On May 31, we gathered together for our last Morning Meeting of the 2018-2019 school year. Our Head of School, Chris Bright opened the meeting with this reading:
"Greetings - Welcome to the last morning meeting of the year! And, the last day of classes.
When I was a kid, I used to walk home from school some days. I loved it. The directions weren’t complicated: it was about a mile down Shartel and a left on 33rd a couple blocks to my house (with some great distractions along the way). I did this from third grade on - starting way back in 1974 when I was seven years old.
Shartel is a slightly busy street in Oklahoma City, my home town (there aren’t many that are actually busy anywhere there) - it’s got a nicely mown grassy median, lined with trees and generally a pleasant and safe place to walk. On the East side of the street, the houses are generally nicer homes for the most part, but nothing really fancy until you get to 38th street where the Dolese Mansion stood.
It was our Boo Radley house. As kids, we told ourselves all sorts of stories about it - ghosts and trap doors and secret rooms and mysterious, maybe dangerous, and definitely unbelievable things. Some of those stories undoubtedly led me toward an event that day that I’m about to tell you about this morning.
Every walk home was an adventure, if not an odyssey. Along the way, there was an amazing creek where crawdads lived and hid under the rocks, a park where people flew kites and kids played on the jungle gym, but there was also a nerve-racking block’s worth of middle schoolers who would yell things from the yard in front of Harding Middle School right before my final turn home, and who would shout things out the windows of their yellow school buses.
The Dolese Mansion, about halfway between school and my house, was bordered by a tall wooden fence - hard to see what went on behind that fence, except through the gaps where the gate didn’t quite close all the way. Every day I walked past, I would approach the gap and peer inside, looking for the dogs who lived back there, or some evidence that the stories we told each other about that place were actually true.
One day, out of a little curiosity and probably some boredom, I poked a stick through the fence, and almost immediately, those dogs became a pack. Barking, gnashing, growling dogs who bite by bite, pulverized it until it was just a stub, barely long enough to reach them through the fence.
This was exciting.
I was entertained.
But I had to keep moving.
After the Dolese Dogs, I’d trundle on down the road, until I got to 33rd street where I turned left, past the middle school, and walked the last couple blocks to my house. Then, straight to the kitchen where I’d peel and eat a banana, or peanut butter and honey sandwich, watch the Brady Bunch, then relax and play until bedtime.
The dogs became this new thing on my walk home. They were actors in my play - they were characters in my narrative. Whatever the Dolese Mansion was in reality wasn’t important. What was important was the story we told about it and how we were drawn to it. I don’t think I cared much about the other dogs along the way, but there was something about that specific fence and the power of the stories and what those particular dogs represented that was magnetic. Those dogs were players in the fiction my friends and I had created. Literary devices. There was power there.
So when I think about the last day of school, I recall my walk home on the last day of school in 1974, when I had finished 3rd grade. On the way home from school that day, I carried a binder, some felt tip markers, a pencil case, and a lunchbox - not sure what else - and as I reached that fence, I did what I had done many many times before.
And even though they’d jump and push, fence buckling and swaying, it never faltered completely until that day late in May, 1974. I saw it buckle, the wood splintered, and the latch snapped open. I threw my books into the air, ran across the street and onto the median. Dogs were everywhere and everywhere fast.
I expected them to tear me to shreds and while they absolutely might have, they didn’t - they dispersed and I was ok. They were just dogs and they seemed more interested in smelling things and being free. I don’t recall much of the rest of the way home, but I was grateful to have made it, and happy to be safe.
My parents trusted that I would, and expected me to, explore the world and to learn from it. And they let me. And I believe that this built in me something that guides me today as I live my life, for my family, for myself, and for this school. We have to be open and eager to know more. But we also need to be prepared, because fences fail sometimes. We have to be aware of things and know when to stay on the path and when to veer. When to act. And when to not.
A healthy community honors its members for who they are, wants the best for them, and is a place where equity matters. This is a journey each of us takes on our own, but among others who aspire to bring themselves to the world to make it a more just, honorable, and better place. Here in morning meeting we are reminded that the truth of our own journeys is a binding force and because this is a safe and brave space, we listen to each other with compassion and act with purpose.
I’ve learned that curiosity doesn’t usually equate to predictability. But the results you get as a result of paying attention and wanting to know more are the essential parts of any effort to make a difference in the world. And this absolutely contributes toward making a difference.
So embrace the world you’ll encounter when you finish your final final exam and walk with some purpose toward lazy unscheduled days that should be at least some of your summer.
As you’re thinking about that journey, I’d like to take a moment now to say farewell to a few astounding individuals who have each in their own way shaped this school fundamentally. People who have given so much and so thoughtfully to so many current and former Vistamarians. Five staffulty this year will be leaving us at the end of this year. They’ll be taking new steps toward a journey of their own outside these walls. Their voices, their values, their wisdom, and their hopes have fundamentally shaped the way we think about education here and why it matters so much.
Our essential question this year has been: How can I learn from you?
Here’s how I’ve learned from them:
Ms. Goodenberger - our Director of Admission, you’ve taught me that heart should guide us in the face of a countless competing aims. You have built our community in the most important way - by bringing amazing students to Vistamar who align with, support, and extend our mission. You’re a calm and welcoming force for good and you always see the good in others. You understand Vistamar’s mission and you’ve been a tireless champion for students and for the school throughout your time here. I appreciate how patient you’ve been with me in my first year here and I’m grateful that every student who’s in this room is here partly because of you and the way you introduced each of them to Vistamar. I’m sure you will miss your morning and afternoon commutes with Dan, your husband, but being closer to home will be a welcome step for you as well. We wish you nothing but the best for you as you move into this new chapter.
Mr. Taylor: I’ve been reminded that an academic journey is improved with with a healthy dose of skepticism, and that writing is an astoundingly valuable way to develop an appreciation for ideas, and to clarify complexity. I’ve learned how important it is to be a strong voice in the pursuit of understanding and the value of criticism and dialogue in pursuit of a better way. I have appreciated your sense of humor, your quick wit and for introducing me to the word pachukucha. The care with which you’ve always approached your work with your students is not only inspiring, but necessary. As a former department chair, international admissions coordinator, and mostly importantly as a teacher, we thank you for all you’ve brought to Vistamar - I hope you’ll carry some of us with you as you continue your work with your incredibly fortunate new students in your new school.
Ms. Drennen: your work at Vistamar has been instrumental in helping to deepen our understanding about how students learn and how we can help them to realize their potential. You’ve taught us why learning is such an endlessly complex and fascinating process, and you’ve helped us find ways to enhance that process, authentically, honestly, and practically. You are a tireless advocate for your students, you have a quick wit, and kids know that you have their backs. You advocate with intentionality for your students and you regularly go to the fullest extent possible for someone who needs help - late night phone calls, meetings on your own personal time, and on and on. I’ve appreciated the clear, strong, and principled way that you work and the depth of your insight. You’re an amazing advocate. In addition to all this, you’ve also built our health and wellness program, and through that, continued to remind us that health and wellness holds equal weight to other pursuits and that it’s important to remember to value the wholeness of each person. Thank you for all you’ve done for the hundreds of students you’ve served individually and in the enormous contributions you’ve made to your colleague's ability to reach those students as well. You’ve made a huge difference. Thank you.
Dr. Federle: It’s hard to imagine a teacher more committed to the idea that each student has within him/her the ability to pursue a deeper understanding of the evolution of thought, values and politics, and to know that it matters. You’ve shown us how that being educated means being aware of who we are and what we can do to change things. Your commitment to develop in your students a view of their place in history, and in the world, is a gift to all of us. Your attention to the craft of writing, arguing, thinking critically, models for each of us and your students a thirst for understanding and how to live a life of meaning. Your devotion to ideas and the power of intellectual rigor is an example toward which we should all aspire, and you and will leave a mark here for all who have worked with you, been taught by you, and all of us who have been inspired by you. You leave your students emboldened to think critically and to express their arguments with clarity and heft. Thank you.
Ms. Gumina - As one of Vistamar’s longest-serving teachers, you have achieved near legend status. Your deep commitment to growth and the power of the nudge is a remarkable quality for a teacher, and most especially, a human being. Because of the incredible depth with which you approach your work, and your ability to translate that depth to your colleagues, new and veteran, you became the inaugural Director of Teaching and Learning. Through that position you’ve inspired us to want to understand how learning happens best, and also how to live out the values that bind us together - relationships, pedagogy and content, having a growth mindset, and our understanding of school culture in pursuit of an excellent educational experience for all. Framed by thoughtful questions, facilitated carefully and respectfully, and a commitment to the process of being educated, you’ve taught me to stay close to the principles and to always think of students first. Your legacy here will endure through the way we use language, ‘and’ through the wonder you infuse in your work.
This community is each of us. Here in morning meeting, and in so many ways throughout the day and throughout the year we, together, hold one another up, and as we learn from each other, we experience each other in ways that transcend and uplift us. When we celebrate, and when we’re vulnerable, when we need to join together in a common cause, and when we say goodbye.
The mundane and the spiritual commingle here in just the right measure and touch on the essential things that make us human and those things that encourage us to connect with each other. This space provides safety and security for us as we navigate our lives and find our way back home.
I wish you all well as we embark on our journeys on this last day of school, wherever they may take you.
Congratulations and bon voyage!"