It was my dad’s response to a teenage rant that set me on the path I travel today.
I can recall coming home from high school one day perturbed that my best girlfriends had gotten together the day before, WITHOUT me. Why had I not been included? By the time my dad came home from work, I was in a full blown "the world is coming to an end" state. My dad stood at the kitchen counter making a peanut butter & banana sandwich (our mutual favorite), not saying a word.
After 30 years in the military, which included a tour in the Korean War, three tours in the Vietnam War, my dad was pretty content with the normalcy of country livin' in North Carolina, married with three kids. He was a dedicated professional, wonderfully social, impressively well read on global issues, and I thought he hung the moon. It brought me great joy to please my father, to watch him beam with pride whenever I exceeded expectations. However, there were certainly times when I completely missed the mark.
My father asked me to hand him the newspaper. This made no sense. I knew he read the paper first thing each morning. I reluctantly (and with much attitude) skulked over to the kitchen table to retrieve it... and that's when I realized that my father didn't want to see the paper, he wanted ME to see it.
Just a few days prior, the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster was on live TV all over the world. Our local paper was highlighting the crew lost, and the families left behind. It was a gut punch. How quickly my 16-year-old mind had compartmentalized this unbelievable global tragedy, only to replace it with my own insignificant pettiness.
The instantaneous embarrassment and shame that I felt was obvious to my father. He sat down with me at the kitchen table, gave me half of his PB & banana sandwich, and talked to me. He didn't lecture, didn't scold, just talked. He spoke to me about the value of family, the beauty of true friendships, the honor of servant leadership, and the importance of chasing greatness. He spoke about the ebb and flow of relationships, the ties that bind people together, the great works that people repeatedly do for one another, and the fortitude to never give up on a person, a goal, or a dream.
My father used the front page of that paper to bring me to reality, and to embrace the truly significant things that can be created and built upon, or lost; relationships.
People mattered to my father, and as he spoke, I realized that they mattered to me, too.
Serving in the Military
I went from public school to a private university in N.Y., where I received my master’s degree in education. I continued to be drawn to the ideals of servant leadership I had been reared with, and that the military provided. I spent over a decade flying UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters as an officer in the US Army, truly feeling proud of the profession and the sense of purpose that it provided.
I met my husband, TJ, at the very beginning of our Army careers. TJ served as a Special Forces Officer and gave 22 years to our country, before retiring. We’ve been married for 20 years and over that time we have often shared our ideals about servant leadership and selfless service with anyone who would listen.
Starting a Family
In between all this philosophical talk and our service to the Army, we managed to have four children.
Our first child, Jackson, is adopted. We have always been open with him about his adoption story, telling him about the day he was born, and the selfless decisions made by so many that changed all our lives and started our family. It’s not hard to pick out Jackson in the family photo. He is the amazingly handsome African-American young man (age 14), eager to become taller than Mom and Dad. Tanner is 12, and inherited his talkative nature from me. Our twin daughters, Cameron and Kendall, are 10, and couldn’t be more different, which keeps things exciting!
When I became a mom, I exited the military, as TJ continued his service. This meant that we moved every couple of years, which can impact the stability of a child’s education. What if we moved to a location with a mediocre school system? Would my children fall behind? How could we provide consistency in their education? It was all overwhelming to consider, so, we made the decision to homeschool. I took my M.Ed. and used it to school the heck out of those Wright kids!
Our family homeschooled for several years, and certainly considered continuing for several more. But, about four years ago, TJ announced his intentions to retire from the service. This meant that for the first time in our marriage, we would be picking a potential forever community to call home! No more moving every two or three years. One option was to return to Virginia, our previous duty station. We still had a home there, and plenty of folks to help us transition to civilian life. However, our primary concern was for the education of our kids. Was it time to consider an educational institution rather than homeschooling, now that we would have the stability of a permanent location? TJ and I weren’t sure. Nor were our kids. They enjoyed homeschooling, I enjoyed teaching them, and we were really good at it!
We made appointments with two independent schools, one in Virginia, and the other here, at Randolph. We would decide where to live based on the school that provided the most for our children.
All six of us showed up for our tour of Randolph with Glynn Below. She handled each of our questions (and the kids had A LOT of questions), with such patience, and even delight. She relished the fact that Tanner talked non-stop, that Cameron was opinionated, that Kendall wanted to hold her hand, and that Jackson Race stood back and allowed his siblings to shine, all the while beaming with pride that he was the big brother. Glynn toured with us for THREE hours! We explored the lower, middle, and upper schools. Within each division we were greeted with warm and welcoming teachers.
We still share the story of walking into the Lower School Library and seeing Kim Simpson greet every child who walked into the library by name. A student would arrive to return a book, and Kim would surprise them with a special book that she had specifically pulled and held for them. Each child who entered that library left with the feeling of being known and valued. The best part of the tour was that we witnessed that type of genuine affection on each hall, at each division, on both campuses. Students were happy to be here!
I was getting pretty excited about the whole “sending your child to school” thing. But what would the Wright kiddos think after their full-day visit?
“We want to go HERE!” they all shouted as I pulled into the front circle to collect them after their shadow day. And that was that… we would be “Randolphing” for the 2014-15 school year… and we would be starting our new civilian lives as part of the Randolph family!
What we experienced on our visit and would continue to see was servant leadership in action. I started substitute teaching for Randolph during that first year, working in every division and really learning about the school, its teachers, and its students.
For the past two years, I have been a part of the sensational 6th grade team with Mike Bonaker, Ryan Weglage, and Jenny Lenz. The friendships and camaraderie that I experienced while working with this group are special. There is nothing like teaching, and not as many things are as rewarding.
I have always loved to talk, but my father always knew what to say, and how to say it. I think he would be proud to know that I did add a few of his essential tools to my toolkit. The most important one being the absolute joy that exists when you cherish your relationships, and constantly work to improve them. When I think back to that afternoon with my father, I am reminded of how an impactful conversation can create a shift in perspective for us, especially when we are young, guiding us into the future.
The Next Chapter
Last year, when all of us on the faculty and staff were brought into the process of implementing our School's strategic plan, I learned about plans to develop a program to support student research, service, and career exploration opportunities. The Randolph Connect Program was created, and I am over-the-top excited about contributing to Randolph in a new role, as its director. I am thrilled by the opportunity to create and strengthen our friendships within the school, with our alumni, and within our community.
Sometimes it may seem difficult to find our commonalities, but one thing is for sure: ALL of us have followed a path that led us to Randolph. That shared experience serves as a powerful point through which to connect!