guarantee, to the students here, that when I was in middle and high school, no one would have dreamed of using that description of me! So what turned me into a "good school person" who has the honor of being in this position? Part of it is pretty simple - I love schools. Schools are incredibly dynamic, complex systems, filled with individuals who bring an almost infinite combination of skills, interests and challenges, and schools - all good schools - are committed both to serving the students who come in, and helping shape and mold them before they graduate - truly meeting them where they are and helping them find a path for growth. Some schools do this better than others - some schools try to find students who fit into a certain mold or push them to fit that mold so that the school can define their growth. Part of why I am at Garrison Forest is because I know it is a school that defies putting students in that "box" --- come as you are, let us get to know you, and we'll help you find success - and if that success is defined in 555 slightly different ways, so much the better.
Another reason I love schools is because, at their core, school is about discovering how things work. For the summer after high school, I worked as a factory machinist, building the components that went into X-ray machines. That job probably isn't even done by humans any more, but for me, that idea of understanding - literally shaping - the tiny elements that go into a big important whole was fascinating. Schools, at every level and in every discipline, are fundamentally about that same process. Whether you're learning a world language or a geometric theorem, reading a challenging novel or a primary source document, learning to carve alabaster or learning a new dance sequence, there's always a level just below the surface of what you're doing that gets to why you're doing it, and how the piece you're working on builds to a greater whole. You can get by - sometimes - at the surface level, but the deeper exploration of how things work is where school - including athletics and activities - becomes truly rewarding and fulfilling. Great teachers, coaches, and mentors - like the ones sitting around you in this room - help you see that.
Finally, because schools are these dynamic and complex systems made up of individuals, they provide a never-ending series of opportunities for interaction, engagement, connection, and understanding. As much as school provides insights into how things work, they are also the world's best system for figuring out how people work. Where else do you combine people from the age of two through the edge of retirement and unite them with common purpose and common goals? Where else is it so true that both your raw materials and your final product are people? And that is the ultimate reason that I love schools, and why I take this role so very seriously. You students depend on us, as faculty, staff, and administrators, to provide an environment where everyone is seen, everyone is valued, everyone has a voice and a place. The faculty and the Upper School students know that I explained in the opening days that one of my themes for this year is the theme of "home," and every one of us in this place - students and adults alike - has a shared responsibility to make Garrison Forest a home for everyone here. And while that is a high standard and a huge thing that I expect from all of us, it actually isn't that hard to achieve. It comes from one simple - and complex - place. Kindness. I have already seen so many examples of wonderful kindness in these opening weeks - it shows up as cheering for a classmate, paying attention to others, pasting a kind note on someone's locker or dropping a kind word in their ear. Operating with kindness means we don't target each other intentionally, and when we do cross a line we look to make amends. Truly, outside of your own family, you will never be in a place where you have so much opportunity to treat others with kindness and to receive kindness yourself - it's a skill that can be honed, and Garrison Forest is your workshop. For those who are keeping score, this is my second theme for the year, and it is closely connected with the first: make this a home for all, and be kind.
My final message, again is to the students who have tolerated all this with impressive patience. I believe in you --- every student in the room, every girl who walks through our doors. I believe in your capacity to go a little deeper, into how and why things work and not just what answer you need to put on the paper. I believe in your spirit - the community spirit that almost cost me my eardrums at the light blue/dark blue sortings, and the individual spirit that helps you persevere and press on when you hit a bump, as you will and you should. And I believe in your ability, and I hope your commitment, to be kind to each other, to be generous and thoughtful in your interactions, and to make Garrison Forest an even more wonderful place because of your time here. We can do that together, and as we do, we will truly find success - together. And notice that ending - We Can, We Will.