Browning boys in Grade One through Form VI, along with the entire school community, convened in Christ Church for Opening Assembly on September 10. Headmaster Clement greeted the audience and offered two thematic words, “at last,” aptly summing up much of the past and present at Browning: At last the final phase of construction and renovation of the school building is complete, after five years in the making. At last the faculty can begin a new school year of implementing the knowledge they are eager to impart. At last, the boys are about to turn their focus to learning. Mr. Clement acknowledged the construction personnel who worked so hard over the summer, as well as the faculty and Form VI boys who stood to receive loud applause from all the boys present. He then asked Music Department Chair David Prestigiacomo to lead the School Song with the third and fourth grade boys assisting.
The president of the student government welcomed everyone and asked that they make this school year the best one for Mr. Clement in his 28 years as Headmaster and the best one in the 128 years of the School’s history. He and the vice president of the student government then read aloud the Browning mission and diversity statements.
Mr. Clement turned the program over to the division heads, acknowledging how much they all do for Browning on so many levels. Assistant Head of School/Lower School Head Laurie Gruhn emphasized that the “dignity of the individual” mentioned in the mission statement has always resonated with her and should be kept in mind going forward: “Remember that those you interact with every day deserve your best as you deserve theirs.” Scroll to bottom to read Ms. Gruhn’s full remarks
Head of Middle School Chris Dunham referred to the School’s Common Book, “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, noting that the author emphasizes “responsibility to the broader community,” also a line from Browning’s mission statement. Mr. Dunham remarked, “Bryan Stevenson reaffirms how one person can make an overwhelming impact on society. Gentlemen, please be inspired to learn, respect, serve and make a difference in the world and at school.” Scroll to bottom to read Mr. Dunham’s full remarks.
Head of Upper School Jim Reynolds also referred to the Common Book and the fact that all members of the Browning community were asked to read it. He remarked, “What the School has really done is asked the community to learn about the experiences of others. To examine from the comfort of our lives the circumstance of others with whom we share this human experience.” Scroll to bottom to read Mr. Reynolds’ full remarks.
A traditional part of the program is hearing the one particular word from each Form VI boy that sums up his thoughts about Browning. The class members came to the front of the church, stated their name and number of years at Browning, and revealed their word. Loyalty, home, brotherhood, community and camaraderie were among their choices.
The assembly concluded with a guest appearance by both the Panther mascot and Lucy Warner, Lower School music teacher. Sporting a construction hat with hammer and crowbar “in paw,” the Panther was a hit with the boys, especially the youngest ones. However, Ms. Warner’s singing of “At Last” with “new” lyrics written by Mr. Clement was a most fitting finale. Adapted from the 1941 song written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren and performed by such greats as Etta James and Glenn Miller, “At Last” as revamped by Mr. Clement and Ms. Warner went like this: “At last, our school has come along. Construction years are over and life is like a song…Those twists and turns are in the past, and here we are in heaven with our new school at last!” Watch Ms. Warner's performance in the video above. – Melanie McMahon
Assistant Head of School/Lower School Head Laurie Gruhn's Opening Assembly Remarks
This past summer, I had the opportunity to, in many ways, revisit my childhood. I went back to spend a weekend at a camp where I spent many, many, summers as a child and teenager. I saw friends I had not seen in too many years to count, friends I had grown up with, and counselors who taught me skills I have to this day. In many cases, we recognized each other not so much by sight, but my gesture, by memory, by emotion. We all had made such a difference in each other’s lives, and we had so many shared stories. And during this remarkable weekend, there was a line that kept resonating with me: The Dignity of the Individual. It always has.
As we move forward this year, there will be opportunities for terrific achievements, and
there will also be less than stellar moments. I would ask every person in this room, as we move forward, to begin with this line in their heart. As you try to teach the mysteries of calculus, the legend of Troy, or the meaning of an adjective; as you learn to negotiate a lunch line, reach a higher locker, audition for a play, or try out for a team, remember that those you interact with every day deserve your best as you deserve theirs. That recognizing the efforts of others and celebrating your own accomplishments is what it means to be part of this community.
Celebrating the dignity of an individual means celebrating his genuine achievement, as well as
his effort. I anticipate recognizing a great deal of achievement and success and effort in this room at the end of this school year. May it be a memorable and positive one for all of us!
Middle School Head Chris Dunham's Opening Assembly Remarks
Good morning Browning boys, teachers and staff members. It’s terrific to see you all today, day one of what promises to be a banner year. I trust you all are ready to go, and I hope you have given some thought to your goals for the year.
When I’m on vacation in Northern California during the summer, my mind is usually on summer things: where to take my boys fishing, should I take my daughter to the playground or go play in the streams that flow (or should I say trickle given the drought out west) in the nearby forest, should I walk or bike to the farmer’s market to buy that night’s dinner. But when I’m on my mountain bike huffing and puffing in the redwood forest of nearby Mt. Tam, by myself, with just the Pacific Ocean breeze, golden sunshine, red tail hawks and earthy, deep-wood vibe, my mind can travel in all sorts of directions. Often to Browning.
This summer, as I read our Common Book, “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, I thought very seriously about his legal work and struggles helping disenfranchised men, women and children navigate the often severe unfairness of our country’s penal system. Mr. Stevenson has a brilliant mind, a work ethic beyond belief, and a mission to serve those who desperately need a voice to help have their lives returned to them and often, literally, saved.
His mission to serve these people is genuine, selfless, so needed, and of a higher calling.
I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Stevenson’s mission crossed paths many a time with academic excellence: law at Harvard, public policy at the Kennedy School of Government. His mind was always focused on learning. He clearly stands for the dignity of the individual, as he constantly found the dignity hidden within many of his clients who were cast aside by society. Mr. Stevenson’s personal integrity is parallel to Nelson Mandela’s, as Nicholas Kristoff from The New York Times aptly recognizes. And, most significantly, Mr. Stevenson’s responsibility to the broader community reaffirms how one person can make an overwhelming impact on society. The Equal Justice Initiative is living proof of this.
–Dignity of the individual
–Responsibility to the broader community
Gentlemen, please take these facets of Mr. Stevenson’s mission, and as it just so happens, part of The Browning School mission to heart and be inspired to learn, respect, serve and make a difference in the world and at school.
Here’s to a year in which we strive for this together. Thank you!
Upper School Head Jim Reynolds' Opening Assembly Remarks
Good morning students, faculty, staff and administration. Welcome back to Browning.
Today you may have noticed that all of the speakers have referred in some way to the aim of the School’s mission statement. It is the guiding principle of the School.
Looking at the progression of the mission statement, you will notice that it moves from Mr. Browning’s original vision of the School and its goals, to the student life of the School, to the finished product: the Browning alumnus. The final line of the statement is “He is, in the best sense of the word, a gentleman.” I want to focus for a moment on what it means to be a “gentleman” here in the 21st century.
We who support the student life of the School, and that includes all members of the community, take seriously our marching orders. We strive hard to encourage your “pursuit of academic excellence,” with the objective of instilling in you a deep curiosity of the world, life and your place in it that will last a lifetime. Ask any of your teachers or coaches what have they learned lately, and they will have an answer. As adults, we have come to understand the great value of always being ready to learn something new and try our best to remain open to new ideas and experiences.
That is what we hope your Browning experience does for you. We want you to take the skills you use to succeed academically at Browning out into the world with you and to continue to seek new information and understandings that increasingly inform you about the world in which you live, and the person you wish to be.
The 21st century gentleman respects and values the dignity of himself and others. He has integrity and understands that he is part of a larger community that is the world. He knows he must be aware of what is going on in this globalized, sometimes chaotic environment. What happens in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, South America – the world – has an impact on his life and the lives of his fellow human beings.
This summer, the School’s Common Book was “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. This book examines both Mr. Stevenson’s life and the reality of a criminal justice system that contributes to the challenges this country faces in terms of race relations, incarceration and capital punishment. What the School has really done is asked the community to learn about the experiences of others. To examine from the comfort of our lives the circumstance of others with whom we share this human experience.
The mission statement is a tall order. It is quite specifically a road map for your experience at Browning, but we hope that it becomes a guiding principle for your lives. We are confident and hopeful that each one of you will be a 21st century gentleman in the years ahead.
Good luck in your school year, and as always, Go, Panthers!