Gleason—a Man of the Word

Faculty member and former head of school Dick Baker delivered these remarks on Sept. 13, in Lawrence Auditorium:
“In the beginning /was the Word”

Now I know only enough about that line from the gospel to understand that it is freighted with many doctrinal disagreements, but for me it encapsulates Gleason. [Forgive me if I call him occasionally by his last name. In our world he was Gleason, I was Baker.] He was a man of the Word in the most literal and commonplace sense. He wrote books, he talked, he lectured, he conversed; words poured from him in every way. But language had for him a higher purpose; it was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, his way of connecting with others, creating a spiritual bond.

I first met Ted in April of 1971, just after he had hired me as the new head of the English Department for the following school year. I believe I was the first individual he hired as headmaster-elect. I flew east from Berkeley, and then, on an snowy afternoon, drove to Exeter, where he was still the school minister, and spent the day and night talking with him. And when I say “the night,” I mean the whole night. We went to bed at 6 a.m. after an extended romp through our personal histories, our taste in literature, our dreams about the future.

In my first year at Nobles I taught a course called “Education In English,” an introduction to what was going on in the field of education, something I knew absolutely nothing about, having been a reclusive scholar of the American 18th century for the previous six years. So I assigned my students to read everything I could find about contemporary education, and they in turn reported to me on what they discovered. Our favorite book, one I went on to teach for years, was Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Postman’s thesis was that education should work against the mainstream culture, which in the early 60’s meant having to be “subversive.” I don’t think Gleason liked the idea of subversion very much, and he was pleased to be able to chide me when Postman came out with a new book in the early 70’s, Teaching as a Conserving Activity, that argued against the excesses of the 60’s.

The irony in all this was that Ted represented in his headship, the perfect Postman personality—subversive when things became too traditional (he had changed the liturgy as minister at Exeter, shook up the hidebound at Nobles when he was first appointed Head). But he was also deeply conservative, a man who respected values that had been formed in the crucible of time. And because of that apparent dichotomy in his attitudes, an ability to lean both to the subversive and the conservative, he was the perfect man for his time. His charisma, which was substantial, depended upon that paradox, that protean quality, very nearly that of a shape-shifter.

I would never had gotten along so well with him were it not for his sense of humor and a wonderful quirk of the outrageous. Linda Woodward reminded me recently of a story that highlighted those qualities. In the admissions office she was speaking with a particularly skeptical parent who was nervous about turning over his child to an Episcopal priest who would, in his mind, proselytize. He wanted some assurance against that. At about that moment, the interview was broken up by a clamor outside the door, and Linda and the parent went out to see that Moses, Ted’s beloved cat, had escaped from Ted’s office and was running around the larger admissions office on the top of the various office dividers followed on the floor by Dick Flood’s two bassett hounds, baying at their desired prey, with Ted following the Basset hounds and yelling, “God damn it, Moses, God Damn it.” The parent went back into the office and ended the meeting by saying to Linda, “This school will do very nicely for my daughter.”

I’ve reached that time in my life when friends die at an accelerating rate. One of things that I note sadly is how quickly we get on with our lives after the experience of such a death. I’m pleased to report that I have not been able to get on so easily after Ted’s death. Over the past nine months, an event would occur in my life, and my impulse was to catalogue it so as to be able to tell Gleason (as I had done for years), and then I’d think…

Ted was a wonderful mentor to me, not exactly a father-figure, although my own father died when I was 11 and perhaps I had always been looking for a replacement. Ted was more a big brother.

For the past five years, I have driven back and forth to South Carolina four or five times a year and managed on most trips to stop and see Ted and Anne in Washington. The scenario became familiar. I would leave Beaufort, South Carolina, at 9 in the evening, drive through the Carolina night and arrive in Washington in time to have “breakfast with the Gleasons.” It was a cultured moment. Ted, even in his most hobbled condition, would be waiting for me at the elevator and, with that booming voice, would bellow, “Baker.” He’d limp back to the apartment, and we’d sit down to coffee—food was always an important stimulus to conversation with Ted. Ted sat on an elevated chair, purchased to ease the problem of eventually having to get up from that chair. I thought the elevation appropriately symbolic. Ted would boom questions, becoming more exaggerated as the minutes passed, while Anne would insert a far more reasoned, non-hyperbolic intelligence. The perfect team. But Gleason and I loved the outrageous story, and on those occasions we laughed and we laughed and we laughed.

Sitting with the two of them, a couple whose lives were so intertwined I had difficulty imagining one without the other, I often mused (worried, really), what would happen if Anne were to die before Ted, leaving Ted alone without her. I felt that was the more difficult scenario.

I think they worked it out extraordinarily well…I wish I could have managed the same.

Finally, I’d like to return to John: “In the beginning was the Word,” and the passage continues, “and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” I can spin that line a dozen ways in relationship to Ted, but what I want to leave you with is that, besides being a man of the Word, Ted was a man of God, an equivalency [Word and God], as I understand it, that the passage from John intends. A non-believer like myself has a hard time understanding what a “man of God” entails. What it simply came to mean for me was Ted Gleason.

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Recollections From the Gleason Years

These remarks by faculty member Deb Harrison were delivered on Sept. 13 in Lawrence Auditorium: Good evening! For those of you who don’t know me, I teach a few biology courses in the Science Department and coach squash, and am here to share a few recollections from the Gleason years. So let’s turn back the calendar just a tiny bit:

The date: Late March 1981.
The venue: ESG’s office.
The event: a job interview for a position in the Nobles Science Department.
The candidate: a young teacher from Pomfret School, whose colleague, Charlie Putnam, had encouraged her to think about an opening at Nobles. The candidate was me.

The interview conversation that day unfolded as it probably had for others before me who’d also found themselves sitting in the headmaster’s office at that school with a castle. A little bit of airtime was given to the nuts and bolts of teaching biology, advising kids, doing dorm duty, and coaching squash and lacrosse.The rest of our chat, however, meandered through other topics, mostly about connections to people, mostly involving stories.

We enjoyed comparing notes about traveling: My trip in Scotland for a few weeks with Pomfret students had ended just several days before I set foot in Ted’s office, and was the catalyst for Ted to share the story of his memorable trip years before, driving through Scotland with his sister, Persis.

Further into our chat, Ted lit right up upon mention of my upcoming summer job at Exeter, and that triggered more conversation and more stories.And along the way as we talked, I learned that there were quite a few Nobles-Pomfret connections, and secretly hoped I’d end up being one of them.

By some stroke of luck a few weeks later, a good old fashioned letter arrived via snail mail. Within it was my first Nobles contract. My Nobles journey officially began about five months later during an annual ritual known as a faculty retreat, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Neophyte that I was, the concept of a faculty retreat was foreign to me, but what was readily apparent on day 1 was the value placed on collegial time together, that my new boss placed a high priority on the notion of community and family, and that this was a warm, welcoming place.Oh, yes, and I realized that I’d need to learn the words to a song called “God is Love.”

Memorable from those six years in which my tenure overlapped with Ted’s headship were many other moments that reinforced that community and family ethic. The Gleasons’ house in its new location now sits next to my house on campus. As I walk by their house each day during my commute to and from school, every so often I fondly recall the warm welcome extended by Anne Gleason when she and Ted hosted numerous faculty events in that very same white house, especially the ones during my first year here.

Our faculty meetings were held in the Memorial Room, when the faculty was actually small enough to fit into such a cozy space. And that magical gathering known as Morning Assembly started off most school days, beginning just as this one did with the ringing of Ted’s iconic bell.

On occasion, Ted would drop in and visit a class that was underway—he loved being in the classroom, loved teaching, and placed high value on the relationships that developed between students and teachers.

We were referred to by our initials back then—ESG was especially interested in middle initials, as well as middle names. I suspect that a number of present and past faculty members in this room can still rattle off the initials of many of their colleagues from those days—I know I can.

Periodically, Ted retold a favorite story to the faculty from his childhood days at Squam Lake, about a broken small outboard motor
and the man who was able to magically repair it. It’s one that we now
enjoy hearing Senior Master Nick Nickerson relate every so often.

Ted’s message through that tale was about believing in one another, or as he articulated it, about finding hope in one another–his version
of Spes Sibi Quisque. As I grew to understand what comprised the fabric of this community, that indelible message was one of its most integral threads.

From this stage and elsewhere, whenever the wisdom of ESG was shared, its focus on caring for others resonated and stuck with me. It was evident through our blossoming community service program, as well as at the heart of what Ted said about simply being a community member of character. He was talking about stewardship, about giving one’s time and talents, reaching out to build relationships while caring for others. I saw that as another integral thread in the sturdy fabric of this place.

Ted communicated loudly and clearly the importance of passionate commitment to the school’s mission, passion for one’s subject matter, for the magic and growth that happen in a classroom or through athletics or service or the arts, passion for being with and understanding kids, and for making a genuine commitment to the community that Ted referred to as a family—more essential threads

ESG wove into the fabric of what made and still makes this such a special place. As I settled in and came to know the story of my new school, I learned more about Ted’s role in its coeducation. That mattered a lot to me. You see, as Ted and Nobles welcomed girls into the upper school in the fall of 1974, my own senior year of high school was also beginning, elsewhere. I am part of the same generation for whom Ted led Nobles in taking a very important next step in its history. As a graduate of a previously all male college that had pretty recently taken the plunge into coeducation, also not long after Title 9 was passed, and as Pomfret’s very first female science teacher, this stuff was important to me.

In September of my second year here, coeducation became a reality for the Nobles middle school, another important step for Nobles led by Ted. A memorable point on this school’s timeline, it was the moment when a dynamic, bright, talented new member of Class V named Beth Reilly first found her seat in a morning assembly in this space and began her Nobles career. Who knew then that today she’d be Bob Henderson’s boss?

There are 11 current faculty members whom Ted hired, who are still teaching, coaching, and working with kids in numerous other capacities at Nobles. According to my humble calculations, that’s over 360 collective years of service to the school… over 360 years of weaving and strengthening those threads of what Ted stood for and hoped for, in the vital fabric of this community, honoring his timeless legacy.

Thank you.

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A String of Images, by Julia Fitzgerald ’14

With only a month separating me from graduation, I still spend many moments wondering about all that this place and this community meant to me. I wonder how it changed me and how it will continue to change me. I speculate about a different draft of myself—one who never stumbled upon the Nobles ecosystem. But no clear or easy explanation of the influence that Nobles had on me ever settles in my mind. Instead, in reviewing it all, I see a string of images.

Some of these glimpses date back to my first years here. I remember a teacher excusing some friends and me from a last period study hall on a Friday of my sixie year. We skipped out of Towles Auditorium and raced to the top of The Rock outside the middle school. Fooled by the curtain of pine branches that hid the rest of the campus from us, we took no measures to mute our laughing, rising voices. We lay among pools of pine needles gathered in the crevices and corners of the rock and took turns swinging on the frayed length of rope that dangled from one branch.

Tiptoeing through that memory revives so many other images. I picture myself sitting in a teacher’s office as a freshman to talk about a paper—some clumsy attempt to analyze The Catcher in the Rye. As our discussion of my essay tapered, we fell into conversation. Half-listening, half-thinking, I peered through the scratched windowpane at the sunlit heaps of snow on the roofs and terraces below us, loving the snow and the afternoon light, but mostly just loving that moment.

Some images are so recent that they’ve hardly had a chance to settle. I envision gathering as a senior class on The Beach on the last day of school, arranging ourselves in a circle, dancing and shouting and singing. We were celebrating, but maybe we were also huddling close and comforting each other, because we knew that The Beach, like the school, would only belong to us for a few minutes longer.

Looking back on my time at Nobles feels like reviewing a trip to another country: knowing that it altered me, but not knowing how. It feels like thinking about a journey to France or India on the plane ride home and collecting all the little moments that abide in my mind. I’m uncertain as to why these particular images surfaced from the silty depths of my memory. But what’s certain to me is that they mattered, and because they are still alive, they will continue to matter and to alter me in ways yet unknown. What’s certain is that all these fragments of Nobles have expanded and colored me.

- Julia Fitzgerald ’14

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Closing the Nobles Chapter

Faculty member Sarah Snyder retires after 37 years of teaching—25 years at Nobles. She addressed the Nobles community in assembly on May 28.

Snyder

Good morning,

I know it’s a little unusual for someone in this community to say something as she or he leaves, but I felt a need to—perhaps a need to finish well. And I wanted to do it in this space. I love this room and what happens in it. I believe assembly is the heart of the Nobles experience. In a way, this morning, all of you right now represent the many lives I have come to know and love over my entire 37-year career.

I’d like to start with a poem. I know, pretty predictable…

“The Way It Is” by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Stafford’s clear identification of a thread appeals to me a lot. As all good poets do, he finds words for something ineffable. The thread that I hold onto is quite connected to a voice within me that I trust. I hope all of you feel such a thread or hear an inner voice that you can follow when making important decisions or confronting challenges.

My thread and inner voice are often nudged by the element of surprise. I love change and surprises, both keep me present and alive. All of you who have had me in class know how much I adhere to Robert Frost’s words: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Surprise is where the power is in writing and in life.

This year, when Bob and I talked about the year after my sabbatical, he mentioned an early retirement option (because I am turning 60 this year). I was surprised—surprised to be turning 60, surprised by the generosity of this option and surprised by something deep within me that wanted to pursue it.

I was surprised because I have loved being a teacher. In fact, I still am amazed that I get paid for doing something that is so fun for me.

But as much as I have loved this job for 37 years, as much as I love this community at Nobles where I have been lucky enough to be for 25 of those years, I’ve decided to hold onto my thread and follow a voice within me.

I am leaving the classroom to have time to create new, surprising things as I write, paint, cut in stone or quilt. The door to early retirement will also allow me to volunteer more.

Ben, who is a few years younger than I am (I know hard to believe), will be back at Nobles after our sabbatical, but I will return to this campus in a different way—as a writer, maybe a tutor, but I hope still a friend. Please consider stopping by our house for a cup of chai and a freshly baked something from my oven.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude. Thank you, Meghan Glenn and George Blake, for team-teaching with me. I am so lucky to have shared so much time with you. Thank you, middle school core friends. I have loved sharing an office with so many of you. Thank you, Maryanne MacDonald, Patricia Aliquo and Judith Merritt, who are friends and who make all of our lives easier. Thank you friends in the English department and performing arts, who have taught me so much. Thank you, Alex Gallagher, for your enduring friendship and so many others with whom I’ve been lucky enough to know through lunch or sideline conversations. Thank you, Bob Henderson and Dick Baker, for being strong, intelligent leaders of this enterprise, making it better each year. I have been so lucky to travel around the world with several students in here and dear friends like Tim Carey, Mark Sheeran, Julia Russell, Linda Hurley, David Roane and Mike Kalin. Thank you, Flik friends, Vas, Anna, Jacob and Matt—I will miss the Castle lunches! Thank you, Mark, Steve, Joey and others, who make our yard and this campus shine. Thank you, advisees and advisees who have become colleagues, Sarah and Kelsey. Thank you, seniors, who made my last year so fun and perfect in Literature of India and Poetry. Thank you, sixies, who make me smile a lot; you guys are so assiduous and so appreciative. I feel so lucky to have worked with many of you in Class V through Class I in EVL.

Finally, thank you, Ben, for your love and support in all I do. This has been such a warm, inclusive community to my family and me for 25 years. I am leaving Nobles feeling simply grateful and fortunate for all I have received.

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Amaechi Shares Important Message

The art of storytelling was on full display when John Amaechi, a psychiatrist, educator and retired NBA player, recently spoke to our community at long assembly. I spoke to some students about his talk and the Q and A in Towles Auditorium, and there were some themes that kept coming up in my discussion with students.

Students spoke about how his stories touched them and how he was able to map out how he got to this point in his life. Students stated that they didn’t feel preached to, which is very important in terms of their mental engagement and presence in assembly. His overall message was for all of us to pay attention to the interactions that we are involved in because we don’t know which ones will affect the rest of our lives. Students appreciated the fact that he addressed the major effort that it would take to put importance into every interaction. He spoke about having integrity in your interactions and everyday life, which would take the immediate focus off of how to act within an interaction.

Kids commented on how entertaining he was while delivering an important message. They enjoyed the humor that he brought to his speech. He seemed to be really enjoying talking to the community. He is a busy man but he made us feel like he was fully engaged with us and enjoyed his time here.

I spoke to Jenny Carlson-Pietraszek after the assembly and she had the right word to describe him. She stated that he was “unapologetic.” He found a way to challenge the community without being overbearing. He stated his thoughts and beliefs and backed them up with personal stories.

There was no chance that we all left assembly without thinking about what he said. Students said that he empowered them. He was able to make us all look at ourselves as agents of change.

- Mark Spence, Upper School Counselor

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Inspiration for My Class I Project

BeckyBecky Brownell ’14 was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in her Class IV (9th grade) year at Nobles. She shares a personal story to raise awareness about inflammatory bowel disease.

For my Class I (senior) project, I am volunteering for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) New England Chapter. The CCFA is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to finding cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). The CCFA is particularly relevant in my life because I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in the spring of my freshman year at Nobles.

Over the past four years, it has been a tremendous struggle. I have been hospitalized nine times, spending a total of 80 days in the hospital. Many times my weight dropped near 100 pounds. My body has rejected five medications. I have undergone five colonoscopies and endoscopies. In the beginning of my sophomore year, I was required to go on an all-liquid diet for two months during a flare, which was the hardest thing I have ever done. Complications and side effects from my medications gave me severe lung issues.

Hospitalizations, medications, symptoms, and keeping up with academics and athletics consumed my life. However, what is important is that while the disease is a huge part of my life, it does not define me as a person. Thankfully, I have been healthy and in remission since summer 2013.

I am a two-sport varsity athlete at Nobles (squash and tennis). I am going to Dartmouth next year. I will graduate with academic distinction. I am happier than ever, and my life will go on.

I chose this senior project because I want to give back to the CCFA, the organization that supported me through my difficulties with Crohn’s. I want to help others that have my disease, and in particular, help children and teenagers who, like me, struggle every day. My personal connection with Crohn’s disease as well as with the CCFA organization has truly inspired me to pursue a cure for IBD and help our community in any way I can. Spread the word and let’s find a cure!

Brownell will be participating in the CCFA’s 2014 Boston Take Steps Walk on June 7. Learn how can you can support here

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The Bigger Picture

On April 6, 2014, Nobles hosted the fourth annual Asian American Footsteps Conference. Asian, Asian American and mixed-heritage Asian students attending independent secondary schools in New England were invited for a daylong series of empowering workshops, activities and performances. Student conference leaders Grant Hou and Y-Binh Nguyen, both ’14, reflect on the day below. 

DSC_0949 (1)The day did not start as intended. Many students were missing from each school. One facilitator was taken to the wrong classroom. The televisions were not set up. It was 9 a.m. and we were starting late. When the little things started to go wrong, we began to worry.

At about 9:10 a.m. the opening ceremony started and the Genki Sparks, a women’s taiko drumming troupe, opened with an invigorating performance that woke up and energized the audience. Then spoken word artist Sahra Vang Nguyen (sister of Kim Nguyen ’13) performed poems about family sacrifice and immigration.

Our keynote speakers, Eddie and Eric, from the Jubilee Project, talked about their nonprofit organization, which creates short films to raise awareness about issues such as autism, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS and leukemia. When they showed one of their poignant videos (watch “Fireflies” here: http://youtu.be/1d_mCmMdLIY), it stimulated laughter and tears in the audience, and we knew today would be a good day.

Throughout the day, we heard stories about workshops and we saw rooms packed from floor to ceiling with attendees. We saw students laughing and actively engaging in conversations. One chaperone said to us, “I am so jealous that these kids have this opportunity in high school.”  It confirmed why we wanted to be conference leaders.

The day flew by with a networking lunch and then affinity groups where students were divided by regions of Asia (East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, etc.). Our favorite part of the day was the affinity group session lead by Nobles and St. Paul’s students—a new addition to the conference. Affinity groups gave students a chance to explore different issues within their identity and share personal experience. It was great to hear how much students enjoyed it. Many students really stepped out of their comfort zone to share stories with one another.

As day came to an end, we all took a sigh of relief. About 10 months of hard work finally ended as we all regrouped for one final picture.

The commitment, love and hard work from both teachers and students made the late nights and constant meetings worth it and made hosting the Asian American Footsteps Conference at Nobles a great experience. We learned not only about conference planning, but throughout the process, we learned why it was so important to offer this opportunity to students.

–Grant Hou and Y-Binh Nguyen, both ’14

Nobles student volunteers

Nobles student volunteers

 

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Matters of the Heart

Jenn Mace ’15 is on the girls varsity basketball and cross country teams at Nobles. In her personal essay for English class, she reflects on training and running with her dad who has atrial fibrillation.  

Jen MaceI sprint around the last curve of the track, attempting to complete the soccer training plan workout. I’m fourteen years old, training for varsity soccer tryouts at Nobles in the fall. As I approach the final straightaway, my legs grow heavy and start to burn. I take short quick breaths, struggling to inhale enough oxygen to keep me moving. The soles of my feet start to burn from the friction between my grey and orange Brooks running sneakers and the red tar of the track.  I look around the track, desperately searching for a distraction from the pain of this last 400. The pristine track glimmers in the sunlight, like the ocean on a calm sunny day. I see my dad, still one step ahead of me on my right hand side. “All the single ladies, all this single ladies, now put your hands up” blasts from his headphones. His music instantly makes me smile and realize, if he can run this 400, at 48 years old, with thousands of miles already logged in his legs, I can run it too.

“Seventy-three,” my dad exhales sharply as we cross the finish line. “Pretty good.”

As I catch my breath, I smile at my dad, a big toothy smile that reminds him of “baby Jenn.” I’m proud to have run a 400 that fast, even prouder to have run that fast with my dad at my side.  I know I would not have finished the 400 if he hadn’t run with me to pull me along.

Two summers later, my dad and I are in the car driving to the track again. Everything seems the same; I’m wearing the same model of Brooks sneakers, my dad is wearing the same black shorts, baby blue tank top, black sunglasses, and black sweatband, and the track catches the sun’s glow as the dark clouds float away. After a warm up and a quick stretch, we began our first 400. Running the final straightaway, the familiar heavy, burning feeling returns to my legs. Refreshing droplets of sweat drip down my flushed cheek, a creek trickling over hot rocks. As I look at my surroundings, I look for something to motivate me to keep moving. In the past, this something has always manifested in the form of my dad. I expect to see my dad—his legs striding, his arms pumping, his black sunglasses concealing his emotions—in lane two. Lane two is empty.

His disappearance startles me, but I keep running, even pick up the pace, knowing if he could he would sprint next to me, pulling me forward. As I finish the 400, I realize nothing is the same. For the first time, my dad couldn’t keep up with me on the track. The unrelenting heat, the fast pace, or the effort the run required did not force my dad to quit as most people would. He stopped because of a defect in his heart.

The doctor first diagnosed my dad with atrial fibrillation in October 2009. Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition when only half of the heart functions—only two of the four chambers work properly. The condition causes an irregular heart beat and a significantly diminished circulation because the heart must work two times as hard to pump only half the usual amount of blood. My dad had episodes of atrial fibrillation (afib), lasting days, weeks, or months. In afib, my dad tended to have a short temper and felt more tired than usual. He described the condition as constantly walking around wearing a 100-pound vest. When the episode ended, a process that could take seconds or months, he would again be perky, healthy and feeling as though he could lift 400 pounds or run a seven-minute mile.

Afib has prevented my dad from participating in many activities he loves, especially running on the track with his daughters. Several years ago, my dad challenged my sister and me to a 400-meter race following our high school graduations. Afib stole his opportunity to race against my sister last summer after she graduated.  Last summer, my dad had been in afib continuously for over six months. I never realized how much the condition affected him until the day on the track he vanished from my side. I can’t imagine the pain he suffered that made him stop.

When I returned home that afternoon, I cried. I felt like I had accidentally inhaled a gulp of ocean salt water. Running with me had always been important to him. He took such pride in always keeping up with me—something most dads can’t do. Our summer track outings connected us like a son watching a football game with his dad.

Jenn & DadThroughout the summer, my dad continued to run on the track with me. We warmed up and stretched together, and then I would run my 400’s as he ran at a pace his heart could sustain. We found a routine that worked for both of us.  He coached me and gave me running tips: to run with my elbows tucked in tight to my ribs and with my hands in a loose fist so the air could pass through the hole between my palm and my fingertips.

As the summer continued, I could see the condition eating away at him. He began to give up hope that he would come out of afib on his own. He couldn’t sleep well, couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without losing his breath, couldn’t stand temperatures too warm or too cold. After eight months, with our family’s support and the doctor’s strong recommendation, he made the decision to have surgery. If he didn’t undergo surgery, he would remain in afib permanently. In surgery, two tubes, one with a camera and one with a laser, would snake up each femoral artery to my dad’s heart. Using the camera, the doctor would then zap the areas he thought caused the errant electrical signals that trigger afib.

The morning of the surgery, Sept. 3, 2013, my parents left the house before me. The house was empty as I departed for the first day of junior year. Even with no one in it, I could feel the tension left by my parents that morning. A still, uneasy silence filled the house making me more nervous than I should have felt for the first day of school.

I arrived at school, saw the familiar faces of my friends and teachers, and participated in the “welcome back” and “class bonding” activities of retreat. It all seemed so trivial. My dad was having heart surgery, and I was at school acting out charades of Miley Cyrus and The Great Gatsby. My mom’s friend picked me up from school halfway through the retreat and drove me to the hospital to wait for my dad’s five-hour surgery to finish.

After an hour of sitting in the waiting room with my mom, we saw the wooden double doors open, and my dad’s doctor entered the room. He announced that my dad’s surgery had finished and that we could visit him. My dad lay in a hospital bed on his back in a blue and grey johnny, connected to several wires. He acted energetic and upbeat, but looked at me with a superficial smile, hiding his true emotions. Similar to my sympathy for my dad on the track, my heart felt empathy with him now. Just like his heart in afib, my heart uncontrollably decreased its blood flow to my brain. As my father described the way the doctors stopped and restarted his heart, his voice faded.

I woke with a sharp pain in the back of my head.

“You fainted,” a voice told me. I looked up to see a plethora of nurses and doctors. “You fell backwards, crashed through the curtain, and slammed your head on the tile floor.” I felt something cool flow into my left arm. “I’m inserting an IV,” the same voice told me.

Seven hours later and a series of questions, blood tests, concussion tests and a CT scan, the doctors discovered dehydration, low blood sugar, an extremely low pulse and the wave of panic and anxiety of seeing my dad so vulnerable in the hospital caused my fainting. It reminded me of my emotions the day at the track when I found his lane empty.  My dad, the most stable person in my life, wasn’t secure on either day. I disliked the uncertainty of what would happen to him in the coming months. Even though the surgery went well, there remained a chance of complications with his surgery or a return to afib within the next few days or weeks.

Four months after my dad’s surgery, I saunter down to our basement to do a quick workout. My dad had yet to have another afib episode but has felt several irregular heartbeats. I desperately wanted the surgery to be a success, so he will be not only healthy, but also my strong, unwavering dad. As I approach the exercise room, I hear the buzz of the treadmill and the continuous pounding of feet. I crack the door open and see my dad, in black shorts, a baby blue tank top, a black sweatband, running on the treadmill. I pause for a moment, happy to see him running hard, and then close the door so I didn’t disturb him. As I turned around, I heard the faint hum of “all the single ladies” start to play from his headphones. I walk upstairs with confidence, knowing that my dad will return to his calm, optimistic self permanently, be healthy at my high school graduation, and finally have the chance to race one of his daughters on the track.

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Online Education Sites vs. Brick-And-Mortar Schools

KalinEnglish and history faculty member Mike Kalin recently wrote a piece on WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti section. He posed the question, “Are Teachers In Brick-And-Mortar Schools Even Necessary?” Read more below.

Khan Academy, an educational website created in 2006 by a former hedge fund manager, currently provides free online lessons to over 10 million students per month. With access to over 5,000 videos and 100,000 practice problems, students receive instruction in virtually every subject, including history, literature, math, physics, economics, chemistry, and even cosmology and astronomy. The rapid growth of Khan Academy raises a serious question: If Khan Academy, just one of among many similar sites, can deliver personalized content in a faster, cheaper, and more effective manner than our current model, would the billions of dollars that states spend on teaching salaries each year be better used to equip each student in America with a brand new personal computer? To push even further, are teachers in brick-and-mortar schools even necessary?

Click here to read the entire piece.

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My Cultural Roots

In his college essay, Joon Pyun ’14 expresses his pride in his Korean heritage. He reflects on how his yearly visits to Korea and his grandparents’ unconditional love has helped shaped his cultural identity.

Seongjoon Pyun 2014From the outside, my grandparents’ apartment in Seoul, Korea stands out among the sea of new buildings. Constructed in 1974, the apartment has lost its appeal since its heyday. On a windy day, the white paint peels off the building like snowflakes falling from the sky. The pipes have rusted so much that water merely drips from the shower handle. However, when I am there, the building’s imperfections seem to fade away.

Unlike its ever-changing neighborhood, the apartment itself is a steadfast cocoon, a place where I was nurtured as an infant preserved like a museum. As my parents worked to finish their medical residencies in a different city, my grandparents raised me here for the first four years of my life. Now as an immigrant of six years and a boarding student living away from my family, I come here every summer to heal myself of nostalgia.

Evidence of my past can be seen in the form of pictures posted everywhere imaginable, from the fridge to the bathroom door. With so few things changed, I recall my childhood like it was yesterday. I remember carefully applying Vaseline on my grandfather’s leg every morning. Having lost his leg in the Korean War, my grandfather needs his leg greased before putting on his prosthetic leg. I remember eating enoki mushrooms with my grandmother. On a butter-coated frying pan, the mushrooms tap-danced to the symphony of sizzles.

On my arrival, my grandparents welcome me with open arms. Even after I started living with my parents, my grandparents and I call each other nearly every day. They are still so full of love. They even thank each other every morning for staying alive. After warm hugs, they usher me straight to the dinner table prepared with my favorite foods. They bring out the home-brewed barley tea in a reused orange-juice bottle and a main dish that I consider a traditional Korean delicacy, fresh crabs marinated in soy sauce. The crabs’ bellies are packed with tamale and orange eggs, and their legs are filled with white meat glazed in rich soy sauce. My grandmother smiles as she watches me eat. Knowing that this sight makes her happy, I overeat.

With my belly full and my grandfather by my side, I look out the window and see the Han River, just meters away from the apartment. I see my reflection superimposed on the view of the river and the skyline beyond it, and I see a parallel between my identity and the city’s identity.

After the Korean War, Seoul was utterly destroyed, and chaos ensued. Families separated and the infrastructure of the city became unrecognizable. To the survivors like my grandfather, rebuilding seemed like a hopeless endeavor, but through persistence, Korean citizens rebuilt the city that has become internationally competitive, yet culturally distinct. Seoul is now a fusion of cutting-edge technology and dignified tradition.

Similar to Seoul’s recovery to prominence, my transition from Korea to America was drastic and trying. I was separated from my family, friends, and all that I was used to. I had to accept that, at least for the time being, I would no longer be the top student or the class president. I would have to remain open to different views and ideas, but I always made it a priority to never let go of my roots, my identity as a proud Korean. Sure, there were times when I felt overwhelmed by the road ahead, but each time I persevered and developed new interests and passions unique to the culture in the United States. And I know how I became the confident, strong-minded individual that I am today. It was in no small part due to the undying love that I received from my grandparents in that special apartment, where I simultaneously experienced perfect contentment and built a significant part of my cultural identity.

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