Ward Metal Recipient Ed Michael Reggie ’71

Ed. note: Ed Michael Reggie ’71 received the Ward Medal at a special assembly on May 13, 2016, in the Phillips Stevens Chapel. Read more here.

Ward Metal Winner Ed Michael Reggie '71//Photo by Joanna Chattman
Ward Metal Winner Ed Michael Reggie ’71//Photo by Joanna Chattman

I am here to talk to you today about “Doing Good Well.” But I would like to say upfront that when it comes to giving back, I say no. And I encourage you to say no.

That’s right—I am saying don’t give back. So does that make me a heartless capitalist? How can I tell you not to give back? And with an attitude like mine, how did I even end up here before you this morning? Well, it wasn’t always a sure thing that I’d graduate from Williston much less end up here accepting this award. Let me tell you why.

I arrived at Williston from a small Cajun town in Louisiana when I was 15-years-old. If ever there was a fish out of water, I was it. Some of you here no doubt know the feeling.

It was the 1970s and it was a time of great turbulence in the world and here on campus.

In my senior year, I was elected student body president. And I protested everything from the war in Vietnam to the food we were being served.

So I got kicked out of school two months before graduation. I was only permitted to graduate if I completed and passed an independent study project – at home. I was banned from campus until graduation.

I ended up focusing my project on the history of banking in my parish – or as it is known in the 49 other states, my county. That topic –the history of banking – might not sound too exciting, but it allowed me to graduate from Williston. And it also started me on my career path.

After Williston, I graduated from college with a degree in Finance, then an MBA from Tulane. I became a banker in one of those parishes. I rose through the ranks to become bank president and made my living by making loans to small businesses.

I lent money to farmers borrowing to plant their crops. I lent money to chefs to open restaurants. I lent money to musicians looking to start their own jazz clubs – yes, I was in New Orleans! It was a great way to learn about business while at the same time giving people the financial backing to pursue their dreams. Eventually I left banking to found my first start-up business – a healthcare company.

Now during these early years of my career, I didn’t have a sophisticated approach to how I donated money. I followed the crowd. I gave without much thinking and mostly to those charities around me that asked.

But after selling my healthcare company, I became a venture capitalist. And my attitudes toward giving started to change.

So what is a venture capitalist? Answer: An early stage investor in new companies. When a new company is showing early signs of success, it almost always needs additional money to grow. And often these companies turn to a venture capitalist that needs to be skilled at evaluating start-ups to ensure that those in which they invest money have a viable plan and have demonstrated early success. We strike out a lot more times than we hit homeruns though.

And even though my company – it’s called Future Factory – primarily funds our own ideas, we do sometimes fund other startups. I’ve been pitched a thousand times by start-ups hoping to become the next Google. Now Google, of course, wouldn’t have become Google without venture capital. And it is not alone. Amazon, Facebook, Snapchat – to name just a few – all have benefitted from venture capital funding at critical times in their histories.

When you think of those names and consider that venture capital has also funded numerous other companies and is helping to fund new drugs to fight diseases, you can get a sense of the power of venture capital.

It is transformational. It has funded catalytic change in our society. And I’d argue, change for the good. So as I was developing my expertise in venture capital, I was beginning to re-think my approach to giving.

In 2003, I went to Haiti to observe a nonprofit organization called Freedom From Hunger. And it blew my mind. I saw this nonprofit making micro-loans to small business people:

  • A $40 dollar loan for a farmer raising chickens;
  • A $25 dollar loan to a baker selling bread in the market; and
  • A $50 dollar loan to a woman sewing and selling fish net.

These tiny loans were real and binding, and they were accompanied by an educational component. Most importantly, they had to be paid back. No handouts. Amazingly the repayment rate exceeded 99 percent. That’s a far higher repayment rate than banks ever get on loans in the U.S., and that is coming from the very, very poor.

You’ve heard the parable…Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed a man for a lifetime. That is what Freedom From Hunger is all about.

Yes, real sustainable businesses were being created that helped raise the living standards not just of the borrower and her family, but of the village as well. Seeing this system in action excited me and pointed me in a new philanthropic direction. Can you see how I looked at it? This micro-lending to third-world, poor business people was just another form of venture capital. The results – like venture capital – were very measurable.

How many loans got paid back? How many new businesses were created? Let’s measure how living standards were changed in the village after one year, after three years, after five years. And guess what followed? Savings programs. These business people actually started putting small amounts of money away. Real village banks were being created.

What I saw clearly in Haiti was that we had a long-term solution to poverty – a self-sustaining solution. Not just parachuting airdrops of food and medical supplies. Don’t get me wrong, those are vital. But capital is critical.

I was so impressed I served on the board of directors of Freedom From Hunger for 12 years. I also was a founding board member of two other micro-lending entities. I believed, and still believe, that micro-lending is huge and transformative. And it wasn’t surprising to me that the father of micro-finance, Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He has championed a new, more effective way to achieve transformational change.

And that is my main point — philanthropy should have as its aim the same goal venture capital has – to maximize return on investment. In the case of philanthropy, that means effecting transformational change.

But in today’s prevailing view, a philanthropist can be celebrated for giving away millions of dollars to a charity, but still not have advanced the cause very much at all. Why? Too many times there is no measurable proof that this big gift will result in real positive change. Donating is not an outcome. It is what happens with that money that creates outcomes!

I mean, do we care how much money was spent in creating a restaurant? No, we care only if it is good. Do we celebrate the people who put a ton of money into that restaurant? No, we celebrate great restaurants and those who make them happen, only when the outcome is excellent. If the outcome is failure, the money invested was a big waste.

Shouldn’t the same apply to philanthropy? The outcome is what matters much more than how much was given. Smart giving is what I am talking about. Big gifts are wonderful, but only if they are smart.

Consider that billions of dollars of aid were donated in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010. But what happened to all that money? All those donations helped build important infrastructure like roads, bridges and buildings. But they didn’t provide much opportunity for Haitians themselves.

To me, that’s like spending a lot of money on new computer hardware, but not spending anything on new software – the operating system. Humans are the operating system.

What if some of those dollars had been directed to entrepreneurs in Haiti? What if those entrepreneurs had a great invention or an idea that would have helped or employed hundreds or even thousands of people, possibly raising employee wages and living standards in whole communities? Considering on average that most Haitians only earn $3 dollars a day (those that have jobs, that is), this could have been a game changer for so many lives.

Do you think that would be possible? Well, let’s think about how things changed when an entrepreneur in the U.S. did just that. Let’s talk about Henry Ford.

Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile or even the assembly line, but he was able to transform and revolutionize society by creating a company that was able to mass produce cars. Funding his dream were businessmen who were inspired by his vision.

Now does anyone bemoan the fact that Henry Ford wasn’t running a charity?

Probably not his employees at the time. He doubled their wages to $5 dollars a day to reduce turnover at his factory. And in doing that, he raised their living standards and actually turned them into car customers. That is transformational change.

Now what if those businessmen who backed Henry Ford had decided instead to invest their money in local charities during that time? A local shelter? A church to help the needy?

Certainly, those would have been worthwhile contributions, but the magnitude of positive change in the community would have been dwarfed in comparison to investing with Ford. Why shouldn’t the wealthy invest in innovations and at the same time create more wealth for those around them?

Why shouldn’t they and we be focused on the outcomes – catalytic change to save and improve lives; to raise living standards and help rescue those in poverty. Educate students. Cure diseases. Imagine if that had been done in Haiti.

It has been reported by The National Cancer Institute that more than $90 billion a year is being spent on the war against cancer and that there are 260 U.S. nonprofits fighting cancer. In addition many for-profit pharmaceutical companies and start-up firms are spending significant money to find a cure. One of my startups right now is running clinical drug trials across the country testing new medications.

Does it really matter to you who finds the cure first? The objective has to be the cure. Sometimes that cure might come from a for-profit company. I don’t care where it comes from. I just want great outcomes.

Last year, $60 billion dollars of venture capital was invested in start-up companies.

$360 billion dollars – six times more – was given to charities.

But consider that less than 10 percent of charities rigorously measure whether their programs are working or not, according to a University of Chicago study. So, in my humble opinion, most charities need to up their game if they want our money.

So if instead of $360 billion dollars going to charities, what if those dollars went to investing in entities – non-profit and for-profit companies – aimed at generating measurable improvements in society?

Entrepreneurs like billionaire Google CEO Larry Page are thinking about this idea. He has said that upon his death, he would prefer Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, to inherit his fortune rather than leaving it to his heirs or a non-profit. Page believes Musk is the kind of visionary whose ideas will do untold amount of good for the world. Would replacing gasoline-powered cars with vehicles powered by alternative energy be a transformational change for the betterment of our society? That is what Elon Musk is doing at Tesla.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It is structured as a company rather than a charitable foundation so it can fund non-profit organizations and make for-profit investments in its effort to advance human potential. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg might invest his $45 billion dollars and deliver better outcomes than a typical charity would? Think about it.

I wouldn’t sell Zuckerberg short.

But as I have said, we’ve gotten stuck on this notion that we are doing good only when we are giving lots of money. That is not enough! We must measure the impact of that investment.

You can bet that many philanthropists who give without demanding a plan and measurable results are wasting their money. Remember, only 10 percent of charities measure whether their programs actually work.

Add to that: we focus on “giving back” as if we are guilty of having a past due debt to society. We owe the community.

Instead, we should focus on the idea of giving as a wonderful voluntary act of generosity, not the paying off of some imaginary debt. Skip the guilt and let’s proactively give to those that convince us – prove to us – that they are positive agents in making society better.

Give forward. Yes, I am telling you to give forward.

Become an evangelist, tell your parents and promote giving with a focus on transformative results, not just what feels good. And when you are giving, make sure you’ve evaluated who you are giving to and why. Measure their success – or lack of it.

I give to Williston because it is an agent of change that is indeed making the world a better place. I know. It changed my life. And having served as a board member for 10 years, treasurer for eight, and having participated in writing the school’s last two strategic plans, I have taken its full measure. I urge you to read the most recent plan. See the benchmarks that Williston has established to measure its success.

I believe in Williston’s goals and believe this school is headed for a greater future and its students – you – will help us in our efforts to build a better society.

So, I ask you, my fellow Willies, to please join me. Don’t give back. Give forward.

Again, thank you so very much.

[Ed. note: see photos of the Ward Medal Assembly at our Flickr page.]

Baccalaureate Poem: Remembering Not to Forget

Delivered at Baccalaureate Service, Williston Northampton School
May 28, 2016
By Sideya Dill ’16

 

Like a vapor in the wind

Or the falling of a leaf

Like snow hitting your skin

So many moments are so brief

Some would say it felt like it all started an eternity ago

Some would say it feels like it all started yesterday

Some would say that time here has gone by so slow

But it all went too fast is what others would say.

But here we are about to transition out of this phase of our lives

Here we are trying to figure out what comes next

Trying to piece together how to keep these Williston memories alive

Trying to remember not to forget.

There was that time skated on or swam in the pond

That time we got kicked out of the library

That time we got an email and decided not to respond

And that time that we had too many packages to carry.

When we nailed it in the dance concert

When we painted something beautiful

When the dining hall had that good dessert

Or that thing that time that wasn’t really chewable.

Having gone to our favorite classes

Or having gave the victory bell a ring

In the winter, having smelled the molasses

Or relaxed on the quad in the beautiful spring.

Beating Suffield or really any other school

Hanging with our best friends every day

Going to get mount toms ice cream to keep cool

Or hiking out to Galbraith because we had games to play.

Having fun going to Willy Gras each spring

Heading to the theater to watch a production

Going to assembly and being forced to sing

Playing games on the surface then realizing you missed the instruction.

Being excited and somewhat sad on Senior days

Sitting in the dining hall too long on weekend nights

Clearing the boards to put up new art displays

Or getting ready to play on Sawyer under the lights.

Doing fun things or sleeping on the weekends

Parking in the day student lot

Filling out white sheets to go off with friends

Or running to check in because you forgot!

Acing that test you studied hard for

Making honors and feeling proud

Painting the lion a whole new color

Or winning big in front of a Williston crowd.

So slow down and take time to fill yourself with sweet memories

They say the older you get the quicker time will pass

And if you think that to not be true, you better believe

Because tomorrow we will be the graduating class.

Many of these memories cannot be repeated and this I will bet

So take some time to stop and remember all the things you don’t want to forget.

 

 

 

 

Head of School Commencement Address 2016

Williston Northampton Commencement
175th Graduation
May 29, 2016

Good morning and welcome to The Williston Northampton School’s 175th Commencement.   Welcome to parents, families, guests, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff.

I want to begin this morning, as we have in the past, by recognizing that this ceremony falls on Memorial Day weekend and so I would ask that we begin with a moment of silent reflection for all those who give their lives in service to our country.

Thank you. And Welcome Classes of 2019, 2018, 2017—having you all here under the tent brings us together as a community one more time and makes sure that important traditions are transmitted from seniors to the classes that follow. And for you Class of 2016, the two weeks of celebration are coming to a close and our attention turns to you.

Yesterday during our Academic Awards Ceremony, I asked the audience to acknowledge Williston’s incredibly dedicated teachers who work so tirelessly and selflessly to help students achieve their goals. Class of 2016, you did not get to where you are today without support, love, and guidance. In that spirit, there are a lot of people at this ceremony just for you–parents, relatives, guardians, and friends. So I ask 2016 that you stand, turn around, and face the audience to show your collective appreciation to those who are here today.

As I look out at the 132 members of the Class of 2016 I know that some of you have been here six years and have literally grown up in front of our eyes–if you don’t believe that, think of, Abbie Foster or Nate Gordon’s pictures in Friday’s athletic awards ceremony.

Others of you, like Matt Folger or Rylee Leonard have been here for one short action packed year of engagement, leaving your mark in the classroom and on the fields. And some of you, like Maddy Scott, really don’t want to leave at all.

But high school years being what they are, and with adult freedom beckoning, I know that some of you have the Vietnam-era protest anthem in mind “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place….” And that’s ok too.

Since this is the last time I get to speak to you as a class together, and since Commencement is all about imparting words of wisdom that you forget by the time you get to lunch, I’m going to ask you a question.

Why would you want to leave Williston, seriously? Think about it: No more ECBs or late night Diner runs; no more slices of Antonio’s chicken, bacon, and ranch; no more sightings of Imran hustling late to check in.

Do you really want to leave Williston? Who will instill in you the important life-long value of being part of a team, that when you put on a Williston jersey you represent your school, something bigger than yourself? If you had Mr. Ketcham for AP Biology, what college professor will could inspire you to call exams “opportunities?” Who among you might actually miss the attention you get when Mr. Koritkoski asks you to stop wearing a baseball hat inside school buildings.

Do you really want to leave Williston? What about those times with your best friends, the ones whom you hope to see at reunions just as you observed Williston alumni doing on campus a few weeks ago. Or what about those times in October when you look at the pond and see the foliage reflected back as if in a mirror. Think of all that you are going to be leaving behind.

Now let’s think for a moment about the adult world you are going to enter. This is a world of dissension and name calling. A world where you have to pay your own rent, consider the cost of a gallon of gas before a road trip, take your hat off before you enter your bosses office.

You might not realize this now, sitting here under the big tent, but as soon as you graduate from Williston a quantum change will take place with respect to how those college professors and university administrators perceive you.   They will see you as a full-blown adult, solely responsible for your words and deeds. If you miss class, mom or dad cannot call the deans’ office to get it excused. If you don’t get playing time in a game, no college coach will be speaking to your parents about that. If you mess up, your adviser will not be there for you the same way Ms. Marsland magically seems to appear whenever needed. And you still really want to leave Williston?

But you have to go, and pretty soon. You must leave Williston behind you and that’s as it should be.  This is one of those boundary moments that you learned about in literature or psychology where you cross a threshold and there is no turning back—you all read The Great Gatsby.

And if I were to be really honest right now, we are ready for you to go—we’ve done our job, hopefully really well, of preparing you for all of those challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Our honored speaker is here today from her home in Seattle, Washington, to explain how all of this works. For some of you it will be a straight line, for others a crooked path

Nonie Cream graduated from Williston in 1990, when the first president Bush was in office. She carries a Williston diploma with pride and traces some of her most meaningful life influences to her alma mater and teachers who remain friends to this day. Ms. Cream is an entrepreneur, successful business woman, creative talent, and most importantly a loyal Willy. I won’t spoil too much of her biography for you, but I hope she tells us whether being dubbed a “Fashionista” is a good thing or not. In any event, after a highly successful career with the famous brand Butter London, Ms. Cream launched out on her own—a fiercely independent impulse that she has had her whole life. Please join me in welcoming back, Nonie Cream.

Closing remarks:

This really is a big moment for you the Class of 2016. Not only are you leaving Williston but your setting forth corresponds to a national election—I think even the youngest of you will be able to cast your first vote for President of the United States. Most people, no matter how old recall their high school graduation, and the same can be said for your first presidential vote. You are more than ready to be serious citizens of the world, and I wish to close with a traditional Williston prayer.

Regardless, as you think about your time at Williston, I bet that each of you feels a sense of time’s compression, the compacting that takes place in your mind’s thumb drive as you reflect on the countless events that have happened in your Williston career.

I am equally certain that whether you think of one of your best moments or one of your most challenging, you will recall a teacher figuring prominently in that memory. Yes, Williston is a place defined by 194 Main, or Ford House, or John Wright, or other spaces of significance, but its true essence lies in its people.

Think about it this way: each of you seniors has worked with a teacher, coach, or adviser to achieve conspicuous victories and imperceptible transformations. While it is perhaps easier to recognize and celebrate those larger public events, conversely, it is harder to identify and therefore acknowledge those subtler and maybe even more important moments that have changed you, altered your course, changed the way you think.

Perhaps it was a new way of solving a math problem, or perhaps you broke out of your circle of friends to get to know someone who just might impact your life many years from now. Whatever it might be, I hope that you take reflect on your Williston experience so that it can become a touchstone for you in college and the years beyond.

Living as we do in this digital age, your cell phones or iCloud accounts are probably filled with digital reminders of your time at Williston. You guys are the Snap Chat generation, but sometimes I worry that what should be a direct human interaction has become a digital one. I worry that a string of emoticons takes the place of a good one-on-one conversation. I worry that a quick re-tweet takes the place of thoughtful discourse or deeply held convictions. The way to avoid these de-humanizing tendencies, I would caution you, is to hold onto the things you learned here at Williston. Your teachers have taught you to be independent thinkers, patient problem solvers, unselfish team mates, good citizens who strive to live by our universal values of respect for self and others, responsibility and trust, honesty and integrity.

As I look out at you seniors I cannot help thinking that you are crossing a double thresh hold–your graduation from high school coincides with your ability to vote in your first national election. Both of these are what I like to call boundary moments–

Head of School’s Academic Award Ceremony Speech

Academic Awards Ceremony
Williston Northampton School
May 28, 2016

Head of School Robert W. Hill III

Good afternoon and a special welcome to parents, families, guests, and to all of our students gathered to celebrate the academic accomplishments that are at the heart of all we do. Since Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor, popularized the idea of having a “growth mindset” educators have grabbed onto Dweck’s paradigm. Hard work, persistence, resilience, determination—these are all necessary elements of the life-long pursuit of learning. But don’t be fooled into thinking that they alone will brand you as having a “growth mindset” because in the final analysis, what you accomplish, how you behave, how you treat others, in other words—YOUR DEEDS—will determine whether or not you are a successful lifelong student in pursuit of the ‘growth mindset’ ideal.

Buzzwords, especially those in education, can become overused at best and self-deceiving at worst. The more you claim, for instance, that you have a “growth mindset,” the less you have it. But one of the best aspects of a Williston education is that you are always challenged by your teachers to explain,

demonstrate, prove, and defend your answers. You might find that we hold you to a high standard of intellectual and moral rigor, but if you are not the ones to achieve these ideals, then who? For seniors, about to head off to college campuses around the country, the imperative has never been greater. I might argue, but for another day, that the challenges that you will face on college campuses are of a magnitude that we’ve not seen since the tumult of the Vietnam era.

But here we are this afternoon, nearing the close of Williston’s historic 175th anniversary year—and we have been watching and celebrating student accomplishments in earnest for the past two weeks. The Williston Scholars presentations, like Maggie White’s research on national parks, revealed how you kids are as expert in your knowledge as any college student; we applauded crazy individual and team athletic accomplishments just yesterday, and I have to wonder if we will ever have kids play on not one but two championship teams in one year, like Delaney and Morgan did as varsity field hockey players who also competed on the first ever championship softball team this spring. We have recently witnessed our instrumental and choral music performers as well as been treated to the work of our visual artists, dancers, and actors— and the level of talent we saw was nothing short of astonishing—some of you may have wondered, as I did, while Verdi performed in “In the Heights,” if we were watching the next Lin Manuel [Man-Well] Miranda.

Before we recognize all of the incredible academic accomplishments of our students, however, I want to acknowledge our teachers who have worked so tirelessly to help each student achieve personal bests.

Please join me in a deserved round of applause

Williston’s teachers will go to any length to advise, mentor, listen, and support their students—I know this because I live with one.

As I emcee today’s ceremony, I ask that you pay attention to the citations that are read and attached to names from Williston’s past. All of you students are part of our 175 years of history, and our traditions matter. It’s wise to remember, that what we celebrate today connects us to Williston’s past.