Head of School Welcome
Welcome to Wilbraham & Monson Academy
Your arrival is no coincidence. You are here either because you already know us well or because you are curious to know more about what sets us apart, what makes us special, and why people believe themselves fortunate to be called a Titan. Curiosity is a good start.
For nearly 20 years my wife and I have made WMA our home and our family, not because of what we do for our students or how we do it, as innovative, distinctive, engaging, and successful as that is. We beam with pride about those aspects of the program, but we have chosen to be at WMA all these years because of who the Academy is: the culture and personality of this remarkable school.
At WMA, we believe in hard work. Our challenging program and rigorous expectations demand concerted effort from all members of our community. We understand that hard work is the key to harnessing life’s opportunities, and that, through practice, we can learn the habit of hard work not only to achieve our goals, but for its own value. Every day, students and teachers at WMA bask in the glow of hard work rewarded and time well spent. Second only to curiosity, this habit of effort is critical to developing as a lifelong learner.
We match our challenging environment with a nurturing support system, and for us that starts with our students. Students at Wilbraham & Monson Academy care for one another and respect one another for the flavor that their differences bring to our campus. They, in turn, are surrounded by a concerned and caring network of faculty and staff, who dedicate their lives to inspiring those around them to realize new limits and supporting them when they need it.
This is why, if you visited our beautiful campus on any given day, you would be struck by the genuine happiness of the people you meet. Our readiness for challenge and appreciation for hard work, within an environment of mutual respect and support, results in a community of learners who are engaged, happy, and curious. It is, after all, very difficult to be curious and unhappy at the same time.
Whether you are an old friend or new, we look forward to seeing you on campus soon, where you will undoubtedly find us…hard working and happy.
Master of Arts (May 2007) The Klingenstein Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York
- Focus: Independent School Leadership
Master of Education (May 2004) Springfield College, Massachusetts
- Focus: Experiential Education
Bachelor of Arts (May 1996) University of Maine at Farmington
- Major: Literature; Minor: Philosophy
United States Army – 101st Airborne Division, Long Range Reconnaissance and Surveillance Detachment Sergeant
(February 1989 – August 1992)
- Ranger Team Leader of a six-man airborne long-range reconnaissance team
- Awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions while engaged in combat operations behind enemy lines during Desert Storm
The topic of interest has become central to my thoughts on education. Academic memories of my high school years are scarce, vague, and not particularly encouraging. Rare academic images include teachers who slept while students completed worksheets, people as uninterested in me as I was in them or the material, and hours spent staring out the window and thinking about anything other than the task at hand. I was a spectator, and a marginal one at that. The cause of those experiences, and the reinforced result, was a lack of genuine interest in anything formally educational.
It was not until my involvement in the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 that I became more genuinely aware of and interested in things around me. The timing of this transformation in my life is articulated well by John Dewey who said in Democracy and Education that “for an active participant in the war, it is clear that the momentous thing is the issue, the future consequences, of this and that happening. He is identified, for the time at least, with the issue; his fate hangs upon the course things are taking”. Further, Dewey claims that “the career and welfare of the self are bound up with the movement of persons and things. Interest, concern, mean that self and world are engaged with each other in the developing situation”. The momentous thing, the possibility of death and my engagement with the environment to that possible end, instigated my emergence as a learner. The defining difference between these events and my previous formal education was that I truly cared about the outcome. I was, for the first time, interested. I lost myself in the evolving events, and likewise found myself, attentive and alert even beyond the scope of this one experience. Initially this change manifested itself in the context of desired longevity – I wanted to live. Soon, however, I made the connection that knowledge, in addition to increasing my chances of survival, would also enrich whatever time I had left.
Interest alone, however, is not enough. Interest is the spark, a personal connection to a topic or subject matter that goes nowhere if not developed. Once there is interest, focused hard work and self-discipline, subordinate but co-dependent skills, are necessary to develop that interest into education. The military provided the perfect conditions for such development, with the necessary organizational structure and circumstances readily at hand. This is the critical difference between my schooling and my education, and the basis for my belief that teachers are responsible not only for providing the structure and regimen necessary for education but also for helping students become genuinely interested, intellectually connected to something, so that the work has purpose. Only then will students progress toward becoming the self-directed and lifelong learners we all wish for them.
My shift in educational outlook coincided with a change in career aspirations. On December 31, 1990, while watching the sun set from a sand dune in the middle of the Arabian Desert, I decided that my service in the military, of which I was and continue to be very proud, was not contributing to creating a better world – admittedly idealistic. At that moment I chose to change my path and to plan a career in education. Since that day, I have adopted a more realistic vision of the world and my role in it. Still, I have never wavered from my intent, however idealistic, to spend my life making a difference through education. This central belief initiated my career in schools, and my experiences since have strengthened and refined my conviction and have guided me on the path to school leadership. As one may expect from an understanding of my educational beginnings and transformation, the leadership of schools has developed as my central focus, a focus to which I have given considerable time, thought, and attention.
As school leaders, we must continually increase our effectiveness and that of our teachers in helping students become interested in their own learning, without which we fail at truly preparing them for a fulfilling life. The initial thing that grabs a student’s attention will differ, because interest is subjective, but once initiated, the interconnectedness of subjects and disciplines offers a vast matrix of paths and opportunities for a student who has become engaged.
We must meet the social, emotional, and educational needs of our students as we understand them. Our commitment stems from our belief in the pivotal role teachers play in the lives of children, and the enormous responsibility inherent in that role to support the growth of healthy individuals and healthy communities.
We must model in our daily behavior, in and out of school, that which we would expect our faculty to emulate and our students to learn. Foremost in this responsibility would be the leaders’ interest in learning and their willingness to question current expectations themselves by being self-reflective and self-motivated learners, open to ideas for improvement, and flexible in facilitating positive change.
We must commit to acting in all circumstances toward an outcome that is believed to be right and morally justified, realizing the complicated nature of ethical decisions particularly when the decision is between two ‘right’ and opposing choices. No two decisions will be the same, nor will the weight or priority each individual assigns the criteria for making the choice. These decisions, however, should be made with the thoughtful and thorough attention and calculation they warrant and always with the intent of weighing what is best for the individual and the community.
We must engage in a productive, meaningful discourse about the school community and its members, seeking to praise where applicable and inquire where helpful or necessary. School leaders should directly and tactfully address others when there is a concern and be open for others to do the same, always maintaining the highest level of honesty and integrity in all dealings with members of the school community.
We must facilitate a learning community where it is not only acceptable, but favorable, for all members to seek self-improvement with the support of their teachers and colleagues. Factors contributing to this end should not only include equitable and reciprocal evaluation of work, but also encouragement by school leaders to continually seek new ideas and information crucial to continued interest and constant improvement of the teaching and learning experience for all.
We must help our students’ parents understand their critical school-role in the education of their children. When parents try to solve their children’s problems for them, they rob them of the opportunity to learn self-reliance, self-advocacy, and resilience – necessary skills for a life of independence. When parents can respond to a child’s problem by saying “how can I help you figure out how you will solve this problem” instead of immediately calling the school to solve it for them, they create for their children an invaluable learning opportunity.
We must balance compassion and consequences. Without both in carefully considered amounts, any response falls short and is unlikely to generate the desired effect. Our compassion must stem from memories of our own journeys, the resulting connection with the similar plight of our students, and our commitment to helping them learn from their mistakes through thoughtful and natural consequences. This approach has the best chance of creating a lasting connection with students and a caring and structured environment for them to learn.
I’ll never be able to recover the lost years of my early education, absent as it was of interest. That is a shame and a tragedy from which many of us have recovered and we can all learn. What we can do, what we must do, is focus all our efforts as school leaders to prevent our students from suffering the same setbacks. Interest is the catalyst for the learning we intend to foster, and it is our job to create the conditions for that interest to engage our students with the world around them.
I still remember the day clearly, more than 18 years ago, when my first Vizsla, Dacks, learned how to swim in a pond on campus. Dacks bounded out of Smith Hall ahead of me for our morning walk and puppy training, and then he froze, with the sun rising over the mountain, at the sight of a massive pond where the softball field was supposed to be. By the end of that day, Dacks knew how to swim, and about six freshmen boys had escaped from study hall in their shorts to take a frigid nighttime dip in the pond before it seeped away.
This has been a long-standing occurrence at WMA, often inspiring students to break out the school’s canoes and great blue herons to land in search of fish. One year, I even used the pond to teach the students in my Hemingway elective how to roll cast with a fly rod. We have come to accept “Lake Sometimes” as a part of our campus lives, and many of you have fond and fanciful memories of its appearance (sometimes even encouraged by student interference with a mattress or two at the culvert under Broad Walk).
In recent years, the ponding of campus has increased in its magnitude and its frequency, often happening a dozen times in a calendar year and often forming the, once rare, double pond of the softball field and the practice field behind Smith Hall at the same time. We have wondered for decades what caused this annual flooding, and lately we have wondered why it has seemed to have gotten worse.
Most have assumed that the groundwater table was close enough to the surface that it would naturally flood the area once the Rubicon overflowed and the ground was saturated. That is, until now. Thanks to the engineering plans for the new Athenæum and the necessary test pits and drainage studies, we now know the actual cause.
All of the Academy’s land was once used for farming. Through decades of the tilling, fertilizing, and harvesting and tilling cycle, a dense layer of beautiful agricultural clay loam was developed. Once the land stopped being farmed and that layer of clay loam began being run on daily by thousands of students and driven on by tractors and trucks, it became increasingly compacted. Add to this process the deposit of sediment on the surface layer from the occasional Rubicon floods, filling in the tiny gaps if you will, and what we have ended up with is, essentially, a virtually impermeable pond liner in the center of campus.
When the Rubicon overflows now, often, the water is trapped on top of this compacted clay-loam pond liner until it can slowly leak out of the few holes still in it. When it is full of water, tiny bubbles rise from the center of the submerged softball field much like an actual pond liner when it has a hole.
What we now know, thanks to the engineering test pits, is that below the two feet of compacted clay loam, the center of campus is nothing but loose, coarse and easy-draining sand . . . and that the water table, even in high-water conditions, is 5½ feet below the surface.
Before we knew the cause, we had considered all sorts of possible solutions that would allow us to fulfill the Campus Master Plan and construct new buildings in the center of campus, in the flood zone. We thought about dredging the Rubicon, fortifying its banks, dumping thousands of cubic yards of fill to raise the ground level or repairing and rebuilding the Lower Res dam to control the flow of stormwater. Any of these options would have been environmentally problematic and extremely costly.
Now we know that the only necessary action to facilitate the completion of our campus plans is to, literally and figuratively, punch a few big holes in the pond liner which we intend to do. We will no longer need to consider altering the fragile ecosystem of the Rubicon. Our engineers have designed into the plans for the Athenæum drainage system the necessary additional subsurface groundwater infiltration basins to handle this task both effectively and aesthetically.
Although completing these plans will end the perennial tradition of the campus “Softball Pond,” it will simultaneously signal the beginning of an era of progress toward a WMA campus that we know will serve our community well and long into the future.
Head of School
- One Confident Step at a time
- When You See The Plan ... You Will Feel It, Also'
- Convocation 2017-2018
- Commencement: Address to the Class of 2017
- Marking the road forward
- when is a roof more than just a roof?
- convocation 2016
- commencement: address to the class of 2016
- a transformational experience
- Creating the student experience
- convocation 2015
- COMMENCEMENT: ADDRESS TO THE CLASS OF 2015
- Annual Fund Revisited
- Installation as new head of school, convocation, August 2014
- announcement of new head of school, July 2014
- The added value of Wilbraham & Monson Academy
- MY VISION FOR WMA
- "Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child."
You’ve heard a lot, recently, about the promise of the new WMA Facilities Master Plan and what a critical step it is to the future of the Academy. We could not be more pleased to unveil the plan to you now and to discuss it when we see you at Academy functions during the coming years. I will take a moment, however, to explain the purpose of the Master Plan and its role in shaping our path.
Anyone could walk onto the WMA campus and realize that we need some things, like a new kitchen or an auditorium. It would be a logical observation. Master planning, however, is much more than a few people simply listing the things they think a school wants or needs. A master plan developed by a broad cross-section of a school community answers many questions:
What do we need to most effectively fulfill our mission?
- Where should things be, and how should the campus knit a community together?
- How can the physical campus support and accentuate the spirit of WMA?
- In what order of priority should we address these needs?
To accomplish all of this, the WMA Master Plan is intimately connected to, and grows out of, our program and our vision and strategic plan for the Academy. Thirty years from now, Wilbraham & Monson Academy will be a thriving and engaged community of students, staff, families and alumni; the campus will be a meticulously maintained and architecturally stunning array of historic buildings with a few modern and complementary facilities, all wrapped in a carefully groomed New England landscape. Students and their families will continue to seek enrollment because of the sustained value of the program and the warmth of the community, and alumni confidence will buoy a sense of loyalty that will lift the school on a continuously rising tide of support, and endow the WMA legacy in perpetuity.
We have made remarkable progress toward this vision during the last two decades, but much lies ahead. This is precisely why we chose to develop a master plan that is longer than most. We realize that there is great uncertainty about what the world will look like in 30 years, but we also want to ensure that our short-term priorities fit within the context of a longer vision. We will focus on the 10-year path, with our eyes on the evolving landscape.
We will succeed in this endeavor and achieve our vision for WMA by being intentional, flexible, careful when we need to be, and bold when opportunity strikes. We look forward to making this happen, one confident step at a time, with you at our side.
Head of School
It is a very exciting time at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, and a tremendous privilege to be part of it.
For the first time, WMA alumni, families, staff and friends contributed more than $1 million to the Annual Fund, now called the Atlas Fund. This is a landmark accomplishment, and a sign of confidence as we continue our efforts to further evolve the school. Included in those efforts is our mission to balance the operating budget without the need for annual donations; as you already know, we are flipping the Annual Fund upside down— from a literal budget standpoint— so that annual donors to the Atlas Fund continually move the school forward rather than simply sustaining it. This year, three years after beginning this shift, we are spending 82 percent of the annual donations to support capital projects and non-operating program improvements that move us forward.
Some of this generosity supports much-needed new capital projects and deferred maintenance projects that have an immediate effect on the quality of the student experience and the effectiveness of our admission efforts. With the renovation of the Rich Hall roof, portico and exterior, the construction of the new Academic Services Center, and the installation of air conditioning in our dormitory lobbies and public areas, to name a few of the big projects, we are using your support to change WMA in meaningful ways. We have a long way to go before we accomplish our goal of transforming annual giving and our campus, but you can feel and see the difference already.
This year, a portion of Atlas Fund giving also funded the creation of the WMA Facilities Master Plan. You will hear much more about this in the very near future, as the Master Plan will guide our facilities improvement efforts in support of our program for the next 10 or so years. Our plan, however, will also inform our intentions within the context of a 30-year vision for the WMA campus. That is a long time to consider, but with a healthy dose of flexibility built into the plan, it will serve admirably as our lodestar long into the future.
The master planning process spanned three full weeks of this past school year and included all of the faculty and staff, a broad cross section of the student body, and as many parents and alumni as we could involve. As a result, the plan is well informed by both those who live the WMA life every day and the creativity and experience of our master planning architects, Flansburgh Architects. Because the plan was created with such a breadth of involvement (some of the most innovative ideas came from students), there is a pervasive sense of enthusiasm and optimism on campus. When you see the plan, which you will soon, you will feel it, also.
Beginning my fourth year as Head and 20th at WMA, let me thank you all once again for the honor and privilege of serving all of you and the WMA community.
Head of School
Convocation Address: Head of School Brian P. Easler
Aug. 27, 2017
"In 2004, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of Monson Academy, founded in 1804, the oldest of the two schools that merged in 1971 to become Wilbraham & Monson Academy. This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Wilbraham Academy, founded in 1817 in New Market, New Hampshire as Wesleyan Academy. Shortly thereafter, in 1824, Wesleyan Academy moved to this campus, where we sit today, and later became Wilbraham Academy.
What I have in my hands is an original document dated 1825. It is the original Introductory Address delivered by the Founder and first Head of Wesleyan and Wilbraham Academy, Reverend Wilbur Fisk. You can see his portrait behind the stage in the Chapel. Reverend Fisk delivered a sermon to open the school year on that day in 1825 ... a 23-page sermon. I will keep my comments more brief, but I thought it would be fitting to have Reverend Fisk’s address here with us today
Let’s start by putting this all in context; let’s just look at a few interesting facts about life in the early 1800s and consider how things have changed in 200 years:
• In the early 1800s, life expectancy was about age 40.
• There were only 20 states.
• The United States was at war with Great Britain and Spain at various times during this period, as well as American Indians, as it fought for increased territory.
• In 1817, the year Wilbraham Academy was founded, James Monroe was inaugurated as just the fifth president of the United States.
• The world was immersed in war, aside from the expansion of the U.S., with the Ottoman Empire fighting over the Middle East and Southeastern Europe, Napoleon attempting to conquer the rest of Europe and pushing into Asia until defeated by Russia, Spain, Great Britain and Germany, and China becoming engaged in the first Opium War.
• In 1819, just two years after the founding of Wilbraham Academy, the American steamship Savannah, under part steam and part sail-power, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Savannah, Georgia, to Liverpool, England, arriving in a world record-setting ... 29 days ... imagine if it took more than a month to get to WMA from overseas ...
• Trade ports and international relationships were just beginning to blossom in China and Japan, with cities like Shanghai and Tokyo opening up.
• In 1820, the population of the United States was around 9.6 million ... just over the current population of New York City.
• Also in 1820, in New Jersey, a gentleman named Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a tomato in public ... just to prove they are not poisonous. Shocking ...
• The two primary political parties in the U.S., now the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, were started during this time period through the national debate over U.S. allegiance with either Great Britain or France.
• In 1821, four years after the founding of Wilbraham Academy, Emma Willard founded the first women's college in the United States - Troy Female Seminary.
• In 1822, five years after the founding of Wilbraham Academy, the first group of freed American slaves settled a black colony known as the Republic of Liberia (which means Liberty) when they arrived on African soil at Providence Island. The capital, Monrovia, is named after President James Monroe.
• In 1824, the year Wesleyan Academy moved here to Wilbraham, sushi was invented in Japan. A lot has changed since those early days that seem so distant from us now. It is hard to imagine that people exactly like us managed their lives similarly but without so many of the modern conveniences from which we benefit. For example:
• The first clothes washing machine was patented in 1851.
• The radiator, as a form of central building heat, was invented around 1855. That is why, until last year, Rich Hall had 25 chimneys. Those were necessary because every dorm room had a fireplace for heat and students needed to supply their own firewood.
• The telephone was not invented until 1876 (and the cell phone in 1973).
• Light bulbs, which were the first use of consumer electricity, were invented in 1879.
• The first automobile was created around 1885.
• Deodorant and antiperspirant were not invented until 1888.
• The first brief flight by airplane, which lasted 120 feet, occurred in 1903.
• In 1913, refrigerators for residential use were invented. Just think for a moment what it might have been like to attend the Academy 200 years ago with no telephones, no airplanes, no cars, no electricity or electric light, no clothes washing machines and ... no deodorant.
Think for just a few minutes about what it must have been like to wake up when the rooster called (because the first adjustable alarm clock was not patented until 1847), light a gas lamp or candle in your chilly room and start a fire in your fireplace, dress in stiff woolen clothes that you had washed by hand (two weeks ago), head down to a meager breakfast that was made without foods requiring refrigeration, most of which were grown in or around the school, and then off to class with the homework that you completed the night before by lamp or candlelight with a pencil or a feather pen, and finally, after classes, off to do your share of the chores in the school’s gardens or tending the livestock that sustained you and the rest of the community throughout the year.
Needless to say, it would have been a VERY different experience from the one on which you are about embark this year.
Regardless of all that has changed in the last 200 years, some things remain very much the same. People in 1817 possessed few of the modern conveniences that today make our lives so much more comfortable, enjoyable and productive. Yet ... we still struggle mightily with some of the same issues with which they wrestled:
• Gender inequality
• Economic instability • Military conflict
• Domestic and international political uncertainty
• Civil unrest
As we all know, these topics are still timely for us now; that has not changed. There are a few other things, however, that have remained very much the same ... basic principles that govern our very core as an academic institution and a residential community: • We believe that education and a love of learning is the key to a fulfilling life, and that healthy habits of mind are developed through interest, hard work, trial and error, freedom of inquiry, challenge and the support of a caring faculty. • We accept that humans are fallible and imperfect, but we also believe in the need for self-improvement and that a worthy life is also one of thoughtful self-reflection, humility and kindness. • We believe in the respect of all people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, culture, beliefs, skin color, or any of the other qualities that make us all so unique and contribute so meaningfully to our diverse global community, and we reject the presence of hate and intolerance in all of its manifestations. • We believe in the promise of youth, all of you, and the hope that you represent to the world and to all of us. We believe that citizenship in this community comes with enormous privileges and therefore equal responsibility to one another.
In this community:
• we are thankful for what we have
• we offer our assistance and support to one another
• we respect our school, ourselves and others
• we seek solutions rather than blame
• we are friendly and courteous to one another
• we clean up after ourselves, both literally and figuratively
• we value all of our differences for their unique contribution to the whole
• we hold ourselves accountable for our words and actions
• we win and lose with grace
• we actively engage with one another
• we apologize and we forgive
• we challenge ourselves to do, and be, better
• we live clean
• we speak true
• we work hard
• we play fair
These values and those like them have been the foundation of this school since its founding days in the early 1800s, and will continue to be so, for another 200 years, beginning tomorrow with the year of the Class of 2018.
Commencement 2017 Valedictory Address
Head of School Brian P. Easler
May 27, 2017
"It is my honor, now, to present the valedictory, or the farewell address. This is my last chance, essentially, to give some words of advice to the assembled members of the graduating class because, in reality, they will never all be gathered like this again. That can be a sad and sobering thought for us ... but it is true. This is because they will soon scatter to the far reaches of the globe and engage in new and exciting challenges and opportunities. We are so very grateful for the time we have been able to spend with them, here at WMA, and that is what I would like to talk about today: gratitude.
I am not talking about the simple and courteous gratitude of expressing thanks. That is important in its own right, and a social expectation that is necessary to demonstrate thankfulness for kind action received or reciprocated. It is an external expression of our gratitude to another. These gestures are important, but, just like when we ask “how are you?” they can sometimes lack sincerity due to the comfort of polite and somewhat thoughtless habit. We often say “thanks” without even remembering why.
The gratitude I would like to talk about today is more of an internal thankfulness. This gratitude has more to do with how we think of the world around us, and our particular situation, than how we respond to it, although one tends to naturally lead to the other. It is about being thankful, more than simply expressing thanks. It is also about being happy.
Singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow states in her 2002 pop single Soak Up the Sun that “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” While I think it is somewhat unrealistic to suggest we not want things, I do believe that we should give that feeling of general dissatisfaction less prominence in our thinking and recognize more often, for ourselves, those things in our lives for which we should be thankful and grateful.
This can be challenging for us because we, as humans, are constantly measuring, judging, comparing, criticizing and categorizing and we are constantly on the lookout for trends and indicators and predictors. You’re all doing it right now, wondering where I’m going with this talk, predicting how long it will be and how much discomfort or satisfaction it might cause you, comparing it to other speeches and other speakers, and judging my delivery. It’s natural. It's what we do. It’s what makes us human. I’ll do the same thing to myself, tonight, when I mentally revisit this speech and compare and judge and consider what I think went well and what didn’t, so that I can be better next time. The problem is not that we do this, but that, too often, this kind of thinking monopolizes our mental energy and leaves no room to be thankful, to recognize what is good and right and true and worthy.
Why do we do this? One possible explanation is our human ability to engage in abstract thought about things beyond our five senses, assign meaning to those things, and our desire to predict potential positive and negative outcomes. For example, I could perceive that many people are leaving the tent to go to the restroom, I could assume, beyond that perception, that it might be because I have spoken for too long a time, I could predict that if I keep talking, it will get worse, and I could act accordingly. I could be wrong, however, and it could just be that everyone is well hydrated. This ability to think in an abstract way and our desire to predict outcomes, though, tends to focus us on things that need to be fixed. As a result, we are always trying to make things better, faster, easier, simpler, brighter, cheaper, less expensive and, most importantly, more predictable. This makes us natural problem solvers. You may have heard the saying that to a hammer everything looks like a nail. Well, if you’re a problem solver . . . everything looks like a problem.
Because things never seem to be good enough, this makes it difficult for us to be happy. We're never completely satisfied; we always want more. This is perhaps one of the roots of all human progress. It's what drives us and has resulted in us, as a race, getting to where we are now and wherever we are going. It has resulted in conveniences many of us enjoy today like electricity, clean drinking water, cars, airplanes and ... civilization. So, how can I possibly criticize that?
I’m not. I’m suggesting we recognize dissatisfaction for what it is and acknowledge that, despite its usefulness, a consistent focus on our unhappiness with the world can impact our own general happiness. I’m asking that we try, particularly when things seem especially dire, to broaden our focus, mentally back up for a broader view and bring back into our peripheral vision all those things for which we can and should be grateful and happy.
I’m not suggesting that you abandon your drive and your will for more, better, faster, easier, more comfortable or more rewarding. I’m advocating that you remember to find some happiness in what you already have, because it could be otherwise.
We want you to push your limits and strive, but we also want you to live rewarding lives filled with happiness and joy. Gratitude can help us find balance between dissatisfaction and fulfillment. Be thankful for what you have, for what you have been given, and for what you have achieved. Recognize and express gratitude for those things, to yourself and others. Be thankful for the gentle breeze against your face, and then lean into the wind and push forward …"
Reprinted from "Academy World," Spring 2017
This year we celebrate the Bicentennial of Wilbraham Academy, founded in 1817, just 13 years after the founding of Monson Academy in 1804. These two remarkable schools, the bedrock of our merged Academy, have, through those centuries, weathered many storms and withstood periods of great difficulty and adversity. With the dedication and support of alumni, families and friends, however, Wilbraham & Monson Academy persevered and is now solidly moving forward.
It is a perfect time to prepare for the future, from a position of strength, as we have been doing in our recent work engaging in a campus master planning process. This process, to create an intentional facilities roadmap, was broken into three phases, represented by three different weeklong workshops on campus. Each workshop satisfied a unique and successive step in the planning process by asking one of three questions at each workshop: what facilities needs must we satisfy to support our mission; where should our facilities, existing and new, be located on campus; in what priority should we focus on them, given the necessary financial planning and the program needs of the school. We have been engaged in this process throughout the spring with our master planning firm, Flansburgh Architects, and we have benefitted from the involvement of students, staff, families, friends and alumni at every step. The process has infused the WMA community with the promise of what lies ahead and the confidence that, given time, intention, hard work and the financial support of those who have come before, we will become even stronger.
The master planning process will also prepare us to meet adversity as admirably as we have in the past. We are gliding into a national era of declining birth rates and a resulting reduction in the market of school-aged children. Data from The Association of Boarding Schools reveals that all domestic boarding students who attend all North American boarding schools enroll from a very specific and limited number of states and cities, basically the upper eastern seaboard with pockets in Southern Florida, Chicago, South-Central Texas and Southern California. If you then overlay this demographic map with U.S. birth rate data from the U.S. Census Bureau, it becomes obvious that the states and cities from which all domestic boarding students hail are also the areas of the lowest and most rapidly declining birth rates in the nation. Because WMA is in one of those states, it means
that this decline in the student population will affect boarding and day students alike. In recent years, and for all schools, a gradually increasing international student presence has balanced a slow but steady decline in domestic boarding. Recently, however, the international market is beginning to plateau.
The Association of Boarding Schools has embarked, with member schools, on a national marketing campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of boarding school and to increase interest from a broader cross section of the potential market. WMA has taken a leadership role in that endeavor. Despite the promise of these efforts, these circumstances will inevitably intensify competition between North American boarding schools during the years that lie ahead.
We have an opportunity, as a result of this market challenge and the promise of an intentional plan to move forward, to guarantee the health of Wilbraham & Monson Academy long into the future. With the help of alumni, families and friends, as in decades past, we will map a road forward that will allow us to weather this storm and strengthen the community as a result of having done so.
Reprinted from "Academy World," Fall 2016
When is a roof more than just a roof?
The repair and renovation of the Rich Hall roof may not seem particularly exciting to the casual observer, but for the broader WMA community it represents a lot more than just a roof. It is a milestone on the path forward and a positive outlook for the future of the Academy.
In previous issues we have talked about our restructuring of the budget so that annual fund dollars support growth, about increased administrative efficiency
, and about our renewed attention on the experience of the students and the continued development of our mission. These efforts and their effects on our budget, our program and our admission attractiveness have converged to allow the roof project to happen.
Still, this may not seem particularly exciting ... unless understood within the context that completing this project now is only possible because of the tireless efforts over the last 30 years of former heads Dick Malley and Rodney LaBrecque, the Trustees, staff and volunteers who worked with them, and the foundation that they all provided for our recent efforts to push the Academy to the next stage of its evolution. Without that work, we would not be in the position we are now to better utilize your support to move our school forward. This seemingly simple roof project is, in reality, a pivotal step in the path forward for WMA, which signals a dynamic shift in the institutional ethos.
Central to this shift is that the renovation demonstrates a stronger command of our resources and is funded through our existing revenues and current fundraising efforts rather than the result of a targeted fundraising campaign. This new approach is working, and the Rich Hall roof renovation is the first major evidence of its effectiveness.
In addition, our focus on capital priorities is becoming more intentional, which will maximize budget predictability and admission appeal, give direction to annual capital improvement items, and provide the best possible learning environment, improving each year, for our current students and families. Rich Hall roof is just the beginning.
During the next year we will also be rebuilding the Rich Hall portico, incorporating a ramp for increased accessibility. This will not only give the front of Rich Hall a much-needed face-lift, but it will also make our most central building more accessible
by for people of all ages and abilities. And finally, we will replace all of the windows and restore the traditional, period façadeof Rich Hall.
All of these current projects
This is why the Rich Hall roof project is much more than just a roof. It symbolizes the rising and pervasive sense of positive energy and confidence that is building at WMA, and the promise of what is to come next.
Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2016 Convocation Ceremony, which marks beginning of the 213th academic year for Wilbraham & Monson Academy.
I’d like us to take a moment to reflect, in silence, why we are here. We are all gathered, from all over the world and from a vast array of backgrounds and beliefs. What connects us, however, aside from membership in this community, is the fact that we have similar goals. You all have things you want to accomplish this year, and the best way for us to individually reach our goals is to work collectively together. Please take a moment in silence to think about why you are here, what you hope to accomplish, and how you can contribute positively to those around you.
Since Convocation marks the beginning of a serious intellectual endeavor, this school year, I will say a few words to set the tone for our work together. I like to keep these comments brief and focused on one or two things that may be helpful to all of us as we begin our year. Today I will talk about your power to make choices.
Today we begin a new school year, so it is an important day . . . new classes, new teachers, new things to learn to keep you on your path to wherever you are going. Those things are true. The reason I think today is particularly important, however, is because it marks the beginning of . . . whatever you choose. I use that word very intentionally: choice. I could have said that today is the beginning of whatever you want, but wanting is passive and non-committal. I’m saying that today, and every day, is the beginning of whatever you choose and that your path here at WMA and in life is determined in large part by the choices you make.
So, choose wisely, even on the seemingly small things, because they could matter more than you know. Imagine, for a moment, that the map of your life, what you did and what you did not do, what you will and will not do, a map of your options and opportunities whether you take them or not, looks like the outline of a tree: it begins near the ground, when you were born, and for a while, at the trunk of the tree, there are no branches because you had few, if any, choices. Your family or your school decided most things for you. Then you reached an age where you began to have choices, represented by branches in the tree, where you took one branch and not another. One choice after another has positioned you in a unique spot on a vast array representing all the options you had and will have, fanned out like the branches of a vast tree.
Sometimes we make choices that move us in a direction we would rather not. Sometimes we can then make subsequent choices to get ourselves back on track to where we would like to be, but sometimes we can’t . . . and that path is gone forever. For example, too much time has probably gone by, and I am probably too far from the other side of my tree where my choices could have led to me being a drummer in a rock-n-roll band like BTO or free-climbing El Capitan, or one of the many other things that I could have done had I made different choices. Those options are probably no longer within my reach, regardless of what I do now. That’s OK, though, because we can’t choose all of our options and I’m happy with where I am. Sometimes, however, we all make choices that cut us off from future branches, options, that we regret, forever. This is why I advise you to make your choices count: because you often do not know before making a choice what future options may exist for you and whether you will have an opportunity to change paths afterward or not.
You are at the beginning of the time when you will be able to make a LOT of choices about your life and where you end up in that tree of options. Attending WMA was a big choice, and your time at WMA will be filled with many more choices, large and small. I urge you to take them seriously and be careful. We, your faculty, are here to help you make choices that we believe, based on our experience, open the most doors for you and present the least risk of blocking opportunities. You may not always agree with our advice or our direction, but I urge you to consider it. We want all of you to live lives full of challenge and happiness and fulfillment, and with the least amount of regret about where you end up in your tree of options.
Sometimes we just don’t know which choice to take, and we need to take a chance. Being extra thoughtful about those choices, especially, when there is uncertainty, gives us the most control we can hope for over the outcome.
This all leaves a lot of uncertainty, all this talk about how your choices will affect future options, many of which you are not even aware. So, I offer a piece of advice that may be helpful: I encourage you to use improvement as a criteria with which you make your choices. Regardless of your intended path right now, always make choices that lead toward being better. This, I believe, will offer you the broadest array of options as your life unfolds before you, and it will serve you well for the rest of your time. We can all be better. I can always be a better son, a better husband, a better headmaster, and certainly a better man. You can be a better student, a better performer, a better friend, and a better citizen of this school. Make choices that continuously lead you toward being better, and that will keep the broadest array of options open for you to take advantage of whatever that tree looks like that is fanning out before you.
Good morning, and welcome to the 212th Commencement Ceremony of Wilbraham & Monson Academy. My name is Brian Easler, and I consider myself the most fortunate person here, because I get to be the Head of this amazing school. Summer has finally arrived, and we are so happy to see all of you here today to celebrate with us on this special occasion for the Class of 2016.
Before we begin, I’d like to quietly reflect in silent meditation. Everyone here is fortunate; we have many things for which we can be thankful. We have gathered on this absolutely beautiful day, people of many faiths and beliefs, families from around the globe, to support and celebrate, together, the accomplishments and the bright future of our students. Because they hold the keys for the days and years ahead, we have faith in their ability to unlock the potential of the world for all of us, to live in peace, to treat one another fairly, and to seek to understand before we seek to blame. Let us ponder, in silence, our love for them, and the promise that they represent for the world.
Let me take a moment to briefly introduce the member of our Board of Trustees who is here to confer the diplomas on our graduates today. Mr. Mark R. Shenkman, Monson Academy class of 1961, is the Vice Chair of our Board of Trustees, and he has served as a trustee of Monson Academy, and then Wilbraham & Monson academy, continuously, since the fall of 1970. That is 46 consecutive years of service to this school. Mr. Shenkman, we thank you for your service to our school and for being here today.
I would also like to give a special Thank You to the graduating class for the surprise gift they presented early this morning of two Adirondack chairs for the Heads House, matching the ones they gave the school earlier this year by the flagpole. The chairs were placed in front of the house at some early hour this morning, and they look wonderful. Thank you for your generosity and your love for this school.
It is my honor, now, to present the valedictory, or the farewell address. This is my last chance, essentially, to give some words of advice to the assembled members of the graduating class because they will never all be assembled like this again. I’ve spent many years at WMA having such talks with students, and it has resulted in many rewarding and lasting alumni relationships.
I will begin by talking about just that - relationships. You have spent years here at WMA. Some of you have spent seven years, and others, one year. Either way, you have been members of a relatively small community. You, the graduates, are about to enter into a new and probably larger community where you will have the opportunity to choose a new group of people with whom you will spend your time. My advice to you is to choose very carefully.
Surround yourself with good people, people who want what you want, people going the direction you hope to go, people who have traits or attributes or habits that you want to adopt. Choose carefully, because it matters.
You know it matters because you’ve all seen how we each absorb things from those around us. Every one of you has been part of an athletic team or a performance troupe or a work team, any small group of people who spend a lot of time together by choice. You’ve all experienced the shared mentality of the group that develops, the common words, phrases, and inside jokes that get used and used, until they are overused and then they get replaced with new common habits. This is natural, and it demonstrates the power of those with whom we choose to spend our time.
To understand how this happens, I’d like you to think about several things.
First, we create our own thoughts. Nobody else can think for us. We have complete control over that ability. We can create any thought we want, no matter how crazy or logical or unpopular or conformist. We create our thoughts, in our own minds. This is perhaps our greatest freedom, because we are, truly, the only ones who can do this for ourselves. Sometimes people can manipulate us, but that is by controlling the information we have available to us from which we create those thoughts. They don’t really control our mind.
That leads us to the second thing . . . we generate our thoughts from the information available to us, and we receive that information from our environment through our senses. What we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel provides us with the material we need to create our thoughts. Sometimes that information comes from our parents, our teachers, clergy or people we admire like entertainers, athletes, or politicians. It comes from books, movies, and our daily observations of what goes on around us. Much of the information we receive comes from the people with whom we decide to spend our time, but, more importantly, those people affect how we interpret that information to create our own thoughts and our own reality: this is particularly powerful.
That brings us to the third thing: the lessons we learn, the way we see the world, how we understand other people, the priority we place on possibilities, the way we judge, how we spend our time, possible outcomes, goals, plans . . . this is all an outcome of how we interpret the world around us and how it affects our thinking.
This all means that the people with whom we spend our time, because of their influence on the information we receive, how we might interpret it, and our resulting thoughts, have great influence on our reality. That gives them, those people who spend so much time around us, tremendous power over our lives.
So we come back to my message to you, which is this: choose the people around you very intentionally because of the power they have to influence how you interpret the world, and your reality . . . and, therefore, whether or not you achieve what you want to achieve. If you want to be a serious student, surround yourself with serious students. If you want to be a hardworking artist or athlete, surround yourself with hardworking artists and athletes. If you want to establish a beneficial network, surround yourself with the people who will provide benefit. If you want a life filled with possibility and promise, surround yourself with positive and encouraging people. If you want to waste your time, surround yourself with people who will waste your time. If you want to live a life mired in cynicism and unhappiness and negativity . . . well, you get the idea.
Whatever your goals or aspirations, surround yourself with those who align with what you want. Do not give the power to affect your present and your future to the wrong people. This is your choice and within your control. You, the class of 2016, have a unique opportunity to start from scratch. Please don’t waste it.
Reprinted from "Academy World," Spring 2016
I recently participated in a remarkable examination of our mission statement with about a dozen members of the WMA faculty and administration. The session was part of our winter professional development day, where the entire teaching staff was divided into work groups to consider challenges we need to solve, issues we want to investigate and opportunities we can explore. Our group included teachers and administrators who are also WMA alumni, current parents, alumni parents and teachers who grew up with faculty children. Experience at WMA ranged from four years to more than 30 years.
My challenge for our team was to consider how we communicate our Global School® mission. A guiding premise for the discussion was that the mission is not changing – our mission is one we believe in and that is firmly rooted in our history and our future. This was simply an opportunity to evaluate how it is understood, internalized and shared. We started by defining the intended outcome of our task. The mission statement should be short, but not too short. It should be easily memorized, but full of meaning and simple to elaborate. It should be clear, but broad enough to encourage thoughtful consideration. Any person at the Academy should be able to relate to it, clearly communicate it and easily understand their role in accomplishing it. We should avoid marketing buzzwords that could weaken or trivialize it, or that will quickly lose appeal. It should elicit an emotional response, and offer the opportunity for anyone to imagine herself or himself benefitting from involvement. We established these guidelines, and then we gave the group an hour and 45 minutes.
It was impressive to witness how a varied group of bright, informed, thoughtful and collaborative people can come together under the healthy pressure of a tight deadline and the need for an immediate full-faculty presentation of results. Our discussion quickly fell into two parallel questions: how do people describe the value of WMA after coming through our program, and what do we endeavor to provide our students?
There is one recurring phrase that dominates our conversations with alumni and alumni parents of WMA about the value it represents to them: “Wilbraham & Monson Academy is a transformational experience.” Other common answers include, “WMA changed my life,” “The school was exactly what I needed when I needed it,” and, “I would not be where I am today had I not attended WMA.” Individual details of this transformation vary, as you would expect, but the general idea remains consistent. We attempted to isolate particular parts of the Academy that act most as catalysts for this transformation, but in the end it became increasingly obvious that the whole WMA experience – the global student body representing more than 30 countries, the rare and inclusive benefit of a boarding environment, the healthy and nurturing student-adult relationships, the friendly and welcoming community of learners, the rigorous, yet supportive, academic and extracurricular program – is, in its entirety, truly transformational.
Once we had an answer to our first guiding question, we then attempted to boil down our intent, what we hope to instill in our students, to the fewest words possible that can effectively describe why we do what we do. . We want our students to be competitive and non-complacent, and to seek challenges that will test them. We want our students to be resilient in the face of inevitable hardship and discomfort. We want them to learn that failure is just a learning opportunity on the path to success. We want them to exhibit grit and tenacity when they encounter obstacles and setbacks. We want our students to develop a healthy growth mindset necessary to become life-long learners. We want them to innovate and invent and approach their lives and the world with an entrepreneurial challenge-seeking spirit, and we want our students to have the courage to lead.
Challenge-seeking alone, however, despite all it encompasses, will not get the job done. In order to get anything accomplished in the world, regardless of innovative and entrepreneurial prowess, our students must know how to work effectively with others. Life, as we all know, is complicated. We want our students to seek to understand and interact with people from widely divergent backgrounds, beliefs and goals. We want them to recognize their role in the world and be sensitive to the needs of others. We want them to be ready to both defend their positions and change their minds. We want them to balance their own desires with circumstances to find a diplomatic path forward, and we want them to make the world better for themselves and others by taking opportunities to make positive change. We witness these things happening on our campus and in our alumni community every day, and we believe they describe what so many of our students and alumni represent: a predilection for compassionate and diplomatic engagement.
These words together - innovative, entrepreneurial, challenge-seeking and diplomatic - balance well to represent our goals for our students and for their role in the world. Regardless of how we define our intentions or boil them down into succinct categories, and the preceding paragraphs are just a sketch, we know that we are preparing WMA graduates for an uncertain future. The world is evolving at an increasing pace, which creates inevitable growing pains our students will need to handle. We believe that a compassionate and challenge-seeking approach will serve our students best, as they also evolve into global citizens and leaders.
I feel privileged, every day, to benefit from membership in this community of learners. This mission-defining process, with a group of committed colleagues, although still in progress, affirmed that for me, and reinforced that Wilbraham & Monson Academy is, in fact, a truly transformational experience where students of all ages become challenge-seeking leaders of an evolving world.
Reprinted from "Academy World," Fall 2015
I am always looking for things to learn, ways to improve and opportunities to increase the breadth of my experience. This habit enriches my life and parallels what we provide for our students as part of the WMA's global program. As a recent example, this past April, I had the privilege to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference as a guest of Mark R. Shenkman '61M. The Milken Conference is a gathering of about 4,200 leaders from all sectors of global society to discuss the current state of the world and what we might expect for our future. Economics, as a way to frame how the world works, is the theme that binds the program together and explains why the conference is attended by current and former heads of state and other high-ranking elected and appointed government and military officials, NGO directors, municipal policy-makers, business leaders and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, philanthropists, education experts, financial executives, Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs and innovators, journalists and medical research scientists. The list of presenters and attendees was a veritable who's who of international notables, too many to mention, but the presenter list alone is littered with titles such as president, chairman, superintendent, congressman, chancellor, general, senator, CEO, founder, chief, executive director, editor, prime minister, senior advisor, governor and princess. In my article for the fall 2014 "Academy World" magazine I referenced the need for broad information about global circumstances in order for us to predict the best course for the future of WMA, and this conference provided exactly that.
Although there were no headmasters in the list of presenters, the topic of education was ubiquitous. Questions like "What kind of skills will be necessary to lead such an endeavor?", "How should education adapt to suit these future needs?" and "What would [this or] that mean for the next generation?" were common at every turn. Whether the topic was finance, military, global markets, societal welfare, social media, diplomacy, investment, natural resources, or politics, the need to prepare our children for the future and how best to do that was at the heart of it all.
Like education, one particular phrase became a common theme in my notes from the widely varying sessions I attended: increasing global uncertainty and volatility. This prediction creates for us an interesting challenge when considering how best to prepare our students and the Academy for the future. I came away, however, with renewed certainty that what we are doing at WMA is exactly what is needed. The most worthwhile education we can provide our students to prepare them for the future is a solid foundation in the central academic subjects, a knack for research and communication, and broad, broad global exposure in all sectors and categories. It is the only logical preparation for an uncertain future that will inevitably involve volatility and change. The interaction of cause and effect on the global scale is so incredibly complex, the only way to prepare for it is to understand as many perspectives as possible ... and expect the need to adapt to circumstances and innovate.
This is what WMA does best. We see this in our steadily improving academic performance metrics, our new programs such as AP Capstone (Advanced Placement Seminar and Research), Computer Science, and our new student innovation space. We see it in the influence of our diverse global student body, representing 24 countries and nine states. We see it our programs, utilizing that broad global representation, focusing on conflict resolution, mediation and diplomacy. We see it in our student travel program that provides opportunities to pivotal European and Asian destinations, as well as unique and diverse experiences in places like Cambodia, Namibia, and (particularly close to my heart) the southern Amazon basin. We see it in the outcomes of the WMA experience, such as student and young alumni patents and successful entrepreneurial ventures, and meaningful local and global social change. We see WMA at the forefront of preparing students for leadership in an uncertain global environment, and we see ourselves continuing to adapt and lead the way, like we know our graduates will.
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 2015 Convocation Ceremony, which marks beginning of the 212th academic year for Wilbraham & Monson Academy.
Since Convocation symbolizes the beginning of a serious intellectual endeavor, this school year, I will say a few words to set the tone for our work together. My talk will focus on failure, disappointment, and rejection, and how we respond to those inevitable events. I’d like to start by telling you a few stories, to tell you a little about myself and to illustrate the potential power of failure.
Many of you know about my early military background as an Army Airborne Ranger, but I’m going to tell you a little story about how that transformational time in my life began in failure. This story starts with disappointment, because when I joined the Army, my dream of dreams was to be an Airborne soldier, to jump out of planes. Unfortunately, through a ‘recruiting miscommunication’, instead of being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as I was promised, I was assigned to the 101st, which is no longer an actual airborne assignment. I was crushed, and there seemed, at first, that there was nothing I could do about it. The contract was signed, I had my orders, I felt simultaneously trapped and lost . . . and incredibly disappointed. When I arrived at the 101st and was awaiting orders to a unit, I saw a sign on the wall for a special unit called LRSD, the Long Range Reconnaissance and Surveillance Detachment. It is important to note that this discovery was only possible because I had put aside my anger and disappointment and was open to alternate ways to get what I wanted. What I wanted more than anything at that time was to be Airborne, so what interested me even more than the special nature of this unit was the fact that this small group of 60 men was on jump status – this was my second chance to be an airborne soldier. So, the next day, my buddy Dave and I went to LRSD to try out. Tryouts consisted of a fitness test and a variety of other unpleasant challenges. In order to gain acceptance to the unit, one needed to earn a maximum score on the fitness test . . . and I failed to do that. I failed max out the run. To make it even worse, my buddy Dave got in. I was crushed and filled with despair. This was a critical moment in my life. I could have easily let that despair and disappointment control the outcome for me. I could have dwelled in my anger and let it define me, and I nearly did. Instead, through purely an unwillingness to give up, I chose a different path. The next morning when the Sergeants arrived at LRSD, I was standing at parade rest in front of the barracks. When they asked me, unkindly, what I wanted, I told them that I was there to try out again. When they told me, even more unkindly, that there are no second chances, I respectfully replied (which is critically important) that I would not leave until they gave me a chance to prove myself to them. Long story short . . . they ran me through the gauntlet again that day . . . and I failed to max the run, again. Obviously, they took me, but it was not because of my running ability. They accepted me, on probationary status pending the outcome of my ‘training’, solely because of my unwillingness to lose my composure or to give up. I learned an important lesson that day, about the value of grit and perseverance.
My wife, Stephanie Easler, has been challenged in a different way. You see, she has dyslexia, a learning disability with which many people struggle. When we were in high school, learning disabilities were not as easily diagnosed and were even less understood by teachers. She was largely written-off by many of our teachers (yes, we were high school sweethearts) as just not being capable of academic work. I still remember one of our math teachers saying to Stephanie, after we had graduated and upon hearing that we would be married, “oh, Stephanie, that’s so nice that you’ve found someone who can take care of you . . . “ As a result of these circumstances, she was given very few tools with which she could manage her disability. Instead of yielding to the frustration, disappointment, rejection, and hurt feelings, she clawed her way up the academic ladder using the resources available to her, like hand-transcribing audio recordings of every class lecture to make sure she properly understood the class notes. She has more grit and tenacity than anyone I have ever known. Twelve years later, Stephanie graduated with her doctorate in human physiology.
Even my very presence at WMA is the result of a response to failure and rejection. The first time I applied to work here, as an English teacher, I was denied. But, after some initial and natural disappointment, I kept a positive attitude, remained focused on opportunities, and soon found my way here anyway.
These stories are personal examples for me and for my life, and there are many, many more, but the reality is that we all have them. Our lives are filled with failure, disappointment and rejection, if we are truly challenging ourselves. Instead of looking at those events as destinations in our journey, I urge you to look at them as detours to different routes you can follow to the same, or sometimes better, destinations. I want you to practice here at WMA, by challenging yourselves and risking failure, and through that to learn the value of perseverance and grit toward creating a fulfilling life for yourselves.
Perseverance, tenacity, and grit are not only favorable behaviors, they are actually marketable. If you can demonstrate, through your actions, that you possess these attributes, it will make you more appealing as a contender for future opportunities. This was affirmed for me this past April, when I had the privilege to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference. The Milken Conference is a gathering of about 4,200 leaders from all sectors of global society to discuss the current state of the world and what we might expect for our future. Economics, as a way to frame how the world works, is the theme that binds the program together and explains why the conference is attended by current and former heads of state and other high-ranking elected and appointed government and military officials, NGO directors, municipal policy-makers, business leaders and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, philanthropists, education experts, financial executives, Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs and innovators, journalists, and medical research scientists. The list of presenters and attendees was a veritable who's who of international notables, too many to mention, but the presenter list alone is littered with titles such as President, Chairman, Superintendent, Congressman, Chancellor, General, Senator, CEO, Founder, Chief, Executive Director, Editor, Prime Minister, Senior Advisor, Governor, and Princess. It even included people like Paula Abdul, and Brad Delson and Mike Shinoda of the band, Linkin Park.
Although there were no headmasters in the list of presenters, the topic of education was ubiquitous. Questions like "what kind of skills will be necessary to lead such an endeavor?", "how should education adapt to suit these future needs?", and "what would [this or] that mean for the next generation?" were common at every discussion. Whether the topic was finance, military, global markets, societal welfare, social media, diplomacy, investment, natural resources, or politics, the need to prepare our students for the future and how best to do that was at the heart of it all.
When the presenters were asked what characteristics and attributes they value most in the work force and in leadership positions now and in the future, the answers formed a theme: grit and perseverance. Of course they want you to have a solid foundation in the central academic and arts subjects, a knack for research, communication, and teamwork, and broad, broad global exposure. Beyond that foundation, however, and even more desirable than talent or specialized training, according to these global experts, is the need for people with the tenacity who can make things happen when the going gets tough. The fact that you, the next generation of the world’s leaders, will face challenges and failure in your life is a foregone conclusion. The people who will respond productively to those challenges and failures are the people who will lead.
It can be easy to assume that for someone who is happy and satisfied and successful in what they are doing, like the world leaders of the Milken Conference, that it is the logical outcome of a long chain of perfectly orchestrated steps. That everything has gone exactly according to plan. That one success has led easily to another, because otherwise things would have worked out much less favorably. This could not be further from the truth. A long succession of successes without failure would signify that people have simply not pushed themselves hard enough, taken enough chances, and stepped beyond what they imagine their limits to be. To grapple with life in this way inevitably results in significant opportunities to deal with failure, rejection, and disappointment. It is your response to those events that determines your course in life, and you can start determining that course, now, this year, at WMA.
Thank you . . .
Good morning and welcome to the 211th Commencement Ceremony of Wilbraham & Monson Academy. The weather is glorious, and we are so happy to see all of you here today to celebrate with us this special day for the Class of 2015.
Please take a moment to take all of your devices out and make sure they are on silence mode, so that you do not attract the attention of all 800 people at what will inevitably be the most embarrassing possible moment.
Let us take a moment, before we begin, to quietly reflect. Everyone here is fortunate; we have many things for which we can be thankful. We have gathered on this absolutely gorgeous day, people of many faiths and beliefs, families from around the globe, to support and celebrate, together, the accomplishments and the bright future of our students. Because they hold the keys for the days and years ahead, we have faith in their ability to unlock the potential of the world for all of us, to live in peace, to treat one another fairly, and to seek to understand before we seek to blame. We ponder, in silence, our love for them, and the promise they represent for the world.
It is my honor, now, to present the valedictory, or the farewell address, to the Graduating Class. Most of you have known me for many years as the Dean of Students, and during those years you have heard me extol many pieces of advice. As a result, some of you may find parts of my comments familiar. But I wanted to give you one last piece of advice, an accumulation of sorts, of things I have said over the years, under one primary message: being happy.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” I agree with him, and I see ‘making our minds up’ to be a habit of making certain choices in our daily lives.
Now, aside from merely being happy, of course we want you to live productive and successful lives and go out into the world and work hard and deal with hardship and adversity and struggle with things bigger than yourself. But those things don’t preclude happiness . . . on the contrary I believe they add to it.
Of course we want you to earn degrees and discover cures and make positive change and solve problems and create jobs and become elected to offices and do the right things and generate a good income for yourself . . . but those accomplishments alone, as successful as they may be, do not guarantee happiness.
I can’t tell you how to be successful. That is for you alone to determine. But, I can give you a few tips on how to increase your chances of being happy while you are working at it . . . and that is what I aim to do now.
Number 1: Stop trying to control things you cannot control. Now . . . this advice probably sounds like hypocrisy coming from a person many of you know as somewhat of a control freak. I would prefer, however, that you regard it as the wisdom of someone who has learned it the hard way: by making mistakes. When we try to control the things in our world that we cannot control, all we get is frustration. This frustration then distracts us from the things we do actually control, like our thoughts and our actions and in general our response to the things around us. I’m not saying that we should turn a blind eye to difficult things that need attention or are wrong and that we can affect. I want you all to engage in that sort of struggle. What I’m saying is . . . when you are stuck in a three-mile traffic jam and you are 20-minutes late for the BIG interview, swearing and screaming and pounding on the steering wheel is only going to get you frustrated and angry and sweaty, and you will be a wreck when you show up at the interview . . . late. Instead, try to accept the fact that you can do absolutely nothing about the traffic jam or the fact that you are 20-minutes late for your interview. Take a deep breath, feel the breeze on your face, listen to the birds sing, and think productively about how you will explain being late, when you do arrive, in a way that actually improves your chances of getting the job, in a cool, calm and peaceful manner. These are the things within your control.
Number 2: Seek the kernel of truth in the center of difficult feedback. Criticism and critique and difficult feedback are a part of life, because we will sometimes fail to meet other people’s expectations. This feedback is actually healthy, because it is often the only way we learn of those expectations. That doesn’t take away the sting, however, when someone criticizes us. I urge you, instead of opting for bitterness or anger, to look for the kernel of truth in the feedback, sometimes right on the surface and sometimes buried deep down in the comment or the inspiration for it. Somewhere in every bit of feedback is a truth, perhaps not for you, but at least for the person who has offered it to you, and that is a valuable thing for you to find. Whether or not you find it or agree with it, and you often may not, it is incredibly useful for you to seek it and think about it. By seeking the root of the criticism, you may actually learn something you needed to know. And if you don’t, in the very least, you will be following the advice in Number 1: controlling the things you can and avoiding the frustration of thinking you can control someone else’s opinion.
Number 3: Look for the Good in everyone. Now . . . I know this is a tall order. You have already met people who appear to you, because of personality conflict or cultural difference or misunderstanding or ignorance, to be mean, nasty, brutish, domineering, closed-minded, condescending, etc. Hey . . . we all have bad days. I’m not suggesting that you will always actually find the good in every person you meet. If we do not try, at least, to seek the good in people, however, we risk being swept up in negativity and closing our minds to the benefits others may possess. This, once again, goes back to my first point . . . you cannot control other people, you can only control your response to them. By looking for the good in others, particularly when it is difficult, you will find the good and happiness within yourself for having tried.There you have it; that’s my recipe: stop trying to control the things you can’t control, seek the kernel of truth in the center of difficult feedback, and look for the good in everyone. If you work on these three things, not only will you go forth and change the world . . . but you will also be happier doing it.
Reprinted from "Academy World," Spring 2015
At some point and long ago in the history of independent education, a school came up a little short of operating revenue to cover their expenses. Some loyal and generous alumnus or friend of the school offered to cover the shortfall, and all was good. Then it happened again, and again, with increasing regularity, until it became an annual expectation. Eventually, a school decided to embrace this expectation and the Annual Fund was born.
This story is neither factual nor likely far off the mark. However, it is easy to imagine how it all played out over the years. Regardless of how it started and despite the undoubted good intentions, the Annual Fund now represents a nearly universal acceptance that a school will not, and even may not, be able to cover its expenses with tuition revenue. Annual budgets around the world are based on this very premise.
You’ve probably heard Annual Fund pitches like, “Tuition does not cover the cost of education, so we need your Annual Fund dollars to bridge the gap.” Or, “Annual gifts are to live by and capital gifts are to grow by.” Or, perhaps more recently, “Without the Annual Fund, students would need to sleep on the floor.” These messages are just an outcome of Annual Fund dollars becoming an expected and seemingly necessary form of operating revenue. Without a doubt, there have been times in the history of many schools, including WMA, when Annual Fund dollars were, in fact, necessary for operating. We are now in a position to break this cycle.
After the last decade of growth at WMA, and with some thoughtful and critical evaluation of expenses, we are within reach of balancing our budget without using Annual Fund dollars for operating needs. This is a pivotal time in our history and a clear indication of our institutional strength. This does not mean that we will abandon the Annual Fund; in fact, once we no longer need it for operating expenses, the Annual Fund will become even more critical to the future of WMA.
For the future of the Academy, the Annual Fund will become a vehicle for progress and improvement, like a small capital campaign every year, which will make WMA even better than it is. Annual improvements to the campus and the program will make us even more appealing to prospective students and families, which will improve our enrollment rate over our competitors and earn us a sustained market advantage. All of this will create a healthy upward spiral of success, which will further strengthen the Academy over time, continue to generate a steady flow of world-class alumni, and endow the future of the Wilbraham & Monson tradition.
We look forward to reporting our progress to you in the months to come.
I often have prospective families tell me they clearly see the value of WMA’s rigorous academic program and the highly competitive athletic and arts programs. However, they want to know more about the added value for the added cost, or, what differentiates WMA from their good local public schools.
In 1804, when WMA was founded, many urban families sent their children to our rural boarding school to get them out of the cities, into the country, where the air is fresh and hard work abounds, to learn the valuable lessons offered from living in a communal academic environment. Or they would send their children to the Academy from the local agricultural communities for a good college-preparatory education that was unavailable elsewhere. For early international families, the months-long trip around the world to WMA represented a global opportunity for particularly brave and adventurous students to learn abroad. For any of these common historic situations, the early WMA added clear value for the families we served. As we all know, times have changed. The role of a modern private school, however, holds just as much added value, perhaps even more, despite the current widespread availability of good public school options. The answers to the question of added value are simple and powerful and every bit tied to current circumstances as the reasons of old.
Boarding students who live on campus and day students, who really only go home to sleep, are more readily accessible to their parents than they ever were in decades past because even if they live at home they are available at the touch of a button. Of course, they may be physically distant by 10, or a 100, or 5,000 miles or more. But with our ability to instantaneously connect electronically virtually anywhere in the world at any moment, students at WMA are much less ‘away’ from home than ever before. We provide a safe, nurturing, engaging, challenging and controlled community for students and, thanks to technology, their parents can still literally see them virtually at will, regardless of the circumstances. Additionally, our local day students benefit from the residential community by studying, acting, playing, working and interacting within the same nurturing environment because we literally never close. Campus is a home for all of our students 24/7.
We all know the electronic world, which is so beneficial for so many reasons, is also rife with possible distraction, obsession and isolation. Vibrant and engaging academic, artistic, athletic, residential and extracurricular programs work counter to the adverse effects of the electronic world while taking advantage of its benefits.
The social, cooperative and communal effects of interacting on the WMA campus serve the purpose of providing a laboratory environment similar to that of a science classroom. Where a science laboratory offers students an opportunity to challenge themselves as scientists, involvement in our residential community provides students an opportunity to challenge themselves to be resilient, self-reliant and independent within a close-knit community of adults and student leaders who function as a safety net for teenagers transitioning into adulthood. By virtue of attending WMA, students are taught to open their minds to the ideas of others, to share their thoughts and ideas with conviction, to mediate conflict, to be respectful, to handle challenges with grit and poise, to bounce back from failure, to support one another . . . in essence, to have good character and to be good world citizens. This added value is nowhere more possible than in our global community were students hail from more than 30 countries and a dozen U.S. states.
Wilbraham & Monson Academy is a magical place for students to discover and become their best selves, and we would love the opportunity to let your family experience what that can feel like.
Come for a visit and see for yourself.
Reprinted from "Academy World," Fall 2014
Since I first expressed my interest in becoming the Head of School, people have asked me about my vision for WMA.
I am excited by this question, because the last decade of growth and progress finds us poised on a firm foundation for the future. We are a community of healthy, happy and intellectually engaged students and adults who are challenged by a rewarding and unique program. We have a vast alumni network that is proud of its alma mater. We have a beautiful, historic campus that is well-maintained and where regular improvements and updates have come to be an important measure of the school’s progress. The school is clearly in a good place. But, I know we can be even better.
I envision a historic campus so meticulously well-kept and thoughtfully updated that visitors and members alike are in awe of its functional beauty. I envision a sustained competitive market advantage, and a culture of fiscal stability that gives us options and helps us weather storms. I envision a community of learners where we are all open to challenge and change, accepting of feedback, supportive of those around us, and fully committed to personal development. I envision an increasingly rigorous and engaging program that provides our students with foundational skills and unique experiences that will prepare them for the uncertainty and opportunity in the world that lies ahead. I envision a school that so enthusiastically and fully embraces its global mission that our action and our mission become indistinguishable. I envision graduates feeling so fully prepared for their journey that they endow the school and its influence in perpetuity.
Vision, however, is not the mystical ability to see into the future. On the contrary, I believe having vision means being able to calculate and anticipate likely future circumstances, and to use those predictions to guide our actions in the present. Because prediction is not an exact science, it means that vision is always somewhat dynamic; our goals may remain relatively constant, but how we get there will change with the continually evolving landscape. We can improve our chances of succeeding in this endeavor, though, by being informed, thoughtful, judicious, willing and inspiring.
To be informed, we must know ourselves first. It means measuring ourselves in the present in relation to our past, to our competition, and to our goals. It also means being informed about the world of education, the business of schooling, and general global circumstances. This takes a team: the breadth and depth of information is magnified as we pool the resources and perspectives of those around us. Trends, benchmarks and trajectories do not guarantee what will happen next, but they will enhance our ability to predict and make good choices.
Thoughtful and judicious consideration turns this vast array of information into actionable priorities. Opportunities, threats and tolerance for risk are constantly shifting, so a great deal of thought and care must be employed to make the right choices at the right times. The outcome of this careful analysis is the determination of the right course of action, which will sometimes require difficult choices. Having “vision” isn’t enough on its own. It requires a willingness to act, to lead, and to inspire others to follow. Of all the aspects of vision, these are the most singularly dependent on the leader, and it is to these that I commit myself fully.
After all of this, it will come as no surprise that my definition of vision is more of a process than a trait or a specific image of the bright future of Wilbraham & Monson Academy. It’s not a picture of the future, it’s more of a map, and the way to the future has many paths and many choices that will present many emerging opportunities . . . and that is what makes the journey ahead of us so very exciting.
Many of you have heard me use this quote from Dr. Rob Evans, noted author, psychologist, and school consultant. I think it will be beneficial for us to reflect on this as we begin our academic year.
Our students' path through life is filled with beauty, promise, possibility, and opportunity. It's also filled with uncertainty, unpredictability, and inevitably, great challenge. One of the most valuable gifts we can give our children is the judgment and skills necessary for that inevitable time in their future when we will not be there to help them; when they will need to stand on their own. We can accomplish this by guiding them, on an ever-increasing level, to handle their problems on their own.
I'm not suggesting the sink-or-swim method; that is exactly what we would hope to avoid. I'm suggesting that we can increasingly give our children the power of control over actions and responses to circumstances so they can practice while we are still beside them, thereby helping them when they need our support, guidance, advice, and encouragement.
When those we love meet with adversity, our natural inclination is to step in and solve the problem. This, however, robs them of the opportunity to practice handling things on their own and learn with our support. If instead we asked, "How can I help you figure out how YOU are going to handle this?" we can make a real and lasting difference in our children's preparedness for the path that lies ahead.