Sunday, June 17, 2018

Some Final Thoughts

This past Friday we celebrated the graduation of the Montpelier High School Class of 2018. I offered them three "bite-sized" pieces of advice in their final hour as students.

1. Go for it.

2. Listen.

3. Be kind

Go For It
In the mid 1908's, I was a very young little league umpire, excited to umpire my first every playoff game, but dulled by the lack of action at third base. A line drive woke me from my boredom as it flew past me. Without knowing if it was fair or foul, I guessed fair. With no subsequent arguments, I considered it a good call. After the game, the home plate umpire complimented me on my call. Hoping for a quick end to the conversation, I said thank you. He followed up with, "You missed it, right? You were asleep at third base?" Yes... But I went for it and still umpire today.

In 2018, this is quickly becoming a lost art. We talk past each other on social media. We snark at one another on the internet. We do not see the impact of our words when we communicate via technology.

On February 1, 2018 we became the first high school in the United States to raise a Black Lives Matter flag, something that I was, and continue to be, humbled to have been a part of. When the Racial Justice Alliance approached me about this idea last spring, I was not thrilled about the idea. We had several thoughtful face-to-face conversations between this first meeting and when the flag was actually flown on our campus. As part of our continued commitment to further discussing implicit biases and white privilege in our community after the flag was raised, the RJA spoke at a Rotary meeting. When leaving that meeting Joelyn Mensah pulled me aside.
"Can I ask you a question," she said.
"Of course," I replied.
"What made you change your mind about the flag?" she asked.
"You did," I said.
"What do you mean?" Joelyn said to me.
"I mean you changed my mind. I was not convinced in the beginning. I had concerns. But you sincerely changed my mind, one conversation at a time."

As an adult, there is nothing more powerful than learning from your students. What a privilege it has been to be a part of Joelyn Mensah's MPS education.

Be Kind
Simple in concept - but terribly difficult in 2018. Consider this: a high school baseball game video went viral this week. A high school baseball game in Minnesota. In a beautiful moment that has been viewed by people around the world, we saw that childhood friendships trump celebrating a trip to the state championship. In this video we see an at bat in which the batter takes a called third strike, followed by a celebration on the field by the winning team. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, the pitcher runs in to the home plate area, brushes aside his own catcher coming toward him, and immediately hugs the batter that just struck out to end the game. The pitcher Ty Koehn and the batter Jack Kocon were on the same little league team and have been friends since they were 13, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

This is one of the most polarizing times in our history, as far as I can remember. The political climate both nationally and locally is one where we respond first, sometimes even with violence, and ask questions later. We are in the midst of a tumultuous, ever-changing world, facing many, many challenges. All the more reason I feel compelled to encourage us to be kind.

Go for it. Listen. Be kind.

In my humble opinion, good advice for graduates of 2018. Good advice for the faculty and staff in their lives. Good advice for human beings.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

My First Cavity

I'm going to preface this by saying, that it took me a long time to get my first cavity. Longer than most people I know...

I got my first cavity when I was in my mid twenties - I'm not exactly sure how old I was and so I can only guess based on the people around me at the time. I started dating My Wife in October of 2000, so it's been at least eighteen years ago.

I was living in Chicago, going to a dentist that I had not known for a long time. It was a routine six month check up and she paused while scraping one corner of one of my teeth. I had no idea anything was amiss until the end of the appointment when she said, "You'll need to come back to get that filled." When I looked as perplexed as I felt, the dentist said, "The cavity... you'll need to come back to get that filled."

I made the appointment and headed back to my apartment, where my then-girlfriend (now wife) greeted me and asked how it went. I dejectedly admitted that I had my first cavity.

At first, she tried to tell me it was no big deal. "Everyone gets them," she told me, "and it's no big deal to have it filled." It was a big deal to me and fortunately for me, after a few minutes and no change in the expression on my face, she saw that and understood. "But it is a big deal to you..."

How often as adults do we just expect our students to "get over something"? It's nearing the end of the period, we need to move on, it's time for lunch, we need to pack up, the art teacher is waiting... The reasons are perfectly valid and still our students just don't get it.

"This is really simple," I remember saying to one of my first classes ever in Chicago. I went through the entire explanation and looked out at the room to see blank stares and listened to crickets... It was really simple - to me. 

In these last days of the school year, there will be many, many emotions, ranging from excitement and anticipation to fear and anxiety. Allow our students to feel them all and be present to them and to each other. Even if those emotions and feelings are not ours, honor them the way we would want our own emotions and feelings to be honored.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Kindness of Strangers

I was driving on State Street in Montpelier, stopping dutifully at the stoplights, stop signs, and cautiously proceeding through crosswalks. I turned onto Main Street and headed toward City Hall. At the firehouse crosswalk, I slowed down as I approached the crosswalk. There was a woman crossing the street, who waved me through the crosswalk. While continuing to drive on Main Street, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw blue flashing lights. I put on my right blinker and pulled over to the right thinking the police car would pass me on the left. Instead, the cruiser pulled in behind me and stopped.

I had a pit in my stomach - I had no idea what I did wrong and I cannot remember the last time I was pulled over when driving.

I produced my license, registration, and insurance paperwork after the officer approached my car. "I saw that you had an interaction with that woman in the crosswalk but you failed to yield to a pedestrian," he told me. I nodded slowly, unsure of what I should have done differently.

After a few moments, I saw the officer climb out of his car again. When he returned to my vehicle, he handed me all my documentation. "I'm going to save you four points on your license and $220..." (I think - I'm sure of the points) Quickly and sincerely I responded, "Thank you Officer." He went on to explain further, "We had an accident earlier this month and we are really trying to be sure that pedestrians are given the right of way."

He returned to his car, turned off his blue lights and drove away. I don't know why I only got a warning. To this day, I'm still not sure. When I returned to my office, I looked up how many points you're allowed on your license in Vermont (10), and sat back in my chair and reflected on this entire interaction.

I was the beneficiary of the kindness of a stranger. One in a position of power, one who had no reason to not give me a ticket, with the accompanying fine and points. I don't even know the Officer's name, nor his badge number. I just know that he had power he could have exerted over me in that situation and he chose not to. Just because we can do something, does not always mean that we should do it.

Pay kindness forward this week - our world could certainly use it.