Installation Remarks from Dr. Kreutziger
Thank you, Jon, for the words and wisdom, yes, but most importantly for your friendship. Having you and Mary Pat join us this morning just feels right. Good morning and welcome students, faculty, trustees, distinguished guests, and other friends of St. George’s Episcopal School.
Students, hold tight for a few minutes while I exercise some good manners. I have a story or two to share especially with you, but we need to acknowledge some folks first.
To our board chair, Alex Breckinridge, and the rest of our trustees, thank you for the faith you continue to place in St. George’s and me; what a gift to remember the student you were here, Alex, teaching you in this very space, and to now share the stage with you and think of your own children among us learning the St. George’s way. It feels providential!
To the Transition Committee, what a beautiful transformation, which represents more work than any of us will ever fully appreciate!
Lauren Flower & Annie Michaels, co-chairs
Special thanks to Tanya Race for the balloon display!
And thank you, Ms. Rosser, for pulling together our musical performances this morning! I know that wasn’t originally a part of the curriculum this year!
Ms. Jessie Kutcher and the entire athletic department, you’ve been so generous of your time and space!
And Mr. Eric Davis and his maintenance team, thank you! I see you! I see what you’ve been doing and all that’s been asked of you.
And then to our wonderful Division Directors and faculty who have worked incredibly hard to rearrange the day and make this occasion possible!
Speaking of, I feel special gratitude this morning that my family has been able to join us—my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my two daughters, and of course my wife. Jana, Clara, Ava, it was a pure act of love for the three of you to say yes to this opportunity even before I did, to make this day possible. It was more than the promise of a puppy, a kitten, and your own bedrooms that got you here. I am so grateful, and I love you.
So on behalf of my family, I need to thank all present and the many more in the St. George’s community for inviting us in with such open arms. As appreciative and humbled as we are by the profound generosity and support, what I also know is that today is really about St. George’s and the community that has assembled to honor this moment in the school’s history.
This, after all, is the year that marks the school’s 50th anniversary, and we have Dr. Eichberger to thank for so much of that. Those 35 years at the helm, I need not remind you, represent not just 70% of the school’s existence, or the expansion from the single historic structure that is Porteous Hall to all the facilities the school enjoys today, including this one. That is all essentially glorious, but to paraphrase your beloved founder of UVA, Dr. Eichberger, you never lost sight of Jefferson’s principle that a school must “always be lived;” this institution indeed lives in the students and community you see gathered here before you; what greater legacy could you hope for than to see so many of the parents you educated among us, and to see their parents and grandparents rejoin us in an installation ceremony that, if it means anything, means continuation, purpose, and renewal? This moment in the school’s 50th year recognizes a past worth our preservation and a future worth our aspiration. I ask that we all give a round of applause in the presence of Dr. Eichberger!
If you’ve seen the video on the website or attended any of the opening events this past month, you’ve heard my St. George’s story—how Dr. Eichberger hired me fresh out of college to teach here, how what I learned from my students, my colleagues and mentors twenty-six years ago launched not only my career in education but gave me the idea of what a community of learning should be and can accomplish.
St. George’s has always been a big part of my story, but students and parents, think for a moment about your own St. George’s story, how everybody in this room has one, maybe more than one. When I visited last fall, when I asked each of you “Why St. George’s,” it was these stories that brought me back and reaffirmed my own.
Remarkable stories, moving stories, heroic stories. This is not surprising.
Our namesake, after all, is St. George. Students, raise your hands if you know the story of St. George, the patron saint for whom our school and the church is named? In other words, raise your hand if you know why our mascot is the Dragons? I’m thinking of course about the story of St. George and the Dragon. There are many versions of the legend of St. George, but the most popular version you probably all know goes something like this: There once was a terrible dragon who kept burning down and gobbling up a town of people, and the next person this dragon was set to gobble up was a princess. Well, like many a fairy tale and legend, a knight in shining armor comes. Right before the princess is to be sacrificed to the dragon, the mighty St. George fights and slays the dragon. He saves the princess, saves the town, and saves the day! The dragon is dead, good wins over evil, everybody is liberated, and they all live happily ever after; we get to go to sleep victorious.
It’s a good story as far as good old fashioned fairy tales go so long as you also explain that princesses rarely need a prince to save them--in fact, it’s often the other way around!
But when I think of our school, of our St. George’s story, I like to think of other dragon tales. When I was a teacher here, I had this cartoon I kept in front of the classroom that was a picture of a knight you might imagine as a different version of St. George. I brought it this morning, actually! I loved it so much that I kept it for 25 years and always found a place for it in my classroom or office. You probably cannot see it from your seat or read what it says, so let me read the caption and describe it to you. It says, “Some days the dragon wins,” and the picture is of a knight who has clearly lost a battle with the dragon. He’s hunched over and slumping, his lance has been splintered and halved; the shield is now reduced to what remains after a dragon bite, the fabric of his armor has been ripped and shredded, the crest burnt to a crisp, and the visor swung open to reveal the sagging face of human defeat.
A friend found this cartoon somewhere and gave it to me because she knew I was working at St. George’s. How perfect, I thought. That’s St. George and we’re the Dragons! Well, it really was a perfect cartoon to have in my classroom, but when I was a younger teacher I didn’t really understand all the reasons why. It’s taken me a long time to think about why I love it so much and how, this too, tells the story of St. George’s! I’ve always appreciated the seeming contradiction in that our school is St. George’s and yet our mascot is the Dragon. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it. I mean, St. George’s slays the dragon, right? It’s the enemy. And yet our enemy is our mascot? Why would your enemy be your mascot? Why would you wear your enemy on your sleeve?
Well, the reason I love this phrase and image so much is that while the dragon is the adversary, this cartoon radically transforms the legend of St. George. It suggests something you might argue is far more important and current than the original story. If you say, “Some Days the Dragon Wins,” you’re also saying that there’s always a dragon. You don’t slay it, at least not entirely. You face it! And it’s not just one final outcome or moment but a continual process of engagement. Every day, there’s a dragon! And guess what? Some days the dragon wins. It wins a lot, and that’s okay, and you come home defeated, broken-lanced, disheveled, hunched over and miserable. Your mom and dad probably see that side of you a lot when you come home from school, and you probably see that side of your mom and dad every so often when they come home from a hard day of work. Some days their dragons win too! But just like them, you also get back up the next day, put on your armor, try out a new lance and repair your shield.
Sounds a lot like being a student some days, right? And it looks a lot like learning if you have the right attitude, if you embrace your failures and show grit when things get hard. Isn’t that what we mean by perseverance here at St. George’s, one of our core values? So St. George’s students, who are your dragons? Can you name them?
Let me put it another way and give you some pretty lofty people to emulate. I want you to be the Derek Jeters or the JK Rowlings of the classroom. Baseball fans and historians know that Derek Jeter is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, the beloved and retired Captain of the New York Yankees who was playing most of the time I lived in New York. Part of his greatness came from being consistent day in and day out, year in and year out, but that kind of greatness doesn’t come without a colossal amount of FAILURE, and the grit and determination to keep swinging away or dusting yourself off after an error. Something Jeter said repeatedly throughout his career that got a lot of play on TV when he was retiring four years ago is how baseball’s really a game of failure that taught him failure, where failing 7 times out of 10 as a hitter not only means success but a guaranteed entrance into the hall of fame, something he will be inducted into next year.
And we all know JK Rowling and her Harry Potter series that has been read by most of you and has captivated the imagination of just about every other child in the world, not to mention their parents. But what she wrote about in a book that most of you haven’t read, a story about herself called Very Good Lives is how, 7 years after graduating from college, she was, and I quote, “the biggest failure I knew.” She was jobless and as poor as she could be, she said, without being homeless. “Failure,” she writes, “taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way….” and becoming “stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”
When you see failure as a series of setbacks overcome, then perhaps your dragon can join a series of other fantastical beasts and your story becomes a household name the world over.
When your goal is not perfection but growth, when you have the mindset that school is a safe place, the right place to make mistakes, then your dragon maybe wins seven times out of ten, but oh how sweet those three victories! Learn from your dragon; let your dragon be your teacher!
There’s another story that I really think of as a St. George’s Episcopal School story, and it’s a classic children’s book that I used to read to my daughters when they were a bit younger and when we were living in New York. Every time I read it to them, I would secretly think about you here for obvious reasons; it’s called “The Knight and the Dragon." When you read the title, you immediately know that the knight and the dragon are going to fight because that’s what knights and dragons do, right? Except this book defies that expectation, what adults call a convention, because this story begins, “Once upon a time, there was a knight in a castle who had never fought a dragon. And in a cave not too far away was a dragon who had never fought a knight.” So what do they do? They go to their respective libraries and read about each other and begin to do what they’re supposed to do; they prepare to fight each other. When it comes time to do battle, however, everything goes terribly wrong because they’re terribly bad at it. Instead of them fighting over a princess to be won or saved, there’s a librarian who saves the day for both of them. She introduces the dragon to a book about cooking and the knight to a book about building a bar-b-que. By story’s end, the knight has built a restaurant, the most popular restaurant in the kingdom, where the dragon uses his fiery nostrils to cook up the grandest feasts in the land.
There’s something incredibly sweet about this book, and I think the reason why it’s become a classic and remained in print for forty years is that it plays with our assumptions about identity, about what we’re supposed to be. It reimagines the usual story and surprises you by doing that dragon tale differently. Everybody expects that a knight should be a fighting machine and a dragon a man-eating monster, but silly as it is to say out loud, no two knights are alike! And if the right teacher comes along with a wagon full of books and really gets what you need, whether you are a knight or a dragon, then maybe you redefine success by figuring out what success looks like on your terms. Maybe the dragon can even become your friend when you team up. And then you both win.
You know why I think this story is a St. George’s story? Because at St. George’s, you can learn to be successful by learning to be yourself, by celebrating your strengths but leaning on others to work through your challenges. Maybe what’s a challenge or a foe to you, what’s your challenge and difficulty, is the opposite of your classmates! Maybe what or who you thought was your enemy you learn is your friend.
Here’s another St. George’s story: It’s of a four year old whose parents were told he had learning difficulties and wouldn’t be successful in the school they had first considered. While they were told multiple times that it wasn’t the right school for him, what he really needed was an exceptional school. He came to St. George’s, and he did more than defy the expectations. He grew confident and thrived not just here but in high school, college, and law school, ultimately returning to New Orleans and becoming partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. That’s the story of our Board Chair.
There’s also the story of a girl who came to St. George’s in fourth grade after she was diagnosed with dyslexia. She began to think she was dumb because she had begun to internalize how most schools and society still equate intelligence as being able to do one thing well without even understanding how the dyslexic brain actually sees, organizes, and reads. She came here, received the Resource support she needed, and it transformed her life. She returned as soon as she graduated from college to become a kindergarten teacher at the school that taught her how to learn on her terms. That extraordinary educator now leads an extraordinary team of educators as the Director of the Early Childhood here at St. George’s. She’s also a St. George’s parent, and as one of her faculty members shared with me, “Her story perfectly embodies the spirit of a dragon!”
Here’s another St. George’s story. In preschool this boy applied to many schools, was overlooked by all of them except St. George’s. One of the other schools in fact told his parents that he was clearly smart but that he just had problems focusing. They said send him to St. George’s to get “fixed” and then he can reapply the following year. Well, three weeks into the school year at St. George’s, his parents received a phone call from his teacher, who told them, “We used one or two of our most successful focusing techniques with your son, and now he’s the best listener in the grade.” He didn’t stay just one year, my friends. By the time he graduated 8th grade, he was placing first or close to it in multiple math competitions and Olympiads across the city. He is doing exceptionally well his freshman year at a very prestigious high school. He is thoroughly prepared for success, as all of you will be. That cast away stone became a cornerstone to his own castle. His dragon is now his friend!
Here’s another St. George’s story: This student was diagnosed with a learning difference in 3rd grade and she was slipping further and further behind socially and academically. When she started here in 4th grade, she was reading on a 1st-grade level. She was shy, self-conscious, and hated to open a book. She struggled, but she’s worked her tail off. Fast forward a few years, and she’s made the honor roll every semester in middle school and has amazing friends! This middle schooler in fact now takes honors math and English and has a real love for reading (reading now two grade levels above her age)! The dents in that armor she wears proudly, which is why you know she’s a knight, dusty but not forever defeated by her fights.
So the rest of you: what is your St. George’s story? Students, parents, faculty, and grandparents here today and not here today, I invite you to share your story with me in the coming weeks and months. I’ll ask you to tell them to me in person, by letter, by email or social media. What are your stories that represent why you have to see St. G.? What are your stories that embody our values of perseverance, integrity, respect, and compassion? Your story of the dragon who some days won but was perennially overcome? Of a challenge you embraced so that it became your strength? I want to collect the 50 best ones and publish them on our website to commemorate the 50 years St. George’s has made a difference, to blaze the path for us to celebrate 50 more. Send me your story!
I leave you with this thought that one parent recently shared with me. She said that what makes St. George’s a special place is that each child here gets to find their inner superhero. I love that! As students and teachers, we get to reimagine education just the way these stories reimagine the common story of St. George’s. We get to surprise ourselves by defying the expectations and the norms of what learning looks like by remembering that we all don’t learn alike. We all learn differently. Each of us, you might say, has our own dragons, and rather than give up or give in, we resist conventions and become our own superheroes, our own legends. It’s what unites and distinguishes us. Some days the dragon wins, and sometimes the dragon is our friend. We come to St. George’s, where we boldly wear our dragons on our chest. You might say we’re boldly reimagining education by boldly being St. G.
That’s my St. George’s story so far; let’s leave today and live our narratives and share them with the world. It’s time we tell the real story of St. George’s.