Convocation Reflection by long-time faculty member Bruce Barton:
Welcome back to your old school and we hope to that place you once called home. We are happy to see you again.
My name is Bruce Barton. I came to Holderness to teach in the fall of 1988 and have never left. I have had two children born, raised and now graduated from the school. My wife Sarah is on the faculty too. We live up on the Hill in the house previously occupied by Rip Richards and Dick Stevens. We love the place and while not an alum, I share with you a deep affection for this little school.
It is so good to see you again, to re-connect and to make some new connections along the way. Some of you I know. Some of you I don’t. For those here who know me (particularly the Class of 2014) and are saying to yourself, “Boy, has that guy aged,” I would like to say one thing, “So have you!”
It happily falls to me to welcome you here today and to give some brief remarks before turning it over to Head of School Phil Peck. I’d like to orient my short remarks around water. And, I will frame these remarks around two pieces of writing.
Let me begin with a reference to the Hebrew Bible, a delicious paraphrase from the Book of Deuteronomy:
Variation on Deuteronomy Chapter 6 verse 11 (by the Rev. Peter Raible):
We build on foundations we did not lay
We warm ourselves by fires we did not light
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant
We drink from wells we did not dig
What a complete honor it is to welcome back the very people who laid our foundations, who lit our fires, who planted our trees and who dug our wells. Thank you for doing that. This is one current resident who is deeply grateful and appreciative of what you did—whether 5 years ago or 50 + years ago. What we enjoy here today is a direct result of what you did when you were here. This weekend, you get to see and experience the fruit of your labor by visiting with us. You get to see how we have changed, and we get to see how you have changed. For this one faculty member, it is my favorite weekend of the year.
We have evolved. We have grown. Faces are different. Buildings are different. Programs have been added. Some things have been lost. And that is as it should be with any dynamic organization, but we would never be where we are today without you having contributed along the way.
Some things, of course, are the same:
- We still have sit-down dinners.
- Students still wait tables and put a finger upside their nose if they don’t want to do a waiting job.
- Students still moan when they see their name next to some job assignments: Pantry, ODC.
- The swing set, if you were ever on it as a student, makes exactly the same sound it did at least 30 years ago.
- While the running and skiing trails around the property have expanded, the ones you used and might remember are still here—and they are just as used and loved.
- We still sing in Assembly—"Lean on Me" and "Quinn the Eskimo" have survived for any of you who were here during the Dave Lockwood era.
- Chapel sermons have about the same level of enthusiasm as they did when you were here—and I say that as someone who has given chapel sermons to some of you.
- Head’s Holidays are still as exciting to this group of students as they were back in your time.
There are more things that have been preserved which I could list, but I hope you get the picture; not everything has changed. But, here is one last thing I can assure you of: The students who are here today would be your friends if you were here today. I often say this to alums because it is the single most comforting thing I can find to say in the blizzard of change that is the human experience. Through all the changes and evolutions, we still have wonderful kids who pitch in and help, who say hi and smile, and who seek lives of balance and meaning.
Now on to my second water reference--it emerges from a somewhat lesser known poem of Robert Frost’s called "Directive." For me, it is one of his best. I think it fabulously appropriate to share today. The poem is a total retrospective. The narrator is taking a trip back in time to find their family home. The poem is a search for roots.
The poem begins with these lines:
“Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss of detail”
Isn’t that you today? You have jumped out of the stream of your every day and have returned here, to that time which we all know now (in our ripe old ages) to have been simpler and more clear. The narrator’s senses are engaged along this journey backward. They recognize smells and sights and sounds, but in the end, they come to realize that:
“There is a house that is no more a house,
Upon a farm that is no more a farm,
And in a town that is no more a town.”
In some ways, much of what the traveler seeks is gone, swallowed back up into the mouth of time. There are remnants that remain (a cellar hole, a certain coolness in the air, a few children’s toys scattered about), but in essence, it is all gone. That may be you this weekend too—finding remnants of what you once knew. So, the narrator has to recalibrate their mission. Instead of seeking the town, the farm and the home, the narrator seeks the spring that fed the home. It requires a harder hike, following the brook near the home up the mountain, until finally, they find the spring. It’s a moment of deep spiritual meaning.
Frost ends the poem this way:
“Here are your waters and your watering place,
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”
So, as your reunion weekend unfolds, we hope you find your spring and drink deeply from those waters. It’s still here, and it continues to feed us the way it fed you all those years ago.
With that, I will turn it over to Head of School Phil Peck—my colleague and friend, someone whose life work so perfectly aligns with the mission and motto of our school.Renaming of the Distinguished Service Award in Tracy Gillette’s honor
Today I have the great privilege of honoring two outstanding Holderness graduates. As many of you know, every year we award the Distinguished Service Award to an alumnus/a in a reunion class, who through his or her devotion and dedicated service has significantly and positively affected the health and well-being of the school.
The first graduate that I would like to honor today actually won the Distinguished Service Award in 2004. No, Tracy McCoy Gillette, from the magnificent Class of 1989, is not going to receive the award again this year.
When Tracy first came to Holderness in 1986 as a rising sophomore, she had visited a number of schools. However, once she spent time on the Holderness campus, she knew immediately that it was home. A graduate of the great Class of 1989, she has served as a dedicated reunion volunteer, Admissions volunteer, class agent, class correspondent, and president of the Holderness School Alumni Association. She now serves as a member of the Board of Trustees and is also a proud Holderness parent to Lily ’19 and Wells ’22. Tracy has answered every call to serve Holderness and is an exceptional leader and a true friend.
In honor of Tracy and her exemplary service to Holderness, we are renaming the Distinguished Service Award in her honor. The award will now be known as the Tracy McCoy Gillette ’89 Distinguished Service Award.
Additionally, her friends and family also created The Tracy McCoy Gillette Glitter Fund which helps support financial aid for deserving students who embody Tracy’s energy and enthusiasm for life. We thank you for all you have done to serve Holderness. Please join me in applauding the wonder that is Tracy.
Distinguished Service Award presented to Andrew Sawyer '79
This year’s distinguished service award goes to a great friend of the school.
First, as a student, Andrew excelled during his days at Holderness. He thrived as a skier under the tutelage of the legendary Don Henderson, developed a deep appreciation for the outdoors, and showed for the first time his dedication to putting service before self. He went on to race with the varsity ski team at the University of Maine where he received a BA in Business Administration and Finance. In 1993, Andrew earned an MBA from Pace University.
Now as a parent, Andrew’s Holderness legacy continues through his three sons, Morgan ’18, Alden ’20, and Jack ’21. All three share Andrew’s passion for the outdoors, his kind spirit, and are servant leaders in their own right. He also plans the annual Holderness 100, a challenging bike ride that brings riders over five passes in the White Mountains. It does not take long for Andrew to leave this Head of School behind on that ride.
Andrew has served on the Holderness Board of Trustees since 2013. He currently chairs the Investment and Audit Committees in addition to serving on the School Life and Finance Committees. Andrew has masterfully managed our Holderness School endowment, helping us to exceed annual expectations; amongst other things, this has allowed us to award more scholarship money than ever before.
Andrew is not only a servant of Holderness but of many other civic, healthcare, and charitable causes. He currently serves on the Maine 529 College Saving Plan Investment Advisory Committee, MaineHealth Investment Committee, and the Maine Port Authority Board.
When Andrew is not volunteering his time, he serves as the Chief Investment Officer of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. In this position, Andrew oversees the investments of over 15,000 Maine public employee retirement funds.
Thank you, Andrew, for your lifetime of caring deeply about your Holderness family, and thank you for the role you play in helping this Head of School stay grounded in the core values and programs that will always distinguish this school we love.
It is my privilege and honor on behalf of Holderness School to present you with this year’s Tracy McCoy Gillette Distinguished Alumni Service Award.