Finding Your Landscapes

English teacher Vicky Seelen recently shared this personal reflection with the Nobles community during morning Assembly. She spoke about how using her hands to create things, bead and knit inspires her in ways she never realized she needed. Now, she can’t imagine life without these passions and encouraged students to find that same source of joy within themselves.

I like to think that we inhabit many landscapes, and today I am not going to focus on my love of literature or even the landscape of my many classrooms. What I want to share with you is my deep passion for the landscapes that I have been creating with my hands.

It seems an appropriate time to talk about making poetry of pain, and, by poetry, and by using the word landscape, I am, of course, talking about metaphors. Eighteen years ago my brother, Geoffrey, died of AIDS at 35. How does one answer such a loss? Less than two years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer (I am fine now)—then my beloved father-in-law died and, a year later, I lost my fabulous father this past October. These are my pains and my losses. But I always return to color, to my hands, to work through the process of healing. To work through the process of healing.

I heard a few weeks ago that there is a wonderful Native American expression. How does one know how far to walk? The response: walk until nature shows you something. Walk until nature shows you something.

Somehow, this relates to the work I am sharing. Much of it is inspired by what I see, which then, in some wonderful alchemy, speaks to me and becomes what I need it to become.

What I am sharing with you is some of what I have created in the past seven years, since my sabbatical from Nobles.

Here are a just a few photos of the ones Ms. Seelen showed in Assembly:

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This is Water


David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005

David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest, delivered the commencement address at my alma mater, Kenyon College, on May 21, 2005.

In my alumni magazine, I read that Foster sat in Sunset Cottage, longtime home of the school’s English department, immediately before delivering the address. According to the students who invited him to campus, Foster Wallace edited a hard copy of his speech—crossing out words, changing words, rephrasing—up until minutes before he delivered the address in the middle of nowhere in Ohio. He swore at the students for persuading him to speak. He was funny, and he was focused.

Foster Wallace’s words have since become the most famous commencement address this century (maybe ever). “This is Water” is a reflection on what it means to be human and to live with care—how it’s often the small choices we make and the ways in which we consider the realities of others that, to quote John Milton, “can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” (The irony, of course, is that Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008.)

One of my favorite websites,, pairs an audio file of Foster Wallace’s speech with a visual representation worth watching:

As members of the Nobles Class of 2013 prepare to make their mark in college and in the world, I wanted to share these musings from a brilliant mind. I hope that, as I did, you find something worth considering in “This is Water.”

– Heather Sullivan, director of communications

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The Language of Chess

The Nobles chess club had a great year of match play—and recently competed in the Massachusetts State team chess tournament with impressive results. Chess club adviser and science teacher Chris Pasterczyk shared these remarks in Assembly about the game, the players and the wonderful ride this season has been:

People who love chess think of it as tactical ballet; poetry; obsession; war.

Chess has a vocabulary all its own. There are strategic moves called skewers, pins, forks, and X-ray attacks.

One of my favorite attacks is the “fried liver”—a series of moves I learned six years ago from Conor McClintock ’11.

Some of the vocabulary of chess is French; there’s a pawn capture rule called “en passant.”

Some of the vocabulary is Polish or Russian. In the middle of a game, I swear I once heard Max Sheerin ’17 say, “Try to make good move. I will crush you.” *

People who misunderstand chess will say that you have to be a genius to play it well, but the truth is that becoming an expert at chess (like becoming an expert at anything) requires years of focus, patience, perseverance, passion and practice.

One of the youngest players ever to achieve the title of chess grandmaster was a Hungarian woman named Judit Polgar. In 1991, she achieved grandmaster status at the incredibly young age of 15. That’s not normal.

I remember meeting Grant Rheingold ’12 when he was 15. He came to chess club and offered to play a game. Back then, if Grant and I played 10 games, I’d have beaten him 6-4. Three years later, Grant has worked so hard at chess that if we played 10 games today, he would destroy me in every one.

I also remember meeting Jett Oristaglio ’12 for the first time. Jett was a brand new player, and he was so excited by chess that when he saw a brilliant strategic attack, he would wag his tail so hard that his whole body began to shake.

On Sunday, April 28, eight players from Nobles gave up an entire day to participate the Massachusetts state team chess championships.

Our Upper School team included Grant, Jett, Ryan Simshauser ’12 and William Wang ’16; and our Middle School team included Max and Iain Sheerin, both ’17, and Paulie Apostolicas and Camden Filoon, both ’18.

As an observer, I was inspired by the commitment these boys made to one another and to the challenges they faced on Sunday. Our high school team finished fourth in the state, behind monstrously strong teams from Lexington High, BU Academy and Newton North — each of which had at least one player of expert status; and our Middle School team placed second in the state, finishing just behind the Ephraim Curtis Middle School from Sudbury.


* pronounce with Russian mafia accent

** by the way, Max would have never said this. His style of play is far more insidious.

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The Value of a Nobles Team

Longtime Nobles math teacher and wrestling coach Steve Toubman recently received two e-mails from former Nobles wrestlers who had written articles about the sport. He shares them here:

The first post is by Seth Goldman ’83 (graduate of Harvard College and Yale School of  Management). Seth is well-known to Nobles students; last September, he spoke in all-school Assembly when he was presented with the Distinguished Graduate Award. Seth is the co-founder, President and TeaEO of Honest Tea. Seth’s post is about how wrestling helped his entrepreneurial career:

The second article is by David Merrill ’92 (graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School), who is a practicing psychiatrist in New York City. He wrote a phenomenal article about Anthony Robles, the one-legged wrestler who won the NCAA title two years ago at 125 lbs. This well-researched and compelling story can be found at:

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And Again: Photographs from the Harvard Forest

Nobles faculty member John Hirsch currently has an exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography’s satellite gallery at Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont, Mass. As students at Nobles know, the process of making art is something that is different from the rigors of a normal academic day, but no less demanding. These same demands are placed on the Nobles Art Department faculty every two years with a show in Foster Gallery. As active artists, the department seeks to engage their individual mediums outside of the classroom, both in the act of producing and distributing their work, just as they ask their students to do in the Dawson Gallery, Link or Foster Gallery exhibition spaces. In this exhibition Hirsch explores the long-term scientific study conducted on 3,500 acres of forest land in Petersham, Mass. The Harvard Forest is a research forest that has been owned and operated by Harvard University since 1907. The forest offers a place where times’ passage is more consciously studied than almost anywhere else on the planet. A place where technology and nature are so viscerally and overtly entwined that cables and wires emerge from the ground and descend from the sky, where trees are wrapped in plastic and metal and the growth and movements of all things are tracked with unending precision.


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Have Patience with Everything that Remains Unsolved in Your Heart

The Nobles visual arts faculty exhibit is showing in the Foster Gallery through Feb. 8, which means this week is your last chance to see the exhibit. The exhibit’s title, a quote from Ranier Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet, speaks to the frustration that can occur during the art making process. Art can be a process of uncovering and discovering what lies within. No one knows this better than a teacher of art, who must approach art-making from many points of view: creator, mentor, instructor, community member. In this exhibition, the tables are turned on the normal school dynamic. Instead of contemplating and giving feedback to other’s work, the visual arts faculty display their own hearts, whether resolved or not, inviting dialogue with their students and the rest of the community.

Below, we share excerpts from the artists’ statements.To hear more from all of the artists, visit

Nora Creahan:

“While making this recent body of work, I was thinking about how these cups could take part in these opportunities of celebration. The kind drink that will end up in the cup influences everything: the size and shape of the interior volume, whether or not I will put a large or a one-finger handle on the body or how I will treat the lip of the cup. In order to achieve a level of elegance and playfulness, I use glazed color, underglaze line drawing and raw clay to adorn the surface of the pots. I hope these cups find their way into the dishwasher and the microwave as they becomes a part of somebody’s daily ritual.”

John Dorsey:

“This body of work is a determined effort on my part to keep things simple. Usually, my mind travels very fast when working in the studio, much faster than my hands can make. I see possibilities opening up long before I exhaust a particular road of investigation. Consequently, I end up with a very disparate group of pots, if I am not careful. To counteract this, it works best if I give myself parameters to work within.”

Betsy VanOot:

“Journals—crowded with observations and scribbles, overflowing with ephemera, bleeding intimacies—these are things of wonder to me. I envy journal keepers—their instant access to memories, their records of interactions small and large, their lives on pages. However, the diligence required for the practice of journaling has always danced away from me, elusive to one who admires discipline from a distance.

This series of paintings came from a resolution to document every day in July, to make myself paint with the same discipline that some devote to journaling, to determine that certain moment when the arrangement of clouds, sky and land captured something essential about the day. It was a great resolution. I broke it on day six.”

David Roane:

“I believe that, on a fundamental level, all art is autobiographical in nature, and that possessing a strong sense of self stems from having a strong sense of story. Since memory serves this narrative function for me, I believe I can claim my story mainly through the process of claiming my memories. This speaks of my insistence on the power of my own personal material to effect elements of place and voice. Art simply becomes a way of representing and communicating this story.”

Kelsey Grousbeck:

“Now I’m trying to build a bridge. I took these portraits of campers, my friends from Camp Jabberwocky, to introduce you quietly, almost intimately. I am asking you to get to know my friends. I am inviting you to stare. Get as comfortable as you can, and let’s work from there.”

John Hirsch:

“These images are from an ongoing series investigating a small area of the Noble and Greenough School campus. I am interested in exploring the visual complications represented by the chaos in this dynamic and transitional ecosystem. Located on the Charles River this temperate deciduous forest is a riparian zone wetland that is in constant flux with the seasons and the amount of water present.”

Lisa Jacobson:

“I started making bowls and playing with the relationships between them. The more I threw and juxtaposed them, the more the relationships between the groupings grew. The intensity within each box lessened, became a little more playful and communicated just beyond the box walls.”

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A Heartwarming Reunion

Nobles has a longstanding relationship with South Africa and, in particular, the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP). Nobles travelers have worked alongside KYP members during many trips over the last decade. This week, for the first time, Nobles hosted KYP members here in the U.S.  Ten KYP members stayed with host families during their two-week stay and connected with students, faculty, staff and graduates. One evening, Nobles grads Hannah ’09 and Julia Weber ’11 shared a few words about how much these special connections and friendships have meant to them.

Julia: In 2006, my sister and I were fortunate enough to first visit South Africa, and specifically Kliptown, with the Nobles trip, lead by Mr. Gifford and Ms. Carlson. It sounds completely cliche but this trip truly changed our lives, and the way we view the world. Thanks to the opportunity granted to us by Nobles we were able to establish the foundations for enduring friendships, and have been able to make valid differences in the lives of others, but most importantly our lives were changed by those we have gotten to know and love. After first visiting Kliptown with the 2006 trip, both Hannah and I immediately knew that we had to maintain friendships and if possible give something back to our new friends as they had given us so much in the short time we knew them.  The technology provided by One Laptop Per Child was our answer. OLPC is a non-profit organization founded by Nicholas Negroponte, professor at MIT. Negroponte’s dream is to get one of these laptops to every child in the world, starting with those in developing countries.  The mission statement, as seen on the OLPC website, states their goal:

[T]o create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. (OLPC)

These computers are able to connect to the Internet, and have e-mail.  They have everything a Mac or PC would have, plus more. To me, the beauty of the XOs is that they exist in a flat world, without hierarchy, open to all. Here is where learning happens: in a community where friends from anywhere and everywhere share the world, finding common ground.

After spending two years raising money to purchase 100 XO laptops, Hannah and I and the rest of our family delivered these computers to the children involved in Kliptown Youth Program. These were the first 100 XOs delivered to South Africa, and the first ever to be delivered to the African continent.  [KYP Director] Thulani and his team organized an incredible system to help the children, who now own the laptops, use them appropriately. The OLPC laptops now help children in Kliptown, previously isolated in poverty in part due to the legacy of apartheid, expand their hope through access to education and through the knowledge that someone out there believes in their potential. Today, when we are not in Kliptown I, and many others who began their relationship with KYP through the Nobles trip, are still in touch by email, Facebook, and Skype. It has been, and will continue to be, an incredibly humbling and educational experience for us to build relationships with people in the Kliptown community, as we all work together to make tomorrow a little bit better than yesterday. My experience in Kliptown and the awareness brought to me through Nobles, has helped me believe that my generation (all across the globe) has the ability to change our world.

Hannah: Through my time with the community of Kliptown, beginning with the 2006 Nobles trip, I have learned about the partnership of giving and receiving. Giving is an expedition and ongoing process.  My own journey of giving has shown me that the relationships developed are the most important aspect of the endeavor. One embarks on this journey thinking such efforts represent a gift to someone else, which at first is true.  But the reality is that one comes out of the experience having received just as much, if not more, from those who were supposedly being helped. This has been true in my work with KYP. The children there, and the adults who help run the program are the people who, along with my family, I hold closest to my heart. They have brought me great joy and taught me much about how people live, including the great amount of human nature we all share. Our story could be most anyone’s story in many ways; people reach out to each other and build friendships every day. It is what being human is all about.

I think our experience with the Nobles trip in 2006, our relationship with KYP, and with OLPC, has taught us that it is possible to take large-scale thoughts people discuss about how to affect change in the world and bring it down to individuals. Change happens one person at a time, as each person works with others.  The network grows as each person grows. All it takes is little steps.  Little steps add up to big ones. Nobles particularly helped us all realize we could reach goals in a better way, simply by making everything we work on personal. Who are we working with, what is the culture, how can the people in the community be strengthened and the culture enriched, what can we learn, and as Mr. Snyder always asks, how can we do this better?

Education should enrich and enhance the progress of a culture, and its people. The Nobles trip and spending time with our friends in Kliptown gave us all the opportunity to learn through living in other cultures day-to-day, participating in family and community traditions, and discovering the inspirations for shared values and beliefs, that travel is the optimal education and that global experiences bind us all together, leaving us better poised for the future.

The success I have been lucky enough to witness in Kliptown leads me to my final point; that the ongoing relationship with our family in Kliptown allowed us to come away with a feeling that there is a way to make a difference. Hope is achieved in finding possibilities in small actions and gestures. It has been an incredibly humbling and educational experience for me to build relationships with all of you in Kliptown, and to watch us all grow and expand our lives together.  So, Ngyabonga to everyone here – Kliptown Youth Program and Nobles – for providing not only me with hope but providing our world with hope through the daily difference you make in the lives of those around you. I can assure you that you have truly made a difference in my life. Ngyakuthanda.

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Hand In Hand

On January 21, 2013, hundreds of Nobles students, faculty, staff and families came together for a day of community service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobles organizers and several Boston-area organizations and agencies followed up to thank volunteers for their time, commitment and energy; we have included several of these kind words below.

We, in turn, want to thank these amazing organizations for the work they do every day and the impact they have on the community. We appreciate the opportunity to serve alongside you. Nobles Day of Service was an amazing event  for all involved and a fitting tribute to Dr. King’s legacy.

Love and thanks from Sandi MacQuinn, Nobles Community Service Coordinator:
“The snow is falling outside, my fire is blazing and so are my spirits after hearing from many of you. Several of you have already written to let me know that your sites went well, that your group was happy and productive, and that you felt gratified by your participation. It is our sense of community at its focused best to see us all together in honor of Dr. King’s sure and soaring message to care for each other. May we always start the new year as warm compatriots in this real and centered work. Thank you so much for all you gave on this project to create such meaning.”

From friends at MHPI, Inc.:
“I just wanted to drop you a quick line to thank you for yesterday. Nobles’ Day of Caring could not have gone any better; it truly exceeded our expectations and our tenants will be talking about all the great stuff they did for months. This is truly a credit not only to the community service aspect of the school’s mission but the energy, enthusiasm, generosity and creativity of the parents…all of the adults and children were 110 percent engaged for the duration of the day, something that we are so very appreciative of.

Below, I have pasted a link to our website with an article and some photos. In addition, I will be sending photos and a write-up to local media both in Chelsea and the Dedham areas.”

From friends at Cradles to Crayons (C2C):
“Thank you so much for the tremendous support and energy at Noble and Greenough School’s MLK Day of Service. I cannot think of a better way to kick off the 2013’s C2C Community Drives with an MLK Day of Service!

The Nobles Community Drive helped us equip 473 children with the basic essentials needed to thrive. Thanks to [Nobles parent] Cindy Trull’s wonderful leadership, the mountain of children’s clothing, toys, winter coats, shoes, books, and baby items were carefully inspected and sorted by volunteers and packed up to be transported back to the Giving Factory. I want to send a special thank you to Sandi MacQuinn for her commitment to carrying out our mission—not to mention the mission of so many of our area’s best nonprofits—through uniting students and families around a cause.

On behalf of thousands of children and families that Cradles will serve this winter, we thank you for taking action and providing direct relief to the children who need it the most. Thanks again to everyone, for encouraging your communities to join in this effort. What a way to kick off this year’s Community Drives!”

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My Experience at SDLC

In early December, 10 faculty and staff members and six students joined more than 3,000 people at the 25th annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) and the 19th annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) for three days of workshops, affinity groups, featured speakers and networking. 

SDLC challenged students through discussions in “family groups” where they bonded with a range of student leaders from around the country. The workshops focused on self-reflection, developing allies and community building. Students discussed issues of sexual orientation, race, socio-economic status and religion and learned techniques for leading conversations about diversity issues in their schools. Below four students reflect on their experience.

Neha Bhambhani ’15

My experience at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference was inspirational. I think it was so special because of all the people I met. Everybody was so open and friendly, and it was clear that all of us were there for a purpose. It bound together such a diverse group of people, giving me a new sense of respect. Students had the courage to stand up in front of 1,400 people and share their fears and secrets. I had never been in a community like this before.

During our days at the conference we talked about issues of diversity and our experiences with them. We did activities to explore different perspectives and educate ourselves on these issues with terminology. I think my favorite part of the day was when we sat down for lunch. You didn’t know who you would be were sitting with, but you sat with was a mix of 10 people from all over the country. By the end of your meal you were friends. I still keep in touch with people from the conference. I really think that this experience changed my perspectives and educated me on how to deal with diversity issues.

Alix Santos ’15

When I applied for the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. Upon arriving at the conference on the first day, students from across the county did an activity that really opened my eyes to the environment that I had entered. The speaker, Rodney, told us about all the key identifiers for a person. He told us that he would list aspects of each identifier and asked us each to stand up if we identified with that specific characteristic. Upon seeing the variety of people in the audience and how completely honest they were with this roomful of people that they had never met before, made me think about the environment that we were in. After the activity was over, Rodney asked if anyone in the crowd needed to have a conversation with him in order to help them find themselves. When those people went on stage to tell us personal stories–with emotion and tears–I realized how much they trusted everyone in that room and how welcoming everyone was.

Later on that day, and into the next day we were split into smaller groups in order to discuss the problems regarding each identifier more personally. While in this group, I learned a lot about each identifier as a whole, but also about the stories of the people who represented the different spectrums of these identifiers. Listening to their stories and trying to understand their perspectives helped me to broaden my perspectives and see how these problems might apply to the Nobles community. Coming back to Nobles I hope to be able to bring these different perspectives into all issues regarding identity in the community, creating a more open environment.

Genesis De Los Santos ’15

The highlight of my SDLC experience was interacting and meeting people from different backgrounds. While in Houston, I became a part of a larger community that was understanding and welcoming. Although, there were over 1,500 high school students at the conference, it seemed as though we were all like a family. I was faced with the challenge of meeting new people and interacting with those that I didn’t know much about. Separated from the other Nobles students, I had to learn how to be bubbly and outgoing again.  There were so many different people and yet we were all able to come together for the same sole purpose of learning about diversity issues and self-identity issues that affect everyone. It was so easy to feel welcomed and accepted. Along the way, I made a couple of friends and even though they may live on the other side of the country, I know that these are friendships that will last a lifetime. I won’t ever forget the people I met at SDLC and I won’t ever forget that feeling of acceptance when I shared a small snippet of my story with my family group. The people that I met at SDLC will forever remain in my heart.

Maddie Ayles ’15

At SDLC we met often in “family groups,” which were made up of students from all over the country. These groups focused on discussing many specific identity topics and issues. Through hearing stories from other students I learned how sheltered and safe my life has been. When I listened to others share their struggles related to school and family, my eyes were opened to things that I have had the privilege of avoiding.

Even though I cried at least once a day during SDLC, as a reaction to the stories shared by my piers, these stories and their meanings did not completely sink in until I arrived back home. That night when I walked into my house, my parents asked me about the conference and I immediately burst into tears. The sadness, confusion and happiness that I had experienced at SDLC was all coming out at the same time. My overwhelming emotions showed me how influential the trip had been. The openness of the community and the amazing people I shared it with, exposed me to things that will forever play a role in how I live my life.

I plan to keep in touch with and exchange ideas with the friends I have made at SDLC throughout and beyond our high school years.

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My Experience at PoCC

Science teacher Erica Pernell reflects on her experience at the People of Color Conference (PoCC) hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools in December. 

“There are over 600 of us in this room today!” says a PoCC facilitator.

I was in Houston in a huge hotel ballroom.  The facilitator of our affinity group at PoCC could not even see the back of the room because of the sea of tables filled with smiling brown faces.  The summative energy of the critical mass of educators of African descent who work at independent schools was tangible.  We talked about why we choose to work at independent schools, what we feel we bring to our institutions and what our institutions mean to us.  We talked about our struggles learning how to address cultural micro-aggressions as we move through this world.  Our presence is important, we were told.  Our perspectives can only enhance the quality of the education all our students receive, someone pointed out.

I am new to Nobles and new to independent schools and I was fortunate enough to be given my first opportunity to attend this three-day event, along with 15 other Nobles employees.  Concurrently, six Nobles students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, also held in Houston.  Our sheer group size of 22 told me how fortunate I am to be at an institution that recognizes, values and supports diversity.

The Nobles community is diverse, meaning that the people here inhabit different communities in our lives outside the school. Our experiences in these communities influence our perspectives.  In turn, we bring our individual perspectives to the Nobles community.  When we share these diverse perspectives within the hallowed walls of the school, we improve the Nobles experience for everyone.  By providing a diverse environment for students and staff, where perspectives represent a range of experiences, our ability to provide academic and social opportunities for growth can only increase.

PoCC helps people build community outside and within their institutions by providing a place to share best practices, varied experiences and perspectives.  I returned from Houston with new friendships with my colleagues and new connections with students dedicated to diversity at Nobles.  I have the contact information for other practitioners across the nation who weave real-world issues into science teaching.   There are over 700 of us “in the room” at Nobles.  With this experience, I return recognizing our infinite power in connection and the opportunities that come through diversity in our community.

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