Students and faculty gathered September 7, 2023, in the historic Meeting House on the Green for Convocation, which formally marked the start of the school’s 174th academic year. Emily Raudenbush Gum delivered her first welcome address as our 12th Head of School, reflecting on our school motto, and the value of what it means to be a person who is always learning.
“A ‘convocation’ — which is the name of this service — refers to the calling together of a community. It is a moment, a rhythm, and a liturgy, where we allow ourselves to be called to this community, to be called to this school year, together. And In this way, you might feel like we are what we do. Have any of you heard that phrase before?” Raudenbush Gum asked the students.
“The idea that we are what we do, not what we say we will do, is a very intriguing and old philosophical idea,” she said, explaining further: “There are others who, like me, are concerned about this idea, and they have started talking about ‘human being’ over ‘human doing.’ This is the idea that your value as a person comes not from what you contribute to the world, what you accomplish, but instead simply from your existence. There is a lot of value in this idea as well, but, again, I basically don’t like it.”
Instead, Raudenbush Gum said she prefers to think of the new school year that is about to unfold as an opportunity for what she described as “Human Becoming.”
"You are what you set yourself to become."
“‘I have in mind an ideal of a school …’ wrote our founder, Frederick Gunn, in 1870. It’s a mandate that invites us to dream. We believe that every single student in this room, that you all, right now, can thrive, and we believe this motto is the key to that thriving,” she said. “Now, maybe these ideas from our founder about the life of this school already resonate deeply with you. Maybe that is why you are here. That would be amazing. They resonated with me, and it’s why I first came to this school. But I would guess that for the majority of people in this room, you aren’t quite sure. ‘Human becoming’ sounds a bit lofty. And you aren’t quite sure if you are a Highlander. You just got here. You might be homesick. You might be missing the school you just left, and you might be missing your friends. And here’s what I have to say to you: Just give it a minute. That’s the thing about Human Becoming. You don’t have to be the perfect Highlander right now. You actually don’t ever have to become the perfect Highlander. All you have to do is stay on the journey with us. Show up for us, while we show up for you, and you just might become a Highlander, and a proud one at that.“
“We believe deeply, as a school, that you are all becoming, developing, growing, and to thrive in this moment is to be challenged, to get out of your comfort zone, to meet new people, and have new experiences. This is why your advisors are going to ask you to think outside of your box — whatever your box is. You are going to be asked to pick a sport that you may have never played before. You may have done that today. You are going to be asked to compete in that sport against students from other schools. And you’re going to be asked to take a wide range of courses to complete graduation requirements, to have conversations in your houses and with your advisor groups that stretch you way beyond what seems easy and straightforward. You’re going to be asked to set goals and then to acknowledge when you don’t meet them, to acknowledge when you fail, and when you fall short of your own expectations,” she said.
“And when these asks come, I want you to try to remember this moment, and to remember that by stretching yourself and leaving what you already know, that you are living into a deeply moral and good reality — which is that you are not defined by what you already do, or by your present state or circumstances. That would be so incredibly boring! You are not those things. You are what you set yourself to become. That’s who you are. The way you spend your time isn’t a reflection of who you are today. It is a reflection of who you want to be tomorrow. We believe in you and all that you will accomplish, and we will push you towards excellence because of that belief, not because of what you are able to do today. Tomorrow is much more interesting and exciting, and I am so grateful to get to share that with you,” Raudenbush Gum concluded.
Academic Honors and the Head Prefect Address
The service continued with recognition of those students who achieved academic honors in the 2022-23 school year, including Honors, High Honors and Dean’s List. Associate Head of School Seth Low P’26 and Director of Studies Amy Paulekas presented prizes to Olivia Kurtz and Michael Copen, who were named the top scholars for the Class of 2025 and 2026, respectively. Emma Eschweiler ’24 was the top scholar for the junior class and the school last year.
Seth Low, Associate Head of School, introduced this year’s Head Prefect, Bea Flynn ’24, who spoke directly to each class in her Head Prefect Address about how to approach the year ahead. “Even though we are all separated by grades, we are blessed with having a community where it’s easy to meet and get to know everybody,” Flynn said. “There is no pressure to try and ‘fit in’ here like other high schools. We pride ourselves on being an accepting, welcoming, and diverse community, so my best advice is to be yourself and let everyone get to know what an amazing person you are wholeheartedly.”
“Everyone here was accepted because the faculty believed we are strong enough to be held to such a high standard. So hold yourself to a high standard and hold your friends to the same in the healthiest and kindest manner. Don’t give faculty or your friends a cold shoulder when they are trying to help you. I totally understand. If you ask my family or my closest friends, you will find out that I am incredibly stubborn and don’t ask for help often, but the faculty truly want to help you,” Flynn said, offering some final advice for her peers for the school year: “Be patient, slow yourself to focus on the little things, and enjoy the moments as they come. Flourish in your successes, brush off your mistakes, push yourself, and create memories by being involved, energetic, and wholeheartedly yourself this year!”
Faculty Chairs and Awards
Following this, Raudenbush Gum introduced the faculty who will hold endowed chairs for the next three years. The Wallace H. Rowe III Chair in Critical Expression was presented with gratitude and admiration to Kori Rimany ’14 of the English Department faculty. This award is given by Former Trustee Roy Walzer ’65 P’86 in honor of Wally Rowe III H’57 P’77 ’79, who in his years at The Frederick Gunn School embodied the philosophy of personal and continuous education envisioned by Frederick and Abigail Gunn.
The Anne and Henry Zarrow Chair in Math and Sciences, given by the Zarrow Family to acknowledge the importance of math and science in the curriculum and to recognize a dedicated teacher in either math or science, was presented with gratitude and admiration to Betty Hagymasi of the Science Department faculty.
The Class of 1955 Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Lincoln Turner of the Visual Arts Faculty. This award is given to a faculty member of the Head of School’s choosing who, in the estimation of the Head, best exemplifies excellence in teaching and inspiration to learning. The award is in memory of Frederick Gunn School masters Graham Anderson, Rod Beebe, Edward Gray Buxton, Anthony Golembeske, Michael Post and David Raymond, who were significant influences on the members of the Class of 1955 in the best tradition of The Frederick Gunn School.
Now in his eighth year at The Frederick Gunn School, Turner teaches black-and-white and digital photography, film production, film study, printmaking, and graphic design. He previously taught subjects in many of these areas at the former Chase Collegiate School, a private day school founded in 1865 in Waterbury, Connecticut. In addition to teaching, Turner coached rowing at Gunn, and in his capacity as Head Coach, traveled to Scotland in the spring of 2017 with fellow coach Tim Poole and their students to practice with George Watson's College and race with them at Dorney Lake, site of the 2012 Olympic rowing competition. Turner currently serves as the Gallerist for the Perakos Family Cares Gallery in the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center.
Seeing How We are Always Learning in a New Way
“Lincoln’s teaching is influenced by investing in Gunn’s motto of always learning,” Raudenbush Gum said. “He finds inspiration in many areas of life, from traveling and hiking in the mountains to watching films in movie theaters and reading stacks of books. He loves cars and motorcycles, and he admittedly adores cooking shows even though he doesn’t enjoy cooking.”
In his Convocation Address, Turner shared an example of how he is “always learning,” in the form of a story that began in 1973, when he was about 12 years old, and admired a series of photographs his older brother had received as a gift. The photographers were made in 1932 and 1933 in Mexico by the American photographer, Paul Strand. It was the way that Strand made those images that ultimately sparked Turner’s passion for photography.
“At the time, I did not know who Paul Strand was. I didn't even know my brother was particularly interested in photography. I knew that I loved looking at photographs. I had been looking at pictures in Life Magazine for years,” Turner recalled. “What I held in my hands was something created in another universe and somehow, through magic or a spell, ended up in my brother's room. I was holding a large piece of beautiful paper. It was thick and had a textured surface and rough edges. The photograph floated in the middle and appeared pressed into the paper with such force that it perfectly smoothed the surface beneath. Yet, the image itself looked to be sitting on top of the paper and, upon closer inspection, appeared in shallow relief, lending the image a three-dimensional quality.”
“Each photograph in the Mexico Portfolio is black and white, but once again, not like any black-and-white photograph I had ever seen,” he continued. “They were warm with shadows so deep yet revealing of detail that you wanted to discover everything hidden there. The highlights were so luminescent that I was convinced if I held my finger over an area lit by the sun, it, too, would glow. I'm sure my brother was talking to me as I stared intently at the pictures, but I wasn't there. I was walking around inside these pictures, looking into the distance of a landscape or standing next to Strand as he released the shutter to record an image. I was having what we lovingly called in graduate school ‘an art experience.’”
“Over the years, when I take time to reflect on that experience, I do believe the moment I left my brother’s room, I was on a slightly different path through life than I was a few minutes earlier,” Turner said, explaining that he went on to teach himself the basics of photography as a student at Pomfret School, where there was a tiny darkroom, but no photography teacher. It was the beginning of a decades-long pursuit to master the photogravure process that Strand used to create the images Turner had so admired. The process is complex, and Turner struggled to get it just right up until this year.
“Well, five weeks ago, I wanted to quit, give up trying, and go back to other, more familiar methods of printing. I just wasn’t having any success, and it was very hard to bounce back from the frustration I was feeling after so many years of trying. However, I did not want to admit or accept defeat, to be defeated. I regrouped, tried again, and worked through the problems I was experiencing one by one and succeeded and have repeated my successful results numerous times,” he said, noting that his success had finally come just three weeks before he was to deliver his speech.
“As I think back on this journey along my slightly different path through life, because of everything that has happened along the way, I am certain that life will remain interesting and fun for as long as I am passionate about learning,” Turner said, addressing the students: “About a month and a half from now, those of you in my printmaking class will start working with one of your photographs. You will print it on a photopolymer plate, expose it to ultraviolet light, and develop it in water. Then, you will ink it, wipe it clean, take a beautiful piece of thick paper with a textured surface and rough edges, place it over the plate, and run it through the press under tremendous pressure. When it’s finished, you will slowly lift the paper off the plate to reveal the printed image. If everything has gone right, I hope your response will be to stare at it wide-eyed and say, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful.’”
Photos by Kristin Moore Photo