Tim Murphy, a graduate of the Williston Northampton School class of 1996, delivered these remarks on Thursday, June 9, 2022, on the occasion of the retirement of Assistant Head of School Ann Pickrell and Academic Dean Greg Tuleja. More here.
It is such an honor to be here tonight with you all, but most especially to be here with Ann and Greg, two people who, quite simply, made a profound difference in my life, and in the lives of so many of my fellow students.
For the past 15 years, I have been an administrator myself at a school near Boston, and we celebrated our Commencement this morning. So I was more than excited to hop in the car and drive out to the Pioneer Valley this afternoon!
As I prepare to enter my 22nd year working in boarding schools, I find myself nostalgic. Realizing that I am now in the middle of my own career, I have been thinking a lot about the people who guided me here.
It should go without saying that it all started here for me. Williston, and its people, set me on the path to a life in independent schools. For it was my Williston teachers, coaches, and advisors who showed me how adults could be champions for kids. Ann and Greg are part of that unique breed of educator who decided that being there for their students from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. is simply not enough. From long distance golf matches with dinner on the road, to late night music rehearsals on the flute, Ann and Greg have given of themselves far beyond what was expected.
As a four-year member of the cross-country team, I spent a lot of time around Greg Tuleja. While I ran on the boys team, we were often out on the trail at the same time as the girls. I remember being struck at how mellow Mr. T was. With an easy smile, a stopwatch in his hand, and a word of encouragement always at the ready, he was quite the contrast to our beloved Coach Shaler. Now, I ascribe to the philosophy of not speaking too critically of the dearly departed, but let’s just say Mr. Shaler was just a tad more…colorful…with his language. Mr. T, however, was the yin to his yang, the coach who could look over at a member of the boys team who had just received an earful from Mr. Shaler and translate for him: “What Mr. Shaler is trying to say is that you went out a bit fast.” A light chuckle would break the tension.
As I got older, I came to appreciate how the absence of volatility in Mr. T’s approach to working with kids gave him the unique gift of being able to talk sense into us. His was the voice of reason; the perspective that we hadn’t considered. He could talk us out of loading up on too many AP classes, or encourage us to push ourselves just a bit harder. I came to especially rely on his advice when it was time to apply to college, and I lucked out by having Mr. T as my college counselor. I talk to students all the time who describe the college process as the most stressful thing they have ever gone through. I don’t remember it that way, and as I guide my current students through the process of selecting secondary schools, I’d like to think that I gleaned a thing or two about my approach from Mr. T. Greg, I’m not sure I ever really made that connection until now, so thank you, sincerely.
When I returned to Williston in 2000, fresh out of college, to work in the Advancement Office, I enjoyed the privilege of working alongside so many of my former teachers. When a position opened up in the Admission Office the following year, Ann approached me to encourage me to apply. Most of you here have probably forgotten how crazy it is to be 22 years old, not quite confident in the job you currently have, and to have someone you respect as much as Ann Pickrell tell you you’d be great at something else. “Yes, please!” I said, and moved down the hall to join Ann and the Admissions team.
Of course, I had known Ann well throughout my student career. I can remember her encouraging me to become a Gold Key tour guide. I can remember her sitting in the audience of every one of my performances in the Williston Theater. I can remember her tears and hug at graduation. Ann is a world class hugger, by the way. She hugs you like she is worried she might never see you again. I just had one a few minutes ago…I’m still catching my breath!
Everyone here will know what a presence Ann has been on campus, but you may not know that she has been an impactful leader in the Admissions industry throughout her career. Several of us who have worked for Ann at Williston have gone on to become Secondary School Placement Directors, Deans of Admission, and even Heads of Schools.
In my six years working for Ann, I learned a lot…much more than I can recount in the five mins I’ve been allotted. But here’s the most important thing: passion. I’m not sure there has ever been anyone more passionate about Williston than Ann (Sorry, Denny…Bob) but Ann believes so deeply in this place. She believes so deeply in young people. My father once described sales to me as a “transfer of conviction.” It has always been Ann’s conviction that Williston is the best place in the world for kids to live and learn and grow. Having Ann in my corner, not only when I was a student, but in my career, has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
The Hungarian novelist George Konrad once wrote “Have a lived life instead of a career…lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses.” Congratulations, Ann and Greg, for living lives of purpose, passion, and integrity. I know that I speak for all of your students when I say thank you for everything!