Convocation Remarks by Jake Dresden, Head of School

Posted September 4, 2008


Good morning, everyone. Let me start with some numbers. As I look out at the entire school this morning on the first day of classes, I know that the 112 new students and fifteen new adults are eager to be welcomed by all of us. This academic year 2008-09 is the eighty-seventh year of Concord Academy and my ninth as head of school. By my calculations, seniors have sat here more than three hundred times, enjoying chapel talks, Vespers, community meetings, and performances; adding this year when they give their talks, their number of times in this building will be well over four hundred. Therefore, new students, this convocation begins a long and significant journey for you in this Chapel.

As you know, we admitted you because we knew you would add value to our community, and you joined us because you concluded Concord Academy would be the best school for you. I began in my own boarding school years uncertain of what lay ahead, eager to get started but anxious about the challenges of a new school. And while my recollections of my first year are now somewhat faded, I remember well the small room I had and the roommate who never went to sleep. I also recall that my expectations, like yours, were many, as were my questions about what would happen to me during the year. As you can see, I survived those early days and went on to have a great experience in that school, one I continue to appreciate even today.

As I will give the opening chapel talk tomorrow, my role this morning is to explain this gathering and introduce our speaker. This is our seventh year of Convocation, a service held to mark the beginning of the academic year. Our Convocation began in 2002, when the entire school gathered to remember 9/11 and to express its solidarity with the families of the victims. Gathering in one place at an important time is an ancient rite practiced by all communities, binding its members together in a common experience and creating a sense of belonging. This Convocation’s purpose is to provide such an experience for everyone as we begin the school together.

As you can see from the program, several people will bring their greetings and best wishes, including Bill Bailey, distinguished teacher emeritus. I have asked Bill to reflect on his teaching career at CA and to tell us what inspired him about the school. For me and I hope for you, having a sense of what happened in the past gives greater appreciation and understanding to what is happening now. Bill has a long view of CA, from in mid-1967 when he started to 2002 when he left CA and moved to New York. Knowing about things that have changed and things that have endured, Bill will tell some of his many stories about the school in an earlier era.

However, before I introduce Bill, two other people would like to welcome you this morning.

Now in her fourth year as president of the board of trustees, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann will make a few remarks. A graduate of CA from the Class of 1963, she has had a remarkable career in education, currently serving as the Distinguished Fellow, Bard College at Simon's Rock, and the Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education at Harvard University. She is a published scholar, an expert on the history of American public education and on educational research, and a devoted fan of CA. She attended Smith College and earned her MA from Teacher’s College Columbia and her PhD in history and education from Columbia University. She has taught at New York University, Columbia, and Harvard, as well as serving as the president of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. She has her own stories about CA in the 1960’s and a deep commitment to helping the school during this phase of its history.

Another person who is eager to extend her welcome to you is student body president, Jung Hee Hyun. While Jung Hee and I have not started our regular meetings, I am looking forward to seeing her and talking about her hopes for student council this year. I know that she has the best interest of all students in mind and has an ambitious agenda. Jung Hee, I have had a great working relationship with your predecessors, especially Joe Shapiro last year, Freddie Tunnard, Aisha Smith, Tyler Stone, Chas Carey, and David Miller before you, so I know it will continue with you. Best wishes for a great year.

I can think of few people associated with Concord Academy who have had a greater impact on a generation of students than Bill Bailey. I frequently meet graduates of his era who ask about him, wanting to know how he is, what he is doing, and telling me how important he was in their education at CA.

Bill earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Columbia University in history after graduating from Northampton High School in western Massachusetts. In the academic year 1966-67, Bill taught at the American School of Switzerland prior to accepting an appointment in the Concord Academy history department offered by then headmaster David Aloian. Bill quickly became an important member of the faculty and served during his time under Russ Mead, Phil McKean, Tom Wilcox, and me. Over the course of a long and distinguished career at CA, Bill taught history, helping to establish CA’s reputation as a school for students who know their history and politics and who write well. Since leaving CA, Bill has lived in New York and Vermont and continues to teach part-time at several independent schools in the city. He tells his friends that he loves his work, especially because he does not have to attend faculty meetings!

In thinking about what to say by way of introduction, I consulted some sources who know him well, former colleagues and fellow teacher emeritae/i of the school, all of whom are here this morning in the front of the Chapel. As many know, photos of these distinguished teachers are in the ASL. One colleague wrote this after visiting Bill’s class and captured, I think, the essence of his mighty talents as a teacher.

"You have a spontaneous, extremely natural style with the students in the classroom, a nice blend of friend and authority figure. You also stand out as being a very careful listener, you hear what the student answers or if you do not, you ask him to speak louder, more clearly, restate the questionwhatever is necessary to be sure both you and the rest of the class have heard the question; one of a teacher’s key skills is listening."

In 2002, upon his retirement from CA, the senior class invited Bill to give the Commencement address. At the conclusion of his remarks, Bill offered this advice to the seniors:

"Uphold the goals you cherish and strive to offer new ones to the world. Challenge your leaders but do so in ways that make them better. Respect their authority but don’t bow to it. Above all, participate."

Bill, we are all grateful for your continuing engagement with Concord Academy and welcome you back to start this academic year.

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