If you know me well, you know that I love movies and books from my childhood. I grew up, like many others, with the Wild Things gnashing their terrible teeth and roaring their terrible roars, Ferdinand and his Flowers, and Eeyore being utterly miserable. If you walked through the Forum at all last year, you may have heard us listening to Mort yelling at the bad fishies in Madagascar or Crush riding the East Australian Current in Finding Nemo. So naturally this summer I jumped at the chance to see the new Christopher Robin movie. If you haven’t heard of the film, it is a continuation thirty years later of Winnie the Pooh, where Christopher Robin is all grown up with a job and a family in London. I’m not going to spoil the plot for all of you, but Pooh and the gang come out of Hundred Acre Wood to help Christopher save the day, and he is only able to do it with a piece of Pooh’s sage advice. One of Pooh’s most famous quotes is “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” And in the movie he follows this up by saying, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” At first, I didn’t think anything of his words, but I quickly realized that little bear described my favorite part about Groton in ten words.
The best thing to happen to me here has come from doing nothing. I don’t mean skipping homework and having fun or anything like that. The best thing to happen to me at this school has been simply doing nothing but watching and listening. Not to a teacher or coach or any adult. They’re all incredible at their jobs and in their fields, but I’m talking about observing the kids here doing amazing things beyond their years on a daily basis. I’ve always been very perceptive and my grandma loves to say that I don’t miss much. Even still, it took me awhile to start realizing how great some of my peers were.
It was a warm spring night in Fourth Form, and I was walking by myself up to Hundred House from the Athletic Center. The baseball diamond was empty, and the Circle was quiet as the boys had just tied a thriller of a game with Phillips Academy Andover. As I was about to pass the Maqubelas’ garage, my eye caught someone hunched over near the scoreboard. I stopped for a second as the figure took off sprinting along the fence line, jumping over the centerfield wall, and slowing down only when they reached the football end zone. After about a ten-second rest, the runner turned around and sprinted all the way back to the starting point. Through the early evening darkness, I was just barely able to make out who it was: Bennett Smith. No less than an hour earlier, Bennett and I had been patrolling the left side of the infield, with me at the corner and Bennett up the middle. I don’t need to go into details, but late in the game Bennett made a mistake. We all make them. Johnny talked about his number of them last week, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made a fair share of my own. And even though Bennett led us that day in all aspects of the game, he took his one mistake to heart. He waited till everyone had left the field and ran by himself because he felt responsible. That day Bennett showed me what accountability truly meant. For this and for many other reasons, I can’t think of a better kid to protect my freedom in the future.
A few months after I returned from summer vacation for Fifth Form fall, I went to the Dining Hall on the later side of the lunch hours with Johnny Stankard. We grabbed our food and walked out to a table on the Upper School side, sitting down with a few other Fifth Formers. There were lots of tables filled up in the faculty section and Upper School side, but the Lower School side was fairly empty. I saw him pick up his head to look around and he stopped, fixed on a spot across the room. Suddenly, he pulled out his chair, picked up his plate, and strode over towards the Lower School side. I was confused and thought he might have an advisor lunch, but instead he went right past the faculty and sat down at a Lower School table where a new Third Former was eating by himself. After I realized what was happening, I quickly went to join him and sat down to the two of them already deep in conversation on the student’s hometown. Johnny exemplified what it meant to be a caring and compassionate kid, one of the reasons why he’s our senior prefect and fearless leader, even though we all know Cho is really in charge.
During preseason this year, I was talking to Lyndsey after she had just hurt her ankle and was with her parents on the way to the hospital. After asking what had happened and getting the full story, I asked her if she was going to go home as her house is only a short drive away. With tears still streaming down her face, she said, “No, it’s my brother’s first night on campus, so I want to be there for him. And I should be there as a captain for the team bonding we’ll do in the first few nights.” If that’s not what it means to be a true sibling and great leader, I don’t know what is.
Contrary to popular opinion, I think Groton kids are at their best outside of the classroom. These three stories are great examples, but there are so many more that I don’t have the time to tell. I’ve seen firsthand kids like Jonah, Joey, Lily, and many others battle through injuries on the fields and ice. For two years, I watched Bobby have the courage to do something he loved with his music even when it wasn’t a common or easy thing for a Groton student to do. I’ve seen the way Steins can just make people smile all the time, even when they’re down. The way Ders can make the boys laugh, and the happiness I get every time Chewy yells my name across the Forum in his over-excitement to see me, along with Torriani’s enthusiastic waves whenever I walk by. Theo is always there to check in on people with a dap and a hug, and Freddie’s motherly instincts are always appreciated during a tough day. The incredible kindness Pat, Clement, and many others show every time you speak with them is a constant that’s hard to find anywhere else. And last but for sure not least, the example Noah is setting for his kids at home and getting his education at the age of forty-five.
Though they excel out of the classroom, I’d be remiss not to mention what some kids do in the classroom here. I got my wake-up call to the academic commitment of a Groton student on a fall day early in Second Form. I was returning to the Schoolhouse with Ders, Bobby, and Clement
after we just finished up a few games of spikeball out on the Circle. The teachers were still slowly easing us into the workload, so I did the bare minimum and got by just fine. But in the Schoolroom I saw Amy preparing notes for English later that day, even though we didn’t have a quiz or formal discussion planned. I then watched her whip them out later that day and impress Mrs. Maqubela and the class. Over the years, I’ve seen Amy and many others work so hard to be successful here. I’ve seen Finn, also selfishly not here, make thousands of Quizlets and prepare so diligently for every day of school. He has shown me the real meaning of work ethic. By virtue of having five classes with her in Fifth Form, I witnessed Emma always stay one or even two days ahead of her homework when she could. I know I made fun of you a lot, Emma, but I appreciate the push you gave me when I would try to keep up with you. It helped me more than you know. Plus, you’re saving the world one fish at a time. When I sat in Fifth Form English with Ms. Sen Das, as much as it annoyed me, I admired how Alison could argue and so quickly form coherent and meaningful responses to Johnny’s and my blabbering, which probably annoyed her, too. She always stayed composed, for the most part, and essentially taught me how to argue. I’m in my fifth year here, and I get surprised almost every day by what kids can do during the school day. There is no comparison that can fully capture what you all do every single class.
There’s one more Groton kid, or at least I still consider him a Groton kid, that I’d like to mention. When I was thinking about my chapel talk in the years leading up to this, I always thought he’d be the one that would sit next to me on the big day because he always knew how to calm me down, make me laugh, and even put me in my place. He was one of my best friends here and he still is. He made some mistakes and that’s why he’s not here today, but his mistakes are not what stand out to me. Many were quick to write him off or say they saw it coming, but in his final month here I saw a kid that lost two family members in the same week in a big Irish
family where family is everything. Only a few people knew, he didn’t tell anyone or look for sympathy; he forced a smile on his face and went about his normal way as long as he could. That was one of the strongest things I’ve seen a kid do here, and that’s one of the things I’ll always remember about Jimmy.
To my parents: thank you for allowing me to come here to meet all these incredible kids. I can’t ever repay you. Mom, the things that you do every day for us are unbelievable. You always think of us before yourself. Dad, although I may not say it enough and I’ll make fun of you to no end, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate how hard you work to give me the all the opportunities in the world. Thanks for being my biggest supporter all these years, even though I’m not always easy to deal with. Ev, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up with anyone else. Thanks for my best friend and co-pilot. Coach Vice would be proud. I love you guys.
Lil, thanks for letting me act like the child that fell in love with those books all those years ago every day.
To the boys of winter and the Groton 9, I can’t wait for one last ride.
And, to the boys in the first few rows and on Facetime, thank you for being the friends that became family. There’s no one like you guys. Every single kid I’ve met on this campus has impacted me in one way or another and all I had to do was watch. For all the new kids sitting here this morning, take a minute to look around and learn something from the kids that surround you every day. It’s amazing what you’ll find.