An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Bernie Noe, head of school

On Friday, Head of School Bernie Noe shared some thoughts with Upper School students at the opening assembly. Following is an excerpt from his speech.

As [I’ve mentioned before], I wasn’t such a great student in high school, so I didn’t get a lot of positive comments from teachers. There was really only one [positive comment] in my four years of high school: My senior year, in a course titled Problems of Democracy, Mr. Todd stopped me on my way out the door one day and said, “You do not work as hard as you should, but I want you to know that if you ever applied yourself, I think you could do really well in this class.” It was amazing to me that he took the time to say that. By the standards of praise these days it wasn’t exactly overflowing, but it was like water in the desert to me.

Mr. Todd was one of the teachers I really respected. He was smart, clearly into teaching his class, and passionate about all of us knowing about how life in a democracy should work. I studied the man: wondered what made him tick, noticed the way he carried himself, even the way he dressed. He never knew it, but he became sort of a role model [for me]. I had always loved politics and he noticed. I worked so hard in class after that and [that is] the only A I can remember earning in high school. … The man believed in me, and that helped me believe in myself. When I finally did get to college, I majored in political science and to this day I still love politics. And when I want something, I work really hard to get it.

During my junior and senior years of high school I worked 30 hours a week in a factory that made aluminum lounge chairs, the kind people carry to the beach. My shift was 3:30-8:30, five nights a week, and 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It was a lot of hours, in addition to going to school, but as I did little homework, I had plenty of time and enjoyed working in the factory [because] a lot of my friends worked there as well. My boss was a guy named Leon Conoyer, who everyone called Sarge because he had been a master sergeant in the U.S. army for 20 years. He was a tough, superdirect guy, who most people were sort of afraid of, but I was a good worker and he and I got along pretty well… One afternoon I got in a minor disagreement with another guy at the punch clock. Sarge happened to be nearby and he came over and said knock it off, and we did. Sarge strode in his assertive military style, but then hesitated for a moment, strode back and said to me, “You know, Bernard, sometimes you just act like a [jerk].”

That’s all he said, and then he strode away. I was stunned. I greatly respected him, and I sort of knew he was right. You know, you just have those moments in life when someone tells you something about yourself and you know they are right… and you often begin to change as a result. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have been in a situation where I find myself thinking, Bernie, do not be a [jerk] about this. It has mostly worked, although not always.

… Advice about life will come at you from a lot of different directions: teachers, parents, bosses, friends, [people you know well and others you don’t]. If we can all really listen to that advice and act on it when we know it is right, we will have great lives. I think that even if you do that imperfectly you will have a great life!

… Thanks, everyone. I wish each and every one of you every success this year.