Last week, Clay Smythe gave a very important talk to your sons. It was about how to treat their fellow classmates and the consequences that come from seemingly inconsequential acts.
Clay told a story about a boy that he went to school with at MUS. Like many, his classmate had vulnerabilities apparent to his fellow classmates, and they teased him rather incessantly. If you had asked the boys, they would have told you that they didn't mean anything by their teasing -- they were just having fun (and masking their own insecurities in the process).
This past year, Clay was one of the people responsible for his class' 20th MUS reunion, and he remembered that there was one paticular alumnus who probably would not be attending.
Years before at the 10-year reunion, Clay contacted this classmate, the former object of the teasing, about whether he would be attending the reunion. In the intervening years, that boy had grown up, his vulnerabilities of teenage years had disappeared, and he had become a successful adult with a good career and family. He wrote the school back, mentioning how important his MUS experience had been in making him a success and how he would love to see some of the teachers and students who had been so important to him. He went on to say that, unfortunately, he would not be able to attend, because his relationships with other classmates and the things that they had said and done to him were so hurtful that the memories were still bitterly painful; in fact, he thought he would probably never be able to set foot on campus again. The letter made its way to Clay as an FYI. He told the boys in assembly that it was one of the most difficult things that he had ever read, realizing that his own actions of years ago had not only caused someone such pain, but also had lived to haunt him today.
Clay expressed deep shame and regret at his adolescent foolishness. He remarked that the alumnus, when reading the various contemporary MUS publications that mention Clay's name, must mutter each time, "Clay Smythe -- what a jerk!" Clay went on to admit, candidly, that he often was a jerk back then. He said that he often wasn't aware that he was bullying anyone by it -- sometimes it was just a survival technique to position himself in the pecking order. In other words, the teasing wasn't always a conscious attempt to hurt and injure his classmate, but sadly, sometimes it was deliberate, demeaning, and effective. "I wasn't the biggest or the strongest, but my tounge was a switchblade, and I was practiced at using it when I felt threatened," he told the assembly.
Clay concluded by reminding the students that the things they say and do to their classmates, while seeming insignificant and harmless fun at the time, are not always what they seem. Clay encouraged the students to do better than he did when he was here at MUS and treat their classmates with respect and compassion and simply friendship, believing that the payoff coming both now and many years in the future will be genuine.
I was moved by Clay's talk, and I hope many of the students were, as well. Not all of them paid adequate attention, and two of them started picking on a classmate minutes after assembly. Clay responded, as I would hope any principal would, and sent the two boys home, right then. He told them not to come back Friday. They were told to think about their behavior over the weekend. They were told that on Monday, they could rejoin our community if they understood the consequences of their actions and strove to support the responsibilities of being a member of this community.
It was the right thing to do.