Balance

The following remarks were delivered to the Middle and Upper School Community during Opening Convocation:

I remember this memory quite vividly. I was about 14 years old and brought a bowl of soup to my grandmother. I walked slowly, intent on not spilling any of the soup, trying not to blink as I focused on the liquid in the bowl moving back and forth and coming close to the edge. 

Just after I placed the bowl down gingerly on the table, my Uncle Bruce said to me, “hey Joshua. Here’s something I learned as a waiter. The trick is to not look at the bowl or cup, and just pick your head up and focus on where you are going.” I wasn’t completely sold, but I trusted my uncle, so I gave it a try with the next bowl and fighting the urge to look down, I walked more normally across the room without spilling any of the soup in a third of the time of my last trip. 

My uncle would explain to me later that when you are so focused on not spilling, you have a tendency to overcompensate and all that work you are doing to try and not spill, ends up making it more likely for you to make a mess on the floor. 

As a teenager and for a long time after, I saw this as helpful advice to not spill liquid while carrying it in a bowl or mug. As a matter of fact, I still try to employ this tactic to this day. In thinking back recently, I began to view this not only as advice for carrying soup or coffee, but as a metaphor for balance in our lives. 

How do we respond to the challenges that we face? How are we impacted by the moments we encounter? What changes do we make in response to these challenges or our goals?  

Many people tend to have an all-in attitude. Do you know an adult who wants to get into shape or lose some weight and start a strict workout routine or diet, only to have it stop a few weeks or months later? Have you ever canceled plans with a friend or a family member to get some last-minute studying in for a test you are worried about? Avoided taking an elective or lacked confidence in playing a sport, a subject matter, or acting on stage, because you saw yourself as not being good at it? 

When we take these paths, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to be well-rounded, balanced people. We are focused on the immediate outcome of each step we take while carrying the soup, making it more likely to spill, versus looking towards the overall goal. When we focus on the outcome of every point lost on a test, a mistake made during a game, or a misplaced comment to a friend, we lose our balance and get disappointed in ourselves over the little mistakes, and the small spills. 

So today, for this year, I want to challenge you to think of balance in a different way. For the past two and a half years, we have been hyperfocused on everything due to the pandemic. We were forced to worry about the smallest things as simple as touching a door handle. 

Instead of thinking about every mistake, every time you may color outside of the line of a drawing, pull back and look at the incredible picture you are in the midst of creating. Do not worry about the little mistakes.  

Instead, learn from them and make the small adjustments needed to do better in the future. Do not let the fear of messing up get in the way of trying something new. Two weeks ago, Leni Hicks-Dutt and some other members of the Class of 2023 created a beautiful new mural for the school. No one will know if this is identical to the drawings made in advance or if any adjustments were made. Instead, we just get to enjoy the incredible art that has been created in our hallway. 

The same is true for you this year. Create your goals, try new things, and find ways to be well-rounded people, don’t give up on an opportunity to try something fun or new. Don’t worry if things do not go exactly to plan. Embrace failure and learn from it. At the end of the year we will hardly remember the little mistakes along the way, just the great accomplishments you achieved. So, look at the big picture, because when you pick your head up and focus on where you are going instead of every step you take along the way, you will inevitably spill less soup and be happier with the outcome. 

Commencement Speech – 2022

The following are the concluding remarks for the Class of 2022 Commencement on June 3, 2022

I have long been fascinated by the concept of time. What is it? How do we perceive it? Why does it appear to slow down at times, and stand still at others?  Does time really fly when you are having fun?

To explore time more deeply, and because you can never go wrong with Albert Einstein, I reached for his 1905 publication on the ‘Theory of Special Relativity.’ In it, Einstein established that time was, indeed, relative. The rate at which time passes depends on your frame of reference. While it can be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years, Einstein also believed that time was just an illusion, that it is our way of making sense of growing older.

In that, time can be measured in experiences, adventures, and shared histories. It can also be measured in milestones.  Perhaps we could look at time a little differently. Imagine time as a collection of moments, large and small. And what if we could collect them. Put them in a mason jar. And look at them. There would be big moments that would stand out. Imagine these as large marbles in your jar, the importance of the occasion marked by elaborate design and distinction. They, by design, stand out and their size shows prominence, but they alone do not fill up the jar.

Now imagine pouring sand into the jar and moving it gently. The sand will work its way down to the bottom, filling in the gaps. The sand represents the little moments that happen each day, the moments that make you smile, the ones that make you cry, and the ordinary ones you don’t think twice about. These memories, though small in stature, belong in your mason jar. When looked at from afar, the sand appears to be amorphous and undifferentiated, but with a closer look, you see that each individual grain of sand has its own unique shape. Some of these will get lost in your memory, blending with other memories, but others will continue to stand out in your mind.

I was reminded of this just a few weeks ago at the 11th and 12th grade Prom. While you were creating your own memories, I found myself texting with a good friend from high school on the occasion of our 25th reunion. We had not spoken in a few years, but we found ourselves reliving some of these grains of sand that we deposited in our jars years before. Despite the physical time that had passed, we dove back into those memories as if they had occurred yesterday.

The following quote’s author is unknown, but the meaning resonates so deeply that I wanted to share it with you today: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”.

Class of 2022, today’s a big moment kind of day. It’s one of those marbles that will live on in your jar. Yet, when you think back on your time at Brimmer, it is going to be the individual moments that stand out to you. Something that happened in the lounge, on a bus to a game, or backstage at a rehearsal. It’s important to not lose track of the little moments and to appreciate them along the way. To store them, so they can be taken out and cherished when you see or talk to each other again.

Marbles, large and small, are made of grains of sand, melted together and reformed. They are the physical representation that it takes countless small moments to make the big ones. Today is your last day here, together, as the class of 2022. It would be easy to get swept away with the big moments. Instead, let’s take a moment to take time to breathe it in.

Now, I want you to stand up and look around the tent. Start by looking at each other, and create a lasting image of your classmates in your mind. Now turn and look at your family and friends all gathered here today to celebrate you. Take a mental picture of this moment and store it in your jar, allow your breath to be taken away in the beauty of this picture in time.

As we come to the final moments of today the sun is setting on your time at Brimmer. It’s important to remember that while the sunset represents an ending, it also makes way for a new beginning. The sun is heading towards the horizon and you are closing the chapter on this stage of your life, but tomorrow you will start a new chapter as alumni with new opportunities and new memories.

My final wish for you is that you don’t get swept away in the momentum of life. That you remember to pause, allow yourself to lose your breath, and store away your little moments so you can pull them out from time to time to enjoy them with each other when the time is right.

Robb Elementary School Reflections

The following remarks were delivered to The Upper School Community during Morning Meeting on May 25, 2022:

Like many of you, I learned of the devastating news out of Uvalde, Texas, yesterday afternoon (5/24), where a man walked into Robb Elementary School and opened fire. The first report I saw said that 12 people were injured, and I remember almost feeling a sense of relief that there were no deaths. Then as I checked the news over the course of the evening, the numbers changed from 12 injured to 3 people killed…9…12…14…18…19 people reported killed by the time I went to sleep, only to wake up and learn that 19 elementary children and 2 adults were killed. 

 Last night, as I sat down to think about what I might say to you this morning, I was at a complete loss. I have to be honest, I kept saying to myself, I can’t believe I have to do this again. I can’t believe I need to stand up in front of the students and talk about another needless tragedy.  

I have no new profound words to share or advice. All I could think of doing was to share how I am feeling. I’m feeling: 

Anger: I am angry that this continues to happen with no action to address the issues that lead to this type of violence. I am angry that I am here talking to you about this senseless violence again and that nothing has changed. 

Sad: I am sad about the horrible loss of life. The children whose futures will never be known. The world will never know what was lost yesterday. We will never know what the ways these young people would have made a positive impact on our world. 

Frustration: I’m frustrated with myself that the regularity of these incidents has begun to make me numb to the news, that I could so easily move on. I’m frustrated that just 9 days ago, Mrs. Guild stood here in front of you talking about what happened in Buffalo. 

Powerless: I feel powerless to make a difference. I feel like regardless of what I say or do, or what others say or do, nothing will change.  

I wish that I had some words of wisdom to give you today. Instead of advice, I hope that sharing some of my feelings will help you make sense of your own feelings. I hope that whether you have any of these feelings or any others, you know that you are not alone. Your friends and teachers are processing their feelings about this in their own way.  

As we have done in the past, if you need someone to talk to this morning or at any time this week, you can always speak with Ms. Luckett, Ms. Escobar, Mr. Murray, your advisor, me, or another trusted adult. Ms. Escobar and Ms. Luckett will be in the Dining Commons during the first two periods of the day for anyone that may want to stop by and talk with them. They also will be available in their offices as they usually are during the day. 

I also want to remind you that we are safe here at Brimmer and Mrs. Guild talked to you about this last week. For the past year, we have been keeping doors propped open to improve airflow, but Mrs. Guild has asked teachers and staff to keep doors closed for the remainder of the year. This is not because there is any specific danger, but to use the precautions we have to keep everyone in the community as safe as possible. 

Flames of Achievement

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At Opening Convocation  in September, I shared a quote from Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” As we near the end of the school year, it seemed apropos to look back at some recent observations that show the depth of achievement our students have made this year. One such example of students transforming the sparks of possibility into flames of achievement comes from the success of our spring sports teams.

All of our teams should be proud of their seasons, including the Varsity Baseball team, which won the League Championship, but I want to highlight the Girls’ Varsity Tennis and Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse teams. Both of these teams have generally flown under the radar during the spring, but this year, they made Brimmer history by each winning their team’s first league championship. Two teams that came into the year with modest definitions of success, both saw those sparks catch fire.

In the classroom, it seems like it was not that long ago that the Class of 2018 was starting Upper School. Over the past few weeks, teachers and administrators have been busy listening and watching our twelfth grade students present their culminating humanities project. Each student dived deep into the works of an author and produced a scholarly paper and presentation on their research. The students wowed their teachers with their interpretations of the text and the personal connections they made to their work.

A final example comes from the tremendous creativity that filled our School this week at the All-School Arts Celebration. I often find myself, and others, pausing in front of displays in awe of the way students have transformed their medium to create such wonderful artwork.

The list of personal and grade level achievements goes on and on. The students should be proud of their accomplishments this year! Billows of smoke have filled our hallways, from the sparks of possibility that have turned into their flames of achievement. Congratulations to everyone!

The Power of Disagreement

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend an event where Governor Charlie Baker was speaking. It was a fantastic event, and it is always such a pleasure to hear the Governor speak about the state of the Commonwealth and our society. During the discussion, I could not help but be encouraged by a story he shared from his childhood that has shaped his view on debate, disagreement, and decision-making.

Governor Baker shared that his mother was a registered Democrat, and his father was a registered Republican. In his house, while growing up, his parents often engaged in conversations and disagreements on a number of issues. As he reflected on growing up in a household that embraced debate, I want to share two important ideas that resonated with me and are relevant for our students.

First, Governor Baker talked about the idea of surrounding oneself with the best minds regardless of their party affiliation and encouraging debate. He empathized the difference between intellectual disagreement and malicious disagreement. It was a critical distinction. The purpose of debate is not to tear another person down, but to deepen one’s own understanding, as well as the other person’s.

The point he shared was about how his parents and family friends were able to enter into strong arguments over politics, but it never impacted their relationships. By not entering a discussion with malicious intent, they knew that the arguments was about ideas.

Governor Baker’s words ring true if we are to live up to our mission of “develop[ing] life long learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.” We must continue our work with students so that they can engage in authentic discussions about what they are learning, the issues in our own community, and current events.

In recent conversations with ninth grade students, it was clear that they want to be a part of intellectual debate. They want to engage in conversations about our world and to dive deeper into the issues. They also shared that they believed the Brimmer community was one that was welcoming of all diversity–race, ethnicity, religious, identity, and intellectual.

We need to continue to teach students to engage in these discussions in order to learn and not to create conflict. In this way, like Governor Baker’s parents and family friends, respectful debate can lead to stronger personal relationships and deeper understanding, instead of creating wedges between people.

Exploration

Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Since the beginning of time, humans have been explorers, seeking out new experiences through travel. From the hunters and gatherers that migrated across continents to Magellan circumnavigating the world to NASA’s New Horizons satellite reaching the edges of our galaxy, we learn through exploration and new experiences. At Brimmer, we develop explorers in a multitude of ways including our biennial program, Winterim. Next week, Upper School students will be spreading out across the globe, spanning nearly eleven thousand miles.
Today, more easily than at any other time in history, we can connect to people globally, learn about the history of every aspect of humankind, and experience different cultures. Access to information has allowed people to virtually travel to and explore new places. While reading, listening, and watching videos about different cultures can allow someone to deepen their global connection, it is not a replacement for physically visiting those nations, cities, or towns. It is impossible to get a true sense of the grandeur of the Giza Pyramids or to truly appreciate the awesomeness of the Parthenon without standing at those sites. One cannot fully understand the choices and values of a community without being there in person and talking directly with its residents.
I can still recall admiring with students the detail of the beautifully carved two thousand year old Roman statues and being in awe of the deep love of city and culture that drove New Orleans residents to rebuild even with future uncertainty. The power of our Winterim programs are the transformational moments that will lead students and faculty to a new understanding of people, places, and culture. It is an opportunity to learn what cannot be found in books or online. Many of these moments will be captured by pictures or videos, but it will be the ones that are etched in students’ memories that will never leave them. What will our students bring back with them when they return? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see and hear about their experiences.

 

To all our students no matter where they are going: Safe travels. Viaje seguro. Kār deinthāng thī̀ plxdp̣hạy. Bon voyage. Anzen’na tabi. Turas math dhuibh.

Brimmer Sports Banquet

Good Evening,

Thank you for braving the elements today to come out and celebrate all of our varsity athletes tonight. As a 3 season athlete and coach for 10 years, I know first hand about the positive impacts of athletics- I also am used to playing or standing out in the rain on nights like tonight and I definitely appreciate being inside and not on the sideline.

So, why do we do it? Why do we ask all our students to participate? We know about the multitude of benefits of sport. As you know our coaches are not just helping the student-athletes become better technical soccer players or runners. They are teaching about the benefits of physical fitness and nutrition. They are helping students develop leadership skills and collaboration skills. Our teams develop into families that look out for each other, help motivate each other, and support each other. And our student athletes learn about adversity and how to overcome failure or challenge- whether it is pushing through on a run when they are unsure about how much they have left in their tank or scoring a goal at the end of a match even though doubt may have crept in about their unlikely chances.

It has been well researched in the business world that the values and skills developed in athletics are parallel to those needed to be successful in the workplace. According to a Cornell research study, they found that many employers will ask about participation in sports as a way to better assess a candidates qualities.

Why do businesses look for athletes? Well, in a 2013 article in Forbes called Why You Should Fill Your Company With Athletes they explain:

  1. They have the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and even in the midst of failure until they succeed.
  2. Athletes achieve their goals.
  3. Athletes develop new skills.
  4. Athletes are exceptional entrepreneurs
  5. Athletes strive for balance in every aspect of their lives AND
  6. Athletes work well with partners and in teams.

At Brimmer we are proud of the work we do in athletics. I am excited to be here this evening to celebrate the incredible seasons of our 3 varsity teams, though we aren’t done yet- We still have two games tomorrow. Tonight we are celebrating their success as teams, including two league championships and three invitations to participate at the NEPSAC level AND equally if not more importantly, the individual growth that each student-athlete made over the course of the fall season. It should be a great night!

Go Gators!

Celebrating Our Diversity

Like many, over the past forty-eight hours I have struggled over the election results. My first thoughts were how did we get here and how do I explain the results to my four and half year old? His understanding of Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton was that Trump said mean things and did not apologize, whereas Clinton made mistakes and said she was sorry. So, as we explained who won the election he was obviously confused. In his world, we value respect and taking responsibility and not the use of “mean words”.

After trying to explain to my son the results, I left the house Wednesday morning still struggling with what to say at our Upper School Morning Meeting. How do we make sense of this to our students? While I still do not have all the answers to this question, and I’m not sure I ever will, I wanted to share the thoughts I gave to the Brimmer Upper School.

In 1796 George Washington stepped down from the Presidency marking the first peaceful transition of power to a unrelated person in Modern History. Washington easily could have stayed on for another term but understood what would be one of his final nation-building responsibilities- establishing the transition of Presidential power. This idea has been a hallmark of our democracy for the last two hundred twenty years. A peaceful transition is how other modern democracies model for their government election processes.

In four years, just about everyone in this room will have an opportunity to vote in the next Presidential election.That being said, understanding the nature of our democracy does not offer much solace for those that are in shock over the Presidential election results. Intellectually the importance of transition makes sense, but emotionally this change doesn’t, due to the nature of the campaigns. This election was filled with hate and hurtful words from conservatives and liberals. No one was immune from divisiveness engulfed us. But President-Elect Trump has come to symbolize those intense feelings and words that have many of our diverse students, faculty, and staff feeling uneasy about what this means for them. What this means for the future our country?

Now, I want to share a short personal story. This year, when I began at Brimmer, I was transitioning from a school that had little diversity. One reason I came to Brimmer was because I wanted to be in a place that was more diverse, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this aspect of Brimmer has had on me. At our school we celebrate our diversity and each morning I wake up inspired to come to a place that has such a rich cultural, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity. Celebrating diversity is part of what makes this school a special place.

So, when I think about the past year, I remember a lot of arguing and yelling about what people thought was most important. Whether it was Bernie, Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio…the list goes on. There was a lot of talking but there was not very much listening. People were willing to shout their values at the top of their lungs, but found it difficult to open their ears to the underlying fears of each side. As a community we can respond to this election by continuing to create a powerful, thriving diverse community that is engaged in dialogue. We know that being diverse is not easy. Putting together so many different people with a wide range of values and experiences takes work. A lot of work. In many ways, it is easier not to be diverse. But easier does not mean more valuable. We don’t want to settle for easy. The desire to be diverse challenges us to think about what is necessary to live in a society that respects all voices, takes responsibility for its actions, shows kindness even in the most difficult situations, and remains honest. 

So how do we respond to the divisiveness that has come out of this election? We respond by building the community we desire for the country here at Brimmer. This is going to require us to be upstanders. We cannot allow the hate and disdain to permeate our community and build walls between us. We are going to need to stand up for those people whose voices may be silenced. We need to support each other and not create more fear. The subtleties of our words and actions can have a powerful impact on our community and we must work to be supportive. If we do this, we can begin to heal. We can be an example for how to build community, instead of creating divisions. Over the next few hours, days, weeks, and months- be there for each other. I know that this will create the light that will shine through the darkness that has come from our divided nation.

Today, I cannot think of a better way to honor the memories of our Veterans. To honor their sacrifice for protecting the United States and the world. Our veterans do not represent a single political party. Rather they come together from all different backgrounds to to preserve the freedoms we know in our country and to protect those around the world that cannot stand up for themselves. I cannot think of a better way to move forward, then as coming together as upstanders celebrating our diversity and standing up for those that need our help.