This week at lunch

SMUS-Views-Bob

Last week I wrote about our Vancouver Alumni reception – a wonderful event two weeks ago. Among those in attendance was Ann Makosinski, who graduated last year and whom many will remember as the winner of the worldwide Google Science Fair three years ago. This year, she was back on Jimmy Fallon’s show with her newer invention – the “eDrink mug”, a coffee cup cellphone charger. For this invention she won the $50,000 Quest Climate Change Grant. Very shortly she is off to Iceland to participate in a symposium. You can read about her here, here, and here.

Ann had a wonderful SMUS career, and you now know – because of her attendance at our Vancouver reception – that she is eager to keep up with the School and the friends she made here. I can also tell you that Ann is modest about her abilities and achievements, talks about them with a total lack of affectation, and is grateful for her opportunities. If you know her parents, you know she didn’t get these qualities from SMUS; what we did, I hope and believe, is nurture and grow them. As with all students and families: we want to be a match for those who also seek the excellence in all of us – not just in themselves.

People have asked a few times: so how do we create a school that repeatedly produces this kind of innovation? How do we create a school that can turn out a consistent crop of Ann Makosinskis? It sounds like a good question. I confess though, that as I try to imagine how we achieve this end, the answer I come up with is: we would create the SMUS we have today. Ann Makosinski, and girls like her – boys too – are unique instances. Our School seeks the excellence in all of us, and Ann had the chance to seek hers. She had numerous bright moments going through SMUS, before her science teacher in Grade 10, Kate Paine, let her loose in the science lab. It would actually be a sad thing to alter our program to produce Ann replicas, even if it were possible.

If a student’s excellence is mathematics, or basketball, or writing, or the violin, we want him or her to have that opportunity. And for those who still want to play the violin but aren’t excellent at it, we want the violin at least to be a part of their lives. We believe that excellence, as a person, involves some breadth. So yes, pursue your strength, your passion, but be a whole person, too. That’s what we do at SMUS.

I eat lunch every day in Brown Hall, the same food as the students. On Wednesday I happened to sit with a group that included one of our Senior math teachers, who is also an alum, class of 1993. Believe it or not, I also talk about our Mission in my time off, and was doing so on this occasion. This teacher turned to me and told me that before he started teaching at the School, in the early 2000s, he was walking up the stairs in School House and saw the two sentences of the Mission on their plaque in the hall. He’d never seen it before; it was new. He said the light simply went on – these phrases described SMUS, the school he had attended, and the school to which he had returned. We did, in fact, select every word in the Mission from phrases that had come out of the mouths of our own students, staff or parents. There are many words from our Mission that are worth imprinting into one’s own character. At the moment my favorites are passion, compassion and excellence: a combination that is hard to beat. Vivat.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

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