Letter from Steve Piltch - December 2016

December 16, 2016

Dear Shipley Families:

December and the holiday season pose an incredible paradox for all of us. On the one hand, the pace of things is stunningly fast as our students work through projects, papers, exams, and concerts, and we try to fulfill all of our professional and personal responsibilities before winter break and the holidays. At the same time, though, in order to enjoy the break and whichever holidays we celebrate to the fullest, we need to slow down so that we can create the space to appreciate the joy of the moment and reflect on our dreams for the future.

Every once in a while these opportunities to reflect present themselves in an unplanned and serendipitous manner that carries us through the busiest of times in a really special way. I had just such an experience when I was in Boston earlier this month for a series of alumni events.

In addition to enjoying the time I spent with alumni, family, and friends, I had two special experiences that I could not have anticipated. One early morning before I went to our first commitment of the day, I decided to walk to the house that I grew up in (from the age of 8 on). As I journeyed past Fenway Park, which I used to walk to as a child—you could get a seat for $.50 or $1.00 when I first went to a game—and retraced the steps of many walks from my childhood, I was intrigued by the balance between things that seemed very much the same and others that were ever so different. Virtually all of the alleys and roads and most of the buildings were exactly as they had been thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. Yet, when I went by the elementary school I attended, The Edward Devotion School, I found myself filled with mixed emotions as I saw that the field where we had played many of our games had become a construction site that will soon house a new wing of the school. I was torn as I thought about the changes; it was, after all, the field I had run across, played sports on, and travelled through virtually every day of my life from third grade until I went to college. Of course, I was at the same time pleased that a new wing will be added to a school that needs it.

I then anxiously approached the street I had lived on, Stetson St., in Brookline. Memories of our sports games in the street, the broken windows we had “created” (do I ever feel bad for those neighbors), and the strong sense of neighborhood that existed came flooding back. As I turned onto the street and saw a woman raking leaves in the front yard of our former house, I couldn’t resist, and I walked up to her and introduced myself. Thankfully, she could not have been more friendly or welcoming. Five minutes into our conversation she invited me in for a tour of the house, and I met her husband. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, we talked about people in the neighborhood who had overlapped both of our times there. Young or middle aged when I lived there, most of them had either moved or passed away. The sense of nostalgia was strong. When I looked at the rooms, memories from the time I was eight until about twenty years ago entered my brain. As I reminisced with them about the importance of the house, I was taken by their warmth.

When we spoke about their two teenage boys who both happen to go to independent schools, I was awed by their description of them. Upon sharing some of their sons’ interests, one of them said: “You know, there is nothing extraordinarily special about either of them. They are just good kids.” I thought to myself how much ahead of me and perhaps many other parents they seemed to be. Happy with who their kids are and loving them for the people they are instead of trying to urge them to be a certain way and to achieve certain things, they were willing to share their understanding, love, and happiness in such an open and caring way. It’s a great lesson for us as parents and as people. When I left to walk back to my hotel, I could not have felt happier or more fulfilled. It was terrific affirmation to have two such loving and caring people living in the house that meant so much to me, my eight siblings, and my parents.

The experience was made that much more special when my wife, our two dearest friends, and I attended the 2016 Holiday POPS Concert at Symphony Hall. When I was a kid, I remember Arthur Fiedler setting the tone during his fifty years as the conductor of the Boston Pops. He was succeeded by equally impressive John Williams, who served in the role for another thirteen years. In 2015, Keith Lockhart celebrated his twentieth year as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

A charismatic and talented individual, Lockhart balances the ability to conduct music with an equally impressive capacity to connect with and teach audiences of divergent ages and backgrounds. In turn, he is able to bring the Pops to life in a special way. When he addressed the audience, I felt like he was writing my letter for me; he stressed the importance of remembering our past with appreciation, being present for those in our lives now, and looking forward to our futures with enthusiasm and commitment.

Perhaps the best part of the concert experience was observing that the musicians, who, while accomplished and excellent at their craft, also so clearly enjoyed what they were doing and bringing joy to those in the room. They played and sang a cross section of terrific holiday tunes. In fact, their arrangement of “The 12 Days of Christmas” was the best I had ever heard. (If you would like a description of it or would like to know how to purchase it, go to: Boston Pops: "12 Days of Christmas" - YouTube.) The messages they delivered, ones of love, peace, and understanding, were felt by everyone. People from 5 to 85 stood when the concert ended. The energy that pervaded the room was truly special. I for one found myself thankful for the past and hopeful for the future.

The concert brought an extra smile to my face regarding my experience earlier that day and life here at Shipley. Grateful for the School we are and passionate about where we’re going, I am optimistic that our students are on a path to develop the confidence to explore and the creativity necessary to accomplish their goals in life and bring fulfillment to lives.

I’m hopeful that the holiday season gives all of us the time to pause and to let everybody in our lives know how much we care. On some level, it is some of the words of the Pops’ final song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” originally written by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller in 1955 that deliver the most important message of the Season: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Here is a version by the Harlem Boys’ Choir.

Have a wonderful holiday. I look forward to seeing you in 2017.

Warmest regards,

Steve Piltch
Head of School
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.