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2021 Commencement Address: Mr. Roger Tucker, Retired Science Teacher

May 27, 2021

Middle and Upper School Director, Nicole Goyette, introduced Roger Tucker, the Class of 2021’s Commencement Address speaker.

2021 Commencement Speaker Roger TuckerThe Class of 2021 invited retired Middle School science teacher Roger Tucker to speak to them today. Mr. Tucker touched the lives of CSS students in the classroom and on countless Outdoor Leadership and STEM-inspired seminars for 21 years. Even today, he continues to serve as a steadfast and jovial influence on our students as the head coach of our Middle School and Upper School lacrosse teams. Yes, he was at the helm when our team recently ousted Vanguard 12-0.

Mr. Tucker always was, and still is, known for his charisma, care for student well-being, and mentorship of students in a wide variety of scenarios that, I must admit, are always good for kids but can be interpreted as slightly mischievous from a school administrator’s lens. For example, some of you might be aware of a little-known incident about a rehabilitated bull snake: the fact that it was a science classroom pet seemed innocent enough, until that snake escaped from its aquarium and went missing in the Trianon for close to a year.

Mr. Tucker is fiercely protective of wildlife. His teachings were known to instill in students a curiosity about, appreciation for, and love of animals. One of his personal passions is falconry, the art of flying trained birds of prey after wild quarry. He has turned his fervor for falconry into something that helps to pay for all the roadtrips that “the retired life” now affords him the time to make, in that he works as a member of the team of falconers at the Broadmoor Resort.

In addition to being honored by the Class of 2021 as its graduation speaker today, Mr. Tucker has been recognized in the past as the 2018 Mary Wicks Award winner and the 2004 Sarah H. Elizabeth Hoiles Outstanding Faculty Award recipient. And, on a lighter note, Mr. Tucker may as well have earned a medal of valor for his legendary water crossing while canyoneering with the Class of 2022 during their Walkabout.

Mr. Tucker’s address today is titled “Lessons from the outdoors and how to dress for an adventurous life.”

Roger Tucker: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Class of 2021. Thank you, Ms. Tyler and board.

When I received the e-mail from Owen Walker, asking me to do this I was extremely honored. Tearful almost. But then the reality set in and fear overtook me. What am I going to say that would be of any value?

Owen asked for some wisdom. If I have any, it is from my experiences in the outdoors. I came to CSS in 1998. For over twenty years I had been teaching in the Chicago suburbs at three different nature centers. All doing a variety of outdoor and environmental education. Had it not been for the rich outdoor experiences that this school provided to its students I probably would not have stayed long. But with seminars, the campus pond, and walkabout, I was in my element. So maybe I do have something to share.

Pull out a camping duffle bag.

Roger Tucker packing his duffle bag of life wisdom for the Class of 2021 When we talk about being prepared for the outdoors, (substitute life there) we talk about dressing in layers. To simplify, we talk about the three layers, The BASE layer, the INSULATION layer, and the OUTER layer, sometimes called the protective layer. It you remember from Walkabout, you may remember my presentation on how to pack, and what to bring. So I brought my duffel to help illustrate what I mean. It’s always good to have an example.

I pretty much grew up outdoors. In my southern Illinois home, I was usually kicked out of the house in good weather, either to play ball with other neighborhood kids, or go exploring in the forests, streams, ponds, and fields that were just two blocks away from our home. Three of my usual companions were Mike, Bob, and Larry. The four of us would go on many camping experiences. On one of these camping experiences, I burned up my sleeping bag while I was in it. How did that happen? It came from playing with fire. A lesson in life that I learned when I was about 12 years old. As I have always remembered that experience, I believe it has given me an advantage over others, because it applies to much more than a small campfire and a cheap flannel sleeping bag in the middle of the woods.

If you do remember your Walkabout experience or just take a look at your Walkabout journal you will remember there are no mistakes - just lessons. And lessons will be repeated until learned. That cold chilly night in a burning sleeping bag has always been a life lesson for me.

Mike, Bob, Larry and I will go on many camping trips and they will always be an important part of my life.

But let’s get back to my duffel bag and the clothes I have packed. We will come back to them later.

Open pack and pull out raincoat. On the coat will be cards that read Addiction, Risky Behaviors, Dangerous Places, People.

When packing a bag always have your protective layer on top or easy to get to. This outer layer is to protect you from wind, rain, and snow. Things that can cause you harm. In life, there are things that can cause you harm as well. Addictions…. Risky behaviors…. Places and People that are not in your best interest. There are no special coats or covers that you can buy in life to protect you from these things. You have to make it for yourself. These will be decisions you will have to make. These will be the lessons you will need to learn. No one can do them for you. And not everyone will have the same lessons, they are yours and yours alone.

So, protect yourself, graduates. We have had a year, almost two now of learning about a virus that could seriously harm us. You never know if it will affect you as much as it affects others. Life is like that. No one has the exact same strengths and weaknesses. You must protect yourself, as best you can. You should also look for opportunities to help others. We all need help from one thing or another. None of us are Superman or Wonder Woman.

Open pack and pull out a thick warm wool sweater or down vest. Each has the words Mike, Bob, Larry, Africa, Scotland, CSS on small tags.

The second layer or middle layer is the INSULATION layer. It is thick and fluffy. Soft and warm. It is the wonderful things that life will bring to you. It is made up of friends, brothers and sisters, places you will visit, and experiences you will have. It could be a teacher, a class, a Walkabout. One of my Walkabout-like experiences as a youth was when Mike, Bob, Larry, and I went for a Journey up Wood River Creek. We knew where it ended. Wood River Creek ended at the Mississippi River about ten miles away from our home town. This is where Lewis and Clark the great explores had their basecamp before following the Great Missouri River west. But what was upstream? It was for us to find out. We packed our bags. Not nice equipment that we have today, but old boy scout and army surplus bags were not very comfortable. All except Bob. Bob’s dad owned a hardware store in town. He had a few more luxuries than the rest of us. Larry had a two-blade buck knife. Mike had an old army surplus bayonet. But Bob had a huge Swiss Army Knife. It had everything a person could possibly need on it. Bob was also an amazing storyteller. He could weave the words and his wonderful imagination into an adventure all its own. We packed as much food as our mothers would let us borrow from the kitchen and we headed out to find the headwaters of Wood River Creek.

Now, this was a time in the early 1960s when small-town kids would do such things, and parents were just happy you were not getting into trouble. Maybe you have seen the movie “Stand By Me,“ it was like that. My parents would often say fine, go camping but be back by Sunday morning to go to church. Okay mom, and off we would go. Sometimes for one night, sometimes for two. This was going to be a two-night trip. And we had permission to skip church on Sunday as well.

Mike was the true leader of this trip. Mike lived on a small farm. He had horses and cows. He also had skills. He was very athletic and fearless. He was tall, lean and muscular. He was a wrestler and pole vaulter in high school. He could do just about every outdoor skill there was. He also had the longest neck of any person I have ever met.

Larry was my older brother. All of the others were two or three years older than myself. I guess that is why my parents let me go with these guys. I was always the tag along younger brother, but Larry never seemed to mind having me come along. Larry was the smartest of the group. He was the valedictorian of his class. He was a true boy scout. Honest, trustworthy, and loyal. Much more cautious than Mike, or me.

So we met at Mike’s house. Hiked for several miles till we ran into Wood River Creek and headed up stream. At the end of day one we camped on a nice sandbar and filled our stomachs and minds with tomorrow’s adventure. On day two we ended up in an area we had never been before A beautiful series of large rocks laid in the creek. A fairly deep pool that had fish. We caught a few and ate them for dinner. And a very high cliff like dirt bank, which we camped on top of.

Our two tents were placed about twenty feet from the edge. We put our campfire next to the dirt bank. Night came and Bob started weaving a story. We all faced the fire in a semicircle. As midnight rolled around and stories were coming to a close, Bob remembered he had some Snicker bars tucked away for our evening snack. The glow of the fire filled our eyes so seeing anything more than a couple feet away was impossible. Mike, who was always hungry, jumped to his feet and said I’ll get them. But instead of walking behind us he walked around the campfire and ran off the edge of the cliff. In the glow of the fire all I could see was Mike disappearing and his long neck and face looking back at us with the expression “What did I just do”. To my eyes it looked just like the way Wile E Coyote looks when the Road Runner has tricked him again. We all paused as we listen to Mike tumble down the steep embankment. And splashing into the creek. Larry was the first up grabbing a flashlight to see if Mike was okay. Bob froze as to what had just happened. I started laughing. I hoped Mike was not hurt but it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.

Mike had a few scrapes and bruises. Larry, our medic took care of his wounds. I did stop laughing and Bob shared his Snicker bars. In the morning we felt it was time to head home. It was an adventure and a day of lessons. Don’t put your campfire next to a cliff. But it was also a trip, a place, and a group of friends that will always be a part of my insulation layer. Bob moved to Boulder Colorado after HS graduation. Larry and I visited him once. Mike became a Green Beret medic and went to Vietnam, he came back but was a changed man. Larry became an athletic trainer at college and worked for the Mets baseball farm club a couple of years, but eventually settled into teaching HS Biology and German at a large school outside of St Louis.

Mr. Roger Tucker and his base layer! Other parts on this insulating layer are a solo night watching the northern lights in northern Wisconsin. Going to Africa and Scotland. Learning to bird watch from my best friend Franks dad. College wrestling. Falconry. My wife Deb. CSS and the Walkabout. Mr B. and others. These are the good things in life. Fill your life with them and you will always be rich with warmth.

Pull out of the bag a red union suit with the words mom, dad, friends, and family.

The final base layer is very important as well. I learned about this layer sort of later than I should. I moved to Chicago after graduating college. It was the winter of 1976 - 77. It was the third coldest winter in Chicago history. Thirty-some days it never got above freezing and more than ten of those days below zero. How do people live in this kind of cold? Was moving here a mistake? How do I solve this? So I went to an REI-type store and asked? In other words, I sought professional help. They told me the secret. Have a good base layer — Long underwear!

In life, we begin building a base layer actually very early. The base layer fits next to your skin. It is what really keeps you safe and warm. It starts the job of the other two layers. In life, the base layer is what is next to your heart not just your skin. It is the people who will love and care for you, NO MATTER WHAT! Your parents and grandparents, your friends, your spouse. I had great parents! A mother who was nearly blind and worked in a hospital laundry. She was also a very competitive game player. A father who only had an 8th-grade education worked in the brass mills of Alton, Illinois. He taught me about hunting and fishing. He was a WW 2 vet, but rarely talked about it. He was kind and gentle but had a temper we knew not to cross.

My best friend was Frank Graser. He still is. His father taught me about birds and bird watching. Here at CSS, I have made many close friends, they have been other teachers, students, and their families as well.

My wife Deb Grohs. We are coming up on 30 years together. She has been a wonderful partner in our many adventures. The most important was our move from Illinois to Colorado in 1997. She has put up with all my hawks, pigeons, and other creatures I find from time to time. She has spoiled all my hunting dogs and made them and myself all the better.

This is my base layer. It is where it all starts and will always be there for me.

Family - Friends - Love.

They have my back. They have my heart. They are my base layer.

Begin repacking the duffel.

So pack your bags graduates. Keep your protective layer handy. Constantly ready to keep yourself safe. but always be willing to help others who have lost or forgotten their way.

Work on adding to your Insulating layer. Make good friends. Go visit wonderful places. Do amazing things. Fall in love.

Never forget your base. Remember this school. Keep the ones who love you near. Enjoy them while you can. Become a base layer for somebody else.

Graduating class of 21. Those who I taught and those I barely know. Enjoy the day and all those ahead of you. Live a life of adventure. But dress and live with the three layers in mind.

Thank you all.

2021 Commencement Speaker Roger Tucker
Roger Tucker packing his duffle bag of life wisdom for the Class of 2021
Mr. Roger Tucker and his base layer - FAMILY - FRIENDS - LOVE!