Brilliance from the Board
We remain deeply inspired by the words of retiring Board Chair, Pam Dickinson, in her keynote speech at Beacon Academy’s Spring Celebration this past Sunday, May 7, 2017. Please read on to hear her words, which famed sports writer, Peter Gammons, considers “a speech to be devoured by all.”
If you read my letter in the program, you know that this is my last public speaking engagement as Chairman of the Board and they’ve asked me to reflect on what Beacon has meant to me….on my own personal Beacon journey. But first, I must first take a moment to thank some people who have been with me along the way.
First the big three: Marsha, whose professionalism, deep thoughtfulness, and belief that you can always do everything just a little bit better if try hard enough, is an inspiration to me. Mervan, who is not only a role model to our students, but also a role model to me for his commitment to educational equity and his impassioned and eloquent public speaking on the same. I hope for about 10% of what Mervan delivers when I write and give a speech. And Cindy, whose absolute commitment to raw honesty and accountability is hard to live up to. The kids know this, as do all of us who work with Cindy, but the fact that she models these principles each and every day, no matter how hard and uncomfortable it can be, makes me want to keep trying. She has given me a yardstick of personal authenticity to measure myself by. I am so grateful to have you three in my life.
Next, I thank my fellow trustees. I have served on many boards, but you are peerless to work with. We have powerfully advanced Beacon in so many ways in our years together. We parented it from infancy through adolescence to a full grown, financially and operationally sustainable organization. And we have done so cohesively and had some fun while we were at it. I will miss seeing you all regularly but am so proud to call each of you my colleague and my friend. And I am particularly grateful to my successor Amy McCarthy who takes over as Board Chair on July 1st. Aided by new Vice Chair Mary Rivet, the Board and Beacon are in good hands.
Next, and importantly, I thank my husband Ty. With all of this work comes a huge commitment of time and energy. He has supported me and supported Beacon for this past decade. Beacon has become part and parcel to him and our whole family. I would not have been able to do this work without him at my side.
And finally, I thank the students…our Beacons. For you have changed the trajectory of my life. We all know Beacon transforms young people like Dennishia…takes them from a life of limits to a life of possibilities. But Beacon does something much bigger than that…something that is hard to define and feels almost magical. Maybe it’s the fourth leg of our metaphorical stool…academy, alumni, outreach and this other thing…this thing we sometimes call changing hearts and minds. Beacon brings people together on all sides of privilege, challenging us to confront our hidden biases and making us better, kinder, more authentic human beings.
Since they asked for a personal reflection, I will use myself as an example. I grew up in Connecticut, attended independent school, went to Williams College, worked in private equity, then raised my kids in the horsey suburbs of Lincoln. You get the picture, a pretty insulated bubble of privilege. To co-opt a line from my good friend Peter Gammons, who knows how to turn a phrase, “I didn’t know Roxbury from West Roxbury.”
Then my good friend Joanne Bauer invited me to this very same dinner 9 years ago tonight. At the time, I was a busy “youngish” mom with four pre-teen daughters at Shady Hill, and though I had never heard of Beacon, had no idea what I was getting into, a night out at Rialto sounded pretty good to me.
The student at our table amazed me. He, a black young man from Roxbury, conversed confidently, eloquently, maturely and easily with a table full of middle-aged wealthy white folks from the suburbs. Two completely different worlds collided at that table. Yet the conversation flowed easily because he made it possible. Because he was intellectually and socially brave, much braver than I was at that time.
Then Cindy Laba got up and spoke, without filter as she always does, about what it takes to get a kid from below the poverty line, usually black or brown in Beacon’s case, into the rarified world where my own kids lived. And it wasn’t in the traditional ways I had learned and that felt safe. It wasn’t about playing nice, making excuses because their life was hard, or lowering expectations because they hadn’t had the same preparation. And it certainly wasn’t about pretending barriers and prejudices didn’t exist or keeping quiet on such subjects as money and race because they are uncomfortable to talk about and make obvious our differences.
I was floored and I was hooked. That night I began my own personal Beacon journey: I began my struggle to be intellectually and socially brave: to ask hard questions, to broach subjects I thought were taboo. To look for our commonalities and not be afraid of our differences. To understand that if we approach each other with kind and good hearts, the occasional foot in mouth moments will be forgiven.
So yes, Beacon is about providing the path for kids not of privilege to enter the pipeline to the top….to better their lives. But Beacon betters all of our lives. When our graduates enter their independent schools and achieve on par or better than kids like mine, mindsets on both sides of privilege are changed. And I said both sides purposefully as this shift cuts both ways. When this year’s class took an overnight ski trip to one of our trustee’s beautiful homes in Vermont, one of the students said, “Wow, I didn’t know rich people could be so nice.” Beacon teaches us to get to know each other as people, not as some pre-conceived stereotype, but real and individual people.
You see, you don’t actually have to graduate from Beacon to be Beacon. Everyone in this room is Beacon. Beacon is not just a school, it is a thought movement. It is recognizing that having less does not make you less. That assimilation isn’t the goal, appreciation is. That we don’t have to fear the unknown in each other. We are all one people, capable of great kindness and great accomplishments if we are truthful with each other, hold each other to high standards, and approach each other with open minds and hearts.
When I first took over as Board Chair, I met with Rabbi Friedman and he gave me a great metaphor, saying the Beacon students were like constellations…their just plain goodness exploded into and beyond every single person they touched. I have this image of that the old Herbal Essence shampoo commercial…you tell two friends they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on. Our kids have that kind of ripple effect. They, and we, are changing attitudes, biases, entire mindsets at independent schools, colleges, the workplace, in our own families…everywhere.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought, maybe this work isn’t one of the legs of our stool, maybe it is the stool itself. Maybe getting our Beacon kids access into the pipeline to the top is just a tool in our toolbox of what we are really after. Teaching people that anything is possible, that everyone is valuable. Maybe that is Beacon’s true legacy. It is lofty work but if anyone can do it, the people in this room can.
Joanne, you are here with me tonight and I saved my final thank you for you for you brought Beacon into my life. And because of Beacon, I now know the difference between Roxbury and West Roxbury but more importantly, I know that the people from them are more the same than they are different.
Thank you all for this past decade at Beacon, and these 7 great years on the board. And though I am stepping off the board, I am not going anywhere. You can take the girl out of Beacon, but you can’t take Beacon out of the girl.