Hello. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Daniel Cohen, and I am a proud alumnus of Millbrook from the class of 1986. Speaking like this, in front of the entire school, is not something that I have ever had the pleasure to do, even while I was a student here. These Thursday evening chapel talks, as you know them, are a relatively recent development at school. But the history of public speaking at Millbrook goes back to the beginning of the school’s history. In fact, back in the day, during the formal sit-down lunches (yes, formal lunches that occurred every day), each boy (there were only boys then) was required to present themselves once a year to the entire school and give a speech on a subject of his choice. And they were not allowed to read their speeches from paper; they could only use notes. As you can very well imagine, this mandatory task put the fear of God in many young Millbrook boys.
Later this evening in the Chelsea Morrison Theater you are all going to get a special sneak peak at “Down School Road”, the documentary film about the seventy-five year history of Millbrook School that Jill Kane and I have been working on since December of 2005. Our labors have lasted for more than 16 months now.
We have conducted sixty-eight interviews. We have filmed more than 70 hours of footage. We have read and re-read hundreds of pages of transcripts. We have sifted through, and edited, and scanned thousands of old photos. I have spent countless hours editing the footage. And I have been to the top of the Chapel, the bell tower on the top of this building, more times than I can remember.
And even with all that, we’re not done yet. In fact we won’t be finished until we officially premiere the film for the gathered body of alumni, parents, friends, and faculty on June 9th, during the special 75th Anniversary Alumni Weekend celebration. Tonight’s test screening is what we call in the business a “rough-cut”. Not everything is perfect, and not everything is edited exactly as it will be. But we have still have about a month to tweak it, and I welcome your comments and input after tonight’s screening.
This past year and a half of work, this long project, has truly been, for me, a labor of love. I have been given an extraordinary gift – the opportunity to come back to Millbrook, a place that is so dear to me, and spend real quality time here on campus. To enjoy the company of old friends, and make new ones, to walk the grounds when no one is here and when everyone is here. To wake up on a cold winter morning and look out the window to see fresh snow covering the grounds. To enjoy Mr. Casertano’s pancakes with his advisees on a Thursday morning. To eat a slice of Four-B’s at 9:30 at night, from the back of a gas-guzzling SUV. To live and breathe Millbrook in a way that, unless you come back to teach or work here, you will never get to experience again in your lifetime. A true gift, indeed.
I have filmed at least one varsity match, of every team, in every sport Millbrook offers. I went to four field hockey games. I almost felt that I was part of the team. But I don’t look very good in a skirt. On the new fields, I witnessed Jen Ascencio score a thrilling penalty shot that put Millbrook in the lead. In the Bonticue Rink, I filmed Dan Mascoveta scoring a backhanded goal in the Empire Cup that would have made Bobbie Orr blush. And on the basketball court, I saw Tripp Revson make a three-point buzzer beater to send the game into overtime. Some thrilling moments.
I’m sure some of the members of the senior class, many of whom I have had the pleasure getting to know, are beginning to reflect back on their three or four years here. And whatever pessimisms or pressures or miserable outlooks on life from their underform years they may have, those are beginning to fade away. Everything is coming into focus. College is on the horizon, just one season away. CES projects are getting completed. Blaine Essays are being handed in. It is time to have some fun, to stop, take a deep breath, to look around and truly be able to enjoy your surroundings. Oh, the joys of the senior spring. Enjoy it. As you will soon find, life is never the same again. Make these last moments here count for something, because you will remember them and this time for the rest of your lives.
For me this recent time of enjoyment being here, working on the film, my second senior spring perhaps, has also been an extraordinary learning experience for me. Not only have I gotten the chance to understand how Millbrook really works, how things get done here from an administrative point of view, but I have also learned about the history of the school in a way that perhaps only Mr. Siegenthaler’s students will ever get the chance to.
When I came here originally, in the fall of 1982, I had no idea or understanding of the great struggle Millbrook had then recently endured. In fact, this struggle is not something I even came to know about until I began working on this film project.
The seventies were not a stable or secure time in the history of Millbrook, or for many private boarding schools for that matter. As a reaction to the great social upheaval of the late sixties, when young people in this country shunned the past, rejected tradition, and didn’t trust anyone over the age of thirty, Millbrook suffered. Young people didn’t want to go to boarding school, and their parents didn’t want to send them.
In an effort just to keep the head-count up, and the beds filled, Millbrook started down a slippery slope. The school had grown too large for its means, with too many day students and too many faculty salaries to pay, but not enough income to cover costs. Things went from difficult to dangerous. Millbrook could not balance its budget. The school’s endowment reached an all-time low. Del Shilkret, who served as the school’s Business Manager for thirty-two years, and had just then come to Millbrook, told us that financially, it was a very scary time for the school. Bankruptcy loomed.
But with the guidance and generosity of the board of trustees and the great leadership of the school’s faculty and administration, Millbrook survived. Drastic changes were needed if the school was to continue, and changes were made. A new headmaster, Donald Abbott, who was raised at Millbrook, took over the helm. Don’s father Nat, who created the school motto “Non Sibi Sed Cunctis”, taught here for 35 years. To steal a quote from our film, “Don Abbott was breast-fed on Millbrook”, and he was just the guy to help right the ship.
The board of trustees, through their generosity, helped bankroll the school for a number of years. The enrollment was drastically reduced, from 250 to just 123 students. The standards were brought back. And Millbrook was saved.
And slowly, and steadily, and carefully, Millbrook was reborn.
Over the past twenty years, the school has grown into the Millbrook that you all enjoy today. Major renovations have occurred throughout the campus, from Harris and Abbott Halls, to the Schoolhouse and Pulling House. The Trevor Zoo, which was really no more than one building and a collection of wire cages when I first arrived, has been transformed into a world-class, internationally accredited zoo, and it has become an integral part of the Millbrook experience. The school’s endowment is now approaching twenty million dollars, and many millions more were raised to bring you the Mills Athletic Center, The Holbrook Arts Center, and now the new Math and Science Center.
As I have come back to Millbrook over the past twenty years, I have marveled as
to how great a school Millbrook has become. I always thought it was a great
place, even when I was a student here. But each time I returned since my
graduation, I just couldn’t get over how good the place looked, and how
wonderful the new gym and arts center are.
The theme of “Down School Road”, our film that you will see tonight, is that even
while changing, Millbrook has remained the same. While the campus has grown
and buildings have been built, the heart of the school has always been here.
The driving pulse of the school has been Millbrook’s original mission, created by
its founder, Edward Pulling. In the school’s first prospectus catalog, written in
1930, Mr. Pulling set forth the purpose of Millbrook. I quote:
“To give boys a liberal education and a healthy outdoor life and to prepare them
for college. It aims especially:
-To cultivate personal integrity, sound scholarship and independent thinking.
-To study the individuality and aptitudes of each boy and to co-operate with the
parents in an effort to meet particular needs.
-To develop self-reliance and a sense of responsibility.
-To encourage intellectual and other interests which will lead to the wise use of
Those points of purpose are alive and well, and live on today in every one of you,
not only the students, but the faculty, staff, alumni, and the board of trustees.
Respect, Integrity, Service, Stewardship, and Community. The Mission of
Millbrook lives strong, and flows through you, through everything you do.
And while the mission lives, times change, and traditions come and go. The
Queen of Sheba no longer arrives from Arabia every Halloween. Disobedient
students don’t spend their Saturday nights in “The Jug”, copying out lines of Old English texts in the study hall. The title of the Saturday Night Movie is no longer a secret. Lunchtime speeches are a thing of the past. The smokehouse bell no longer rings each morning. Sunday evening chapel services are no more. Freshmen boys, “Bennies” as they were known, probably don’t get thrown in the Zoo pond.
But thankfully, many of Millbrook’s original traditions remain: Twilight League, the Headmaster reading to the third formers, dishwashing, and of course “Free Days”. One of Mr. Pulling’s favorite traditions was, of course, his announcement, once each term, of the “Free Day”. He took great pleasure in announcing those free days to the gathered student body, and relished in their applause and excitement.
I would just like to point out the fact that I have been present on campus during the past five free days. A very strange coincidence, but a fact, none-the-less.
So, in closing, it is with extreme pleasure, great honor, and hope “which will lead to the wise use of leisure” that I announce: “TOMORROW IS A FREE DAY!”
Enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy the film too. Thank you.