The following speech was delivered during an event to celebrate the retirement of Assistant Head of School Ann Pickrell and Academic Dean Greg Tuleja on June 9, 2022. More here.
Welcome everyone to celebrate two of our most distinguished colleagues, Greg Tuleja, and Ann Pickrell, and a special welcome to Doug Pickrell and to Frances and Owen Tuleja. I’m simply the first to be able to say a few things tonight about Greg and Ann so I am conscious of stealing someone else’s thunder—though there’s plenty of material to draw upon for each of these luminaries.
Greg and Ann, Ann and Greg, it’s hard to separate these two colleagues and friends who have each had such an enormous impact on the lives of so many young people, and they do share much in common—an uncommon dedication to their profession, legions of alumni followers, and enduring records as coaches. Once upon a time, we would call them paradigms of the triple threat—meaning they lived in the dorm, coached in the afternoons, and carried out their day jobs. In Ann’s case, she simply does not miss a day of work, unless you actually can count two days out of 40 years. In Greg’s case, with his familiar sardonic hint, he ends each day with, “I’ll try to do better tomorrow,” knowing that the day that he just completed was, grade inflation aside, a high honors effort.
We all search for hooks at times like these on which to hang lasting memories, and for both Greg and Ann, I’m choosing to think of their advisory meetings. Each is surrounded in their offices with laughing students who want to be there—with them—no matter how busy their teenage lives get. Their advisees often pop by just to say hi, or to seek consolation, or to gain a piece of wisdom. Both Ann and Greg have the unusual capacity to make students feel respected, valued, and supported. It’s not surprising that their advisees never seem to miss hanging colorful streamers and balloons all over their offices on their birthdays as their way of affirming them.
But separating them just for a moment: Greg’s tenure as Academic Dean has cemented his legacy for his insistence that Williston uphold the highest standards of scholarship and integrity. In a world where both those ideals are tested more and more, Greg has been a breakwater against the tides.
No matter what he has done over his remarkable span he has done exceptionally well—college advisor, music teacher, English teacher, famed cross-country coach, published poet—those just scratch the surface.
Working with Greg for the past 12 years has been a privilege, and with our offices across a narrow Schoolhouse corridor from each other, we’ve spent as much time considering the state of the world as of the school. It’s been those in-between moments that I’ve learned the secret of his success. Through all of the tough conversations, Greg has one of the most remarkably quick senses of humor I’ve ever known—he loves word play, the unexpected deadpan retort, and above all a laugh at his own expense. Humor, humility, intellect are three words I’ll always associate with Greg.
Mister T is a most esteemed dean
Whose mantra’s be nice and not mean
Cheat once you’re okay
Cheat twice it’s D-Day
Said Tuleja, “I’m not what I seem.”
And I can’t pass up the chance to say a few words more about Ann as well.
Ann delivered the Baccalaureate address this year—the perfect person to do so given Williston’s celebrating 50 years of women. Indeed, Ann’s tenure encompasses a good chunk of that time and her message to all of us to be present is a good one to hold onto.
When anyone asks me about Ann Pickrell I always speak of her absolute devotion to the school—she has, quite simply, green and blue coursing through her veins. I have never had a conversation with Ann in which she does not put the school first, and the remarkable breadth of her 40 years has given her an unveiled perspective on virtually any topic that arises.
For those who might not know this, Ann has a reputation for being detail-oriented—but it’s this has assured, especially in her last 10 years as assistant head of school, that the trains run on time. During these last 10 years, she has been the point person for all major school events, from Welcome Days in the fall, to the Commencement we just celebrated. I hope you can enjoy Reunion weekend, Ann, without worrying about any of the details! As the chief of the master calendar, Ann is the keeper of our most prized resource, time. And because she has been a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and Director of Admission for 20 years, she understands the lives students and adults live at Williston better than anyone.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of traveling around the world with Ann and seen her develop Williston’s international student recruitment, quite literally bringing Williston to the world and the world to Williston. Families in Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, and Bermuda—and that’s probably about half the countries that she routinely visits—value her as a family member.
A decorated field hockey coach of 30 seasons, Ann coached young women when their status as athletes was taking hold with Title IX, and the innumerable former players who still call her Coach Picks keep in touch with her to this day—she has created truly enduring bonds.
And so now to keep good on my opening words, it is my pleasure to welcome back to Williston and the mic, Denny Grubbs, head of school from 1984-1999.