Graduation on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend was a glorious celebration of the 186 members of the Class of 2015 and a delightful culmination to our Centennial year. And two weekends ago, we hosted approximately 1000 alumni and their guests for their reunions. It was wonderful to see so many alumni back reconnecting with each other as well as with faculty.
Alumnus Henry R. Kravis from the Class 1963 spoke at Commencement of his own experience at the school and of the particular influence his economics teacher Jim Wilson had on his own development—a profound example of how teachers can shape their students’ lives. (Read Henry Kravis’ address.) Recounting his own career, Mr. Kravis reminded the graduates of the need for hard work and humility if they want to make their mark on society. He explained to them that he has a sign in his office that reads, “Arrogance Kills,” a message that is surely in line with the key tenets of a Loomis education.
When the Founders discussed their vision for the school in the middle of the nineteenth century, they talked about good citizenship and character. They wanted to educate and shape young people who would do good in the world. Later, in the 1920s, first Headmaster Nathaniel Batchelder talked about the desire to establish a school where it was easy to be good and to be friendly. Batchelder and the Founders understood the need for a rigorous academic program, but they recognized that a strong curriculum alone was not sufficient. To do good in the world, the Founders knew that our graduates would also need to be good people. This, of course, continues to be the case.
How exactly this process of development happens, however, is vague at best—more art than science. It takes a philosophy and an institutional culture that puts a student’s moral development at the center of what we do, as well as a willingness to talk about values and ethical behavior—a philosophy and culture shared by generations of Loomis Chaffee faculty who do so much more than simply teach a subject area. Whether in the classroom, the dormitory, the dining hall, the arts or athletics, our faculty have always looked for opportunities to teach life lessons and to encourage leadership and good citizenship both on campus and beyond.
The recent establishment of the Norton Family Center for the Common Good serves as both an instrument and a locale for these kinds of conversations and cultural development. The Norton Center has just completed its third year under founding director and Loomis graduate Al Freihofer ’69. Sadly, Al is returning to Baltimore this year, but he leaves the Center well established and in the capable hands of faculty members Eric LaForest and Molly Pond. Next year, every class of students currently at the school will have benefitted from the Freshman Seminar—where students discuss the practical ramifications of citizenship—and the programming sponsored by the Center.
In teaching values and citizenship, Loomis’ philosophy and culture also acknowledge that adolescents will make mistakes. An important part of growing up is learning where the boundaries are, testing the limits, and practicing good judgment. Certainly our students do all of these things, sometimes to the frustration of the adults in the community. For however long they have been at Loomis, the school has provided our students with a community wherein they could practice the skills that are so much a part of the broader social contract. As I looked out over the graduates during Commencement, I was proud not only of their accomplishments, but also of who they have become, of how they have grown and developed during their time at the school, and how they have pushed us to be better, too. It is hard not to be optimistic about the future when we think about these young people and what they believe in and work for.