But Greens Farms Academy might win the prize for the coolest commencement speaker of 2022. At any level.
On Thursday, June 9, 90 seniors and their guests will gather on the front lawn at Beachside Avenue to hear inspiring words from …
… Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.
It’s certain that in GFA’s 97 years as an institution, no rapper has ever addressed the graduating class.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels
Of course, McDaniels is much more than that.
An innovator, motivator and philanthropist, he broke cultural barriers with his legendary band Run-DMC.
The first rap group on the cover of Rolling Stone — and the first to appear on MTV — Run-DMC changed music, culture, fashion, language, and made American history.
They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2016 they received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In between, McDaniels launched a comic book company. He is the author of an autobiography, memoir and children’s book.
“The opportunity to have Darryl as GFA’s commencement speaker is a multi-generational gift,” says head of school Bob Whelan.
“Many parents of graduating seniors are very familiar with him as a member of Run DMC, and his ground-breaking career that featured multiple firsts and countless hits. At the same time, ‘It’s Tricky’ is a familiar TikTok staple for today’s youth. Most importantly, Darryl’s message in his book ‘Darryl’s Dream’ about authenticity is timeless and a perfect message for our graduates.”
In addition to the positive messages McDaniels spreads through his books and speaking engagements, his philanthropic work sets an important example for GFA’s graduating class, Whelan notes.
He co-founded the Felix Organization , a nonprofit that provides inspiring opportunities and new experiences for children in the foster care system. He regularly talks with kids across the country about respect, responsibility and self-awareness, and has appeared before Congress and state legislatures in support of adoptees and foster children.
President Obama invited him to speak at the White House to a group of young men about fatherhood, and he worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Get Fit” Campaign.
“Our school’s mission describes preparing young people for lives of purpose, and Darryl’s life story is one that highlights the importance of becoming the most authentic versions of ourselves,” says Whelan.
“He also speaks openly about the obstacles and challenges one faces along the journey, as someone who struggled with depression and has gone on to become a mental health advocate. He reminds young people that they can do hard things.”
This should be a great graduation, with an inspiring message.
And here’s hoping that when he’s finished speaking, and the Greens Farms Academy graduates line up to receive their diplomas, Darryl McDaniels gives them just one instruction: “Walk this way.”
A few weeks ago, I wondered how long the Same Day Health COVID testing clinic near Fortuna’s would stay in business.
Now I know: Quite a while longer.
A reader wrote last night: “After receiving the superintendent of schools’ COVID update (and knowing 2 of my own fully vaccinated children were part of that number), I thought this photo was relevant — and so sad that here we are again.
“I’ve been to Same Day Health every day this week (and luckily continue to test negative) — but today there was a line! Evan, Diego and Nadeen (we are on first name basis now, because of my frequency) said each day is busier than the previous one. Thank goodness they are kind and patient souls.
“I’m scared what January will bring — even for the fully vaccinated and boosted.”
Several readers have wondered about Westport real estate and personal property tax abatement or deferral (they’re due today — April 1. No fooling). I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He says:
For several weeks, our town (and others) have been exploring deferment alternatives for property owners who can demonstrate genuine hardship. This is still a work in process.
Among other things, the governor must take executive order steps to allow a local community the option to modify property tax payment penalties and deadlines. I have been in direct touch with Governor Lamont on this issue. In the meantime the April 1 quarterly tax payment date still remains, but as always, allows 30 days (until May 1) to pay without penalty.
I have not heard if utility companies plan to offer any special dispensation for hardship cases. Our Human Services Department regularly works with residents on utility payment plans if true need can be demonstrated.
In related news, Governor Lamont announced yesterday a 90-day grace period on mortgage payments, and a 60-day delay on foreclosures. Homeowners should contact their banks and/or mortgage companies for details.
Across the country, communities are coming together to ring bells in support of medical personnel and other frontline workers.
From 5:00 to 5:02 p.m. tonight, Westport families are asked to “joyously sound a bell, chime, bang pans, etc. as a reminder that while we may be physically separated, we remain united. Let’s make this a gesture of gratitude to all the people helping us overcome this present situation: the police department, fire department, first responders, town officials, teachers and healthcare workers, including the many Westport parents who leave their families to care for those in need at hospitals and medical offices.”
Greens Farms and Assumption Churches — and perhaps others — will join in. Ring them bells! (Hat tips: Jaclyn Lindsey-Noble and Staples High School PTA)
In addition, reader Mary Beth Stirling urges Westporters to fly the American flag. That — and donations to any organization that helps those in need — are both a show of support, and a way to teach children that whatever they can do (including staying home to protect lives) is a patriotic act.
Green’s Farms Congregational Church has a great bell to ring.
“06880” readers know Heather Bauer for her tips on eating healthy in restaurants.
Now the rest of America knows her as a COVID-19 survivor. The 42-year-old nutritionist/mother of 3/ runner of 15 marathons was in great health — until she attended a party, and got infected.
Two days ago — just a week after leaving Yale New Haven Hospital, where she spent 9 harrowing days — Heather told her story on CNN.
It’s a scary tale of fever, migraine headaches, a full body rash, even possible meningitis. It’s also a tale of great care, by a wonderful medical staff. Click below to watch. (Hat tip: Ben Sturner)
Patty Kondub’s great water aerobics classes have been beached by the coronavirus. So have dozens of other Westport Weston Family YMCA offerings, in strength training, yoga — you name it.
But members can still get exercise — on land, at home. There are offerings for all ages, in every imaginable category. Click here for info.
PS: Yesterday, I (coincidentally) got a call from the Y. They were just checking in on all members — seeing how we are, and what we need.
I really need to swim. But failing that, I’d like to say this: THANKS, Y! What a nice, friendly, community touch!
A motivational message from Patty Kondub.
Speaking of exercise, Kaia Yoga’s classes are now all online. Many are inexpensive. There are also free kids’ classes and meditations — great for parents looking for productive activities.
Kaia Yoga — which has long provided classes for Bridgeport school children –has been hit hard by the coronavirus. They employ over 70 teachers.
Speaking (again) of exercise, does anyone have an unused stationary bike they’re willing to sell? Asking for (ahem) a friend.
Every Westporter has a talent. Many are figuring out how to use their expertise to help others.
As a career coach, Jaki Suter helps clients write or refresh resumes. With so many people suddenly facing job losses, she’s doing her part: offering a “free resume refresh” to 30 Westport and Weston residents.
She’ll work with you to highlight skills and accomplishments; include new positions and details, and eliminate irrelevant details.
All you need is an existing resume no more than 5 years old. You’ll work by phone. Jaki will produce an updated resume, including a round of revisions and a final document.
To be one of the first 30 local residents, email email@example.com (subject line: “Free Resume Refresh”).
Jennifer Hrbek reports that she and Westport psychiatrist Dr. Mohamed Elsamra are helping raise $50,000 to buy 4 ventilators, to be donated to local hospitals. Click here to contribute.
Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich notes that transfer station personnel cannot assist with bulky waste. Do not bring those items to the station.
In addition, with the increase in cardboard due to online ordering, all boxes should be flattened, stacked and tied.
Tissues and gloves are being placed in recycling bins. They are not recyclable, and must be placed in the regular trash bin.
Due to the increased amount of glass containers, recycling bins are too heavy for workers to lift. For the time being, residents should separate glass into a smaller container, or put all recycling in smaller containers so workers can lift them.
Greens Farms Academy head of school Bob Whelan has gained fame — and respect — for his great snow day videos.
It’s a little tougher to pull off a clever coronavirus video. But the popular, people-first educator did.
This morning he channeled Fred Rogers, for the school’s youngest learners. Bob — whose career before education was fronting the band Angry Salad — sang for his students.
He reminded them he (and the school) were still there for them. Then, in true Mr. Rogers fashion he asked them to keep him apprised of big events, like birthdays and lost teeth.
You don’t have to be a kid — or go to GFA — to love this one.
Miriam Young writes, “As one of many COVID positive people in Westport, I hope you can tell other positive readers about efforts to collect plasma from recovered patients.”
She sent a link to a story on how plasma might help people still fighting off infection (or, preemptively, those at high risk of infection).
When Westporter John Rizzi read that a TV remote can be 20 times dirtier than your toilet, he got worried. You can’t clean it well, without taking it all apart.
But he devised a solution: cover it in plastic wrap. It takes 2 seconds; it protects the device — and you can replace the wrap over and over again.
And finally, you don’t have to be a Kopite to love this song (and video!):
Greens Farms Academy has had just 3 headmasters in the past 45 years.
As the successor to Jim Coyle, Peter Esty and Janet Hartwell, Bob Whelan has big shoes to fill.
Fortunately, he’s well on his way. He’s 6-5, and a former basketball player and coach.
Even more fortunately, he’s got a strong, eclectic background. Whelan graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a double major in American civilization and philosophy. He spent several years as a founder, singer, songwriter and director of a rock band that recorded with Atlantic Records and toured extensively.
He returned to school, earning a graduate degree in education, policy and management at Harvard, then embarked on a career in development, teaching and administration at 2 leading day schools.
Coupled with his profound understanding of the challenges facing today’s students, Whelan is the perfect educator to lead the Beachside Avenue private school into the future.
Brown challenged him to think about his passions, he says. His band, Angry Salad (“despite its name, we were not mad and had no agenda”), was a joyful time. He was surrounded by “talented, artistic, creative people.”
After 6 years in Brown’s development office he taught ethics and writing, coached boys and girls basketball, and rose to associate head of school at Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, New York.
Whelan’s most recent position was headmaster at 130-year-old Lake Forest Country Day, with over 400 pre-K to 8th grade students just north of Chicago.
There he developed innovative spaces, did cutting-edge work with social and emotional thinking, created a more diverse and inclusive community, and reinvigorated faculty and staff morale.
Bob Whelan, working with young students.
When a search firm approached him about GFA, he was intrigued.
“I’d always associated Westport with creativity and the arts,” Whelan says. “It’s a beautiful community, engaged in local life and the world.”
As he learned more about the school, he realized its students, faculty and mission aligned with his own sensibilities.
He accepted the position last fall. Since then, Whelan has worked with parents and alumni — and been mentored by Hartwell, the departing head.
Whelan is spending this summer meeting individually with staff members, alumni and alumni parents. He feels like an anthropologist, discovering how Greens Farms Academy got where it is, and how it heads into the future.
Before Greens Farms Academy students return in the fall, the new head of school is learning all he can about them. (Photo/Yoon S. Byun)
“I’ve always enjoyed the relationship between teachers, kids, parents and ideas,” Whelan says.
“There are surprises at every turn: learning that the school is coming off its most successful spring in its athletic history, and seeing how the performing arts help students raise their voices. I’m having a lot of fun in this process.”
Whelan is also digging deep into Westport. He’s finding “great energy everywhere” — during an early weekend here, he was amazed at the Fine Arts Festival — and is thinking about ways to open GFA’s doors to the town.
“There are opportunities for everyone to come in and learn. A school like this has a responsibility to leverage access to a community like this, that’s dedicated to education. It’s important to bring folks behind the stone wall.”
Greens Farms Academy
Being head of Greens Farms Academy — with its beautiful facilities, excellent faculty, strong endowment and high-achieving students and parents — is a great opportunity.
But Whelan is well aware of the challenges.
“The world is evolving,” he says. “As we think about the tools we want our children to have, we also want them to be people of character, who can express themselves articulately. How do we help develop not only those skills, but also help them lead a fulfilling life of purpose, as they contribute to their community? How do we model that here?”
He knows that social media and technology are “incredibly compelling. How do we make the real world relevant to them?”
But, he adds, “kids are kids. Whether it’s the 1960s, ’80s or 2010s, it’s important to preserve childhood. We can’t lose sight that developing skills is not mutually exclusive with developing a sense of balance in life.”
Whelan takes over a school that traces its founding back 93 years. Greens Farms Academy, its new head says, is “more dedicated than ever to deepening its roots in the community. As the school reveals itself to me, I look forward to seeing it reveal itself to those who don’t know it.”
Bob Whelan will be an active leader. Those big shoes will soon be everywhere.
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