A Good Life

I recently had the privilege of speaking to accepted students and their parents who came to The Gunnery for Revisit Days. (We had record-breaking attendance both days, despite a spring snow storm!)  When it comes to choosing a school, these campus visits are critically important and can affirm, particularly for students, whether they have found the right fit in the school they have chosen. I’ve modified my talk to fit this space.

To get at the question of how to find that right-fit school, I asked families at our Revisit Days to consider some bigger questions via Yale’s most popular course in history. Not Shakespeare, American history or economics. Psychology 157 – Psychology and the Good Life. How is it possible that one quarter of Yale University’s undergraduates feel the need to take a class on what means to lead a good life? It raises the question: why are we doing all of this in the first place? What is it for?
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The Gunnery Commencement – May 25, 2015

Mr. Becker delivered this address to The Gunnery community at the 2015 Commencement….

I want to welcome everyone to this great day of celebration for the class of 2015. 1

Before we continue, I want to recognize that today is Memorial Day, the day that Americans set aside to remember those men and women who have lost their lives in military service for the country. Though I know we are not all Americans here, I do ask that we join in a moment of silence to recognize this important day and the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

Last night we had the opportunity to recognize Mrs. Baker, Mr. Hollinger, and Mrs. Lincoln, who have served the school for 87 years collectively. We celebrated them at the board meeting and will at the end of the year faculty meeting and at alumni weekend.

I also want to recognize three alumni in our midst who have a child graduating today: Bob M. ’79, whose daughter, Gabby, graduates today; Melanie K-R ’81 whose son, Ben, graduates today; David K. ’81, whose son, Rafe, graduates today and whose daughter, Jesse graduate in 2013; Frank M. ’77 whose son, Stephen, graduates today and whose other children also graduated from The Gunnery (Francis ‘03, Peter ‘05, Sarah ‘07). 2

And I know of at least two parents who cannot be here today to celebrate their child’s graduation because they are serving in the armed forces to defend our freedom. Nick’s mother, Monika, is serving in the Canadian Navy and Joe’s father, Lt. Col. John, is leading U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.

It reminds us that we are only here because of the generations who have come before us and those who serve abroad to protect and defend us at home. We should never think too highly of ourselves and the degree to which we make the present possible and we can almost never think highly enough about the people who have preceded us and who have made this present moment possible.

To that end, I would like to ask the class of 2015 to recognize two groups of people who made this moment possible. First, seniors, I would like to ask you to stand and recognize the faculty sitting behind me who have lived to serve and to teach, 24/7, over your time here. Now, remain standing, because it’s not just biologically that this moment would have been impossible without your parents and family. They have sacrificed so that we can all be here. So please thank your family members with a round of applause and locate them if you’re able. Continue reading

Movin’ Out

Move out day is a strange one on boarding school campuses. There is a palpable change of energy. To borrow a metaphor from my wife, it’s like stepping off of a moving sidewalk in an airport. The experience begins the night of or day after graduation when the senior class departs. “They’re launched!” And, “there goes thousands of hours of love, sweat, and tears—I hope we did a good job; I hope they make good on what we imparted.” But the rest of the student body is still here and they have exams to keep them focused, ideally—review sessions, study groups, project management in action. And it’s also time for them to pack up and leave. As the day-today-unfolds you can feel the energy dissipate. Only then do you realize that you probably couldn’t have kept that pace up for much longer—students and adults both. Most of the time, it’s the best kind of tired (for my first two years as boarding school student, it wasn’t a good tired because I completely frittered away the exam period). This year, largely due to how well the class of 2014 finished, it seems like a very good kind of tired among the adults.

And today it’s time for those parents who drove to campus to feel tired. (I was always headed to an airport for a plane ride home—my stuff was as packed as it was going to get, my room as clean as it was going to get, and, though I’m not proud to admit it, my parents didn’t see the room deposit again.) Inevitably, students manage to slough most of the hard work on to mom or dad. Mom and dad vow “not next year.” Inevitably, it’s hot and muggy, as it will be in August when we move back in. Inevitably, everyone wonders how they accumulated so much stuff over the course of the year and resolves not to do the same next year. Right.

And, hopefully, everyone takes a moment to recognize how much growth occurred over the course of the year—how much students learned about life and learning; how much teachers learned about teaching; how much leaders in all areas—students and adults—learned about leading. It’s safe to say that none of us had the year we expected—there were triumphs and failures we couldn’t have expected and a whole lot of normal stuff in between. The point, at the risk of cliché, is how we respond to the unexpected as well as what we make of the hum drum day to day. And, with another year under our collective belts, the point is also to gather our learnings—at least the equivalent of pausing as we hike up a mountain to look back and take in just how much we’ve accomplished, and how our perspective and our ability to proceed has changed and improved as a result. As that sage observer of high school, Ferris Bueller, once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Too true. My sincere congratulations to our now summering students on a great 2013-2014! The faculty are now evaluating the year, finishing their assessing of underclassmen end of term work, entering comments, and participating in year-end meetings with summer a couple of steps away—filled with rest, for sure, but, for most people, with opportunities for development and growth.