Ruminating on Experiment #9: the Great Soufflé Challenge by Director of Communications Heather Sullivan

My “real” job is communications at Nobles—planning publications, refining website functionality and finding opportunities to tell stories that convey the essence of Nobles. I love my job.

I also love to cook. In a very 1970s-they-will-be-fine kind of way, I was given full access to the kitchen when my age was still in single digits. I was a latchkey kid in the Midwest and began making myself lunch at home in fourth grade. I experimented with spices when the usage didn’t make sense in any traditional way. I remember being crushed that my aunt—when I showed her my fifth-grade “lifestyle” magazine project—laughed at me because I had included a dessert recipe that featured fried bananas. “You can’t cook bananas!” she scoffed. (Clearly, she had never flambéed. I usually don’t hold grudges, but I have been carrying this one around for a while.)

When Erika Guy retired from her post as dean of students at Nobles last year, I was sad to see her go. She had welcomed me to the community and been incredibly supportive. The lemonade from lemons I discovered was when Jen Craft, head of the science department, invited me to co-teach the science elective that she and Erika had developed: Chemistry and Cuisine.

This semester, we have made meringues and pizza and muffins and poached eggs and made sugar experiments and more. Every lab has been an illustration of the chemistry of food, clearly and elegantly presented by Jen, who earned a doctorate in chemistry and has been honing her culinary skills in recent years. She has killer knife skills, FYI, and can dice an onion with the best of them.

This week, our chemistry lab was to make soufflé. Who hasn’t seen the cartoons depicting the #epicfail that often results? A soufflé relies on science. There is no laissez-faire here—onlymise en place, a need to “put in place” your tools and supplies. This lab was about chemical reactions. Charles’ Law. The Maillard Effect. Making soufflé uses skills that the students in our class have acquired throughout the semester: making a roux, measuring, whipping eggs whites to gently stiff peaks.

Maybe it won’t surprise you that in our now-routine Iron Chef class competition, calling a winning team for the soufflé was challenging. The execution was universally gorgeous. What elevated the winners on this one was a final improvisation: The winning team whipped up a lovely cheese sauce—learned in a previous lab—with a bite of cayenne to serve with the soufflé.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we are working with a future Michelin star chef (well, who knows?). In fact, last week we were collectively surprised that the one-ingredient poached egg was so simple that it wasn’t. But what delights me about this class is the students’ willingness to try, to focus, to collaborate, to follow the recipe but diverge sometimes with energy and humor and with confidence predicated on knowledge.

Did you know that an egg white, when whipped, can increase in volume up to eight times? Our students know about the chemical composition of an egg shell, why acids and oils don’t mix easily and how to compute calories in a dish.

One thing I have learned since arriving at Nobles in 2011—which has only been reinforced by Chem and Cuisine—is that the Nobles culture allows for students and adults (like me) to innovate and to extend themselves in creative, sustaining and useful ways.

The results? Occasionally, you get a poached egg, sallow with ragged edges, and some (really glorious) days you get a soufflé with remarkable texture, color and taste.

Bon appétit.


photo credit: Chase Haylon ’15

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Character Above All by Head of Upper School Ben Snyder

Many Nobles parents have heard me say that my favorite parenting expression is “we’re only as happy as our unhappiest child.” As someone with two children out of college, I can tell you that adage continues to hold true!

It is inevitable that something will not go well for our children. The situation may be a mistake made, a disappointment endured, a personal trial or an unfairness suffered. Our challenge as parents is to figure out how best to help our children persevere and learn from the situation.

In some circumstances, we end up focusing on the impact of the situation on a child’s achievement or happiness; “What impact will this have on Johnny’s college chances?” or “Sue is so unhappy about this—how can we make her feel better?”

These impulses seem natural, and many of us make significant sacrifices so our children can succeed, be happy or achieve their dreams. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is generally the proper response for us to have.

When we, as adults, look back on our lives and reflect on what situations have taught us the most, it is often when something went wrong that we learned and grew. Often those mistakes or disappointments forced us to look hard at ourselves, our character and what is most important to us.

How did our actions impact others? What did my behavior say about my character and how might I learn and recover from it? What do I need to do to correct the situation? What are my obligations to my “team”? How might I have handled the situation differently?

The pressures on Nobles students to achieve are real, and we naturally want our kids to do well and be happy. But what our research shows is that our students feel great tension between their achievement goals and their developing character.

Parents and teachers should consider how we interact with our children and students. Instead of an achievement-oriented conversation (“How did you do on the test?”, “Did you get the lead in the play?”, “Did you win today?”), we should engage them in talk around what kind of person we want them to be (“How did the team/cast feel about how it went today?”, “What was your response to X?”, “What does that situation say about the people involved?”, “Is there anyone you should be reaching out to?”).

Ultimately, we hope to develop young people of character at Nobles who value and understand excellence and take real joy and satisfaction in the process of learning, failing, rebounding and making a positive difference in the world around them.

Approaching the final quarter of the year, we all might do a “gut check” around the kinds of conversations we have with kids and the balance we strike between focusing on their doing well, on their happiness and on their doing good and thinking of others.

This article was written for the March edition of the Parents’ E-Newsletter

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Dear Google Apps: A Love Letter from the Learning Specialist

Dear Google Apps,

I love you.

I am writing you a love letter and it is automatically saving as I type it. I know this because, as my fingers glide across my keyboard, the word “Saving” gently flashes at the top of my screen, and then, when I stop typing, I see the comforting reminder, “All changes saved in Drive.” This is just one of the reasons why I love you.

We are now a school that uses Google Apps for Education. We use your Gmail, Gcal, Google Drive with Google Docs and Haiku sites. Together, your apps help me solve one of the learning specialist’s greatest challenges—making the unmade bed.

Ahh…the unmade bed. It’s a ubiquitous phrase used by teachers and parents to describe the child who is constantly losing things—the one who, on a regular basis, can’t locate the North Face fleece, iPad charger (or iPad for that matter), the water bottle from practice, or Spanish homework due this morning. The one whose school supplies trail behind him or her in a little Hansel and Gretel path. The unmade bed is the student who forgot to print the assignment, forgot which laptop he or she saved it on and the one who lost the handout, the study guide, the assignment sheet. You know the unmade bed, don’t you? I think you do because you are helping me help them, and I love you for it.

In my office, we not only specialize in the unmade bed, we love the unmade bed. These are our people. We spend our day in the backpacks of unmade beds—rife with crinkly papers, extra hockey socks, granola bar wrappers and binders that have the same multi-layered effect of a blooming onion appetizer at the Outback Steakhouse. “Is this important?” we ask, holding up what looks not like the practice problems for a physics quiz, but like a little handmade fan for sweltering summer nights on the veranda. We help these students make and keep appointments with teachers, learn what’s on the test, locate and turn in homework assignments, wherever they may be. While all of this gives us great satisfaction there is a catch. Too often, when they come back to see us the next week, we have started all over again. We make the bed and then it gets unmade, sometimes in a matter of a few hours.

This, Google Apps, is where you step in. This is where I know you were already thinking of me in my office in the Shattuck Schoolhouse as I was filing handouts in three-ring binders, printing copies of student schedules and handwriting teacher meetings on them and powering on each laptop in the laptop cart to find the one where the paper got saved. You know me, right?

How do I love thee Google? Let me count the apps:

1. I love your Google Drive: We now teach students how to create and save documents and projects using their Google Drive. Once saved in Drive, these documents can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. That means that, regardless of where they created the document—at home, on their iPad, on their phone even—students can share, print or collaborate using Google Drive. Students use Drive to turn in assignments, because they don’t have a working printer at home or to collaborate on a project even when the group members are in different locations. No more flash drives or memory sticks, no more printing from home and then losing it, or not printing from home and then not being able to access it because it’s saved on the desktop of the home computer. In Drive, we help students create folders to organize their work. Google Drive means that backpacks have less paper in them, more assignments are turned in on time and we spend less time looking for lost stuff and more time working on the big stuff. This is mostly because, now, almost everything important lives on Google Drive.

2. I love Google documents: A Google doc automatically saves as it is being created. I cannot express how important this is or how much I love that you figured out how to do this. Gone are the days of reminding students to click save after each sentence or the horror of realizing that they didn’t do it and then the battery on their laptop died. Students can create a Google doc on a laptop in the Alcoves and then continue working on it from their home computer. Google docs are easily shared with teachers who can give instant feedback or with classmates who can collaborate in real time. No more attaching files that won’t open or saving files to a memory stick that won’t work. Teachers are using Google docs to share handouts and assignments and study guides, and guess where they all live? Not in the binders (or scrunched way down in the bottom of backpacks) anymore. That’s right, they live in Drive! I hear beds making themselves all over campus as I write this!

3. Gmail: Our whole school uses Gmail now. Gmail is awesome. Everyone knows that. In fact, I did a Google search for “Why Gmail is awesome” and I got 99,700,000 results. For my students, I love the labels and folders, the options to search for emails, the ability to open and save attachments into Drive, and especially the attachment reminder feature. This last thing, in itself, is amazing.

4. I love Google calendar: When we can convince students to use Gcal, they become instantly more organized. They can set up meetings with teachers and then set an alert to remind them. As they think of things to ask their teacher at that meeting, we showed them how to add that information to the event in their calendar. That way, when they show up to the meeting, they have all of their questions ready to go and they can access it from any computer. Students can also input meetings or events into their calendar directly from emails. We even show them how to use Gcal to schedule time on the weekend to complete specific assignments. Truth be told, the reason why I am getting this article completed on time is that I set an alert in Gcal to remind me to write.

5. Finally, I love Haiku: The LMS (learning management system), has not only enriched the lives of our students, but it helps keep them organized. With Haiku, students can easily access assignments, grades, study guides, videos, handouts, practice tests and more. Haiku allows teachers to keep everything in one place—from weekly assignments to their grade book—and beyond that, students can communicate and collaborate with classmates and teachers. It’s a whole learning environment. Homework and papers can be turned in here, feedback on writing happens here and online discussions occur here. Can’t find the handout from class today? Check the Haiku site. Want to see some of the slides from the presentation on cell respiration? The whole thing is probably there. Some teachers even allow students to see their current grade by logging in to the site. All of this helps me. Haiku allows me to not only know what happened in class this week, but what’s coming up next week and what’s going to be on the test and when the paper is due. This helps me help my students in so many ways.

And so, that’s why I love you, Google Apps. Thank you for coming to Nobles!

Gia Batty
Learning Specialist

This post originally appeared in the January 2014 Nobles Parents’ E-Newsletter

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The Studies Show Podcast Series–Season 2!

We are happy to be back with Season 2 of “The Studies Show,” Nobles’ first monthly podcast series.

The idea for “The Studies Show” came out of the fact that on an almost daily basis we’d read or hear about some new and exciting research being done on how students learn.  We wanted to find a way to share some of the highlights of the research with you in a fun and engaging way.  And since we felt like we were constantly starting sentences with “Studies show…” we figured it would be the perfect name for our podcast series.

In the last year, we hope the studies have shown you a lot–from the benefits of drinking water to the power of using templates when writing to the importance of varying where and how you study. Each month, we choose a topic that is relevant to our community of students, parents and teachers and we examine what we can learn from the current research on that topic.   Our first podcast this year is called “Starting Strong” and focuses on some new research about how we can best communicate with people who don’t have fully developed executive function skills (aka teenagers).  The second podcast addresses the concept of multitasking which, for the record, the studies show is a myth.

In the last year, we’ve learned a lot about this new medium.  We’ve gotten much more efficient at prepping for and recording the show each month. Our producer, Nobles’ Melissa McClung, has taught us that the less we script, the better it sounds, and she’s right.  The podcasts that we like the best are the ones where we’re both just sort of talking to each other about what we’ve learned.

When we’re not taping “The Studies Show,” we are working 1:1 with students or meeting with teachers or parents in our shared office in the Shattuck Schoolhouse.  It’s a small space, but we think it’s why the podcast works so well.  We are always bouncing ideas off of each other, sharing articles on our iPads, or strategizing how to better support our students.

We’ve got a lot of great podcasts planned for this year.  Stay tuned to see what the studies show next!

Here’s a link to our podcast page on the Nobles website:

Gia Batty & Sara Masucci, Learning Specialists


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How to Care—and Not Care Too Much

Acclaimed psychologist, speaker and author Wendy Mogel will speak to Nobles faculty and parents next week. Her book The Blessing of a B- posits that we have become a nation of over-parenters: We are so focused on protecting and promoting our children that we undermine their growth.

In an article available on her website, she quotes T.S. Eliot who, in “Ash Wednesday,” wrote, “Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still.”

Her goal, she says, is to help parents raise resilient optimistic children—and to get over the B-. For more on Mogel, visit her website.

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Navigating the Uncharted Path

The following piece by Provost Bill Bussey was first published in the Sept. 2011 edition of the parent newsletter. It has since become a community favorite both for its wisdom and good humor.

About six months after my wife Nan and I moved into our first home, we were held hostage by a massive blizzard. At that time we hadn’t really gotten to know the couple across the street, but I could see that he had just bought a truck with a plow to earn a little extra cash. I couldn’t believe my good luck when my neighbor told me that if I got my cars out of the driveway, he’d plow it. I pulled the cars out and, in five minutes, he took care of it. He wouldn’t take any money; said it was no big deal. Excited and energized by my good fortune, I waved thanks, backed out of my driveway and nailed the rear of his parked truck. As we stood staring at the damage done, I stammered out an apology and said I’d take care of it. I then waited for him to explode. Without missing a beat, he shrugged, “Ah, forget it. It’s just a truck.” And with a pat on my shoulder, he said nothing more and disappeared back into his house.

I have often felt the true measure of any individual is how they respond when bad fortune comes to visit. In that regard, this guy set the bar.

People have different reasons for sending their children to an independent school like Nobles, but how we as parents, choose to navigate our children when things go awry has, in my mind, a far more lasting and profound impact on this community than all the college acceptances stacked together. At critical junctures we are capable of being our own worst enemy. The “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” question for most parents is: how much involvement is too much? With this in mind, I hope you will find what follows of some use.

You must outlast your child. As you get older and lose a little of your fastball, they grow stronger, as if almost feeding off your demise. They are energized by the sheer fact that you are in the other room snoring as they are typing away on Facebook well past two in the morning. They own the night. They will wear you down about how late to stay out and with whom, berate you when you want to call the parents of the child hosting the party, push the buttons that make you say something instantly regrettable and a month later throw it back at you, and remind you time and again that you “don’t own them.” They will, at any given moment and for no apparent reason, find fault with the following: you, Nobles and everybody. Stay the course. Be the parent not the friend. Know that despite what they say and do, they love and need you more than anything else in the world. Above all, be ready for those important conversations that they seem to quietly initiate just as the house catches fire or the cat is giving birth. On those occasions, you must drop everything and just listen or you will blow your chance. They often are not seeking advice. They need you to just listen.

It is important that your child owns his/her setbacks. I cannot stress just how important this one is in the grand scheme of things. Kids need to face their setbacks without demonizing others or making face-saving excuses. Nobles is as solid a place as any that I have ever known for a kid to experience setbacks or make mistakes. The sooner they learn to face the facts, accept responsibility, and most importantly, get to the heart of why things played out the way they did, the better. By learning to advocate for themselves (not to be confused with self-promotion or currying favor), students learn not only valuable social skills but also how to build genuine, demystifying relationships with the intimidating adult world. The students who can find the self-confidence to engage adults in conversations, employing the same honest attitude and tone that they use with their friends, are often viewed among their peers as the most respected and trusted students in the community. If your child finds it difficult to advocate for him/herself for whatever reasons, reach out to the advisor for a little help.

Don’t let them put all their eggs in one basket. The one regret that most graduates acknowledge is that they did not participate in a play or musical. They also wish that they could have gotten to know certain teachers and some of their classmates better. Yet, one could argue that the one understandable misstep that many kids make, even more pronounced these days in the era of specialization, is that they often allow what they believe to be their area of expertise and/or a certain group of kids to define them far past the expiration date. Once it becomes clear that they may not make the J.V. squad or bring home high marks, many students understandably struggle with their own identity and where they fit in. Friendships can turn on a dime, too, and arguably there is nothing more wrenching than sensing that your child has had a falling out or does not seem to be connecting with peers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone at the school if this becomes a growing concern, but know that there are limitations and real pitfalls with social engineering. Know, too, that the shame and anxiety that kids feel at falling short in any area that also causes you to be anxious often results with two things taking place, neither one ideal. They will shut you out in large measure to spare themselves the agony of seeing your disappointment or they will dish the inside scoop, often omitting or adding key elements, about everything and everybody in order to assuage you that things could be worse. That’s not bonding; that’s binding. You need to be patient and allow your children the time and room to find their way. The wider your children’s experience at this School and the more opportunities that they seize to “play well with others”, from clubs to Community Service to Ultimate Frisbee, the greater likelihood they will evolve into the confident and empathetic adults that they were meant to be.

Plan for the unexpected. Your child is going to make mistakes and some of them may test you in ways that will rattle the family dynamic. Do you have a plan if your child repeatedly lies to you, swipes a bottle from the liquor cabinet, or plagiarizes a school assignment? Before you initiate the conversation in which all the cards are laid on the table, make sure that you know exactly what you are going to say, what actions will follow, and what is the endgame. If the School is involved, let’s agree at the outset to be partners: we both want what is best for your child.

For me, as a kid, the most indelible, life-changing moments came out of nowhere, when my own actions had painted me into a corner, leaving me staring at someone who had a firm grip on all the facts and who had every right to tighten that grip and leave me deservedly breathless. But the ones who made a difference, the folks I thought about years later, were the ones who at that moment chose to loosen their grip, and with a few well-chosen words figuratively throw an arm around my shoulder. And then they let go.

By managing our own expectations and taking a long view of things, we are better able to give our kids the breathing room that will allow them to maintain their dignity as they navigate the thousand paper cuts that come with being a teenager. When they are at their worst—that is when we must love them the most.

—Bill Bussey, Provost

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Some Thoughts On Social Media Use by Jen Hamilton, School Psychologist

In recent months, I have observed an increased use of social media (Instagram and Snapchat have skyrocketed!) Some kids are talking with me about connecting with other kids that they don’t know to offer (and seek) support when they are going through difficult times. Another trend I’ve heard about is setting up Q&A pages (such as where peers can write in anonymous questions or thoughts. And finally, of course, there is the “standard” use in which kids are posting pictures and comments about their day-to-day lives.

The important thing to realize in this new wave of computer usage is that generally, kids are searching for connection with other kids. But they are not yet at a developmental age to be able to fully consider the range of potential consequences of their online activity. There are times when kids get in over their heads, hearing about the psychological issues of other kids. It is hard enough to know what to do when you are worried about a close friend at school (seek help from a trusted adult!) But when suddenly faced with a worrisome situation of an online acquaintance who may live several states away, this can be a very heavy burden to manage. There are also times when kids inadvertently cause hurt feelings or make others feel excluded by posting images of private get-togethers. Or, in the case of setting up Q&A pages, they may inadvertently get their OWN feelings hurt by inviting anonymous criticism. Another concern that is difficult for teenagers to grasp is that anything they put out on the internet then becomes public information. Forever. They are not quite yet able to fully understand the potential implications of that. Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, kids at this age are very trusting; if they perceive that they have made a “friend” online, it may not seem like a bad idea for them to give out personal information. A student recently told me that a friend she had made online “told me that she’s not a creepy 49-year-old man.”

The early teenage years are a time when kids’ primary psychological task is to seek independence from their parents (yes, all those hours spent alone in the bedroom mean your kid is right on target!) It is typical for kids to be doing some things privately that their parents are not fully aware of, and online activity seems to be today’s most likely vehicle for this. While I do not encourage snooping or policing of your child’s online activity (just like reading your child’s diary, it may give you a wealth of information but ultimately is counterproductive as it erodes trust and will most likely lead to pushing the behavior underground, lying, or increased tension at home) I DO encourage open, honest communication with your children about what they are doing online. Ask them about their usage and talk openly about your concerns but also make sure to LISTEN to them and resist the urge to lecture. Remember that kids are most likely to make good decisions when they feel trusted.

I also encourage families to talk about setting limits on computer use so that the social media sites won’t be such a distraction during afternoon and evening hours. While most kids will openly balk at limit setting, they often express relief to me that their parents have removed the temptation for large chunks of time during the week. Some ideas include having a timer on the wireless router so that at a certain hour kids no longer have access to the internet, changing passwords on sites such as Facebook during the academic week so that kids are only able to use it on the weekends, “turning in” smart phones until homework is completed each day, and (I ALWAYS recommend this one) having all electronic devices charge overnight in the parents’ bedroom (they can get “parked” there after 9 p.m., for example.)

Just as in every aspect of growing up, kids need to have some freedom but the best kind of freedom is within the confines of some safe and comfortable limits that have been set up by parents!

If you would like to discuss this or any issue further, please do not hesitate to contact me at or (781)320-7073. As always I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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A Few Thoughts on Parenting in the Wake of Recent Tragedies by Jen Hamilton, School Psychologist

The tragic events of last week were as much a reminder for me as I have seen in my 15 years working as a psychologist that one singular stimulus can result in a multitude of reactions and coping mechanisms. It is important to remember that we all cope in different ways. While some kids have repeatedly reached out to the members of the counseling staff to tell and retell their experiences, others preferred to quietly return to a sense of normalcy. Some kids presented as teary and anxious while others joked and chatted in class more than usual. It is our job as parents, teachers and counselors to create the space for kids to process in their own way. Let them talk (or write, or draw) in their own time, knowing that if and when they are ready to do so, you are going to be there to listen.

Another issue that confronted us all last week as parents was how to balance our own needs and emotions with those of our children. Many of us asked ourselves, “What if I say the ‘wrong’ thing and end up scaring them more?” Please know that it is OK for kids to see that we have questions and concerns of our own. While it is not appropriate to use our kids as sounding boards to work out our own anxieties, it is perfectly natural to show emotion.

Finally, it is helpful to encourage our kids to understand that while there are a few very bad people in this world, there are so very many good people. In the sage words of Mister Rogers, encourage your kids to “look for the helpers.” The way to fight some of the helpless, anxious feelings we all have is to get behind the first responders, marathoners who continued running to give blood, Bostonians who were fearless, selfless and resilient; talk about what they have done and join your kids in brainstorming ways that members of the Nobles community can become one of the helpers in the rebuilding process. Tapping into our kids’ passion and goodness is a very powerful way of healing.

Please know that the counseling team will remain vigilant in the coming weeks to reach out to those who seem to be displaying high levels of anxiety which may manifest as trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing, nightmares, or tearfulness. We will continue to remind students that we are here to offer a variety of concrete strategies to help quiet the mind, and we will focus on resilience throughout the spring. As always, do not hesitate to contact a member of the counseling staff if you have any questions or concerns about your child.

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The Studies Show: To-Do Lists in the Digital Age and the Death of the Assignment Notebook

“The Studies Show” is a podcast series hosted by Noble and Greenough School Learning Specialists Gia Batty and Sara Masucci. Through this series, the two hope to share information about some of the research they have come across in their work.

Visit to access all episodes, along with helpful resources recommended by Batty and Masucci.

Click here to listen to this month’s podcast of the
“Studies Show: To-Do Lists in the Digital Age and the Death of the Assignment Notebook”


Click to download these apps mentioned in the podcast:

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Community Service in Action

The Boston Globe recently featured several local teenagers who are making a difference in their communities. Among the teens profiled is Nobles junior Jonathan Bloch ’14, who has volunteered for Wellspring since he was 11 years old. 

To read the full article, click here.

Jonathan’s passion and commitment to helping others is exactly what the Community Service program strives to encourage in all Nobles students. We want students to find a cause that inspires them, so that they can inspire and serve others. Whether they have the resolve before coming to Nobles, like Jonathan, or discover a cause or organization here, the end result is the same: inspiring leadership for the public good and empowering students to lead lives characterized by service to others.

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