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2013 Founders' Day Recap and Dr. Todd Horn's Keynote Address

On September 20, 2013, Dr. Todd Horn, former director of the Upper School and Mrs. Eleanor Walters, retiring Children’s School Administrative Assistant were celebrated as Founders’ Day honorees. Anthony Dortch ‘96 and Vanessa Leeper Jones ‘08 were inducted respectively into the Arts and Athletic Hall of Fames. The Founders’ Day and Hall of Fame honorees gathered in the Louisa Performing Arts Center for fitting tributes.

The celebration assemblies included a Hall of Fame (by the Script) music video produced by Middle School students in the last year’s music seminar; some delightfully entertaining skits and songs through the decades honoring Mrs. Eleanor Walters’ 36 years of service; introductions of the honorees by seniors, Webb B., ‘14, Kendra B., ‘14, Alex G., ‘14, and Owen M., ‘14; and the singing of the Alma Mater by Mr. Sam Johnson, Upper School science teacher. In addition to individual recognition plaques, Mrs. Eleanor Walters was given an honorary CSS diploma and a “lifer” award.

While each honoree represented a varied voices, eras, and disciplines of CSS’ 51 years of existence, a common theme of independent thinking and close mentoring relationships rang true in each honorees acceptance speech.

Dr. Todd Horn, Head of School at Kent Denver and former director of the CSS’ Upper School shared a poignant keynote address conveying very deeply the ethos of The Colorado Springs School.

Thank you Nori Madrigal, Jessica James, and all the members of the Founders’ Day planning committee for inviting me to return to CSS and for bestowing on me the honor of being able to share a few thoughts with you this morning. Thank you for that poised and flattering introduction Owen, I understand that you are President of Model UN - I hope you speed your way through college because we need your talent in the diplomatic core as soon as possible.

What is most obvious to me is that the pioneer spirit of 1962, when Margaret Campbell and 23 adventurous girls started The Colorado Springs School, is not only alive and well today, it is has grown and improved in ways that would make the Founders deeply proud.

I have had the good fortune to get to know Margaret Campbell, and every head of CSS since then. When Margaret Campbell retired from CSS she returned to Boston, and I have to share with you, she really scared me on my first visit with her there. Now, it wasn’t because of her uncompromising nature - I do think her portrait that hangs in the Terrace Room is a bit stern - it was because she drove really fast.

Her foot never left the accelerator as we purposefully raced through the streets of Boston - no one passed us, that I can assure you. And Headmistress Campbell’s engaging personality and personal warmth was so pervasive that she paid MUCH more attention to me and our conversation than she did to the road.

While frightening at the time, I came to realize that this experience was symbolic of the founding of this great school. CSS moves fast, stays out in front, looks beyond the confines of the narrow road ahead, and understands that great learning is strengthened through close personal relationships.

I remember my first visit to CSS in 1980, 34 years ago, and boy was I nervous. Much like you seniors preparing for college interviews, I was preparing to interview to secure my dream job of teaching in Colorado. My first stop was in Denver and I interviewed in the office that I eventually returned to occupy for the last 17 years.

At this point I should remind you that as you look at your classmates gathered here this morning, understand that some of you will marry each other; some of you will send your children to CSS; some of will return here to teach, or serve on the board of trustees, or perhaps even to become head of school. I guess the moral of the story is, as my mother would often say: always behave in a way so that you are sure to be invited back. But I get ahead of myself.

In 1980 I first interviewed at a more traditional, some might say preppy, school up North where outdoor experiential education activities were primarily on athletic fields. Then I drove South to CSS and I fell in love. The quality and depth of the relationships between and among all members of the community; the open-ended experiential learning made possible by extended time teaching; the opportunity to travel, explore, problem solve, and innovate on ECS’; and, who couldn’t be impressed with a striking and stately mansion - modeled after Grand Trianon at Versailles. CSS had it all.

Of course, the only flaw was the school mascot. The Unicorn? Really!? I do think the Kodiak was a wise shift… At any rate, Al Adams, last year’s Founders’ Day honoree hired me and I was thrilled.

The decade I spent here, 1980 to 1990, was one the very most fulfilling chapters of my entire life. Like you, CSS represented a series of new beginnings for me. I found meaning and purpose. I met and married Jane Booty, a teaching colleague, my son David was born here, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to work with current faculty and staff members Eleanor Walters, Miller Adam, Will Biederman, Greg Johnson, Anne Taylor, among many others.

This morning I would like to share with you two stories that I believe captures the essence of the DNA of CSS. They say history is where the future begins and I think understanding your heritage does empower your future. The first story includes my almost getting fired and the second a story of one of my students here, a student who might remind you of Maddy Mason, Kendra Baucom, Jessica Eades, Victoria Martinez-Vivot, Becka Jackson, or Maddie Smith-Ledford today.

First, my scrape with infamy…When I arrived at CSS as a faculty member I was told that I would be in charge of a November whale watching Baja ECS that students had helped to design the previous school year. I was beside myself with excitement until I realized that the trip was scheduled for the treacherous hurricane season on the Baja Peninsula and at a time when the Gray whales were still off the coast of California. Also, my scientific training was in terrestrial ecology, not marine biology and my second language was French, not Spanish.

The first thing I learned from my students and colleagues at CSS was courage, and that innovation and collaboration are only genuine when you venture into the unknown together. Immediately I came to understand that sharing ambitious challenges while exploring fresh frontiers is what makes for the very best learning. I remember this trip, and it was 34 years ago, like it was yesterday. CSS has always been about providing transformational experiences for students AND faculty and this trip was no exception. At CSS, learning is a team sport, and everyone is on the team.

So we planned the trip, bought the supplies, and set off in a school bus with 17 students and two very young teachers. Every student researched a topic and gave a presentation of learning that was tied in to something that we had observed that day while snorkeling at Mulege or Cabo Pulmo. It was extraordinary; we formed an experiential learning community like none other I have enjoyed since.

The students acted as colleagues, we mentored each other, and we all made it our goal, each day, to bring out the best in each other. This served us well through a major storm, stings, bites, intestinal complications, vehicle breakdowns, and a huge list of daily living chores (loading, unloading, driving, setting up, cooking, cleaning up). You know what I am talking about, this is what you do as members of this community.

Now here is where I want to share the scariest moment in my career as a teacher. Towards the end of the trip we were scheduled to take the ferry from La Paz on the Baja Peninsula back to Guaymas on the mainland. Most the students went ahead and boarded the ferry and as I queued up the bus, I realized that while I had purchased tickets for the students to go to Guyaymas, the bus was ticketed for another ferry headed for Topolobumpo, several hundred miles to the south. Remember that I did not speak Spanish and this was well before cell phones were invented.

So it looked like we were headed for two different cities, hundreds of miles apart, in a foreign land, with no way to communicate with each other. At this point I started to think, I wonder what my next job will be … losing 17 students in Mexico is generally considered as a career ending move for a teacher.

This is when one of my students – a student just like some of you gathered here today - said to me…. “Don’t worry Mr. Horn, I got this. Give me as many pesos as you can and follow my lead.”

I gladly handed over a fistful of cash thinking, now, not only will I lose my students, I won’t have any money to get home. I thought… maybe that would be a good thing. Maybe I’ll just open a fish taco stand in La Paz.

This fabulous student, jumped out of the bus and ran ahead to the next Policio de Traffico (traffic boss) and explained our dire predicament – por favor… we are helpless students and need your assistance - while slipping him a portion of my Pesos. We were flagged through and advanced to the next traffic boss and this act was repeated, three times in fact. We cut off every single fruit truck waiting to load and were the very last vehicle on the ferry. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for my students, I wouldn’t be speaking here today, because I certainly would have had to find another career.

Leadership, personal initiative, problem-solving, working together – it doesn’t get any better than this. That is what CSS helps each and every one of you to develop. Let’s keep the bribery piece just between us, if you don’t mind.

A second and final story is about one of the many individuals with whom I have kept in close contact over the past 30 years - Tami Goodlette. Tami was a tentative and naive freshmen at CSS in 1984. She hadn’t travelled much, but had been successful in school through dutifully imitating, repeating, and rehashing the narrow band of activity that was asked of her at her previous school. She “got through the material” with honors.

In one of her very first classes at CSS, Tami was asked a question that was much like one you might consider today about Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan. It had something to do with the role, rights and responsibilities of invading another country. In this case it was probably invading Grenada under President Reagan.

Tami dutifully answered the question, repeating what she had heard her parents say, and the class ground to a halt. She thought she had given the wrong answer. However, that wasn’t the problem. The faculty member, and her classmates, would not accept her answer because it wasn’t her answer. It was simply a regurgitation of other’s answers. Ownership of learning, independent thought, intellectual honesty – these have always been hallmarks of a CSS education - anything less has always been unacceptable.

Intellectual curiosity and the ability to apply the multiple dimensions of law, politics, human rights, and military practicality to a complex situation were demanded of Tami. It was scary. It was exhilarating. Tami recalls this as one of the first of many transformational moments to come.

Tami remembers her English class reading Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert’s first novel, a book with a fairly simple plot. The class ended and without even realizing it, the conversation continued, revealing layers of complexity in the writing, at lunch, after lunch, and throughout the day. Tami realized that at CSS you don’t turn your mind on for class and then turn it off at the end of the period. She came to realize that continuous mental activity, abiding curiosity, and deep discourse on important ideas were essential elements to a leading a purposeful life. As Tami says, “at CSS I learned how to be a robust human being.”

Tami reports how on a medical sciences ECS she learned both the emotional and clinical elements that came in handy when she helped to guide the treatment of her grandfather, when he was dying of cancer.

Tami studied Spanish and had the good fortune to go on a Spain ECS. She told me, “after this, I knew I would speak Spanish the rest of my life.” Since then she has donated her time to represent Spanish speakers who are at risk and vulnerable. I remember sitting in an assembly, much like we are here today, hearing Tami recount how she kept an old woman, who was abandoned by her family, company each week over the last several months of her life. Tami had learned the power and affirmation of close relationships and she committed herself to sharing this gift with others. This is what CSS is all about.

Tami went to CC and was kicked out of the Spanish department because while her conversational Spanish was excellent, she apparently did not keep up with the reading of the ancient texts. She cried for 2 weeks, then buckled down, changed her major, and took all the Spanish classes she wanted. Resilience is another CSS tradition and, in fact, Tami returned to CSS to teach Spanish in the early 1990’s and was inspiring.

After moving back to Denver some years later, Tami became involved with helping vulnerable Spanish speaking immigrants, which inspired her to go to law school. Later, Tami helped to defend a wrongfully convicted death row inmate, donating countless hours, prison visits, and research to ensure that this man receive fair treatment. Tami believes in justice and she believes in the pursuit of the truth, no matter how hard it is. In fact, Tami will receive a national award this fall in Washington DC for her work on this case. Tami was also named as a Colorado woman lawyer of the year in 2013.

I have kept in touch with Tami because that is what folks at CSS do, we stay in touch. I hired Tami - twice in fact - and she became a fabulously successful teacher and school administrator. She since has become an accomplished attorney and earned partner status at one of the very top law firms in the state. As a partner, she is helping young attorneys to understand that if they do not use their skills to help others, pro bono, then their life will fall short. It certainly will fall short of the ideals of the Colorado Springs School. Additionally, Tami has donated her time and talent as a trustee of CSS from 2006-2010.

So Maddy, Kendra, Jessica, Victoria, and Becka - and everyone else here this morning – I guess my message on this Founders’ Day is that you have your work cut out for you; CSS offers extraordinary opportunities just as it demands your very best. This is what Margaret Campbell and the Founders intended - an enduring truth that binds me to you, binds you to each other, and binds all of us to this great school. Thank you again, it is my pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to return to 21 Broadmoor Avenue.”