Moments of Impact
He couldn’t believe it. It should have been an easy play.
Hard as he was on himself, however, it got even harder for him. As they returned to the dugout, his teammate, the star pitcher, started into him furiously.
Then the coach – calmly but firmly – spoke only loud enough to be heard over the chatter: “He usually doesn’t make errors.”
That was it. The chatter stopped. The game went on. But the lessons of the moment continued to resonate.
The player, Dr. David Granoff ’80, remembers Mr. Seelbach’s assertion helped David believe in the moment vividly even decades later. The coach, Mr. Chuck Seelbach ’66, has since joined the ranks of the true US legends. Besides making his mark at US, first as an exceptional student-athlete in his own right and then as an
iconic teacher-coach over a four-decade career, Mr. Seelbach offered David something beyond baseball and beyond history. He contributed to his character.
The mission of US, recently affirmed by the Board of Trustees as part of our Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) re-accreditation process, aims to cultivate “young men of character who lead and serve.” This issue of the Journal outlines a number of the ways we strive to do that across the boys’ Lower, Middle, and Upper School years. Nevertheless, we cannot hope to cover the countless moments – like the quietly authoritative and affirming comment by a coach to his team – that shape the students of US each and every day.
This past fall, in coordination with Hathaway Brown School, we welcomed Jamil Zaki, Ph.D., professor of psychology and Director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory, and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Dr. Zaki addressed parents at our Shaker Campus in the evening and students at our Hunting Valley Campus at an all-school assembly the next morning. He offered many insights
of interest to our students, including research showing that professional athletes whose social media activity is more other- or team-centered are, statistically, part of more successful organizations than those whose focus is more on themselves.
He also stressed empathy is dependent on a mindset. It is neither hardwired nor fixed. Rather, it can be developed and its positive impact is contagious. “People who believe in themselves do things that give them even more reason to believe. They adopt habits of mind that work over the long term,” Dr. Zaki writes.
Mr. Seelbach’s assertion helped David believe in himself, no doubt. Moreover, the perspective he offered, the calm confidence with which he communicated, and his effectiveness at refocusing the team on the task at hand – the moment’s many lessons continue to resonate for David to this day, he tells me.
While US is, increasingly, even more strategic and explicit about character and leadership education, our longstanding commitment provides a solid foundation on which to build.
A few years ago, a US upperclassman shared a story with me. Another student – a freshman, a couple
of years younger than this student – had been disappointed about not making the varsity team. He had been devoted to the sport for as long as he could remember, and he simply could not comprehend not making the cut. In his frustration, he complained openly about the coaches and other players. It was then that the upperclassman decided to confront him. He told him that the attitude and the complaints were in no way helping him. The message, not unlike Mr. Seelbach’s decades before, was simple: “Knock it off.” He was unsure how effective his intervention was, he told me. It was not as if the other student instantly recognized he could have made better choices and apologized.
This year, I have shared this story with eighth graders in their sponsor groups as we have discussed school culture. They recognize fairly quickly the older student should not have mistaken the younger student’s lack of response as his failure. They see the significance of an older student choosing to intervene, and they imagine how they would feel if they were called out on selfish, careless, or unproductive behavior. In short, they empathize.
Moments like these happen between and among US teachers and students all the time, and they reinforce all the lessons that strengthen character and develop leadership. Whether teacher-to-student or upperclassman-to-underclassman or peer-to- peer, at US, at our best, we make each other better.
In recent years, David Granoff has supported his alma mater as a consulting psychologist at the Upper School. In preparing this piece, he and I reconnected. He reiterated how much Mr. Seelbach’s support in that moment meant and continues to mean to him. I also shared the story of the young man who righted a fellow student’s wrong. He chuckled. That very student, as it happened, had sought him out. In his senior year, as a House prefect and an athletic team captain, he wanted David’s advice on how to best influence classmates and teammates. We both agreed that even then he was on his way to making a positive mark on the world.