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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Everett McNair ’73 delivers the chapel talk at the Founders Day Chapel Service on November 29, 2023
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Everett McNair ’73

2023 Distinguished Alumnus Recipient Everett McNair ’73 gave this reflection at the Founders Day chapel service on Wednesday, November 29.

Nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility, consider others more important than yourself. Everyone should look out not only for their own good, but also for the interests of others.

But also for the interests of others. In 1929, Felix duPont, the founder of St. Andrew’s School, wrote:

The purpose of St. Andrew’s School is to provide secondary education of a definitely Christian character at a minimum cost consistent with modern equipment and highest standards.

Now almost 100 years later, I am honored and privileged to be here in the heart of the school to share a chapel talk. One of my greatest blessings—and I have a lot of blessings—is experiencing the sustained benevolence of the founders. I’m both proud and humbled to be a St. Andrew’s alumnus.

Before arriving at St. Andrew’s School, I had attended 12 different schools. St. Andrew’s was my lucky number 13. After visiting the campus and getting excited about the possibility of coming here, I prayed all through the applications process. When I received my acceptance letter, it was good news and bad news. The good news was that I had been accepted. The bad news was that admissions wanted me to repeat the ninth grade. Now you have to understand, I came here at 6'1", 202 pounds; all through my time at St. Andrew’s, all through my academy, all through the Marine Corps, and now, I’m 6'1", 202 pounds. So I told my mom and dad I wanted to come to St. Andrew’s, but not if I had to repeat the ninth grade. They supported me and I was allowed to matriculate with the Class of 1973 as a IV Former.

Near the end of my V Form year, I met with the head of school, Mr. Moss. It was part of the college applications process. And over the years, 50-plus years, I distinctively and vividly remember two things from that conversation with Mr. Moss. He asked me what did I want to do? What did I want to be? And I remember my answer. I told him I saw myself as being the guy who would help the boss be successful. Now, later I’ll come back to why it’s easy for me to remember that over 50 years later. But first I’m going to take you down a rabbit hole.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What is my purpose?” 

What is my purpose? During my junior and senior years at the Naval Academy, I reflected on this question a lot. But before I answer the question for myself, I first asked and objectively answered the easier question, “Who am I?” I am a product of many environments that I have experienced from childhood through my ongoing adulthood. These environments contributed to and shaped my values, my beliefs, my biases, and much more, all of which make me me.

Before I share with you what I considered my purpose to be, I’ll first provide insight into the me I know myself to be. That is, who I am. My father served in the United States Air Force for over 20 years, so to say that we moved a lot is the epitome of an understatement. In 1960, I lived in Japan where I attended kindergarten. I was the only Black kid in my kindergarten class—not because I remember this, but because the photos of the class pictures my mom kept. I’m the only one in the picture. Upon returning to the United States, I was bussed off the Abilene Texas Airbase to segregated elementary schools for first and second grade. I was actually color-blind until 1963, the year I entered the third grade. That was when my brothers and I were allowed to attend the on-base school that had previously been for whites only.

I recall the conversation at the dinner table the first night of my third grade day. My older brother asked me, “How many Black kids are there in your class?” And I said, “Everybody’s Black.” And at the time I didn’t understand why my parents and my older brothers were laughing. The next day in class, I was surprised to find that I was the only Black kid in the class. I was no longer color-blind.

We moved off-base when my dad was transferred overseas for a one-year unaccompanied tour. So my fourth grade year was at Central Elementary in Abilene, Texas. My brothers and I were the first and only Blacks—actually, not just Black students, we were the only Blacks in the whole school. For the most part, my fourth grade year was pretty positive, but that was the year I lost a lot of my childhood innocence and began to quickly grow up. Early that school year, I was summoned to the principal's office. Now as I’m walking from the classroom to the principal’s office, my little fourth grade mind was excited and I was feeling special because of all the kids in the classroom I was the only one that had been invited to go and see the principal.

That feeling was short-lived because when I walked into his office—and this is the vivid memory from a fourth grader—he was sitting behind this big desk and on the left front of the desk, this small white kid was standing. The principal looked at me and said, “Is that the one?” And right then and there, I knew I was in a lineup of one and whatever came out of this kid’s mouth was going to have a major impact on me. Fortunately, the kid said no. Phew—literally, phew. But that right there was eye-opening and years later, I remember it. That was the year that nine-year-old Everett became woke.

I started my fifth grade year at Central, but a few weeks into the school year, the school administration determined that our address disqualified us from staying at the school. So we left and re-enrolled at Locust Elementary School, a much more inviting and welcoming environment. When my dad finally returned from his overseas unaccompanied tour, we packed up and we moved to Marin County, Calif., where I experienced my third racially blatant incident. My fifth grade teacher was augmenting the reading assignment with a movie from Huckleberry Finn. I had already read the book and had no interest in seeing the movie. On the screen was a scene where Huck Finn and Jim, the freed slave, were floating down a river.

I was in the back of the classroom reading a book, Big Red—I was really into dogs, still am—and I was just reading through the light that was seeping in through the closed blinds. My teacher comes up behind me. Now you have to understand I’m the only Black, not only Black, I’m the only non-white kid in the class. California, mid-sixties. The teacher comes up behind me and in an irritated voice, she looks down at me and she says, “You should be watching this. It’s about you.” So quietly I look up at her, I point to the dog on the cover of the book and I say, “You should read this book. It’s about you.”

She made no other denigrating racial innuendos for the balance of the year. She knew she was wrong. She knew she was wrong, and I didn’t do it in a mean way. It was just that’s who I was, maybe who I was or who I was becoming to be.

I skipped over it, but my second memorable racist encounter occurred in Texas during my rising fifth grade year, rising summer of that fifth grade year. A white security guard held my brothers and I at gunpoint while he disparagingly let us know who and what we were.
One spring evening during my first year here at St. Andrew’s, I was summoned to Amos Hall. That’s where the faculty and staff meetings were held. Having no idea as to why I had been summoned, I was totally surprised when I was presented an award recognizing me as an outstanding IV Form overachiever. I graciously accepted the award, but I was also more than a little upset as I walked back to the dorm.

Throughout my IV Form year, I had participated in three varsity sports. I had maintained honors grades throughout the whole year, and I was in the band. I felt that I had been given the award only because I had surpassed the low expectations of the admissions process. From my perspective, admissions should have acknowledged and addressed the possibility of flaws in their placement process, instead of validating and upholding the process by giving me an overachiever award.

Years later, after leaving the Marine Corps, I adopted the practice of sharing my management philosophy with my prospective boss or bosses. I would also meet with everyone in the organization or the department for which I had operational responsibility and share my philosophy with them as well. And it’s a simple philosophy. Three tenets, three corollaries. The tenets: Honesty is the only policy; do unto others as you would have others do unto you; and, because it’s the business, meet the requirements at the lowest cost. The corollaries: Teammates do not blindside teammates; and teammates give teammates the benefit of the doubt.

When I would interview for a new opportunity, I shared these tenets and corollaries with my prospective boss, after which I would add that my job is to make my boss's job as easy as possible. My boss's job is to give me what I want. And then I would ask this question of all my bosses after I got out of the Marine Corps—Marine Corps is a little different. You don’t talk like this in the Marine Corps. But I would ask him this question. I'd say, “If I’m making your job as easy as possible, I’m adhering to my tenets and my corollary, is there any reason you can think of why you would not give me what I want?” And no one ever said yes.

By the way, in case you hadn’t picked up on it, when I was sitting with Mr. Moss as a V Former, I had told him my job is to make my boss’s job, to make him be successful. So it’s easy for me to remember that 50 years later because I incorporated it into my management philosophy. Who knew as a V Former 50 years later, ... yeah.

What I’ve shared with you represents a small few of the defining moments that I have encountered along my life’s journey. I’m a product of the many environments that I’ve experienced from early childhood through ongoing adulthood. These experiences contribute and shape my values, beliefs, biases, and much more. For me, my St. Andrew’s experiences, they’re an inextricable part of me, an important part that supports me in being consistently me. I have long been very comfortable with who I am, well before arriving here in 1970.

But it was not until December of my senior year at the Naval Academy that I was able to comfortably answer the question, “What is my purpose?” That’s when I to join the Marine Corps. By law, not more than one-sixth of each graduating class can opt to go Marine Corps. It’s the Naval Academy, not the Marine Corps Academy. I had labored over the decision for months, and not because the Navy had some positive that way going into the Marine Corps. In fact, the thought of being in the Navy and spending all that time at sea was a major downside. The reason for my hesitancy to commit to the Marine Corps was because in 1977, the Marine Corps as an institution was not managing diversity within its ranks with a level of commitment and results comparable to the other military services. Matter of fact, it was deplorable.

But ultimately my decision to go Marine Corps was based on the simple fact that in 1977 there were a lot of Black Marines, but very few Black officers. I decided my presence was more needed and would be of greater value in the Marine Corps. So—as I bring you out of the rabbit hole—consistent with who I am, I comfortably share with you my purpose. My purpose is to live a life that helps those who are far from God be raised to life in Christ. To live a life to help those who are far from God be raised to life in Christ.

Now in Philippians 2:1-5, but really verses two through four, Paul tees it up.

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility, consider others more important than yourself. Everyone should look out not only for their own interest, but also for the interest of others.

And then he goes,

Make your own attitude like that of Christ Jesus.

Wow. Talk about setting a high bar. In fulfilling my purpose, I know that I’m limited only by my commitment, my level of commitment, my initiative, and my imagination. Here are some constants that are consistent with my purpose. My daily lifestyle and business practices are aligned with my purpose. For example, I shared with you my management philosophy, community serving and community giving.

Decades ago—pretty much, I was here decades ago—I learned how to not complain and how to not worry. I know I’m blessed, and I appreciate my blessings. The people in my inner circle are like-minded. I know there are thousands of people who would switch places with me in a heartbeat, no questions asked. No questions asked. So why would I complain? My focus is consistently on balance—mental balance, physical balance, and spiritual balance. Chesa has arranged for me to work out tomorrow at six o'clock. I normally get up between 3:30 and 4:00 to work out. So I get to sleep in tomorrow.

When I encounter something that’s not right the only option that is not an option is to do nothing. Tacitly ignoring a wrong is loudly championing that wrong. Now, there’s 1,000,001 things I could do, but doing nothing is not an option. In my world, every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast. It’s a state of mind. If you ever receive an email, a text message, or a letter from me, you’ll see my tagline: Always positive and balanced. These constants assist me in fulfilling my purpose to live a life that helps those who are far from God be raised to life in Christ.

I leave you with this. We who are St. Andrew’s School—that is the students, the faculty, the staff, the parents, the administrators, the alumni, the friends, and all the families of the aforementioned—we who are St. Andrew’s School are blessed and privileged to include the St. Andrew’s experience in our ongoing life’s journey. But with privilege comes responsibility. That’s not me; that’s President Kennedy. With privilege comes responsibility. So as you reflect on your purpose, give equal consideration as to how you will responsibly help maintain and sustain this living legacy that is our St. Andrew’s. May each and every day of your life be blessed with peace, love, and happiness. Thank you.

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