On September 8, the community gathered inside the historic Meetinghouse on The Green to celebrate Convocation and the beginning of our 173rd year as a school. The highlight of this year’s ceremony was the presentation of a new teaching chair. Kelsey Brush of the Mathematics Department faculty was named the first recipient of the Thomas R. King ’60 Family Chair for Excellence in Teaching. The award was presented by Head of School Peter Becker and Trustee Tom King ’60.
The Thomas R. King Family Chair was created through the leadership and generosity of King and his wife, Kathy. Their gift of $1 million to the school’s endowment was given to honor esteemed Frederick Gunn School educators, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and entrepreneurship. This chair will be bestowed on a rotating basis, once every three years, to an exemplary member of the school's faculty. Each recipient will receive an immediate financial stipend that the school will renew annually for as long as the honored faculty member is employed by the school.
“We are extremely grateful as a school to recognize you, Tom, and Kathy, and your recognition of the importance of the teaching faculty,” Becker said. “Thank you for your leadership and generosity to make the Thomas R. King Family Chair for Excellence in Teaching possible.”
King was appointed to the Board of Trustees in April 2020. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University and earned his MBA from Boston College. Following service in the U.S. Air Force and the New York Air National Guard, he worked at Lehman Brothers as a security analyst following the metal industries. He later joined Merrill Lynch, where he was Vice President of Merrill Lynch Asset Management. In 1984, he joined the Trust and Estates Department of Chemical Bank as an Investment Manager. Following several mergers, the resulting organization became known as J.P. Morgan Chase, from which King retired in 2004 as Vice President of Investments in its Personal Asset Management Division. He and Kathy reside in Stamford, Connecticut.
Addressing the community, King reflected: “My experience, and those of my classmates from the Class of ’60, when we get together — whether it’s one-on-one, in multiples, large groups, Zoom, reunions, whatever — invariably, the conversation comes around to the teachers that we had over the years, and the impact that they had on us.”
“This gift was actually something that I had planned to be a legacy gift, but I wasn’t in a hurry to deliver it,” he said, eliciting a chuckle from the audience. He went on to explain that, at his wife’s urging, he decided to make that gift to the school sooner.
“I thought back to … the number of people that I Interacted with here, at what was then The Gunnery, who had a profound impact on who I became and the success I achieved. I don’t expect you to realize that now. That’s something you will sort of have to mull over as you go through life,” King told the students. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you come to the same conclusion. It’s when people like Kelsey have a profound impact on you — that shows up down the road,” King said.
King also said he chose to make his gift to The Frederick Gunn School because the four years he spent here was the most important time in his education. “Hopefully, you'll be able to look back and realize that's going to be true for you as well, and hopefully, you will remember and give back as we did over the years,” he said.
Opening with record enrollment
School opened this fall with record enrollment, including 323 students from 22 countries and 25 states. Becker noted the community is welcoming more than 130 new students and faculty this year. Coming together as we do, from around the country and around the world, presents us with an incredible opportunity to be with each other and practice philoxenia, he said, explaining philoxenia is an ancient Greek word that translates today as hospitality, and actually means loving the stranger. It is the opposite of xenophobia, or fear of the stranger, he said.
“One of the reasons that Frederick and Abigail Gunn started a boarding school rather than a day school is that they knew the transformative power of students living together under the guidance and in the care of loving, hope-filled, adults,” Becker said. “The Gunns loved and welcomed strangers, and they saw to it that students under their care did the same for one another. So as we create the 2022-2023 version of The Frederick Gunn School, let's practice philoxenia and learn a lot about ourselves and one another through this process.”
Convocation included the presentation of academic honors from the 2021-22 school year by Emily Gum, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning. Gum read the names of sophomores, juniors, and seniors who were named to the Honor Roll, High Honor Roll, and Dean’s List for the previous academic year. The second highest scholar in 2021-22 was Jenny Shen ’23 and the highest scholar was Chris Wang ’23.
Seth Low, Associate Head of School, introduced this year’s Head Prefect, Ashleen Hay ’23, who delivered her first address to the school. In keeping with tradition, the Convocation Address was delivered by the recipient of The Class of 1955 Distinguished Teaching Award. Becker presented this year’s award to Christopher Visentin of the English Department faculty.
Raised in Rhinebeck, New York, Visentin graduated from The Kent School. He rowed for Kent and Hamilton College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English. He lived in Montreal, where he rowed competitively while working for a law firm before beginning his master’s degree in English at Boston University. He also holds a law degree from BU School of Law with a concentration in intellectual property law. He focused his studies on legal conceptualizations of creativity and originality. Visentin has taught English at Gunn since 2018. He also coaches rowing, serves as an advisor and dorm parent, and is the faculty advisor of The Stray Shot literary journal. He and his wife, Holly, live in New Preston, and welcomed a daughter, Imogen, this summer.
In his address, Visentin reflected on a question posed by Prefect Clara Prander ’22, when she was a student in his honors English class last spring. While the rest of the class was engaged in an argument, Prander looked over at him and asked quietly, “Mr. Visentin, what is your dream job?”
“I took a moment to consider the question before responding: ‘I think it's this,’” Visentin replied.
“My response was fascinating enough to the rest of the class that they dropped their argument for a moment to stare at me with healthy skepticism, as if they were trying to spot the irony in my statement, which is fair. ‘Really?’ they asked. I tried not to be offended. ‘I think, I think this is my dream job,’ I restated. After considering this for a moment. my students gave me a neglectful, ‘Huh,’ and moved on,” Visentin said. But the moment stayed with him.
He went on to reflect on how sometimes in life, we end up in a place that bears no resemblance to our hopes or dreams or how we see ourselves. “As far as I can tell, that's the trap of modern life,” he said, advising students to avoid that trap by carrying with them the school motto: “A Good Person is Always Learning.”
“I think we learn not just to know what a metaphor is, or how to conjugate verbs in French, but to better understand ourselves; to learn how to learn. This helps keep us from simply going with the flow, and letting the days go by until we snap to and wonder what we've done with all of them. A good person who is always learning is always learning how to learn, how to know themselves better. Now, learning is hard work, and this level of profound learning is even harder. We're all going to have those moments where we wonder where we've been and what got us here. But the striving, the act of learning for learning’s sake, that’s the important part,” he said, advising students on how to approach this new school year: “Learn your subjects, but learn to learn them, not just to ace them, not just to get through them, the term, the year, high school, education in general, but as a means for you to learn yourself. You'll notice, this has nothing to do with your GPA or standardized test scores. The simple process of learning — learning yourself — precedes following your passions, or being true to yourself. Without this first step, knowing yourself, you will never even know what you're passionate about.”
View additional photos of Convocation on SmugMug.