Cindy Beals's students survey Rummage shoppers for vital info
From the Spring 2009 Caller
By Nadine Fiedler
Catlin Gabel students are all over the Rummage Sale, but Cindy Beals’s statistics students are unique: they’re the ones with the clipboards politely asking shoppers to fill out surveys.
Cindy and her honors math class have worked for the past five years to provide information the school needs to run a better Rummage Sale. The project was the brainchild of Rummage coordinator Lesley Sepetoski, who wanted to find out more about the demographics of the sale’s shoppers. Who’s buying what, and when? How far did people drive to get there, and is Expo a good location? What were they hoping to find? Lesley asked Cindy if she might be interested in involving students in finding the answers, and Cindy knew it would be a perfect fit for her yearlong statistics class. It would allow her and the students to apply the theory they learn, and it would give them a chance to see the messy process of statistics in the real world.
The cycle begins early in the fall, when Lesley tells them what she’d like to know. The class thinks about possible questions: how the question order makes a difference, or how slightly different wording can provoke different answers. Then they create their questionnaire.
An important aspect is learning the right way to approach Rummage shoppers so they see the students as respectful and will take the time to answer. “It’s scary for some kids to approach the shoppers, but that’s another part of the learning experience. All of them end up talking to people they wouldn’t have much chance to otherwise, and it gets them to see a different part of Rummage,” says Cindy.
When the sale arrives in late fall, each student first samples shoppers in one location for just one hour; the information from all the students shows the changes over the course of a day. Next the students all go at once, and each samples shoppers in a different department to see how that varies. The students learn to analyze the data, and in the spring they present their finished report to Lesley and the Rummage committee.
The students’ surveys have resulted in real improvements to the sale. When it was clear from the survey that long lines were a serious problem, the committee decided to have seniors work as cashiers, speeding up the checkout process. “Having their work result in actual changes inspires them to do a thorough job so that we affect future Rummage sales,” says Cindy.
Cindy is a huge fan of the Rummage Sale, which makes this a doubly fulfilling project for her: “It’s exhilarating for me to see learning happen. And Rummage is such an amazing thing we do for so many reasons: because it provides financial aid for our students, as a service to the wider community, for getting out our name, for recycling, and for drawing the Catlin Gabel community together, including alumni. I love that I can support Rummage as a part of my job.”
Cindy was honored with a Fulbright Award to teach in Turkey in 2009-10. She says she has “insatiable wanderlust,” and took a sabbatical in 2000–01 for a trip around the world. At CGS she has led or chaperoned trips to Turkey and India, where many members of her family have lived for generations. A native of northern California, Cindy earned a BA in math from Michigan Tech and an MS from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Before coming to Catlin Gabel in 2004, she taught at two schools in Michigan and at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller.
Students in Lauren Reggero-Toledano's class work with Spanish speakers
From the Spring 2009 Caller
By Nadine Fiedler
It’s snack time after siesta at A Child’s Place in Hillsboro. In a sunlit room, still-sleepy little children chatter in Spanish and nibble on cheese sandwiches. As bright as the sun streaming in are the faces of the three Catlin Gabel students sitting here, totally engaged with the kids who adore them right back.
These students are part of Lauren Reggero-Toledano’s Spanish 5 class, which distinguishes itself by requiring field experience in the Spanish-speaking community. In its second year in this incarnation, the class emphasizes culture and civilization, with a second-semester focus on the Hispanic experience in Oregon. “There’s a huge Spanish-speaking population here, so we decided to learn more about them,” Lauren says.
Lauren developed this class to accommodate different learning styles. She says, “These students have a passion for Spanish and want to continue learning and practicing it, but are looking for something more applied.”
The community projects in the class cover a wide range and reflect the students’ particular interests. Two students work on Spanish-language radio programs, one with migrant farm worker families, and one in a Spanish-language theatre group. Catlin Gabel has long connections with these agencies: both middle and high school students have done community service at A Child’s Place, and many other high schoolers are frequent volunteers at a homework club for children of migrant workers. This year Lauren’s students also attended a workshop on immigration law related to migrant families and visited a migrant labor camp to better understand their living conditions.
“The class strengthens our contacts in the community and brings more consistency to the agencies we work with,” says Lauren. “It’s a positive experience for everyone, and more agencies ask to work with our students, which gives the students more exposure.”
When the class meets back at Catlin Gabel, Lauren brings the service work back to what they’ve learned in class. She asks: “What are you observing? Did your reading help? Did you hear different languages?”
This community work builds the students’ confidence, but right now they are a bit nervous and excited as they begin this chapter in experiential learning. “The students grasp that the work is meaningful, and they see that they can help, especially with the children,” she says. “But it’s not just that we’re going to help or right the world. We experience their world and learn from them.”
Next year Lauren and Spanish teacher Roberto Villa will try something new with the class: half the year Roberto will teach a literature and grammar seminar, and in the other half all the students will be involved in service work. “We will consider this a success when all our students work in the community,” says Lauren. “It’s eye-opening for them. They often tell us that they had no idea before about the lives led by these neighbors of ours.”
Lauren got involved in the local Spanish-speaking community in her hometown of Middletown, New York. “I’m from an immigrant Greek-American family. I saw how difficult it is for immigrants to live when I was growing up,” she says. She went on to the University of Miami, studied for a year in Spain, then earned a master’s in Spanish language and culture from the University of Salamanca in Spain. Her husband, Juan Carlos, is from Adra, Almería, Spain. They’re raising their daughter Elena, 1, to speak Spanish.
Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller.
From the Spring 2009 Caller
We asked members of our online alumni community and Catlin Gabel alumni groups on Facebook to share their reflections on teachers who served a transformative role in their lives. Many found narrowing the list down to one or two teachers quite difficult, but they managed! Running throughout the responses, excerpted below, is a common thread: teachers at Catlin Gabel and its predecessor schools were and are united by a passion for working with young people, an inventive approach to teaching, and an uncanny ability to inspire their students’ enthusiasm for the material.
MOLLY MOORES SCHLICH ’44
Producer of film and lecture series, Springfield, Illinois
I had many excellent teachers, but the memory of Rachael Griffin is outsized in her influence on me. She taught art to the young classes at Gabel Country Day School, and she was inspired. She introduced us to many different forms of visual art, and made it such fun. She was warm and outgoing—we all loved her. I am sorry I never had the opportunity to tell her how important she has been in my life.
CINDY LAWSON DeVORE ’80
Corporate manager, Broad Run, Virginia
During these many years since leaving Catlin Gabel, I have thought countless times of Kim Hartzell (known as Mrs. Hartzell to all of us in the middle school). Though I never ended up a professional artist, Mrs. Hartzell greatly influenced the success of my career and my life. The confidence she instilled in her students allowed us all the freedom to experiment with our own creativity, and to be proud of our accomplishments.
Mrs. Hartzell’s small art room in the 1970s middle school was a place of inspiration. She was an incredibly enthusiastic woman who introduced us to arts like Pysanky (Ukrainian egg dyeing), beadwork, and mask-making, all the while exclaiming words like “cool!” and “beautiful!” to describe our “unique” works of art.
My career has traveled a path from military law, to politics, to communications and marketing, and currently rests in management. I’ve had many opportunities to draw from my own creativity—producing a television program, creating advertising, and even making natural soap products for my own small company. Through it all, I must admit that I still see Mrs. Hartzell’s smiling face and hear her encouraging “you-can-do-it” words. Her guidance and adoration for her students will continue to influence my life and how I relate to others.
I’m so thankful for having known Kim Hartzell. Even more, I’m very fortunate to have been one of her students.
TED KAYE ’73
Tech company executive, Portland
Mary Whalen MacFarlane taught me longer than any other teacher. For three straight years—6th, 7th, and 8th grades—she delivered a solid foundation in mathematics. I vividly recall when she exposed us to the wonders of Pascal’s Triangle, the basics of algebra, and the Fibonacci Sequence. Mrs. MacFarlane encouraged innovation in her class—such as when Randy King and I developed a 20-word mnemonic for Pi that began “Yes, I have a green barracuda in school today.” Never theatrical, her serious commitment to mathematics and stretching the capabilities of young minds endeared her to generations of Catlin-Hillside and Catlin Gabel students. I use skills and concepts she taught me every day.
ANNE KILKENNY ’69
Small business owner, Portland
I remember three teachers fondly and with great respect and admiration from my time at Catlin Gabel: Vivien Johannes, Gene Jenkins, and Ann Wright.
“Mrs. Jo” was my English teacher for two years. At the time I did not appreciate her intellect, her joy in life, and what she was trying to teach us. But I did understand in a rudimentary way that she loved teaching, and her students. In retrospect I now realize what a remarkable person and teacher she was. I only wish I could tell her so today. I think her remarkable gifts were mostly wasted on us callow teenagers.
Gene Jenkins and Mrs. Wright taught me the basics for real study habits and how to write a decent declarative sentence.
I can still hear Mrs. Wright saying, “that’s a GROSS generalization . . . be more specific.” And I always remember Mrs. Jenkins’s smile when one of us “got it.”
SUZI EHRMAN ’75
Professional organizer, Charlotte, North Carolina
My hands-down favorite was Sarah Wells, who taught 5th grade for two years while we were still on Culpepper Terrace. Why was she so spectacular? Everything we did centered on the theme of ancient Greece. History, geography, literature, math, science—you name it, it was about Greece. We held our own Olympic Games in the spring in the ancient style (though we were all clothed!). We had to learn how to make togas, we all created our own personalized warrior shields in art, we made wax tablets in shop class and spent a day or two in class writing on them, using Greek letters, as if we were students in ancient Greece. We memorized Greek poetry and performed for our classmates. Truly, the entire year carried the theme. I remember more from this year of school than any other. Miss Wells was tough, but fair and very kind and loving. She started a love of archaeology for me that has stayed with me to this day—I went to Greece in college, was an anthropology/archaeology major, and spent a month on an archaeological dig in Tanzania in 2007.
Finally, Sarah Wells embodied so much of what I think of as great about a Catlin Gabel education: a creative and talented teacher who was given permission to teach in an unconventional manner and was so effective in the process.
UNA CHOI COALES ’83
Family physician, London, UK
My two favorite teachers, John Wiser (history) and Lowell Herr (science), used optimism and enthusiasm when teaching. John always had a big smile on his face, and his passion and joy for teaching American history shone through. It is in part John’s love for history that has spurred me to run for president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. My name will be on this spring’s postal national ballot, and if I win I will be the third woman and first ethnic minority to ever claim the title of president of this esteemed college, representing the majority of family physicians in the UK. I chose to run to fight the injustices that doctors face here because of relentless government regulation. I am working to make a college that is its members’ advocate and not a government proxy.
Lowell smiled and laughed as he taught physics. He loved teaching (and Ferris wheels) and I loved coming to school to learn from him. He included all his students and actively asked for contributions on the chalkboard. In 2003 I began teaching by chance. I went to a friend’s home and helped her with her oral module of the MRCGP (family medicine) exam. She passed. I have since taught over 2,000 doctors to pass their licensing board exam in family medicine. I reflect the teaching styles of both Lowell and John. I smile, laugh, and invite active participation from doctors. By the end of the day, they all believe they are geniuses and have the knowledge and skills to pass, and do. So thank you, Catlin Gabel, for having great inspirational teachers who are shaping students to become great leaders!
JENNIFER ANDERSON MATHESON ’88
Police detective, Olympia, Washington
Dave Corkran was instrumental in my success at Catlin Gabel, which set the direction for the rest of my life. High school was a difficult time for me emotionally and academically. I came to Catlin Gabel halfway through my freshman year. I had Dave Corkran for C&C, and that placement was the beginning of a very important connection for me. Dave believed in me academically and supported me emotionally. With the foundation that Dave was so instrumental in creating and the support of my parents, I finished high school, graduating from college in three and a half years with a major in human development and performance, and a minor in biology. I have a happy and successful life with a wonderful husband and three children, and owe much of my life’s success to Dave. Outside of my family Dave was definitely the most influential person in my life. It was great to see him at my 20-year reunion last May.
CHERI COLLINS SMITH ’68
Gloria Zeal Davis was my English teacher in my junior year at Catlin Gabel. I had many very good teachers during my four years there, but Gloria was the best and had a profound influence on my life. Prior to that year, my academic interests were primarily in the math and science areas. I liked things that were concrete and specific. But somehow, with her warmth and sense of humor, and the style of her teaching and her expectations, she managed to open up another side of my mind, which allowed me to cultivate interests and a kind of awareness that I hadn’t experienced before. That broadened my view of the world in many ways, and was transformative in my life.
I’ve valued what I learned from her ever since, and as it turns out, have stayed in touch with her through the years. I’ve lived in California for many years, but to this day, we stay in touch on a regular basis. It’s a very rewarding and satisfying friendship.
DANIELLE EASLY NYE ’87
Entrepreneur, Bend, Oregon
Reading never came easily for me, but as soon as I could read chapter books I quickly became a book junkie. Going to Catlin Gabel and having a teacher like Sid Eaton brought my love of reading to a new level. As a group we got to delve into authors, enjoy their stories, and use them as a model for our own writing. Having an elective English class with Sid my senior year was learning at its most fun. We studied both essays and short stories, and I still have a strong love of the short story format.
We all became Red Sox fans through the year (if you weren’t a fan you were wise not to speak up), reading specially selected articles that Sid would bring in, and heaven forbid you were in class on a day when the Red Sox lost.
There are the things we need to learn in school and the things that become a part of our lives that we cherish. I am grateful to Sid for the latter.
By Lily Thayer Derrick
From the Spring 2009 Caller
When Clint Darling, who has been dispensing bons mots and linguistic admonitions in equal measure to Catlin Gabel students for more than (never “over”) 40 years, decided not to return for the coming school year, it was less a surprise than a lightning bolt. In the minds of many of his former students and colleagues, Clint is nearly synonymous with Catlin Gabel. As John Chun ’87 pointed out, “how appropriate it seems that ‘Catlin’ can be anagrammatically viewed as ‘a Clint.’”
Clint started his career at Catlin Gabel in 1967 as a French teacher and head of the foreign language department. He went on to serve as English teacher, interim headmaster, and for 13 years as Upper School head. Most recently he served as head of the English department.
Clint and his wife, Lauren, who taught German and math at Catlin Gabel, originally came to the school for what they thought was a temporary stint on the West Coast: “Lauren and I came to Oregon intending a two-year stay since we were both confirmed ‘Easterners’ and couldn’t imagine living for very long in another part of the country,” Clint said upon the announcement of his retirement in January.
“Portland and the school welcomed and charmed us, and made a place to grow professionally and to raise a family,” he said. Daughter Claire graduated in 1988; Andrea graduated in 1990.
“In those early years Catlin was one of the most spirited and compelling schools in the country. As the school has developed and matured, it has also worked consciously to remain faithful to those fundamental values. I treasure the dozens of colleagues and hundreds of students who have contributed so much of significance to my life,” Clint said. Several of those colleagues and students shared their thoughts and memories of Clint with us for this issue of the Caller. What follows are choice excerpts.
John Chun ’87
I joined Catlin Gabel in 1983 as a 9th grader. Clint Darling was my English teacher that year. “Darling” seemed a misnomer because, at first, he scared the hell out of me. Also, from my 13-year-old perspective, he was a bit mysterious. Someone told me Clint had spent much of his summer at an apiary.
A very tall guy, Clint sported a goatee, a cowboy hat, and boots to match. The guy was demanding. The Paper Chase has Kingsfield. We had Darling. He drilled us frequently on vocabulary (including “apiary”), sprinkled us with “snowflakes” (pop quizzes on the books we read), pushed us to improve our writing, and marched us through the travails of Winston Smith and Ralph, Jack, and Piggy. He loaded our backpacks with the Oxford Annotated Bible; that brick of a book felt like the weight of the world. My parents wanted me to get good grades and get into college. Yet there was Clint, examining our brains to see whether we had understood the story of the mandrakes.
Clint mixed a terrific enthusiasm into his demanding teaching style. Among other things, he discussed the plights of fictional characters in terms we teenagers could comprehend. He cared deeply that we learned, and he taught like his life depended on it. He’d jump up and down, wave his arms, and raise his voice in approval upon a student’s astute observation. The pedagogical potion worked its magic. At some point during the year, I began to care too. I stayed up late, with my lamp illuminating the thin pages of the brick book, poring over footnotes. If I had to pinpoint a time in my life when I began to welcome the thrill of an intellectual challenge, I would say it was in that 1983-84 school year.
Josh Langfus ’11
Member of Clint’s final freshman English class
The strange thing about stepping into Clint’s classroom at the beginning of freshman year was that I’d heard so much about him. Opinions I had heard ranged from “Best English Teacher Ever” to “The Hardest Grader Ever” (which I later found out were not mutually exclusive). I decided that I would form my own opinion, something I think Clint would be proud of. That was one thing that he inspired us to do: think for ourselves.
The truth is Clint taught me a great deal about writing, about history, and more; he had a strange ability to make me feel awful about a paper without discouraging me from trying harder to make it right. The most rewarding part of the class, though, was picking Clint’s brain whenever we got the opportunity. He had the perspective and accumulated knowledge of a man who, it had seemed to us, had done just about everything in the world worth doing, and could tell you about anything else.
Elizabeth Rondthaler Jolley ’76
Community volunteer, Portland
Due mostly to my lack of interest in preparing for my French check-offs, Clint and I had a somewhat rocky relationship. I was often fearful entering his classroom, because I pretty much knew what sort of reception I would get from him as soon as he asked me a question in rapid, fluent French and I stumbled over the response.
Years later, I returned to the school as a parent and Rummage volunteer. At one sale set-up I needed help putting together and arranging three heavy, awkward glass-front cases. I asked Clint for help. He soon appeared in my department with a team of sturdy-looking students, and proceeded to give directions about putting the cases together, which he knew a lot about, and where to place the cases, which he didn’t know about. I stepped in to re-direct, making sure the cases allowed enough space for customers. Clint argued with me about the placement; I stuck to my guns. Clint stopped and looked right at me and said, “You’re not afraid of me anymore, are you?” I laughed and answered “Nope” while the students tried to cover their chuckles.
Jane Platt ’02
New York, New York
Clint Darling told me to go to Wellesley and then take over the world. I didn’t listen to him, and I wish I had.
Longtime Catlin Gabel Spanish teacher and staffer
I lived with Clint and Lauren in 1971 for the first few months of my life at Catlin Gabel. We have been like family for a long time. He had the most influence as a teacher: he was fun but no nonsense; cynical but not mean. Clint has been one of the most reliable and consistent supporters of the school. He was committed to maintaining a particular standard at the school, and he made sure things got done, even when he might not want to be responsible for doing them. He was Schauff’s right hand man, and then during a difficult period of transition for the school in the early 1980s, he did a very credible job as acting head. A huge part of his legacy was championing a group to act as liaison between the administration and faculty, and his proposal that a faculty member serve on the board of trustees.
In the last 15 years I think we’ve seen a softening of Clint. He was tough and demanding. But he was revered by a lot of people, supported by a lot, appreciated by a lot.
Debbie Ehrman Kaye ’73
Alumni board member and community volunteer, Portland
“You may call me Clint or Mr. Darling, but no one calls me ‘Darling!’”
This was how my French teacher for most of five years first introduced himself to our 8th grade class. He requested—no, exacted—our best, and insisted that excellent grammar accompany our burgeoning appreciation for French literature. Clint was also my C&C advisor for a year. His tutelage enabled me to take advanced coursework at Brown University and to have a successful junior year at the Université de Genève. My self-defined cultural final exam was conversing on the street in Paris with a French university student. I had the grammar and vocabulary, coupled with a Swiss accent, to pursue that discussion for half an hour. She never knew I was an American!
Clint shared his interests with his students. He loved to cook and would bring his crêpe pan to school. When he led a group from Catlin Gabel on an Experiment in International Living trip to France in 1971, we visited not only the museums and other sites one ought to see but also kitchen equipment shops in Paris. I was at loose ends one day, so Clint took me to his favorite restaurant, the historic Le Procope, where he introduced me to escargots and coq au vin. I don’t recall what else we did that day, but the time together helped form the foundation for a lasting friendship. Personifying the longevity of many Catlin Gabel teachers, Clint taught both my sons, Mason Kaye ’04 and Rob Kaye ’07.
Longtime Catlin Gabel PE teacher and coach
My first year as a teacher at Catlin Gabel, in 1974–75, I was a 23-year-old co-coach of the boys basketball team. At a game in Mt. Angel, some of our kids thought it would be funny to drop their shorts, and were benched for the game. To get back at us, some of the kids deliberately stayed behind in the locker room. We left, thinking we had everyone back on
When we got back to school late at night, Clint was waiting for us with Schauff and Bob Ashe. We knew this wasn’t a good sign. Clint asked, “Do you have everybody?” So of course we knew we didn’t. To our surprise, instead of having us drive another two hours to pick up the kids left behind, Clint, Bob, and Schauff—who were great friends—said they would go. That taught us a lesson. If we had gone, we probably would have been so mad at the kids that no one would have learned anything. Our mentors had helped us, and we wouldn’t forget it.
Upper School English teacher
The dry facts of Clint’s extraordinary service to Catlin Gabel cannot begin to express his influence. Some might claim that they learned more from Clint about subjects that were not strictly academic, such as how to respond to questions with additional interrogatives, the reasons why letter grades rarely serve young scholars and frequently inhibit their growth, and that negative reinforcement can help us to kill our verbal tics.
The most important lessons Clint imparted were about living thoughtfully, skeptically, and altruistically, with patience for others, passion, good humor, and self-forgiveness. By asking of us more than we thought ourselves capable, Clint consistently taught us to find inner reserves of intelligence and resilience so that we ultimately learned to expect more of ourselves, especially in the service of others. Through Clint’s example, many of his students and colleagues have learned not simply what the principles in the School Chapter mean, but also how to live Paul’s definition of “caritas.”
Lily Thayer Derrick is Catlin Gabel’s director of alumni.
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Portland, OR 97225
Guest Speaker: David Shipley '81, deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed editor of the New York Times.
Lark, members of the faculty, members of the Catlin Gabel community, parents, friends, class of 2009, thank you for that warm welcome.
I guess I should also extend a reluctant welcome to the H1N1 virus. We met back in New York. I hope his stay here is short.
I’ve had the chance over the last few weeks to read and think about commencements.
And I’ve come to a number of conclusions. The speeches tend to break down in a few different ways.
Long and less long.
Unbearable and barely bearable.
There are speeches where the speaker tells you all the things you don’t know.
There are speeches where the speaker tells you about wonderfully impressive things he or she has done — and how those wonderfully impressive things somehow apply to you. But they really don’t.
I’d like to try to do something a little different tonight.
I’d like to talk to you about all the things that you do know.
All the things you learned here. All the things that Catlin teachers, past and present, that the Catlin community, past and present, have taught you and instilled in you — things that will serve you well in the world — but that will also serve the world well — if you just hold onto them
Let me tell you why I feel this is important. My guess is that most everyone in this room would agree that this has been a tough couple of years. In too many ways, our world is fractured.
Everyone has a perspective on this. Mine is shaped in some measure by my job at the Op-Ed page.
The page is a national bulletin board. It’s a crossroads for conversation. It’s the main spot in the paper where the window is opened and the intelligence of the world is allowed in, to sweep across its pages.
And as I have seen the problems unfold — in economics, foreign affairs, and so on – as I have seen these problems documented and analyzed in the thousands upon thousands of articles we receive for consideration, it has occurred to me that some of the mess we are digging ourselves out of right now might not have come to pass had some Catlin thinking been applied.
If the approach to thought and learning and ethics that I was exposed to here, that you have been exposed to…if the culture that we are celebrating tonight had been more manifestly in play, then we might be in better shape today.
What does this culture look like?
I have an example. You do, too. You will find it in your program.
A while ago, I asked members of the senior class to answer, anonymously, the following: “What is your biggest question about your future?”
I then took the answers and ran them through a computer program called Wordle, which creates word clouds. It sizes the words according to how many times they are used. The more frequently a word is used, the bigger it is.
This piece of paper is the result.
What do we see?
Well, for starters, no misspellings. Thumbs up, English department.
“Jail.” A little troubling. I’m sure there’s a good reason.
And the rest of it?
Let’s ignore “future,” because that was part of the question. But that aside, look at what’s big. “Content” or “con-tent.” A positive either way. “Wonder. Work. Concerned. Life. Choose. Happy. Find. Figure. Matter. Know. Love. Able.”
And notice not just what’s small — Want, Need — but what’s not there at all. “Personal” isn’t there. Nor is “Mine.” “Own.” Possess. Deserve. Status. Due. Win. Entitle.
This is language about others, not about the self. It is language about connection, community, intellectual life and service.
It is language that is purely reflective of the Catlin Gabel ethic.
Which is great. But it begs the question: Will it last? Is this way of thinking and being going to slip away after you walk across this stage and out that door? After you leave this place?
I don’t think so.
At least not in my experience or in the experience of my classmates.
Here’s why. Preparing this speech, drove me — naturally, I guess — to look back on my time here, nearly 30 years ago. And what stood out was how much of that time I remember.
Which is kind of odd. You could come up to me and ask me what was on the Op-Ed page two days ago and I would pause. Or stare at you blankly. Eventually, it might come back to me.
Why is that?
It’s not because I’m not proud of it. When I look back over the page, it’s almost always with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
And it’s not, I think, attributable entirely to the fact that memory weakens as you get older. Though this, I fear, is increasingly a factor.
No…it’s the importance of the memory that gives it its durability.
And my Catlin memories are strong.
There are the simple ones. I remember where I napped as a first grader and the color of the towel on which I napped. (It was yellow.) I remember the corner of the lower school library I liked best. I remember the smell of the barn on a wet day, the quality of the dirt on the path down to the soccer fields, the way pine cones pile up in the fir grove. I even remember when the pod outside this building would light up and slowly rotate.
And there are different memories, more complicated ones – ones that encapsulate the ideas and teachings and qualities of thought represented on that piece of paper in your program. Maybe they came from Schauff. Or Clint. Charlotte Ohlman or Sid Eaton, Ed Hartzell. Maybe they came from someone you’ve heard of — or not. Those memories are indelible.
Here’s why I think that’s so.
There are a lot of different theories on memory and how it’s stored. One school of science says that memories with special resonance are those that interact with more than one part of the brain. The memory-related regions of the brain team up with the emotional regions of the brain — to bank the memory, giving it added staying-power and durability.
What you have been taught here isn’t neutral. It has an ethical dimension. For that reason, it’s likely lodged in your head good and tight.
And what’s been lodged? What are those Catlin-teachings that would have been useful had they been applied on Wall Street or in Washington?
Here are a few of them.
One: Show your work.
My math teacher in Middle School was Mary McFarlane. Mrs. McFarlane. She was small, of indeterminate advanced age, wore a lot of nice wool. And she was wonderful. Now 8th grade algebra, I must confess, did not come naturally to me. In fact, as I watched my daughter work through 8th grade algebra this year, I was amazed at how much of her work looked completely unfamiliar to me.
But there is something I remember from the class. It’s a phrase I saw over and over in Mary McFarlane’s precise cursive: “Show your work.” Show your work. Prove to me that you know how you got from there to here. Be transparent.
Why do I bring this up?
Because in a year darkened by opaque derivatives and credit default swaps and mortgage-backed assets and all manner of untransparent actions, the belief that you should show your work — a lesson passed down by Mrs. McFarlane and Lowell Herr and many other people I encountered here — seems to me to be more important than ever.
Two, and this is related: Know how things work. Again, this is something that would have come in handy with regard to those complex financial instruments that got us in so much trouble.
When I was in first grade, we made wooden boxes. I remember Ed Adamy, the shopteacher, in his Ben Davis coveralls, helping us pick the wood, helping us put that wood in little red vises, helping us saw it, saving us from driving small nails through our tiny fingers. The boxes we made were shallow, with a bottom and four sides. They were basic, simple, elemental. But Mr. Adamy taught us how to put something together.
There are other Catlin examples. In 6th grade, we worked on go-carts, taking apart lawnmower engines and, theoretically, putting them back together again. Each year had a lesson that was meant to deepen our elemental understanding of increasingly complex things.
I mentioned transparency a moment ago. Transparency is great. I’m all for it. But for transparency to mean anything at all, you have to be able to comprehend that which has been made transparent.
There’s a wonderful passage in the second Harry Potter book — the Chamber of Secrets. Adorable Ginny Weasley has been possessed — really possessed — by the Dark Lord via a compelling, angst-ridden and completely bewitched diary that tells her to do all sorts of evil things.
After the diary has been destroyed and Ginny has been freed of its power, Ginny’s father has a few words of wisdom for her.
He says — or J.K. Rowling has him say, “Never trust anything that can think for itself unless you can see where it keeps its brain.”
Good advice. And close to the Catlin rule: We are taught here to learn to understand at the most basic level. That is at the core of experiential education. And we are taught to question the things we don’t understand.
Except for the iPhone. I have no idea how that thing works.
Three, another Catlin lesson: Hills. Every day of every soccer season Bob Ashe would have us run up the hill from the lower field to the track, and back again. Over and over. With a new hill added every day.
What’s the lesson here? Besides sadistic coaching? Hard work pays off.
I know. It seems kind of obvious. But think about it.
We’re emerging from an era where the operative idea was that you really didn’t have to do anything to get ahead. Real estate values would go up. So would the stock market. Anyone could flip a house or make money on borrowed money.
It’s a lovely idea. The notion that that essay will write itself or that you’ll get stronger by not going to the gym. But it’s just not so. And yet a lot of people in my generation forgot this.
Four: Step out of your shoes. In junior history with John Wiser, I had to make the case for slavery. I had to get up in front of the class and explain why something that was morally inexcusable made sense.
John’s intention, of course, was not to advance the cause of slavery. It was to force me to approach an issue from a fresh perspective, to change the frame.
How would this idea — and it was one advanced in lots of other classes I had here — have changed the world today?
Think for a moment about Iraq. Whatever your feelings about the war, it is now clear that Saddam Hussein’s regime did not have weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was putting up a front. Bluffing. He was trying to appear stronger than he actually was.
Had we done more to put ourselves in his shoes, understood what he had to gain by giving us and his neighbors the impression that he was on the verge of developing weapons of great power, would we have acted differently? I don’t know. It’s not a topic for tonight. There are sincere arguments on both sides. What is indisputable, though, is that in the process of decision-making, this would have been crucial information to have.
Five: Sort. If you go to Catlin, you understand rummage. If you understand rummage, you understand pretty much everything — and one thing in particular: you learn how to sort.
Is that shirt at the bottom of the moldy box garbage – or vintage? Is that tableau of a penguin riding in a Chevy convertible junk – or a collector’s item? Ditto with lawn gnomes, unicycles, steam tables, C.B. radios.
These questions are not unlike the questions you will be faced with in the years ahead. With information. What’s real? What’s fake? Is the news you get on Google the same as news you get from The Wall Street Journal? The Times? Do you believe everything you read on the Web? Is Huffington Post the same as Talking Points Memo the same as Drudge? Does a healthy Dow mean a healthy economy?
Treat information the way you have been taught to treat rummage. Ask where it comes from – what’s the source. Put it in context. Then decide if it’s good, bad or moldy.
And remember: This is not trivial. The decisions you make as an informed citizen depend on how you choose to be informed.
I want to share two last lessons — lessons that are ingrained in experiences that took place in this very building.
Acting is believing. Back when I went here, the drama program was run by a remarkable guy by the name of Alan Greiner. We had one textbook. I still have it. Acting Is Believing. At the time, I pretty much made fun of it. It was heavy. And Stanislavskian. And mildly new agey.
But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate its message.
What the book — and Alan — were trying to get across was this: A play is a work of fiction. You’re pretending...whether you’re a prison guard or a French sailor or a goat. But for that pretending to be effective, it has to be rooted in truth. Your actions as an actor have to be based on something real.
I bring this up because in the last year or so we’ve had notable examples of people who believed the opposite. People who asserted truth when it was actually fiction.
Recent example: The other day the CEO of Countrywide, the giant mortgage company, was indicted for doing the opposite of what Alan Greiner taught us: pretending something was real when he knew it wasn’t, telling consumers that his product was fine and then turning around and writing emails to his pals calling those same products “toxic” and “poison.”
Alan’s lesson was one that’s stayed with me: if your fiction has to be truthful, then your reality had better be truthful, too.
Last lesson. Something I did many times on this stage. Something maybe I’ve even done tonight. Make a fool of yourself.
This lesson is distilled in a timeless and emotionally charged work of art that has touched us all: St. George and the Dragon. In St. George, you are compelled to make a fool of yourself. You have no choice. Whether you’re a dragon or a janitor or a twinkly-fairy.
Why do I bring this up?
Because you will see that in the world beyond this room people are afraid to make fools of themselves.
And it seems to me that many of the problems I mentioned earlier must be attributable in some measure to this phenomenon, to people being unwilling to stand up — in meetings, in boardrooms, in the White House, on the Senate floor, at newspapers, wherever — because they were worried about embarrassing themselves or getting shot down.
And the fact is, there are good reasons for this. Life is easier if you don’t make a fool of yourself. If you always sit quietly.
You probably have more friends. Lower blood pressure. More hair.
But what’s lost by that silence, that missed chance to hear another point of view, that possible challenge to the prevailing wisdom that just might be right?
So if one day you find yourself trying to decide to speak up in a room that’s against you, think of St. George. And remember that most of the people who graduated from this place took part in it. Even if they’re now adults. In positions of gravity and power. Once they skipped across this stage. In pretty pink tights. With a wand.
Also remember: If you were in St. George, you were nervous beforehand. Petrified. The risk of embarrassment was high. But afterward — didn’t you feel good? The risk of foolishness was worth it.
I end tonight with the knowledge that maybe it was cheesy of me to have spent the evening telling you what you already know. But what you know, what you learned here, all this place represents, is truly, crucially important.
Look, as someone who works in an industry that is desperately trying to find its way, I would be lying if I said it was easy out there. Even at this stage in my career.
I would be lying if I said that the generation that came before you didn’t mess things up. They did. And you have your work cut out for you.
But I would also be lying if I didn’t say something else. What you learn and experience here dies hard. If you keep close that knowledge, if you stay in touch and remind one another of it, then you will be equipped not only to make your own way, but also to repair this fractured world. For many years to come.
And judging from this little [Wordle] printout, it seems to me that you’re off to a really good start.
Now I think all that stands between you and these beautiful blue diplomas is…me. And so I will do what every generation should do for another: I’m going to get out of the way.
Good luck and godspeed.
Climbers near the halfway point. The shadow of Mount Hood is visible at sunrise
On Tuesday June 16th students from Catlin Gabel school found themselves looking across the entire state of Oregon (and Washington) from the summit of Mt. Hood. The day was perfect, with a light breeze, and the students made the ascent in less than six and a half hours.
Just below the summit at 9:15 am
Snow school the day before the climb
On the top
Carefully descending from the top
After the climb
Twenty-one members of the Class of 2009 are Lifers. The Lifers joined current preschool and kindergarten students in the Beehive to give advice, sing songs, and say, "so long it's been good to know you."
Teacher Mark Lawton and his sister Sheila present their account of Sheila’s decades-long battle with mental illness and its interplay with a large otherwise “normal” suburban family. It includes video and narrative interviews as well as Sheila’s artwork, which is at times light-hearted and playful and at other times haunting. The presentation was made to Catlin Gabel Upper School students in the spring of ‘08.