At The Gunnery, we traditionally hold an all-day Faculty Meeting at the start of the Winter Term to talk through the progress of each student in the school as an entire faculty. For me, this meeting confirmed that the fall term was indeed a very good one for our school, and for the students and faculty who comprise it, as we heard one story after another of students thriving both in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s their first time away from home and they’re learning to become autonomous, or they’re learning how to solve problems with the help of adult mentors who are not their parents, or they’re overcoming a challenge, such as not succeeding in a class, and working through that, both intellectually and emotionally, our students are learning.
Hearing all of these very positive stories of transformation prompted me to start thinking about gratitude during a time of year that emphasizes the importance of being thankful. We are grateful for a good fall term and, in a much broader sense, for the enthusiasm surrounding our school right now, made manifest in particular by the positive response to our efforts to design and fund our new Arts and Community Center. It is for the school, in relative terms, a big project, not just in the building itself, but the intentions behind it, and the transformation that will take place on our campus. For our school to be able to announce that $10 million has already been committed towards the total cost of the project gave all of us a tremendous amount to be grateful for, especially with regard to the donors who have given so generously to make that possible.
A poignant moment occurred in the middle of the fall term when we learned that Joan Tisch P’67 ’72, the mother of Steve ’67 and Jon ’72, passed away at the age of 90. I had the privilege of attending her funeral service at Central Synagogue in New York. It was a tremendously powerful experience for many reasons. First, to come into a place of worship for a solemn purpose but one that was also filled with celebration for the life of this amazing woman, was both humbling and inspiring. I arrived early, anticipating how crowded the service would be, and it was. I was there alone and for the first time in as long as I could remember, since it wasn’t appropriate to pull out my phone, all I could do was sit and wait and think and pray for the family. That experience alone reminded me that I need to do both of those things, be still and give thanks, more often, and that was before the two-hour tribute to Mrs. Tisch even began.
During the service, one family member, friend and civic leader after another shared stories about this extraordinary woman, and gave thanks for the ways in which she gave of her time and her resources to support a variety of important causes, including, of course, The Gunnery. But the cause that got the most attention was Mrs. Tisch’s devotion to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, which Mrs. Tisch began to support during the earliest and perhaps most intense phase of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. The story that most clearly stood out to me among the many that were shared that day was about how Mrs. Tisch went to the office of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, asking her driver to drop her off a couple of blocks away so that she could enter incognito, and asked the staff to put her to work. From day one, she rolled up her sleeves, and while she certainly supported the organization financially, she backed that up, probably more importantly, with elbow grease, caring for men in New York who were suffering from what was then a deadly disease. Only in small moments did she let on that she might have more to contribute to the cause than her time, such as when the office photocopier broke. She wrote a check on the spot to replace it and a member of the staff, not knowing yet who she was, asked her, “How do I know this check isn’t going to bounce?”
As I walked away from the service and back to Grand Central, it struck me that we don’t pause often enough to recognize and thank the people who are closest to us, whether family members, friends or colleagues, for the things that they do every day for us.
This is something Deb Andrews, a well-known member of the Washington, Connecticut, community encourages frequently. Among other things, Deb runs a Tuesday and Thursday 5:45 a.m. “boot camp” with a loyal following, including Mrs. Becker and me on our better days. Every morning that I’m there, Deb asks everyone during the warm-up, in her tenaciously upbeat voice, “What’s your positive?!” We’re required, no matter what kind of mood we’re in, to share with this group something positive going on in our lives. It’s become for me and for the other regulars (it’s important to note that just about everyone who attends boot camp attends more regularly than I do) a small, daily ritual that has incredible power if practiced faithfully.
In these seasons when there is so much to be grateful for, but particularly when it seems like there isn’t, it’s important for me to develop discreet practices, simple practices, of giving thanks. That is something that I will be trying to do over these next few weeks and will be encouraging our students to do as well.
To put this theory to work, let me begin by thanking all of the parents, alumni, students and supporters of The Gunnery who made this year’s Giving Tuesday a success. We are very grateful for the 295 gifts we received, surpassing our goal of 290 gifts in honor of our 290 students. We are grateful to the 97 parents who made gifts to The Parents Fund in support of this effort, raising $28,470 in one day! And we are grateful for our energetic and enthusiastic parent and student volunteers, who made more than 460 phone calls. It was a true community effort and we are well on our way to reaching our goal for the year – thank you!
I hope you and your families have a December filled with moments of gratitude. “What’s your positive?!”