Offices & Resources

15-Minute Lectures – A Different Kind of SM Experience
15-Minute Lectures – A Different Kind of SM Experience

Over the past several years, Dean of Students David Vachris has hosted a series of "15-Minute Lectures" on campus. Each of these is an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, alumni, or outside speakers to share their knowledge of and insights into a particular topic—sometimes trivial, sometimes momentous, and always interesting.

The set-up is simple: in the winter months a lecture is scheduled, often in the Parkman Room but sometimes in another relevant campus location. The public is invited (the average audience is around 20 per lecture) and the guest lecturer has exactly 15 minutes (timed precisely by Mr. Vachris) to present. After the 15 minutes are up, the presenter may take questions, but the entire process winds down after 20 minutes or so.

This past year, Samantha Wang '21, a member of Mr. Vachris' 15-Minute Lecture Committee, took notes at each of the 15-minute lectures. She shares her experiences below.

U.S. Air Force ROTC—Ginny Walsh '17

On January 8, SM alumna Ginny Walsh (above right) was our first speaker for the 15-Minute Lecture series this year. Ginny is now a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, in the U.S. Air Force (Reserve Officers Training Corps) ROTC, which is an inspiring college program that prepares young men and women to become leaders in the Air Force. She was glad and proud to share her personal experience with the St. Mark's community. At first, Ginny talked about college information, applications, and both the similarities and differences between a regular college experience and ROTC. Ginny told us that in ROTC, students sometimes need to get up before 5:15 a.m. to do physical training. She said that although it was hard for her at the beginning, she finally got used to this early training regimen by accepting the challenge and remaining determined to become better. At the close of the lecture, Ginny answered all of our questions enthusiastically and took photos with us in her military uniform.

Philosophy of Information—Jonathan Golden, SM librarian

On January 22, we invited Mr. Golden, our SM librarian, to give us a 15-Minute Lecture about Philosophy of Information. Mr. Golden first explained the definition of information— from giving us the background of the history through early discussions on information, on up to philosopher Luciano Floridi's definition of information and data: taxonomic neutrality, typological neutrality, ontological neutrality, genetic neutrality, and athletic neutrality (and refutation). At last, Mr. Golden argued the problem of "meaningful data" with us, and helped to answer students' questions toward "information," such as "Can information exist independently?," "How do we know if information is true or not?," etc. A very fierce debate about information between our students and Mr. Golden ensued.

Maximize Your Health— Brooks Stillwell, Southborough Wellness

On January 29, we invited Brooks Stillwell from Southborough Wellness to give us a 15-Minute Lecture about how to maximize our health. Mrs. Stillwell first discussed the definition of health, and then proposed a new perspective on health— the relationships among symptoms, disease, and health. Also, she clarified plenty of misconceptions about health for us, including revealing the impact of genetics and heredity on our health. "In fact," Mrs. Stillwell said, "your lifestyle choices have the potential to decide your destiny, so don't worry too much about genetically related diseases." Finally, she suggested that we be both reactive and proactive regarding our health, and she discussed the side effects of drugs. Mrs. Stillwell believes our bodies themselves are the best and the most complicated doctors. St. Markers were very engaged and continued asking questions to Mrs. Stillwell after her lecture. We wanted to know what kind of lifestyle was the best for supporting our health as high school students.

Running Your Own Business—Lisa Verrochi, Red Barn Coffee Roasters

On February 5, Lisa Verrochi, the owner of a local coffee company—Red Barn Coffee Roasters— came to St. Mark's School to talk about her experience of running her own business. When Red Barn Coffee Roasters was established in February 1977 in Hopkinton, Mass., Mr. and Mrs. Verrochi were pioneers in the specialty coffee industry in the Northeast. Over the years, Red Barn grew tremendously—now it has over 100 wholesale partners throughout New England. Mrs. Verrochi talked about how she was inspired to start a business in the specialty coffee industry, the obstacles she and her husband encountered, such as how to find and import the best coffee beans, and what they learned from Red Barn's rivals. Mrs. Verrochi also brought coffee-flavored chocolates to the lecture and invited our students and faculty to have a taste. At the end of the lecture, Mrs. Lisa Verrochi answered students' questions very patiently and showed us some sample drinks from Red Barn.

The Effect of Overfishing within Island Cultures—Tyreese James '18 and Will Allen '18

Two students—Tyreese James '18 and Will Allen '18—presented the results of their research on "The Effects of Overfishing within Island Cultures," on Thursday, February 15, as part of the SM 15-Minute Lecture Series.

Will and Tyreese were able to conduct their research this past summer as co-recipients of an Anthony A. Jones Family International Studies Grant. The Jones Family Grants are intended to help finance "activities which are deemed by St. Mark's School to be educationally stimulating" in keeping with the wishes of the A. A. Jones family "to inspire international educational initiatives among current St. Mark's students."

They started the lecture by showing their travel video and then introduced the local fish market to the audience. Then they talked about the empty conch shells thrown by fisherman, and the problems caused by overfishing: the reproduction of fish—both the quantity and the size of the fish are getting smaller, the excess of algae growing in coral reefs, which is detrimental to the coral and leads to an imbalance in the ecosystem, and how the issues are being gradually exacerbated by global warming. Tyreese and Will told us that after they talked to the local residents, they found no actual laws were established for protecting the ecosystem, which means it is difficult to force people to fish sustainably. Tyreese and Will are going to research if there is any possible way to recycle the conch shells to help rebuild the ecosystem in the future.

Dining Hall Portrait's Secrets—Nick Noble '76, School Historian

On March 5, our last speaker in this year's 15-Minute Lecture series was alumnus Nick Noble, who told us about the portraits in the Dining Hall. Mr. Noble, who recently wrote a history of the School, introduced the people in the portraits, talked about their backgrounds, told stories, and shared fun facts. Most of the figures have been headmasters at St. Mark's, some were long-term faculty members, and all of them made significant contributions to the St. Mark's community. At the end of his lecture, Mr. Noble also mentioned the history of the animal heads hanging in the dining hall. He told us that the animal heads have actually changed and moved around in the past years, and it was an unfounded myth that they were placed to match portraits. After the 15-Minute Lecture, Mr. Noble answered question of about the various artists who painted the portraits. It was all very interesting.


Mr. Vachris hopes to continue the 15-Minute Lecture Series again this coming School year, as so many in the St. Mark's community find them interesting and insightful.