Recap of Installation and 2014 Founders' Day Ceremony
A sincere thank you to everyone for their well wishes on my Installation as The Colorado Springs School’s 9th Head of School.
It was an absolute pleasure to share the stage with our Founders’ Day honorees Master Jay Kuk Lee ‘99, Ms. Lesley S. King ‘77 and Mrs. Ava Heinrichsdorff, a thirty-year veteran English teacher of CSS.
For those of you who were unable to attend the Installation and Founders’ Day Ceremony, we wanted to make available a video with highlights of the event, produced by alumnus, Adam Khan ‘09.
Installation Highlight Video
Founders’ Day Highlight Video
Additionally, I have included a printed version of my Installation speech.
My Installation Speech from September 26, 2014
Thank you all for coming to celebrate our honorees and my installation.
I have never been installed before. I asked a friend for advice—she said to start with a story, and I will follow that advice today by telling a story about how I came to The Colorado Springs School the first time…
And that is, more specifically, how I almost didn’t get to come to CSS.
As I completed my senior year at Colorado College, my advisor called me in to ask if I was interested in teaching. In all honesty, I had not seriously considered this professional track before.
I borrowed a tie (because I didn’t own one) and drove to The Colorado Springs School. By the way, though I had been living downtown, I had no idea CSS was here. Careful directions had to be provided. I interviewed with Sam Johnson and our 6th Head of School, Dr. Mary Flemke—relying on my vast experience of, hmm…of having just completed an undergrad degree, of having relatively recently completed high school, and of somewhat recently having been a child myself.
During the interview, I talked, extensively, about my love of history…. and not much else.
Unsurprisingly, I lost the job to a more experienced candidate.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure that I wanted a career in education, so I figured what was meant to happen had happened.
The phone rang later in the summer with a call from CSS – this was before cell phones – so there was some delay in reaching me directly. I was asked if I was still available. I swallowed my pride and truthfully said that I was. I accepted an employment agreement to teach two classes, handle some dorm duty, and coach two seasons in the Upper School outdoor education program. Later in the year it became necessary to amend the agreement to allow me to eat dinner in the dining hall!
During my time here it quickly became clear that CSS provided unrivaled opportunities to ask real questions and to explore the wider world with students. I grew quickly, with the help of some great mentors, from a teacher who loved subject matter to a teacher who loved working with students.
Mentors like: Will Biedermann, Sam Johnson, Greg Johnson, and Amy Johnson-Smith
A couple of year later, I was joined by some other newer teachers, from whom I also learned a great deal. Jen Hedden, Amos White, Roger Tucker, Paul Young and my wife, Anna Sass.
Others have since moved on, but I believe that they left their mark – Andy Handford, Meg Foley, Craig Westcott, Mark Morland and Katie MacDougall
These people mean the world to me and they taught me what it meant to be a teacher.
As I have mentioned, CSS is defined by its excellent teachers who equally celebrate a love of knowledge and a deep regard for their students. It is also defined by its unique programs—My next story is about one of those programs, the Upper School Experience Centered Seminar.
In 2004, my wife and I were leading an ECS called Wild Winter—teaching students Wilderness First Aid and avalanche assessment. We did a hut-to-hut trip, skiing from the Frying Pan River to Margie’s Hut, near Aspen. The hike in was eight miles long, with 4,000 feet of elevation gain: roughly 2.5 times up the Manitou Incline, on skis with full packs. We had heavy snow the night before, which necessitated breaking trail the entire distance.
This was the culmination of the ECS and it was a challenging route. To me, long hikes like this have a symbolic nature – in order to succeed we needed to do some simple things. We needed good preparation, a plan, self-belief, and a ton of hard work. This is a recipe for success in the outdoors and in life.
We started early and we hiked and we hiked—we knew we were on the right path because we had scouted every square inch on a previous trip. The last song we heard on the radio was, Coolio’s I’ll see you when you get there, which, if you haven’t checked out, you definitely should. It has been stuck in my head for about a decade.
Our third guide on this trip was and still is a Mt. Everest guide, who has climbed Mt. Everest three times. About 13 hours into our journey, after the sun had set and we were still hiking, even he began to look a little tired. That got me a little worried.
Going through trees, in the pitch black with headlamps, we had a hard time finding the hut. I knew we were near, but the GPS (which had recently hit the market) was telling us to go a bit more downhill than I remembered. Whether you have hiked for 13 hours or not, going downhill is the last thing you want to do because if you are wrong, you have to walk back up.
We hiked on into the dark not 100% sure that we were headed in the right direction. At this point, I wasn’t feeling great because the only thing worse than being tired and lost in the dark snowy woods by yourself is having gotten 10 high school students tired and lost in the dark snowy woods.
Then a funny thing happened.
Though the cabin had been deserted since the morning, we began to smell the faint smoke of the woodstove.
We ignored the GPS and located the dark hut by intuition and smell!
The other day, I told this story to my wife and she laughed and said, “Maybe you smelled the hut, but I knew where it was the whole time.”
After this experience, the students were so tired that we let them sleep until 2 in the afternoon the next day!
The challenge of this hike had a lasting impact on me and my students. We felt empowered and emboldened. My students had done something that they didn’t know that they could do – therefore they felt ready to tackle other unknowns. Previously, they had underestimated their abilities. Now, they know that they were stronger than they thought they were. It takes a special school and special programs to make these moments happen and CSS does this in the classroom on a daily basis and multiple times a year on expeditions, seminars and Experience Centered Seminars.
Today, CSS is in the midst of an exciting process to clarify and magnify its distinctive and effective programs and celebrate the learning that makes our graduates uniquely prepared to contribute to a dynamic world.
Through all the changes – what are the constants at CSS? An optimistic, inspirational and aspirational environment.
The lessons from my talk today:
- You never know when someone will make a suggestion what will open up a new world for you,
- Great outcomes occur when you plan and when you work hard,
- And, real challenges reveal real strengths.
These lessons have much in common with the three themes I introduced to students and faculty this year: openness to new ideas, conscientiousness in our work and pride in our great school. And I see much evidence of these themes at CSS on a daily basis.
Thank you for joining me to celebrate the past, present, and future of our fine school and for celebrating our honorees. Thank you all for the warm welcome Anna and I have had as we rejoined this community. Thank you to members of the Board of Trustees for their stewardship of this fine school. Thank you, students, for your leadership, your laughter, and for bringing your best efforts to your work in the classroom, on the fields, courts, and stages of CSS. Thanks to our fine staff and faculty putting their heart and minds into their teaching and for inspiring our students to be their best selves. Most importantly—thank you to our dedicated parents for believing in the school’s mission and for investing in your child’s education and for partnering with the school. Thank you to all.
Click here for more photos from the Installation and Founders’ Day Ceremony.
The event flowed beautifully into the Parents Association’s Fun Run and Carnival that day and we were grateful for all the efforts of volunteers to pull off such a wonderful community event for our families.
As the year progresses I look forward to many more opportunities to celebrate with our students, parents, alumni, and friends.
All the best,