The service opened with a prelude featuring new SM orchestra director Mr. Nathaniel Meyer on trumpet and Mr. Christian Lane on the chapel organ: "Ein ungefarbt Gemut" from J.S. Bach's Cantata #24. Then, after the traditional choral introit—J.S. Sheppard's "Age Quod Agis"—and with student acolytes leading the way, members of the St. Mark's Choir and new faculty processed into the Chapel.
Mr. Stephen Hebert, the Assistant Chaplain, delivered the opening prayer - "Great and Wondrous Mystery" - from the St. Mark's prayer book, and the hymn "For the Splendor of Creation" was sung. Following the hymn, Head of School John C. Warren '74 welcomed the eleven new faculty, and Rev. Talcott formally installed these new St. Mark's teachers, leading all those present in additional prayers from the SM book. The choir, conducted by Director of Music and Arts Department chair Mr. James Wallace, then sang John Rutter's "For the Beauty of the Earth," as their first anthem of the School year.
After readings from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" by Ms. Jeniene Matthews of the SM English Department and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Noble Prize lecture by Fifth Former Matthew Gates, Rev. Talcott delivered her sermon. She emphasized the welcoming philosophy of the Episcopal Church and said that, as an Episcopal School community, all were members of "the welcoming committee." For the full text of her sermon, see below.
Mr. Warren, Assistant Head of School/Dean of Faculty Samantha Brennan, and the Monitors then continued a St. Mark's tradition, presenting each new faculty member with gifts symbolizing their professional responsibilities. Carl Ahlgren (Assistant Director of College Counseling), Caleb Corliss (Science), Colleen Finnerty '11 (French and Psychology), Kwame Gayle (Assistant Director of Admission), Caitlin Kosow (Assistant Dean of Students/Director of Student Life), Rob Kuklewicz (Chief Financial and Operations Officer), Margarita Moreno (Spanish), Carol Smith-Nichols (Science), EJ Valitutto (Math), Starry Zhu (Admission Counselor and Assistant Director of Community & Equity), and Nathanel Meyer (Orchestra Director) were all installed as the newest members of the St. Mark's faculty.
The service ended with the School Prayer and the School Hymn ("Sun of My Soul"). Everyone then recessed for seated meal, followed by coffee and dessert in the Faculty Room hosted by the Warrens for Sixth Formers and faculty.
"I am very proud of the intellectual vibrancy and strength of character possessed by every one of our new faculty members," commented Head of School John Warren '74. "Our Evening Chapel Installation ceremony is a wonderful way to formally welcome this highly talented group into the St. Mark's community."
Here are the newest members of the St. Mark's faculty:
Carl Ahlgren is the new Assistant Director of College Counseling. He has been a counselor, teacher, and coach at Gilman School (MD), University Liggett School (MI), and Casady School (OK). Most recently he has served in the financial aid office at Johns Hopkins University. His professional commitments include serving NACAC as a national delegate (2006-2008) for the Potomac Chesapeake ACAC, where he also served as Chair of the Membership Committee. From 2002 through 2005, he has been a Mentor and committee member in the Camp College program for New York State ACAC and Michigan ACAC. From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Ahlgren was director and faculty member for NACAC's Tools of the Trade program for new college counselors. More recently, he has also served on the Board of Directors and as Board Secretary for ACCIS. Carl lives on campus.
Caleb Corliss is a graduate of Tabor Academy where he was a four-year rower and captain of the crew team. He then went on to Wesleyan University where he earned his Bachelors and Master's degrees in Biology. Mr. Corliss has been teaching Middle School science as well as 9th grade Environmental Science and upper-level science electives at the Darrow School and most recently at Harpeth Hall School in Tennessee. At SM, he is teaching Advanced Biology and Advanced Environmental Science, as well as coaching crew and basketball. Mr. Corliss is living in the Coe along with his wife Audrey and their puppy named Pip.
Colleen Finnerty '11
A St. Mark's alumna, Colleen Finnerty is a graduate of Bowdoin College where she majored in psychology and French. While at Bowdoin, Colleen was a field hockey and ice hockey captain. She is joining us from Holderness School in Plymouth, NH where she taught French and coached field hockey and ice hockey. At SM, Ms. Finnerty is teaching French and Psychology, and coaching field hockey, ice hockey, and softball. Colleen is living in Gaccon along with her dog Buckeye.
Kwame Gayle is joining us as an Assistant Director of Admission. Mr. Gayle is from Jamaica and studied Anthropology, African Studies, theatre and music at Macalester College and has a particular interest in global education. He has just completed his Master's in International Training and Education at American University. An upbeat, outgoing educator who is excited to embrace all aspects of boarding school life at St. Mark's, Mr. Gayle is living in Coe.
Caitlin Kosow is the Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Student Life. She is coming to St. Mark's from Tilton where she was the Media Integration Specialist and worked in the Dean of Students' office, organizing student activities and leadership, as well as helping to oversee Residential Life. Ms. Kosow will be coaching field hockey and tennis, and she is also going to be the House Head of Gaccon.
Rob Kuklewicz is our Chief Financial and Operations Officer (CFOO). As such, he oversees the School's business, financial, investment, facilities, human resources, risk management and operational functions. A graduate of the University of Maryland, and a Certified Public Accountant, Mr. Kuklewicz has served for the last eleven years as Chief Financial Officer for The Langley School in Northern Virginia, where he was responsible for the finances and operations as well as some major construction projects. Before becoming Chief Financial Officer, he served as the Controller at Langley. Mr. Kuklewicz lives on campus with his wife, Kathleen, daughter, Libby, and their dog, Cora.
Margarita Moreno is joining our Modern Language department and will teach three sections of Spanish. Sra Moreno was a professor at George Washington University and Worcester State University and lives in Southborough with her family. She received her Masters in Spanish from Fundacion Universidad de la Rioja and Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Carol Smith-Nichols is joining our science department from Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, PA where she taught Biology and Physics. Carol Smith-Nichols brings a wealth of experience from the elementary level through the collegiate level. She is teaching Advanced Chemistry and Honors Chemistry. She is living on campus and will coach tennis and squash. She has two children, Keegan and Griffin. Keegan is a graduate of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and works on an organic farm. Griffin is a classics major at Cornell University. Ms. Smith-Nichols' life is also much richer by her three cats Muffin, Nomar, and Xau.
Edward Valitutto has come to St. Mark's from Kent School in Connecticut where he taught math, ran the math team, and oversaw the weekend activity program. Additionally, he has coached football, intramural basketball, and track. Mr. Valitutto is a graduate of Alfred University where he majored in math and chemistry. At St. Mark's, he is teaching math and coaching football and basketball. He will also be the House Head of Coe, where he lives with his wife, Leah and cats Lucky and Sunny.
Starry Zhu is an Admission Counselor and Assistant Director of Community and Equity. Before moving to the U.S., she was an ESL teacher in Hong Kong for five years. She completed her Masters in Language & Literacy from Harvard Graduate School of Education last spring. Ms. Zhu has travelled extensively throughout her life, and most recently has gotten to know St. Mark's through her work Envoys. She loves Zumba and K-pop dance, and she is living in the Main Building.
From Belmont, MA, Nathaniel Meyer studied trumpet at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. He attended Yale, where he majored in German studies with a music concentration, beginning his career as an orchestral conductor as conductor of the Yale Amadeus Society, conductor of the Yale Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and assistant conductor of the Yale Symphony Orchestra. He would go on to earn a degree as Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He was also the founder and conductor of the Belmont Festival Orchestra.
"The Welcoming Committee" – a sermon by Rev. Barbara Talcott, School Chaplain, at the Installation of New Faculty service, Belmont Chapel, St. Mark's School – 9.18.17
Good evening! Welcome!!
So we've been here, all together, about 10 days. How many days does it feel like?
OK, some of us have been here 14, and the new faculty, whom we are honoring tonight, have been here almost twice that long. But still. Face it. Whether it's 10 days or 20 days, and whether you're a student or a staff or faculty member, it's not very long.
I began my school year not here with you all, but in numerous text conversations with students who graduated last year, and who suddenly started texting me in the run-up to college and during their first few days at college. So I really got to see this whole process through the eyes of the new. And it was fascinating. And a little scary!
One student texted me the equivalent of: "Help! I have things I need to talk about and nobody I trust enough yet to talk about them with!" I have no doubt this person was looking for some reassurance from me, but I'm afraid if so they were looking in the wrong place. I didn't have a lot of immediate reassurance to give. As a matter of fact, my return text read precisely as follows: "Yeah...and it's going to be a while until you find someone. Take your time with that; nobody (including you!!) is probably ready to show their whole selves yet, so just like at St. Mark's the friend-sorting based on anything remotely real is going to take a long time."
Getting to know you, and you getting to know me and each other, is one of those three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of things. I am so excited on the first day of class because I look out at my classroom full of new student faces and feel the same excitement I have always felt when I take off the cellophane and open a box of chocolates for the first time. Everything just looks like chocolate. Yes, some are oddly shaped, and some are kind of lumpy and some are wrapped up in gold foil, and some are set in those little crimped paper cups, but that's all just the outside. Kind of intriguing on first glance—it adds to the mystery—but not very illuminating. I don't yet know the important stuff, like what's on the inside. I don't know yet what I'm going to find when I bite into you! I don't know who is the mellow cream, and who is the coconut. I don't know who is going to melt in my mouth, who is going to be really chewy, and who's going to chip my teeth. It's all up for grabs. And for me that's just incredibly intriguing and exciting. But yes, it takes a while. 10 days? 20 days? We're not even close yet.
If you decide to consider teaching as a career, as all of our new faculty have done, you had better feel at least some of that same excitement (or at least not dread!) when you look at all those mysterious chocolates. Because teachers—real teachers—don't discriminate. We don't get to choose who shows up in our classrooms, and as our students start to reveal what's under their skim coat of chocolate we don't get to choose who to keep teaching and who to stop teaching. We step up to the challenge of teaching Every. Single. One. No. Matter. What.
Needless to say, this career is not for everyone.
One of the world's greatest teachers, Confucius, also called Kung Fu-Tzu or Master Kung, is famous for his refusal to discriminate amongst his pupils. "There should be no discrimination amongst anybody in education," he said to his disciples, and he walked his talk: he taught prisoners, the chronically poor, the spoiled, the lower class, and even those who could not pay. He was not a successful wage-earner or politician during his lifetime, but he was a very successful teacher. And look: we're still talking about him, 2600 years later. Of how many of his more "successful" contemporaries can we say that?
Another of the world's greatest teachers, Jesus of Nazareth, held the same view. He refused to acknowledge any distinction between the clean and the unclean, the deserving and the undeserving. As Gary Wills writes, "he walked through the social barriers (of his day) like they were so many cobwebs." He taught everyone—he was so undiscriminating that he eventually got killed for it. And as for Master Kung, so for JEsus: he was not successful by just about any standard during his brief lifetime, but we're still talking about him and learning from him more than 2000 years later.
I did a presentation for our faculty before all you students arrived on what it means to be an Episcopal school, and I laid out three values that we hold at St. Mark's that align particularly strongly with the "Episcopal" part of our school's identity. The first value I mentioned was related to this idea of non-discrimination. Have you ever seen those signs, all over New England, that say "the Episcopal Church Welcomes You?" Well, they mean it. They really do. And the same is true for Episcopal Schools (have you noticed the banners on the lightposts all around this campus that say "St. Mark's School: Welcome?). Only about one in ten of you students at this Episcopal School is Episcopalian. Only about 65% of you are from families that identified themselves on the Family Information Form as Christian. The rest are not. We don't care. We like you just the way you are. There are many religious schools where faculty and staff—and even families—have to sign a statement of faith before they can become members of the school community; there are many religious schools where what can be taught in the classroom must align with what is taught in Church on Sunday; we are not one of those schools.
The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Church, or Church of England. The Church of England was formed in an (ultimately successful) attempt to keep the peace during the horrific inter-Christian wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, and as such it did not quibble much about the specifics of what anybody believed or didn't believe. It was clear from looking around, and particularly over at the European continent, that that kind of quibbling led only to division and death. So the Anglican Church insisted only that people see themselves as a community and act like a community: doing things like eating and worshipping and working together. The specifics of what each of them believed or did not believe could be discussed among them or not; but no matter what, such discussions could never get in the way of the community being, and acting like, a community.
This is why I can sometimes be heard referring to the Episcopal Church as the "Church of Showing Up." And I don't consider that in any way a negative representation. What do we do as members of an Episcopal Church or as members of an Episcopal School? We show up. What if I don't agree with you or you don't agree with me? Doesn't matter: we still show up. What if I don't feel like talking about whether I agree or disagree? Fine. No problem. You don't have to. Just be a member of this community—just show up and take your part in community events—and we're good.
This chapel this evening is a perfect example of what I'm talking about: you didn't have to pass a faith test to get in here tonight, and there is no faith test that will get you excused from tonight, either. You don't have to say any of the words in the leaflet, much less believe them. You just have to show up. Because we are a community, and that is what it means to be a community. We show up for each other. When you really think about it, every single person in this chapel actually believes something entirely unique to themselves; something that nobody else entirely shares. That's fine. All that matters is that we are here, together, as an intentional community, refusing to let those differences divide us.
You may have heard of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of South Africa. He is Anglican. His wife, Nomalizo, tells a story of a very difficult struggle she had with difference and division, a desperate internal struggle. She was having a terrible time trying to get comfortable with her son's choice for a wife. Her inability to get past her negative feelings was making her life miserable, her son's life miserable, and the whole family's life miserable, but she just couldn't get past them. And then one night, after a particularly terrible family scene, she had a dream. In this dream, she was an active member of a church community, very involved in committee work for the Church. And the head of the community, who in her dream had a lot of the characteristics of God, had to sit her down and have a tough conversation with her. It seems she had misunderstood which of the community's committees she was on. And by the end of their conversation, she finally understood: she had not been assigned to the Selection Committee; she had been assigned to the Welcoming Committee! A very different committee, to be sure! And she now had to get down to the very important business of Welcoming. That dream changed everything for her and her family, she said, literally overnight.
As teachers, we follow in the steps of some of the world's greatest teachers ever, like Master Kung and Jesus. We don't select; we welcome. No matter what is on the outside or the inside of that thin covering of chocolate, we work with it, we teach and we learn alongside of it.
As students in this St. Mark's community, you don't get to select either: you didn't select your teachers, you didn't select your classmates, you didn't select your housemates, and about a quarter of you didn't even select your roommates. And at this point, 10 to 20 days in, you don't even know enough to select your close friends!
So right now, none of us is on the Selection Committee; we're all on the Welcoming Committee. At some point in the not-too-distant future you may begin to know enough—and you may begin to show enough—to determine who will be your close friends. But for now, don't reject any of those chocolates based on what you see on the outside—the gold wrapper, the crinkly paper, the lumpy or spiky or angular shape. You don't know yet what's on the inside, and you may not know for a while. As Colin said in his chapel speech, don't close off any options.
And as we look out at the state of this country and our world, in the wake of Charlottesville, in the middle of some profound political differences and tensions, eerily resembling the European continent in the 16th and 17th centuries, I'm thinking that learning how to live successfully, productively, in a community of people who are quite different each from the other might actually be the most important thing you do at St. Mark's, whether you are a student, faculty or staff member, this fall, this year, or ever.
So, new faculty and everyone else in this chapel, Welcome! Welcome to the Welcoming Committee.
In the name of that which creates, that which redeems, and that which sustains us all.