You may be aware that I grew up in the small town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania which is located about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh. I had the privilege of attending the local private school, Sewickley Academy, from nursery through 12th grade. I was a lifer, as we called it back then. Although my family did not have the means to afford an institution like Sewickley, my time there was largely due to the fact that my grandmother, Helen King, was a legendary 3rd grade teacher at SA. She worked there for 25 years, and the school generously supported my tuition.
I can honestly say that my first hero in life was then-Headmaster, Mr. Cliff Nichols. In addition to the tremendous generosity he showed me and my family, there were many personal qualities that I admired about him.
The most vivid memory is the fact that Mr. Nichols stood at the entrance of the school, rain, snow or shine, to shake the hand of each student upon arrival. There were so many meaningful moments that took place with each handshake. First and foremost, he taught me the importance of greeting somebody when you first interact. I learned at a young age to shake hands with a firm grip and look the other person in the eyes. The communication that followed was equally important. Mr. Nichols always took that brief moment to let me know that he knew who I was. “Steve, I heard you fell off the swingset the other day, are you feeling better?” “Steve, a little birdie let me know that you wrote on the desk the other day, don’t do that again!” Wow…the man knew everything, and it was that simple greeting in the morning that helped us establish a relationship that lasted for decades.
This year I began our School's opening ceremony with a brief acknowledgement of the many complicated events that are occurring around the world – from Gaza to Syria to Ferguson. Knowing that I was speaking to an audience of first graders through adults, I truly could only summarize these events as "complicated." I challenged the audience to recognize that our small but mighty school has a responsibility in solving some of these complicated matters. We can start right here at 300 Gaven by concentrating on building relationships and exhibiting grace and courtesy in our interactions with one another.
Much to my surprise, a couple of days later, I was given a drawing by one of our first graders based on the “challenge” that I gave at the opening ceremony. The mind and words of a first grader are so often filled with much wisdom. Her drawing, entitled "How to Make Friends," and the instructions that follow, distill the simplicity behind building relationships and ultimately making our world a more gracious, courteous, and less complicated place.