Thursday, June 23, 2016

Unique lessons taught at The Deck House School

I seriously didn’t think it would mesh that perfectly.  Yes I knew Prize Day was going to be a powerful day; it always is.  And of course Peter was going to be a great speaker; he always is.  But the power and the passion that went into that day was different and something I have rarely experienced.

I suppose I owe you some history here.

As loyal readers of our blog know, the School is on the road to recovery.  We have spent the last 6 months successfully reintroducing ourselves simultaneously to the Educational Consultant, wilderness therapy and boarding school worlds.  We have attended conferences, and have launched a very successful marketing campaign.  We have built up our summer semester, and have many students lining up for that and the traditional school year.  We, of course, knew that there was a place in the educational landscape for our unique school when it stayed true the original mission that Ned set out all those years ago, we just needed to get the word out.  We knew that we needed to do a Ray Kinsella and, well, build it so they would come. 

What I also knew was Peter’s story.  Rev. Peter Panagore is a close friend whom I have known for nearly 20 years.  Our friendship has encompassed so many aspects of both of our lives.  We have laughed and cried together in so many places; ski slopes, coffee shops, the back bay of Portland, and during long bike rides to name just a few. We can talk over each other trying to make jokes and tell stories,  and we can relish in the silence which only people very comfortable with their friendship can appreciate.  So when I invited Peter to speak at Prize Day earlier this month, I knew it would be good; what I didn’t know was just how beautiful it would be.

It was in the middle of listening to Peter’s speech when it dawned on me; he truly gets it, he gets these boys.  He understands their beliefs and passions, he feels their pain and he empathizes with their struggles.  As I watched the families of our graduates, I could see heads nodding and tears flowing.  They got it too.  The saw a part of their son in Peter and they knew they were heading in the right direction. 

I have sat through many commencements; as a parent, a sibling, an uncle, a friend and, of course, as a graduate.  And, to be fair, I have heard some amazing commencement addresses.  But there was something about this year’s Prize Day address which was different. 

The school was on display through Peter that day.  All the work we do with these boys was up there, warts and all.  I have always said it would be a lot easier to run a school, which had a system of demerits and checks in a book, but it wouldn’t be real.  We teach life lessons here, we cook together, we clean together, we laugh, and yes, we cry.  We teach the whole student about life, and that what was on display that sunny morning; life.  Raw, real and beautiful. 

Peter summed it up perfectly in his closing;

“Look here, I don’t know what your particular problem is, but let me tell you this, you are smart and capable young men and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, most of all yourself. You owe a great deal, just as I do, to those who love you, who stand by you, and support you, your parents, families, friends, a custodian, and especially your teachers.

After every failure I get back up and fight again and strive everyday for improvement while hunting always for new compensation skills and tools. I let my passion drive me. You say I am a failure? I will prove you wrong. I fight to succeed where others succeed with ease. I daily turn my disability into my advantage.

You can too,
You will too,
Your will to
Means everything.”

Those of us who have been involved with The Deck House School long term have been told many times that it's a failure, that we should just shut our doors.  But, like Peter, we fight on, we turn our disability into our advantage and we fight to succeed.  This passion is real and tangible, and it was on display that early June morning; by Peter, the students and the entire school family - and for having the opportunity to play a small part in that I will be eternally grateful.