Choose your costume well - always be a Falcon

Mike Cummins ’04 has devoted his professional life to supporting children in underserved communities. Following graduation from Brown University in 2008, Cummins spent five years in the Mississippi Delta with Teach For America and the KIPP Foundation. Most recently, he served as principal at Coney Island Prep High School in Brooklyn. At present, Cummins is a teacher at Brownsville Collegiate, an urban public charter school in New York City managed by Uncommon Schools.

At Peddie, Cummins was a standout on the lacrosse team. He was a rising freshman star on the undefeated 2001 team, which was inducted into the Peddie Sports Hall of Fame in June. Cummins continued his lacrosse career at Brown, where he was recognized for his passion and commitment on the practice field and on game day.

He returned to Peddie to deliver this Chapel talk and to pose three challenges to students.

Implicit….is the understanding that we are not masters of our fate, and the seasons and movements of life are often beyond us. Those close to nature, like that fast disappearing breed – the farmer – have always known that winds and storms, droughts and plagues, visit us – but also depart. It is for the farmers to cope with nature by understanding it as best they can, by cooperating with its seasons and forces. They do not make their crops grow; they understand and cooperate with the natural life that enables them to grow.
Problems with ourselves and with our children that appear unsolvable will not be solved by us alone – if, indeed they are solved. Rather they must be seen as being a part of a rhythm, a movement, and inscrutable order of life. Some problems we can help to solve, but only if we have the love, wisdom, and humility to cooperate with nature and its seasons, if we do not try to play God. Let us lay aside our frenetic worries and anxieties; let us relax and seek to cooperate with forces beyond our understanding.
This reading was originally delivered to a school community in the year 1970 by a man named Charles Martin. Charles Martin replaced Peter Quinn’s father as Headmaster of St. Albans.

Like Peddie, St. Albans is a community near to my heart. During my lacrosse-playing days at Brown University, I had five teammates who hailed from the all-boys school in Washington DC. If we are to judge schools by the quality of their alumni, St. Albans shines as a paragon of integrity, effort and accomplishment. I am sure your future classmates, teammates and colleagues will be left with an equally favorable impression of Peddie based on their time working alongside you.

I want to begin by telling you about a man named Steve Collis. I was blessed to play four years of varsity soccer for Steve.

Steve was about as un-Prep School looking as it gets. He had a personal uniform of sorts  a grey Peddie t-shirt beneath a whistle and plain, cotton gym shorts atop mid-calf white socks and black Reebok low-tops. While occasionally he’d slip a Peddie issued jacket overtop his t-shirt, he wore those cotton gym shorts in even the coldest of weather.
He spent his days working "in the cage" at the Athletic Center, and at the halftime of home soccer games he’d ride his yellow Falcon golf cart the 50 or so yards from our sideline to what was then the science center, all so he could sneak behind the fence for a cigarette and to relieve himself. Somehow my mom never failed to noticed that trip!

It would be easy for a newcomer or an outsider to question Steve’s place as a pillar of our community. They would be wrong to do so.

Like so many of our faculty, Steve poured out love, and wisdom, and humility to the kids in his care. Day in and day out, year after year.

Every Blair Week, Steve would share his love, and wisdom, and humility with us in the form of a "Falcon Talk." After a fall of cajoling and begging and pleading, Steve would finally prepare one of his grand oratories for our team. His "Falcon Talks" often featured his players as birds, took the form of fables, and always left us doubled over in laughter. Nobody could take a dig at his guys quite like Steve.

I wasn’t a party to Steve’s ultimate "Falcon Talk" – it took place four years after I graduated – but I have had the story passed to me second hand from those who were there, and I’d like to share it with you now.

It was November of 2007 and Blair Day was taking place up north, in those barren hinterlands known as Blairstown.

At the final practice on Friday, Steve brought his guys together. Steve’s friend – a longtime Falcon supporter – would be making the trip to Blairstown with the team. Steve told his players that his buddy was dying of cancer and that he was was hoping to see one last Falcon victory as he fought the disease.

Steve’s buddy rode up with the squad that Saturday morning and twenty or so boys felt the pressure to produce.

The game close was close and hard fought – an overtime contest that we would squeak out two to one. In the jubilant celebration that followed, the players ran up to Steve shouting, "We did it! We won the game for your friend!"

Steve cracked a sly grin and laughed, "Ha, made it all up. He’s just my buddy from Nottingham Tavern."

In Charles Martin’s words, "Those close to nature, like that fast disappearing breed – the farmer – have always known that winds and storms, droughts and plagues visit us – but also depart."

Thankfully for you – like for me – it is not just the work of farmers that produces such wisdom and perspective, but also the work of teachers, coaches, and advisors. As they know best, “We finish our labors to begin them anew."

Steve is not around for me thank today, but many of my former teachers are. When I think of Peddie, it is these superheroes who come to mind first.

Some wield the superpower of irreverent humor, as Steve Collis did and I’m sure Doc Martin still does – a humor so potent and applicable you couldn’t help but forget about your troubles when in their presence.

Amongst the Peddie faculty, these superpowers have always been as diverse as they are awesome. Think of Harry Holcomb’s generosity of spirit (even brighter than his shirt) or the way you can catch intellectual curiosity simply walking by Mr. Clements.

You are blessed to have such a caring, committed, and talented group of adults to shepherd you through your high school years. But you know this. You also know that you are blessed to be amongst a student body that has been so carefully culled for talent, ambition, empathy, tolerance, and the like. If you are like me, you are already in awe of the Peddie community, and you will remain that way throughout your adult life.

And so… I’d like to close here today with three challenges for your remaining time at Peddie.

  1. Squeeze it. Make the most of it. Add one habit to your weekly routine that will have you more deeply participating in this community than you already do. Want some ideas? If you board, start waking up at 6 a.m. and take advantage of these world class athletic facilities a bit more than you already do. If you’re a day student, make plans to join a family style table. There are countless ways for you to engage more with our community. Squeeze as many as you can. You will never regret your decision.
    Cummins shared lunch and conversation with students
    following his Chapel talk.
  2. Share your gratitude. This does not have to come in the form of a Chapel Talk. We know how much you appreciate being here and all of the great people that you surrounded by. Set aside more time and energy to tell these people why you are thankful for them. You will fill your own heart with love even quicker than you fill the hearts of those around you.
  3. Lastly – you are surrounded by a vibrant community. There is such a diverse set of experiences, cultures, and beliefs within this room. Embrace them all, try a few new ones on for yourself. Since it is Halloween – I will phrase my final challenge like this: Choose your costume well – always be a Falcon. 
Ala Viva!