Brunswick grads urged to remember their good fortune


Alexander Coopersmith, the Ivy speaker, had the attendees laughing and crying. All photos taken by John Ferris Robben.

It was a heartening 111th commencement ceremony for the Brunswick School last Wednesday when 85 young men graduated from a place many had come to call home.

School Headmaster Thomas Philip had plenty of advice for the Class of 2013, assuring its members that they were more ready to move on to the next stage of life than they might expect, but warning them that no one is ever entirely prepared. Offering four “heartfelt” pieces of advice, Mr. Philip told graduates he hoped they would be ready to face whatever life throws their way in the future.

The first piece of advice was to think long-term. “Few people do,” Mr. Philip said. “If you can do it, you’ll be both unique — you’ll probably be more healthy — and more successful.”

Mr. Philip also told the students to be confident in a world that is surrounded by negativity, and not to run from life’s problems.

“Problems left unattended rarely go away,” Mr. Philip said, adding that facing issues head-on eliminates much of the fear attached to them.

Finally, drawing from his own father’s advice, the headmaster told graduates to “listen for the roar.”

“Have fun, enjoy yourself, do generally what you want to do, but always keep your ear out for the roar,” Mr. Philip said. “The roar is that moment when fun is on the cusp of getting dangerous.”

Noting that the commencement ceremony was the 12th he’d attended as headmaster, Mr. Philip offered the senior class a “secret” that many previous classes were not privy to. Sometimes, he said, the Brunswick faculty wishes a senior class graduated a few weeks early because the students were “wearing them out.” The Class of 2013 did not fit that description, he said.

“Sometimes, and it is really only sometimes,” Mr. Philip said, “there are senior classes that we wish would never leave … and the Class of 2013 is one of those classes.”

Next to speak was class valedictorian Paul Dornier, who earned his title by acquiring the best cumulative grade average over the last two years of high school with a staggering 99.9%. Paul introduced the Class of 2013 Ivy Speaker, Alexander Coopersmith, whom he described as a student best known for his quips and one-liners and a Brunswick “lifer,” having attended the school for 14 years.

Alexander began his Ivy speech by admitting that attending Brunswick for the “long haul” had seemed like a “14-year sentence” when he first started there as a young student. Providing an amusing synopsis of his earlier school years, Alexander told attendees that when he reached high school it was like finding the “promised land,” where boys became men and even began “sparring with faculty.” The teachers who wrote him up for disobedience, however, ended up being the same people who “ultimately and genuinely care about making me into a better man,” he said.

Both students and faculty grew to be family over the years, Alexander said. And as it turned out, attending Brunswick ended up becoming “a life sentence with no possibility of parole,” he said. “And that’s the way we all want it. My classmates and I will always be Brunswick men.”

When it came time for the commencement speaker to step up to the lectern, plenty more advice was in store for the Class of 2013. Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, told students his guidance came in the form of three interconnected pieces of advice.

Mr. Kristof’s first recommendation to students was to force themselves to fully leave their comfort zone, which would allow each of them to find their true strengths and weaknesses. In order to succeed, everyone must experience “that sense of being totally over your head,” he said, adding that the kinds of experiences that “build your muscles” are the ones that will prove most powerful.

The second piece of advice Mr. Kristof offered students was to find a way to make a difference for the greater good. Not everyone can be Mother Teresa, he said, but giving back will always reap incredible rewards and provide one with a sense of fulfillment. Referencing the two Ohio men who recently helped rescue three women who had been held captive in a basement for several years, Mr. Kristof urged seniors to “break down those doors” the way the Ohio duo had done, in order to serve others.

What people generally want in life, Mr. Kristof added, is to be happy, and scientists have proven that the part of the brain associated with pleasure is activated not only when one receives something but also when one gives back. Accordingly, he urged the Class of 2013 to “remember your incredible good fortune.” Providing real-life examples of young people who have triumphed in the face of utter misfortunate, Mr. Kristof told both attendees and the senior class that they had “won the lottery of the life.” And when you’ve won, he said, the question is how you “discharge the responsibility that comes with it.”

“That is going to be one of your greater challenges and pleasures in the coming years and decades,” Mr. Kristof told the students.

Before diplomas were distributed, the commencement ceremony was rounded out with the presentation of several accolades to deserving members of the Class of 2013.

The Kulukundis Cup, awarded to the senior with the highest academic standing for the year, went to class valedictorian Paul Dornier, who was described as a student who could get 12 out of 10 questions right on any given test.

The Brunswick Community Service Award, presented to the senior with the most outstanding record of community service, was presented to James Travis Buck. James was described as a humble student who helped underprivileged children play sports, spent afternoons and summers tutoring students in need throughout his high school career and always served as a positive role model to others.

The BPA Prize, given to a senior who attended Brunswick for at least three years and whose improvement in scholarship and development of fine character made him worthy of citation, was presented to John Davis, who was described at someone who will bring “his power, decency and voice to his next campus and to his life beyond.”

Next up was the Jenkins Athletic Award, presented to Samuel Fraser, the senior who was judged by the school’s sports coaches to have made an outstanding contribution in athletics and who was described as “that special kind of athlete” who dominated three varsity sports.

Ivy Speaker Alexander Coopersmith made a reappearance at the podium as he was awarded with the Thomas A. Altman Prize. The award is given to the senior who has maintained positive personal relationships in school, sports and community service, yet also “has a mischievous twinkle in his eye.” Alexander was said to be a “brother to all” who interacted seamlessly with all social groups on both the Brunswick and Greenwich Academy campuses and who had a deep commitment to community service.

The coveted Robert L. Cosby Award, presented to the senior who, through his good nature, has done the most to uplift the spirits of those around him and most embodies the unique characteristics of the namesake of the award, was given to Thomas Rosenkranz. Thomas was said to be a student with a “generosity of spirit and genuineness of character” who was loved by all because of his willingness to help others.

Faculty Citations were then presented to four seniors who brought credit to the school or community through their efforts — Corey Okinaka, Charles Better, William Fein, and John LaBossiere.

The final prize of the day was the Headmaster’s Trophy, which is awarded annually to a senior who, because of his dependability, integrity and character, has made an outstanding contribution to his class and the school. This year’s trophy was presented to Matthew Podlesak, who was described as a natural-born leader, a serious student and a talented individual.


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