Monday, April 27, 2015

Season interrupted

Lauren '17 enjoyed life at Peddie right from day one, but she was most excited for spring lacrosse season. Then life threw her a curve ball, and she ended the year with an even deeper appreciation for what it means to be part of a team.

The summer before my freshman year I was beyond excited for all of the new experiences and opportunities that would await me at Peddie. Fall term was amazing, meeting new people, getting to know all the girls in the dorm, Blair Day and the tangible energy and pride on campus, and spending time with all my friends and getting adjusted to life on campus was a blast. I knew I was making memories that would last forever. By winter term, campus was comfortable and I knew I had found the place where I belonged. I got closer and closer to the people around me and we all made it through the seemingly unending winter months with flying colors. However, I was beyond ecstatic for spring term, because the approach of March could only mean one thing-lacrosse season.

I spent those dreary winter months after school in the athletic center, working out with some friends who would also be alongside me on the field come March. We would shoot around with each other, play wall ball, and train - none of us could wait for the spring to roll around. When it finally did, I was a little nervous for how it would be playing for new coaches and what it would be like getting to know new girls both on and off the field. Preseason came around the second week of March and, even though it certainly didn’t feel like spring break, I was doing the thing I loved the most and was able to get to know all the other girls on the team. I was a little nervous since I had never played with girls so much older than I was and with so much more experience and skill, and I wasn’t sure how easily all the freshman would fit in. I had absolutely no reason to worry though. We all had a fantastic time and I’ll never forget what it was like to be part of a team that had so much fun together. During that one week, and then later throughout the season, I bonded with girls and made memories that I will keep forever. Once school started back up after spring break, I was so ready to start the season, having lacrosse be a major portion of my daily life for the next three months. A week or so into March, however, everything changed.

In the middle of March I fell in practice and ended up fracturing my ankle. Out of all the things I knew I was ready for, all of the conditioning practices and lost games, passes dropped and shots missed, this was one blow I did not see coming. The next few weeks would have been unbearable if not for the support from my friends, teammates, and coaches. I felt like my season had been ripped right out of my hands, but I wasn’t ready to give it up that easily. Every day after class, while my team headed out to the field, I would stay inside, doing my rehab exercises and working out in other ways to try to stay in shape and get ready for when I could get back out onto the field. I was there on the sidelines at the end of every practice and for every game, cheering on my team just like I knew they were rooting for me. By the end of the season I had a stack of little notes from them all, brimming with encouraging words and well wishes. 

Six weeks later, I was back out on the field with them, wearing that Peddie uniform with pride! My spring term at Peddie I learned a lot more than lessons taught in a classroom. I learned what it meant to be a part of a team, how to overcome obstacles that life throws in your path, and just how important hard work and dedication are. Ala Viva!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chapel Talk: Create your own map...and call your parents

Pat Dennis '98 returned to Peddie last week as one of thirty-five founding members of the Peddie Leadership Council (PLC). The group met on campus for the first time to engage more deeply with the community and  to begin their mission of serving as ambassadors for the school. During his visit to campus, Dennis took time to share some "advice to his 14 year old self" with students in this Chapel talk.

Twenty years ago, I entered those Chapel doors for the first time. I was a gawky fourteen year old arriving to Peddie from the small city of Toledo, Ohio. I was certain my acceptance letter to Peddie was the mistake of Mr. Quinn, the charismatic figure who headed the admissions office at the time. I’m not sure what happened, but I never got the chance to thank him for NOT reviewing my application too closely…

I had two big goals that day. First, I promised myself I would not cry, no matter how much I already missed my family. Second, I vowed that I would not get run over in the pool by my much larger upperclassmen teammates. Needless to say, I failed miserably at both.

I’ve gained a few pounds since then — and more than a few gray hairs. I’ve experienced highs – and lows – some of which I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger. I’ve gotten married to an amazing woman, become a proud father, found fulfillment in my career, and unexpectedly lost my Peddie roommate and best friend to heart disease. And at the ripe old age of 35, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about life.

Let me be honest about something up front. I certainly didn’t learn the most important lessons about life from a chapel speaker. In fact, twenty years ago, in this very chapel, I probably listened to a speech just like this, given by some 35-year-old alum, and forgot absolutely everything I heard.

That’s why my biggest piece of advice today is not to take any piece of advice too seriously. You will learn about what matters most to you in life, as I did, through trial and error. You will accumulate wisdom not by following instructions, but by making mistakes. You will grow, ultimately, by stumbling into, and rising out of, what our President calls “teachable moments.” Ignore everyone who tries to peddle you a map about how to live your life. You’ve got to create your own map, and the only way to do this is to stray off the main road for a bit and explore the terrain around you.
Still, do I ever fantasize about going back in time and giving a few tips to my 14-year-old self? Are there any things I wish I’d done differently? Are there times when I think to myself, “If only I’d been a bit less of a bonehead that one time…”? Of course. And when you’re my age, you’ll have these thoughts, too. I’m very happy with where my life’s journey has taken me so far, but had I known some of what I know now, the ride might have been a bit smoother. So, here are a few things I wish I knew when I was your fourteen.

#1 You only get to go to Peddie once – take a depth breath and enjoy it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled across the United States and around the world. I’ve walked through Turkish mosques in Istanbul and Buddhist monasteries in Myanmar, explored remote beaches in Europe, and seen African wildlife up close. I’ve made a pretty good dent in my bucket list.

But none of these experiences can hold a candle to my time at Peddie. Nothing has ever given me the kind of butterflies I felt in my stomach, walking through those doors twenty years ago. And as I stand here, reflecting on the extraordinary years I spent on this campus, those butterflies are back.  

Some of the moments that left the deepest impression took place in this very chapel. I’ll never forget my roommate Nick delivering a surprising chapel talk during his junior year describing our friendship and how much I helped him get through his early struggles at Peddie. Or the time retired 4-star general and Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in a candid conversation with the student body discussing the challenges facing OUR generation. And I definitely will never forget former teacher Bill Hill belting out Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to conclude his chapel talk on the power of music in his life. And these are just a very small sampling of the indelible “Peddie moments” I experienced while I was here.

The Oxford social scientist Robin Dunbar famously declared that the average person has the capacity to maintain a social network of about 150 people. He also found that a “rule of 3” applies to social networks. Your entire network could be divided by 3 to arrive at the 50 people you would call a close friend, again divided by about 3 to find the 15 friends you would turn to for sympathy, and again by 3 to find the 5 friends you would call your close support group. In the age of Facebook, Dunbar’s theory has come under fire. Yet, he continues to argue that, even if our social networks have grown much larger than 150 people, the core groups of 50, 15, and 5 remain fixed. The reason for this, he says, is because we need face-to-face time to build truly close friendships. Shared experiences — laughing, singing, dancing, and eating together — are what forge the most profound friendships.

And I can guarantee you this: the thing you will come to value most about Peddie are these moments of shared experiences with your classmates — and the unbreakable bonds that emerge from them. You are in the midst of some of the most formative years of your life, and I promise you that a good percentage of your core lifetime friendships — whether it be the 5, 15, or 50 — will be fellow Peddie alums.

Believe me, the real world is rarely as exhilarating and life-altering as an average day at Peddie. The competitions, collaborations, and conversations you’re having now will become some of your most powerful lifelong memories. I’m not saying every moment at Peddie is pure delight. There’s a lot of pressure on all of you to excel and move on to top colleges, and that can bring anxiety and stress. But try not to get so caught up in those pressures that you lose sight of the amazing experiences you’re having here.

In the words of the great philosopher Ferris Bueller,  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't slow down and look around, you might miss it."

#2 College is a balance of planning and parties (and my advice would be to keep it in that order).

I mean it when I say that Peddie was one of the best experiences of my life. The bad news — especially for seniors — is that you can’t stay here forever. Although I think there are a few faculty members who have tested this statement.

The good news is that the next step in your life is perhaps even more exciting.

College is, frankly, amazing. You have four years of almost unlimited freedom to pursue knowledge, to meet amazing new people from all over the world, to engage in extracurriculars and internships that may lead to future career opportunities, to potentially travel abroad, to build friendships and romances that may last a lifetime.

College offers infinite choices — and this is precisely what can make it so overwhelming. Just like Peddie, there’s no possible way you’ll be able to take advantage of every opportunity that’s offered to you. But a little planning can go a long way. If I could go back in time, I’d have spent a little more time preparing for college — thinking about what my interests and goals in and out of the classroom might be — before my Freshman year.

To those of you who are seniors, it can be tempting to coast through this summer, and to enter college with a “blank slate.” But I’d encourage you to, at the very least, do some research on what programs and departments you’re excited by and think seriously about which kinds of classes you want to try out during your freshman year.

As I mentioned earlier, finding out what you’re truly passionate about may be more of a iterative process. However, making sure those iterations aren’t a waste of time does take some planning. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”

#3 Resilience and defining your own success will be key

If you feel overwhelmed now, wait until you finish college. That’s where the real confusion can set in; the choices you’ll have to make are a lot bigger and more numerous than which classes to take or which extracurriculars to participate in.

Again, a little bit of advance planning can make a big — and usually positive — difference in your professional life. But one of the things you realize when you get older is that life throws you lots of curveballs. Everyone in this room will experience setbacks and even tragedies that are entirely out of our control. No amount of personal planning can fully prepare you for tough circumstances.

My wife and I graduated from college in 2002. In the wake of 9/11, the economic situation in this country was bleak. We both entered the job market with solid resum├ęs and academic qualifications, but the job market was contracting and neither of us got close to our dream jobs. And even though those early days were frustrating, we felt lucky to have the jobs we had. Our resilience paid off and gradually, both of us worked our ways into the stable and satisfying careers we enjoy today.

Whether you pursue a traditional career route or something more off the beaten track, resilience will be key.

One of my teammates and great friends from college went on to receive his joint graduate degree in business and education. Just like in college, he was top in his class at Stanford and could have taken his pick of any number of professional careers around the world.

But Chris took an unexpected path instead. He and classmate from Stanford had a vision of changing the educational landscape in Africa. They sought to address what they saw as the most critical factor in Africa’s future development – the shortage of accountable entrepreneurial leaders. You can probably imagine how challenging it was for Chris to start, from scratch, a prep school on another continent but Chris was determined to see his idea through and his resilience has paid off. The African Leadership Academy just welcomed its seventh incoming class.

Now I’m not saying everyone should move to South Africa to start a prep school, but I do want to encourage you define success for yourselves. Don’t let your teachers or employers, your peers or parents, define success for you. Emerson said it best: “insist on yourself.”

#4 Call your parents

In my mid-20s, I began setting aside time at the beginning of each year to make a list of what I hoped to accomplish that year. I wish I’d started making these lists earlier, because they've been an invaluable tool for self-reflection, to see how my priorities have shifted over time. When I started making these lists, the goals at the top all revolved around professional and financial success. Personal goals were lower on that list, and even lower were goals relating to my family. Today, it’s the opposite — my professional and personal goals have taken a back seat to family. To me, my family is everything.

As J.K. Simmons said during his Oscar award acceptance speech this past February, “Call your mom, call your dad. If you are lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them. Don’t text, don’t e-mail. Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them and are available for as long as they want to talk to you.”

Perhaps because I am newly minted father, this advice really hit home. So let me echo J.K. Simmons and encourage you to call your parents, guardians or whoever it is that has worked so hard so that you could have the chance to be here at Peddie. Let them know they’re appreciated. They will appreciate it.

I’ve said enough for today, but while I’m up here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a little plug to the newly formed Peddie Leadership Counsel.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the only one with gray hair in the Chapel here today. Thirty-five alumni, and parents of former and current students, have come back to campus to kick off the start of a working group we hope will become very important to Peddie’s future.

There is a significant amount of geographic and age diversity in our group — but there’s one thing we all have in common. We’re all passionate about Peddie and the opportunities it afforded us and our families. And we want to ensure those opportunities are afforded to future generations.

I’d like to encourage all of you, particularly those in the front row, to start thinking about your relationship with Peddie going forward. I promise you this. Whatever you end up giving back to Peddie — whether it’s your time, energy, or donations — the return on your investment will be tremendous. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that fourteen year olds will continue to walk through these Chapel doors with stomachs full of butterflies, for years, if not centuries, to come.

Now go do something great and then call your parents and tell them all about it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chapel Talk: One Falcon's story

Justin '15 is student body co-president and a multi-sport athlete. He shares here the story of his journey to Peddie.

Many people have asked me how is it that I found out about Peddie when I live in Georgia. Well, I'm going to tell you that story.

I’m not going to lie and say that growing up in Georgia was tough for me, because it wasn’t. It was simple. Get up, go to school, learn, and don’t do anything stupid. However, I will say that there were some key experiences that led to me coming here, and I can date them to as far back as when I was five years old.

I was mostly quiet as a kid. By the time I was born all my brothers and sister were old enough to be in college or enlisted in the U.S. Marine corps, so all my brothers and sisters labeled me an only child. I was no older than five when I got into my first fight - but it wasn’t by choice. I had been playing in my father’s garden minding my own business when the older kids from next door surrounded me and encouraged their little brother to fight me. I lost that fight, and as a result I stayed inside for a couple of days in order to avoid another confrontation.

This tendency to avoid conflict stayed with me up until middle school. All throughout sixth and seventh grade it was a struggle for me. Most of the kids in the school I had never seen before - there were a few whom I went to elementary school with, but for the most part I didn’t know many. Every morning I would come to school and see the same group of kids all getting on someone. It was expected in my school, that if you lived in Georgia you were good at getting on someone else for just about any reason you could come up with as long as it got everyone to laugh. I was not so good at this talent and for that I was targeted. Every day it was the same routine, and I found myself getting tired of the repetitiveness.

Seventh grade started and that was a big year for me, mainly because we could start to play school sports. I decided to sign up for football because that seemed to be the sport that got all the girls' attention. Unfortunately, just because I played football I still didn’t get their attention. After I signed up for football I soon realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Mainly because when you’re a seventh grader in Georgia, who just started football, you’re probably 18 years behind everyone else. Now I know that make doesn’t make sense, but it’s Georgia, everyone is born at the age of five.

Seventh graders were considered lucky just to have made the team, but four individuals went above and beyond and not only made the team, but became part of the starting lineup. Darrel Patterson, Jaquez Durham, Adonis Thomas, and Michael Horton all were standout athletes who excelled in football. Two of them will be lucky enough to go on to division 1 football: Michael Horton as an offensive lineman for Auburn and Adonis Thomas as Linebacker for Alabama. Yea, I was playing with some big boys.

However, Jaquez was the one who had the greatest impact on me. One day after football practice I left early because I had to go somewhere, and Jaquez decided to leave with me. I expected him to start getting on me on our way back to the locker room, because out of everybody in the school, he was the one who got on me the most. But this time, he didn’t. Instead, he asked me why I let people talk about me without sticking up for myself. Then he told me about his mom and how she had just been locked up for shoplifting for him and his brother, and how he had to take care of his brother until his mom came home. I had no idea why he was telling me this, but every time I saw him from that day forward, there was no more getting on each other. Because of Jaquez I started to stand up for myself.

By eighth grade, I no longer had a problem with people getting on me. There was a good reason for that too. Whenever someone at our school had a problem with someone we use to settle it by going “fifteen.” Fifteen was basically a fifteen second fight between two people, and I never lost.

It wasn’t until the middle of my eighth grade year that I decided that a public school in Georgia was no longer where I wanted to be, so my mother and I decided to apply to boarding schools. I applied to a total of fourteen my eighth grade year, including Blair and Lawrenceville, and I didn’t get into any of them. I wasn’t hurt by the fact that I didn’t get in. I was hurt more by the fact that I was still going to be a part of the Georgia public school system - a system where kids don’t want to be the best they can be, or want to go to a college outside of Georgia.

It wasn’t until I spent my first year in high school that the decision for me to leave was solidified. I had seen enough and was ready to leave. This time, I applied to three schools and got into all three. I chose the one that I felt was the best fit for me, and I was correct. I’ve had a lot of strong influences that lead to my choosing to come to Peddie. There have been a lot of things that I wish I could have done differently in my life, but one decision I would have constantly made over and over again no matter what, would have been to choose the Peddie School of excellence because there is no place I’d rather be.

Ala Viva

Friday, March 20, 2015

Peddie in India 2015: Day 8

Today's post is brought to us by Amina '15, with photos courtesy of faculty member Cathy Watkins.

Today we had a relaxing outdoor adventure. We first took a nature hike through a village learning  about how they live and some of the crops they grow. 

We then had the choice of either going to see the water fall or staying at the campsite and swimming in a pool and playing volleyball. I choose to go see the waterfall and it was beautiful the best was getting to put my foot in the cold water after a hard walk up to the waterfall. 

After the waterfall we came back to the campsite and had a delicious cookout dinner. We then got to go back to the hotel and get some rest for the next eventful day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Peddie in India 2015: Day 7

Today's post is brought to us by Marisa '17 and Maeve '17

We woke up early this morning to do yoga led by our good pal Gopaul. He led us in stretching, sun salutations, and partner exercises. Afterwards we ate a huge breakfast consisting of some chocolate chip pancakes. Then we took a drive to an ashram where we spent the rest of the day. After getting settled and a long trip to the bookstore, we ate at the ashram’s communal lunch. Following lunch, we had a long chat with a swami who talked to us about happiness and how it relates to Hinduism. A few people fell asleep as we meditated the following hour. We had some snacks and did some more meditation sitting instead of laying down. As the day drew to a close, we joined a larger group of people in listening to an esteemed swami give a lecture on faith and spirituality. A walk by the Ganges River was followed by dinner and ice cream at a hotel. After arriving back at our hotel, many girls got henna tattoos on their hands. It was a swell day!! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Peddie in India 2015: Day 6

Today's post is brought to us by Gabby '17 and Lauren '16

Gabby: Yesterday we embarked on a hike through the Himalayan Foothills.  We walked on steep trails covered with rocks, mud, and even snow.  

Lauren: At the beginning of the hike, many of us (especially me) struggled to up the steep hills. While the incline seemed unbearable at the time, the hike became less physically strenuous as we walked on.

Gabby: It was about ten miles to the top.     

Lauren: We trekked to the midway point which was a cozy little chai shop and stopped to take in the amazing view.

Gabby:  Then we had the decision to stay there or keep hiking to the top for another three hours. 

Lauren: At that point half the group stayed, and half of the group continued to the top. Although the path became less steep, we had to maneuver narrow pathways sometimes covered in snow. 

Gabby: We met a stray dog, who we named Bear, that followed us all the way to the top of the mountain.  This journey brought a lot new experiences to our group and many girls accomplished peeing in the woods for the first time!
Lauren: Overall, even when the hike was physically taxing, it brought the group closer together and it was and unforgettable experience.

Gabby:This journey gave us a greater appreciation for the beauty of nature and the villages of India.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Peddie in India 2015: Day 5

Today's post is brought to us by Janine '15 and Gianna '17, with a reflection by Sophie '15

Today, we were privileged to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 

After this honor, we toured the Tsuglagkhang  Complex with our guide Jeremy. He showed us two temples within the complex. One was a working Buddhist temple, while the other was exclusively for meditation. We stopped to take some photos of the scenic view and then walked to our hotel for lunch. After bowls of traditional Tibetan noodle soup, a Western birthday cake was brought out for Lauren’s 17th birthday! We checked into our rooms, and then went for a “light” hike to a Tibetan library. There, we learned about  how Tibetans translated traditional Sanskrit books. We then went to a museum about Tibetan medicine and saw instruments and ingredients they use. Finally, we spent some time near our hotel souvenir shopping. 

Reflection on meeting the Dalai Lama
by Sophie '15

When I thought about meeting someone as prestigious as the Dalai Lama, I was never expecting him to be so personable. From the second His Holiness walked into the room, he quickly humored the audience with his fascination with Amina Bright's hair. In fact, His Holiness touched her deadlocks and let out one of his heartwarming chuckles! In response to Amina's question, "how can someone as famous as His Holiness be so humble", he reminded us that he is just a human too.

My question, "how can we at 18 years old prepare ourselves to have a positive impact on society", prompted an unexpected response. Through education, a good partner, and plenty of sleep we can prepare ourselves to better society.  He also made sure to remind us of the importance of sleep- a much needed reminder for hard working students. Most importantly, His Holiness taught us that our happiness has a domino effect.