An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Bernie Noe, head of school

On Friday, Head of School Bernie Noe welcomed back Upper School students at the opening assembly. Following is an excerpt from his speech.

Yesterday in Convocation I spoke to you all about what it will take for Lakeside to be a great school for everyone, and for those of you who have forgotten already the three major points were take responsibility for others, respect everyone all the time, even those you disagree with, and work on developing empathy for others. And if you are someone, and I believe by high school you might know who you are, who tends to be all about yourself and your needs, or sometimes not very respectful of others in person, behind their backs, or online, or not very empathic, seldom putting yourselves in the shoes of another and feeling their discomfort, or pain, you especially need to work on these three areas. The good news is we can all improve in all three areas throughout our lives and we will become more fully human in doing so. But the later we all start, the harder it will be, so get started as you walk out of this assembly!

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States during the years 1932 to 1945, the only U.S. President to serve more than two terms, he dedicated his presidency to making life better for the poorest, least powerful citizens of the United States. He took office in the depths of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was 25 percent, people were living in tent cities, too poor to afford a proper roof over their heads and were in some cases literally starving. During his time in office, through a number of government-sponsored program such as social security, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which built many of the bridges and roads we still use today, he put people in the country back to work. He restored people’s hope, their faith in their country. In his 13 years in office Roosevelt reallocated seven percent of the national wealth from the very richest Americans, to the poor and middle class. As juniors will soon know and seniors already know, his administration was known as the New Deal because he offered American a new deal for their lives.

Roosevelt attributed the New Deal substantially to his education at Groton School, in Massachusetts, where he learned that life was not all about him but rather about what he did for others, about whether he left the world a better place for others. Roosevelt grew up with great privilege. He came from a wealthy, famous family. He could have just been comfortable his whole life, but he chose to serve those who needed his help and the United States is a better nation as a result.

All of you are all now very much in the period of your life when you are becoming the person you are going to be in this world. For some of you this process started in Middle School and for some of you it will not start in a serious way for a couple more years, or even later. This is the period where you begin to decide, independent of your parents and teachers, what you think is important about life, what you value, and what you believe to be true. And it is a time when you begin to live out your values and see how that feels and what it means. 

As you work on what you believe to be true, your values and how you will live in this world, keep a few critical points in mind. First, life is not all about you and what you need. Your highest purpose in life is not to take care of your own needs and get all the good stuff for you and your family. I consider every one of you sitting out in the audience today to be a privileged person, whether you are from a wealthy family or on full financial aid. You are in a school that is going to provide you with a world-class education, something so many others of your peers around the country, through accident of birth and circumstance, will not experience and it is incumbent on you to use your education for the betterment of your society. Life is not all about you; it is about what you will do for others. There is so much need in this country and around the world right now; get started trying to address that need. Put your weight down somewhere.

Second critical point, it will take some courage to both shape and live out your values. Roosevelt was vilified throughout his administration for trying to help those who most needed help. He was called a traitor to his class, accused of being mentally ill, and much worse, but he persisted. He followed his values and left the country a better place for everyone. Your parents, your friends, your relatives are going to tell you that getting into college is what you need to focus on right now; that that is what is important. It’s not. Shaping your values and living them out is what is most important right now and always. Do not get confused on that point. Have the courage to focus on your values above all else.

Third and final critical point, your values, assuming you are working on them, will evolve significantly based on your life experience. Roosevelt was actually kind of a shallow guy in high school and college. He considered the great disappointment of his life to be not being admitted to the most prestigious social club at his college, but at age 39 he developed polio and was partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. This gave him insight into what it meant to be vulnerable and not have your life work out as planned, and he used that insight to further shape his values and his presidential administration. I am not suggesting that it is OK to let yourself off the hook for who you are at the moment but only to say that you need to start now and be open to what life will teach you.

As is probably evident I admire Roosevelt. Although he died before I was born it was because of him, his policies, that my factory worker father made enough money to send two children to college without taking out a loan and that my mom and dad could retire with enough money to live on, something my grandparents could never do.

So, I wish all of you every success this year, and going forward, with shaping the values you will live by and in living out those values now and in the future.