An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Bernie Noe, head of school

At Upper and Middle school Back-to-School Nights, Head of School Bernie Noe shared some thoughts with parents and guardians. Following is an excerpt from his speech.

This is my 23rd and final Back-to-School Night speech to all of you, so I thought I would spend a few minutes sharing with you what I believe is the essence of Lakeside School and what this means for your students and all of you. I shared some of these same thoughts at convocation with our students earlier this year.

I turned 70 this past summer, have recently become a grandparent, and I am beginning my 23rd and final year at Lakeside School, so I have seen over 3,000 students go through the school and have followed many of them into life: their careers, some of their ups and downs, their marriages, the birth of their children. I have been thinking a lot about life lately: what really matters, and what doesn’t matter so much. Different things of course will matter at different stages in our lives and what I am about to suggest is what I believe matters to our students – especially during their high school years.

Friends and family matter. Spending time with your friends, learning how to be a good friend to one another matters. The friends our students make at this school will enrich their lives as much as any course or experience they might have at the school. And they will make friends for life here. Learning to deeply care about other people and to support them when they need support will make them better human beings. Being a good family member matters, putting yourself out to help your family is essential to learning that life is not all about you and your needs, but about the needs of others. So make sure your students is doing their fair share of contributing to family life; dishes, taking out the trash, yardwork. You’re doing your student a disservice if you let them skip contributing to family life and maybe even leading them to believe they are special, exempt from commitments to others.

It matters that our students do all that they can to be a good people in life, someone who tries to do the right thing, as best they can discern it in every situation. Being kind to others, helpful, thoughtful, and honest. We of course all want this for our students and we know it is harder than it sounds. We do not expect Lakeside students to be saints, but we do expect them to struggle to be a good person. We all struggle, even as adults, not to be jealous, spiteful, intolerant, judgmental, and some days we do better than others. Even the deeply centered Ghandhi struggled with this one. He once remarked that his most formidable opponent was not the British Empire but a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi, remarking, “with him I seem to have very little influence.”

Hear me out on this next one everyone. This may be a hard one to hear for a number of you. It matters to understand that our students are not special because they’re not, not even if people tell them all the time that they are. And even if they become fabulously successful in life – famous, rich – they are still not that special, although everyone will tell them that they are, especially if they are rich. There are seven billion people in this world and they are all as equally special as any one of our students, and if our students can really internalize that, they will be a better people, live more meaningful lives, and contribute positively to the world. I asked our students at the beginning of this year to spend their energy appreciating others rather than appreciating themselves. The more they do that, the happier they will be and the better off the world will be.

We all love our children and it is natural for all of us to believe that our children are special, but I believe we can safely spend a little less time telling our students how special they are and a little more time asking them about what they are doing for others: family members, friends, their school community, their neighborhood, or their city.

Finally, it matters that our students know how to be a good community person. Someone who knows how put their needs and wants second to the common good. It helps here if they can keep in mind that they are not special. The world needs this from all of our students. We as adults need it from each other. I shared with the students that we can’t live together successfully in this school, this city, or anywhere, unless we take responsibility for one another, help and support one another, look out for community needs that we might help with sometimes – even at significant sacrifice to ourselves. If all of us, parents and guardians, students, faculty, administrators, and board members, do this more often than not, this will be great school for all of us, most all of the time.

So there you have it folks: one school head’s perspective on what really matters that we all work on right now with our students. And of course all of us will also be working on these same things, because even after years of working on them, we still are not entirely where we want to be in any one of these areas.

I will end by saying that it is a privilege to be in community with all of you. Let’s all help each other this year work on what matters: knowing and supporting one another, being the best people we can be as individuals and in community with one another.

I wish all you, and your entire families, an awesome, in-person school year!