June 6, 2019

Henri Nouwen wrote that “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”   I agree that Joy is a conscious choice. But also sometimes Joy does simply happen to us and that was the case with Kaili.  We adopted her 16 and a half years ago and it was like God had dropped a bundle of joy – and love – into our arms and lives.  I know I struggle with lots of different emotions about things that have happened in my life, some of which I wrote about two years ago, but when I think of Kaili, I feel filled with joy.

This past weekend, Kaili graduated from her high school, The Emma Willard School.  It was a beautiful ceremony.  The head of school, Jenny Rao, did a wonderful job of honoring the graduates by mentioning each student and a characteristic about her.  Of Kaili, she said she learned not just one but two musical instruments, including the harp and shared her playing with the school on many occasions – concerts, recitals, and more. Of course, it is hard to condense the achievements of any person into a few sentences, but I thought it was nice that the head of school made the Commencement about the students.

Earlier in the week, at the Honors Convocation,  Kaili received the Senior English Prize. There the presenter had more time to speak about Kaili. In this case, the presenter was Kaili’s English teacher, who just so happens to be the daughter of Kaili’s pre-school teacher when Kaili was four, and at the early stages of her educational journey.  Ms. Daniels, Kaili’s current teacher said the following:

——
Senior English Prize Award
This is somewhat of a rare occasion for me.  When I found out who won this year’s Senior English Prize, I decided I was going to interview the student’s preschool teacher.
This preschool teacher was none other than my mother, Kim Daniels.  As it were yesterday, my mom rattled off a dossier of marvelous distinctions regarding the student. According to the true Mrs. Daniels, at the age of four, this student was “tremendously insightful, a reflective thinker beyond her years (rare for a four year old), highly motivated, possessed a quiet confidence, looked at concepts from different perspectives, was kindly inquisitive, and the harbinger of genuine kindness.”
I would love to say that the teachers at Emma were the cause of this student’s success, but as I heard my mother speak of the student, I knew that I, along with others here, have only served as guides.  This student’s talents are innate.  Throughout her years at Emma, she has anchored her English classes by
consistently providing astute fact-based deductions.  Her answers have always been eloquent, fantastically insightful, and inspiring to others.
George R.R. Martin once wrote that “A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.”  I am not sure how her writing looked at the age of four, but at age of 18, this student now wields a pen as if it were a harp.  She is a true composer. Her sentences are crisp and uncluttered. She is economical with her words, and yet, in all her humility, remains strikingly poignant in her prose.  She produces written essays that are quite simply “jaw dropping” and are far beyond letter grades.
It was a great honor of mine to tell my mother that this year’s Senior English Prize recipient is Kaili Ebert.

——-

This was quite a tribute to Kaili and of course made my wife and me very proud of Kaili and happy that she received this recognition.  Of course, I am proud of Kaili always and as I wrote earlier, she has brought so much joy into our lives.

And this past weekend was very  joyful. We had family join us from Rhode Island, New Jersey and Florida.  My brother Bob, the Florida visitor, came for the first time in 16 years, making it extra special.  Friends from nearby also came and we were able to have a nice celebration of this milestone occasion.   However, like the last 16 and a half years, the weekend seemed to speed by.  Kaili occasionally asks me what super power I would like to have and if I could have one, it would be the ability to slow things down at times.  I caught so many moments with my camera but there were moments  I just wanted to stop and just savor for a bit longer.

One other aspect of the weekend, admittedly, was that it was a little bittersweet since our relationship with Kaili’s school and her teachers is changing and also Kaili will soon be heading off to college.  I will miss the interactions with her teachers, many of whom I have gotten to know well. I also will miss taking Kaili to school and picking her up after 15 years of doing so.  These rides have been a joy for me, and I wish I had more years of doing them ahead.  In her elementary school years, I would try to tell her a story each day on the way to school. We invented characters and plot lines, and had so much fun.   It seems like it was just yesterday that I was taking her to pre school and struggling with the challenge of leaving her for the first time.  We made it through that and moved on to other challenges and adventures, creating lots of stories along the way, and traveling many miles too – but I will leave that for another submission.

 

So now we have our summer ahead ahead of us and more adventures planned – starting this week with a hike to the first Adirondack Peak we did years ago, and then a trip next week to Taiwan, where Kaili visited last year as part of a school language program.  After that, I am not sure, but hopefully we can choose to be joyful and I can enjoy all the minutes we get to share with each other.

 

I love waterfalls.  The sound of the falling water, the beauty of water flowing over rocks and the serenity of the setting calms my spirit .  I am very fortunate   While Upstate New York may not be Hawaii, which has spectacular water falls, it does have the Adirondacks and Catskills, which provide many places where one can hike to some very beautiful cascades of water flowing down from mountains or over rocks.   From our home, I don’t have to travel far to hike to such places as Barbersville Falls (near Troy) , Kaaterskill Falls (south of Albany)  or  Shelving Rock Falls (near the east shore of Lake George).  On a beautiful day, I cherish the chance to spend time sitting near the base of a waterfalls.

Barbersville Falls

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ottawa, Canada. Never been here before. On first blush, it seems like a beautiful city. We are staying at the Ottawa Marriott – on the 23rd floor. The room has a beautiful view that overlooks the Parliament Building and the Ottawa River.

We came here after dropping K, our daughter at music camp in Potsdam, NY.   She is a harpist and attends each year.  Ottawa was only a two hour jaunt north, so here we are.  Last night, after arriving, we walked near the river, toward a place called ByMarket.   On the way, we walked past the Parliament building, which mimics the Parliament building in London, including a “Big Ben” replica (Little Ben) and explored a little.  Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary so lots is going on

When we arrived at the “market” we discovered amy vegetable and fruit vendors. We could have had some delicious “Quebec” strawberries, if only we were on our way back to the hotel.   The vendors were selling them at a discount.   They looked so good.  We then barely beat a ferocious thunder storm into a pastry shop where  we had some tea and a pastry, while waiting out the storm.  While we sat, many people came in to them pastry shop, speaking many languages. It is very cosmopolitan. I like that.  We also discovered the pastry shop had cookies called “Obama Cookies”  Apparently, Mr. Obama had stopped at this pastry shop at some point and liked the cookies.

Afterward, we walked around the market area, and also down near the canal that goes through the city, past some war monuments and beautiful buildings. Then we had dinner at a restaurant called Three Brasseurs. Loretta had a flatbread pizza, which is called Flammekueches. It was very good. I had some ribs, which were also very good and a local beer.

Today, the sun is shining and we are planning to go to some museums.   But first, breakfast.

Senior Speech, 2017

June 24, 2017

Delivered on June 7, 2017 to the combined senior classes of The Albany Academies 

Good late afternoon.  I am humbled and honored that I was selected by the senior young men to be one of your speakers for tonight’s dinner.  First, I want to congratulate all of you on your impending graduation. I also wish Scap the best of luck as she starts a new adventure in her life. Scap, you have been the heart and soul of AAG for as long as I have been here. It is hard to imagine what next year will be like with out you.

 

I am not sure why exactly I was selected since I know that I have many colleagues who are equally worthy of this honor.  I also am not sure what your expectations are but will try to meet them just the same.  But in any case, thank you for selecting me

 

Since being informed by Mr. Milliken that I would be one of tonight’s guest speakers, I have tried to think about what I might say.  Over the past six weeks, I have played around with many themes, much like I am sure you do when you have an important paper to write.  And much like many of you, I started writing down ideas and also putting it off.  I kept saying, okay, today I will write the speech, and soon the number of todays before this day became fewer.  But, I did finally sit down and do it – yesterday.

 

As I said, there were many themes that I considered.  I also thought about how long I should speak. I am sure you all are anxious to get to the May Project fair, so I looked up how long the attention span of an adolescent is and I learned that it ranges from 8 seconds to about 15 or 20 minutes.  So on one hand. I should be done by now. On the other, you are in for the long hall.  I promise that I will try to be somewhere in the middle.

So getting back to themes.  One theme I considered was how the road of life is so unpredictable.  We can all attest to this.  We plan on having things go a certain way, but then something happens. Sometimes, these are good things, opportunities that come along that we can’t pass up, so we take them, even though it was not in the original plan.  Then there are the unfortunate things, or potholes, in the road, that cause us to take detours or slow us down, or go in an entirely different direction.  In the end, we discover hopefully that we are where we are supposed to be.

For example, this year certainly did not go as planned for me, and had good things and a few bad things crop up.  When I started out the year, I was teaching two sections of history, directing the Senior Honors Project, advising the international students, and helping out with the Girls on the Run Program, and the AAG Modified basketball program.  Come October, an unexpected opportunity to teach psychology presented itself.  This turned out to be one of the highlights of the year, as I got to teach seniors again, and in the course of doing so, I also had the chance to get to know a number of the young women in this class.  Then in November, I learned that I was going to be the head coach of the AAG Modified basketball team, not the assistant, and would be coaching 21 girls by myself.  I am not sure how this was for them, but this was another highlight, even though we did not win a game.   In January, on my wife’s birthday, she fell and broke her kneecap into 12 pieces.  As you can imagine, this was horrible for her, and caused many changes in her life, mostly giving up her independence. I know this was not fun for her and since she has been a runner for nearly 40 years of her life, this clearly presented a change in her story, since her running has been placed on hold.   As for me, it meant for six weeks, I became the family chauffeur, cook, chief laundry guy, etc.   In April, Mr. Pascone conferred upon me the title of Adviser of the Year at the Cum Laude dinner because I had the good fortune of having five of my beloved advisees inducted into the Cum Laude Society. Then shortly after that, Mr. Milliken informed me that I was selected to be the speaker for tonight.  Through all of this, of course, other facets of life continued.  We had a presidential election, and a new president, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl, my grand daughter finally laughed at one of my jokes, my daughter played the harp at Carnegie Hall, along with Lucy Xu, (I might add) as part of the Empire State Youth Orchestra, you applied and received notifications about your college plans for next year, and so on and on. So now here we are.  I am sure each of you also has a similar and perhaps more compelling story to tell about your year, about plans, expectations, opportunities, setbacks, triumphs, etc.  That seems to be the way of life. As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “So it goes”.

 

And this brings me to the second theme I considered, the importance of stories.  I like to read.  I also like to write and I like to tell stories.  I also like to read about other people’s stories or listen to others tell their stories.  In terms of reading, I think it is important that we all have a bible or two or three that we turn to when we need solace or sustenance, or just need to laugh.  Some of my bibles are the ones I have here. On the humor side, I have Calvin and Hobbes, and Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. On the general reading side, I have many, but one recent book that I enjoyed was this one, Breakfast with Buddha .  In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had lunch and dinner with Buddha as well.  On the poetry side, I also have an eclectic list, including some poems that some of you have written, on “9/11” and on “Freedom”.   On the philosophy side, I have Martin Buber’s I and Thou; and also, this one by Robert Coles, The Call to Stories.  It is a book that talks about the importance of listening to each other’s stories and getting to know those around us.  Robert Coles was a physician and discovered that healing involves getting to know the whole person.  This is true of so many other facets of life as well, and I wonder why we don’t take more time to learn each other’s stories.  Are we that busy with our lives?  I will leave that question unanswered, but this book was and continues to be an inspiration to me since it applies to teaching as well and it inspired me to start a project each year to ask my students in World History to write their personal histories.  And I find it is your stories that I enjoy hearing a great deal.

 

Now, I realize that some of you were not in my World History course.    But, for those who were, you may recall that I said that history is the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary acts.  Now I have taken the liberty of leaving some sheets around, which list 30 various qualities of what it means to be extraordinary.  Some of you have seen these before.  And if you look at these, you will see that many of these attributes apply to you.  In fact, consider what extraordinary things that you have achieved already.

  • Academic success, – most of your are headed off to college next year, where I am sure you will continue to build upon the foundation of learning you already have;
  • Artistic success:  whether it is dance, theater music or the visual arts, this class has much to be proud of.  Our halls are covered with wonderful works of art, and our stages showcased so many of your talents throughout this year, and the past few years.
  • Athletic success – this year alone, you had successes on the ice, in the pool, on the courts, on various fields, on the track and cross country courses, etc., – and may of you are going to continue to pursue athletic endeavors at the next level;
  • Cross –cultural success:  some of you have crossed country and state borders from far away places to come here and share your cultural selves with pursuing your learning.  As you go forward, the cross-cultural ties you might have made can hopefully help this world forge new understandings and peaceful engagements
  • Social success: making friend and bonds that will last a lifetime;
  • Miscellaneous: Honors Projects, Debate, Robotics, and so many other successes that you have to celebrate.
  • Finally Personal success.  You all have made a mark on our respective schools and your footsteps and voices will continue to echo through the halls for many years to come.

 

I hope as you look at this list of extraordinary qualities, you will see yourselves reflected in many of them, and hopefully, you will continue to develop others of these traits.  I have mentioned the successes, but I am sure that some of you have also experienced various challenges or disappointments.  These have asked you to persevere and perhaps remake your selves.

 

Okay, I realize I am getting to the upper end of that attention span I mentioned earlier, so I will start to wind down. I mentioned my World History class, and another thing I said in that class, is that most of us will never end up in a history book.   But for the young men who were in my history course, you have made it into a history book, this one (hold up the book).  This book contains many amazing stories.  I know not all of the young men and all of the young women here were in my class, so I am sorry that your stories are not included.  I am sure that your stories are as compelling as the ones contained here, which include personal histories ranging from Anadio to Zebrowski, and even includes some people who have moved on from her, such as Sean Moran, Leland Ben, A.J. Groesbeck and Josh Sanchez, to name a few.  These stories are only up to your 10th grade year, but even then you had so many extraordinary accomplishments, such as sports championships; science bowl, spelling bee, and geography bee trophies; and you told of enjoyable times with parents, grandparents, siblings and friends; and even some sad times too.  What stands out to me is how important your families are to you, and that you want to be remembered for making a difference.  One of you wrote that you would like to be remembered as a strong and benevolent leader (we could use one of those now) and others hoped that if they ended up in a history book, they would be remembered as having a positive effect on their world, or changed the world for the better.  One of you even wants to be Chair of the Trustees at our esteemed institution. I am sure your insights would help us even now.  This is a book of extraordinary events and values, and it represents in part what you have shared with me, and with the entire faculty and staff here at the academies – yourselves.

 

As I said at the outset, one of the highlights of this year was getting to teach some of the young women in this class. So I do not want to leave you out. I am grateful to you as well for what you have given me this year. You were patient with me as we tried new things, read the books I asked you too, and wrote some wonder essays and other papers; plus you allowed me to hone my chocolate chip cookie skills.

 

Another highlight of my job is working with the international students.  Your respective classes are well represented by international students.  I have had the opportunity mostly of getting to know members of the Chinese students community, who have welcomed me into their midst and allowed me to serve as their Academy guide, while I have been fortunate to learn so much from them.  This year, I also got to know some of the Canadian students better, in part because of the Psychology class, and this too has been enriching.

 

For all of you, one of the nice things about teaching you is your willingness to try new things and give teachers the freedom and confidence to offer a variety of ways to work with you, even if they don’t seem to make sense at the time.  From teaching you and learning WITH and FROM you, my life has become much richer.  Each day, I discovered something new and for that I am forever appreciative and will miss you.  As you go forth, I hope you will continue to be open to new learning ideas and approaches and also express you voice for what interest you.

 

In closing, let me say, that the selection as one of your speakers is a wonderful capstone to my year.  It is MY Carnegie Hall appearance and for that I will be eternally grateful.  I know that it is typical of offering some advice at these soirees, but as my beloved advisees know, I am not too big on giving advice, except for a couple basic rules.  The first one is simple — no Mental Masturbating, or no M2.  Life, as I noted above, is to unpredictable and short to be wasting time mental masturbating.

 

Two, don’t try to teach a pig how to sing, it wont work and also will make the pig angry.  I think this is self-explanatory

 

And, lastly, and most importantly, love each other – as each of you agree to do. Notice I said, “as each of you agree to do” NOT as you want others to love you. This is not easy, for as the poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote

“For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation..  it is something we must learn..”

 

And the question that might be asked is: how do we learn to love?  With all of the subjects we teach in school, why not a course on loving, respecting and learning how to even simply talk with each other and get to know each other. And this brings me back to the topic of stories. We must find time to share our stories and take time to listen, really listen – to each other. Hopefully, by doing so, we can build bridges that lead to loving each other.

 

Finally, (I know finally!!) if I had a gift I could give to each of you; it would be a road map of the world and two tickets that would allow each of you to travel around the world . Your education allows you to sample the world in a vicarious way. But my wish for you would be to go with a friend and see the world, make new friends, hear their stories and add to yours.

 

I apologize for going over the attention span limit and thank you so much for listening to me.  I look forward to hearing your unfolding stories.