To Grow in Character, Scholarship and Accomplishment

(Hackley Review Summer 2020: Story By Suzy Akin) When a thoughtful committee representing all Hackley’s constituencies came together in 2005 to consider and, ultimately, rewrite the School’s mission statement, the new statement presented to and approved by the Board of Trustees led with these words: “Hackley challenges students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment.”

Deliberately, “character” comes first, before “scholarship,” echoing the Emersonian ideal that Hackley has come to embrace as one of its core values: “Character is higher than intellect.”

For generations of alumni and their parents, the notion of “character” immediately evokes memories of teachers and coaches who taught unforgettable lessons that had as much — if not more — to do with character as with objective measures of achievement. Phil Havens ’49 life’s work as an educator was surely influenced by the powerful impact of his Hackley math teacher, “Pop” Lindsay, who, he recalled, challenged him to work through a complicated math problem on the blackboard in front of the entire class. Years later, Phil reported,

I stepped aside as I finished, knowing full well that I couldn’t dare return to my seat until Pop read the solution. Then came his inevitable questions which took me through my reasoning step by step. He dragged it out and I dreaded his finding an error which I had missed, but soon I realized that he was letting me enjoy a celebration. There was no effusive praise to embarrass me; he simply lingered over my correct and unique solution. He communicated a respect for my thinking which did an enormous amount for my confidence.

The achievement represented here is real — but what made it so memorable was what this experience did for a young student’s belief in himself. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, the most formative part of education comes less from what anyone said or did, but from how teachers, coaches, and other influences on campus made students feel.

Dave Allison — legendary Hackley Girls Varsity Soccer coach — was another such teacher, whose very name is inextricably linked with the definition of “character” on the Hilltop for those who knew him. We honor his memory and his gift of character every year on Alumni Weekend at the Dave Allison Memorial Soccer game, when HGVS players past and present join in celebration of his legacy. This memorable story shared by a parent of one of Dave’s former athletes speaks to the lessons of character so valued on the Hilltop, now and across the decades.

Parent of alumna and former Hackley Alumni Association president Bob Kirkwood ’71 remembered the last regular game of the season when his daughter, Diana ’04, was a member of the team. The outcome of that game, he recalled, would “dictate whether Hackley [would be] invited to the state tournament,” and Dave started all ten seniors on the team, regardless of their skill level or playing experience.

At first, everyone thought this was a nice gesture to the seniors, but parents and underclassmen starters soon became impatient. Everyone expected Dave to pull the non-starting seniors after the first few minutes. He did not. He played all of the seniors without substitution the entire first half.
Interesting things began to occur along the sidelines. The same parents who had been questioning his tactic after the first few minutes of the game, started to pull for the seniors. They got it. Once again, Dave had expanded his classroom lesson. We witnessed similar developments across the field. Underclassmen who normally played most of the game began to pull for their senior teammates. The cheering was the loudest of the season.

Even more spectacular was what occurred on the field. Those seniors who normally saw limited playing time spent much of the first few moments of the game looking over to the bench to see when they were going to be relieved and returned to the bench. When they realized that they were not going to be relieved, and that they were being called upon to play a real game and to make a real difference for the team’s destiny, the seniors pulled themselves together. And, as if through some sort of magic, the quality of their game was elevated. They realized that they could play against a more skilled opponent, and play competitively.

I have no recollection of who the opponent was. I recall that it was a strong rival. I vaguely remember that Hackley ultimately won the game in the second half. But, I will never forget the first half of that game, and how the seniors battled their stronger opponents to a scoreless first half when nobody on the field, except Dave, believed they had it in them.

As Phil Havens’ memory about Pop Lindsay’s lesson attests, the athletics field is not the only place that these lessons of character happen. Often, the lessons are created by outstanding teachers, and yet, at Hackley today, it is often our students who create and share these lessons themselves.

The extraordinary efforts of Hackley student mentors in the Hudson Scholars program, for example, truly embody "character in action." The Hudson Scholars program provides academic enrichment opportunities—during four weeks in the summer and with tutoring and Saturday reunions through the school year—for Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow middle school students, and while the academic component is certainly valuable, the leadership and role modeling provided by the Hackley student mentors has equally important impact.

The mentors invest themselves deeply in their partnership with the Scholars—surprising their Scholars by showing up to cheer them on at their school recitals, sharing their academic and creative passions, and creating relationships that impact and inspire the mentors as much as they benefit the Scholars.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit Westchester County, the Hackley mentors, in partnership with Hackley post-AP Spanish Language students, jumped into action to develop resources to support the Scholars and their families. They researched and identified nonprofits that are addressing access to food, household supplies, and healthcare, as well as resources for the unemployed or underemployed, and “virtual” educational resources for children. The students then shared this information (in English and Spanish) on the Hudson Scholars Facebook page so that families could find the help they needed.

Another student initiative also resonates powerfully in the current moment. Two senior Creative Writing students, despite not being able to be on campus for senior spring, decided to devote their free time to being regular, daily members of the Hilltop Writing Studio, a Zoom Room hosted by two Hackley English faculty as a place for students to write.

These two seniors invited younger students to the Studio, and by modeling curiosity and support for their fellow students, encouraged the writers around them to give and receive thoughtful feedback, and to celebrate each others' turns of phrase. Their efforts created an extraordinary sense of community and connectedness that transcended the seeming limitations of the “virtual” classroom. They didn’t need to do this, but they did it—because it was worth doing.

These lessons represent education in the deepest, most lasting sense. As Head of School Michael Wirtz observes, “A life of purpose, one guided by a strong sense of character, is not about grand gestures. Rather, it is the accumulation of the millions of nearly invisible actions we take on a daily basis — mostly directed outwards in our relationships with others — that truly defines who we are and how well we lived.”

Hackley secures matching challenge grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation

In May 2019, The Edward E. Ford Foundation awarded Hackley School a $100,000 dollar-to-dollar matching challenge grant to support the expansion of Hudson Scholars to a four-cohort program. We are pleased to announce that several generous donors provided the matching funds, securing this challenge grant from the E. E. Ford Foundation. The $103,000 from these donors will be used to seed an endowed fund which will support Hudson Scholars in perpetuity.