Notes from Tad

Recent writings and talks by our Head of School.

"When You Have a Calling, Life Goes Really Fast"
Tad Roach


In this Wednesday evening Chapel Talk, Tad shares with the student body his intention to leave St. Andrew's, with Dean of Teaching & Learning Elizabeth Roach, in June 2021.

Mrs. Roach and I want to speak from the heart tonight and express our love and appreciation for this St. Andrew’s community that represents our home and school for us and our family for over 40 years now.

My greatest hope and aspiration for each one of you is that your lives will be patient, passionate, earnest, open-minded searches for the essential calling of your soul and spirit.

A calling, one of my wise mentors once taught me, is the essential expression, demonstration of what one aspires and commits to do and be. The search for the abiding spirit and mission of our lives does not involve anything transactional, strategic, or artificial. It isn’t really a search for a school, a college, a job, or a plan for making a lot of money. It is a spiritual quest: it comes from the soul, and it slowly emerges as a fundamental need to do something creative, new, fresh, urgent, and necessary.

A calling is what Alyosha describes in the passage Mr. Speers read: “let us never forget how good we all felt here, all together, united by good and kind feelings as made us, for the time we loved the poor boy, perhaps better than we actually are.” Can you hear it? Can we see why this passage became the metaphor for St. Andrew’s culture of kindness? You do not even need to know the story of this poor boy: harassed, mocked, derided by peers because of the public humiliation of his father (a deed committed by Alyosha’s brother). You only need to feel and know that we have the capacity to come together for goodness, for healing, for rescue. 

Alyosha’s gift was to teach children the virtue of empathy, grace, and love, and in so doing he found his energy, his courage, and his eloquence. He changed and developed and learned even more than his students did.

Only you can define what that essential passion and commitment is going to be. It usually involves the opportunity to live so passionately that the work actually transforms you forever—brings you to readings, people, conversations, commitments, sacrifices that inspire, expand, and transfigure you.

If you find such a calling, you never work a day in your life; rather, your work becomes the fundamental expression of your heart and soul. It expands each passing day and month and leads to audacious expressions and demonstrations of creativity.

For me, St. Andrew’s itself was the foundation for my discovery of what exactly I needed to be doing, needed to be fighting for, needed to defend, needed to express.

This calling emerged gradually: first when I made the decision at the age of 23 to forego my life long plan to go to law school—I think I wanted that career for the apparent prestige, security, and coherence it would provide. Instead, Mrs. Roach and I decided, at first tentatively and soon passionately to fight for the emergence of what Mr. O’Brien told me would be (with lots of work) the best small boarding school in the world.

We fought for St. Andrew’s by focusing on the love and care for our students, our colleagues. We learned to teach, coach, mentor, inspire students; through the precious and intense moments of illumination that emerge through human conversation, collaboration, and connection at St. Andrew’s, I could begin to sense my calling. Rather than writing and speaking in a courtroom, I would write, speak, and fight for values like opportunity, equality, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in a school house. I would share my new passions and calling with those who inspired me every day: my faculty and staff colleagues and my students. 

And to make this epiphany more powerful, our students told us that they needed us, relied on us, loved us for recognizing them, affirming them, fighting for them—especially those in those days who were a small and vulnerable part of our community. That work—now called diversity, inclusion, human rights work—transfigured us completely. 

When I began as Head of School, the calling at first became a bit clouded with doubts, fears, anxieties: it seemed daunting to follow my mentor Jon O’Brien, and I had not completely learned how to go on the offensive for goodness. But Mrs. Roach, Mr. Speers, and the Trustees encouraged me to create my own headship, my own counter-cultural approach to school leadership. I wanted a school that taught not for the College Board but rather for the awakening of passion, curiosity, and understanding. I wanted our students to know that education was not about preparation or waiting; it was about taking responsibility now for the kind of world we accept and create. 

I chose to teach, advise, and be present for as many of the incredible moments in each St. Andrew’s day as possible. I had the freedom and opportunity to read, to write, to think imaginatively about what we might become as a school. I learned how to create a St. Andrew’s response to the fragmentation, pessimism, and anxiety of our century. I experienced the joy, wonder, and privilege of speaking to you in Chapel, in Forbes Theatre, and ultimately in Engelhard Hall, and in so doing I have recognized and appreciated the essential beauty and majesty of your generation: you have all given me courage, appreciation, and love. 

As Ms. Ramirez’s reading suggested: “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”—it was a reading my predecessor and mentor Mr. O’Brien chose when he announced his retirement in 1996, and it is a reading I offer in his honor and memory tonight.

This summer Mrs. Roach and I talked about our career at St. Andrew’s, our love for all of you, our gratitude to the alumni, Board of Trustees, and past and current parents. We thought about what St. Andrew’s and all of you have taught us about humanity, generosity, diversity, kindness, and love. We also talked a lot about the joy, the opportunities, the complexities that come with growing older. Where has the time gone?

When you have a calling, life goes really fast.

After a lot of thinking and deliberation, we decided that we would stay at St. Andrew’s through the end of the 2020-2021 year, about 20 months from now. We decided we would leave St. Andrew’s on July 1, 2021, the end of our 24th year of leadership at the school. It will also be my 42nd and Elizabeth’s 40th year at the school.

This decision gave us the precious opportunity of two more years in the community we love. It gave the Board of Trustees ample time, with our full support, to find our successor. Finally, the decision allows us to devote the rest of our lives in service to the causes that created our calling here: educational opportunity for all; the cultivation of moral and ethical leadership; reverence for human rights; pursuit of equal justice; protection and healing of the environment. These are the passions St. Andrew’s inspired in us.

When I accepted this position 23 years ago, we were living in the Honsels' house. Board President Hick Rowland congratulated me and after a few moments asked how long we might stay as St. Andrew’s Head. I told him we wanted to stay forever. I think we got pretty close to that goal, but, you see, we also did not want to stay too long. 

Our love for St. Andrew’s taught us to honor the school by giving the community our best work and best selves; we never wanted to be like that leader, that athlete, that actor, that artist who stays on too long and fails to sustain their energy, grace, intelligence, and agility. We wanted to end our St. Andrew’s time with our and St. Andrew’s greatest expression of excellence.

Over the next 20 months, we will intensify our calling to each and every one of you—giving you our very best, most passionate energy, grace, and mentoring. And yes, Classes of 2022 and 2023, Mrs. Roach and I will pack four years of ethos, spirit, teaching, mentoring, and love for you over the next two years. You will soon be so strong, so resilient, so full of integrity and ethos that you will become our viceroys, our leaders who will welcome, greet, and inspire an incredible new Head of School whom we will all love, support, and celebrate. For when you bring that energy, goodness, and kindness, you change everyone.

All of you know that we will continue to support your dreams, aspirations, and calling for as long as you need us. We will write for you, fight for you, advocate for you, love you as long as we have breath.

All this, to me seems far in the future, but I want you to know in your hearts and minds tonight that the St. Andrew’s we have built together, is as strong and resilient as the foundation of Founders Hall, as bright and hopeful as the sunlight pouring into the O’Brien Arts Center, the Sipprelle Fieldhouse, and Amos Hall. 

The St. Andrew’s ethos most importantly lives and endures because of the human connection that each day made us faculty, staff, and beloved students “better than we actually are.” 

We love you with all our heart and soul.

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