Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dr. Sanville's Convocation Address to Staff - "The Power of Experience"

John Sanville
First Day of School
"Forty-something years ago Mom combed my hair, made sure my shirt was tucked in and that my shoes were shined, handed me my notebook and pencil case, kissed me goodbye and I left for the first day of school. Thus began my education and my experiences multiplied exponentially."

Dr. Sanville's Convocation Address to Staff
"The Power of Experience"

The following remarks were delivered to the UCFSD staff during convocation (the first day teachers returned for the start of the 2016-2017 school year).  The message (I think) resonates with all of us and sets a tone and theme for all stakeholders as we get ready for the "New Year"

Good morning and welcome back one and all! As I look out at you I cannot quite see the sand between your toes or the grass stains on your shorts or the sunburn/tan lines. Nor do I know what you have read, seen, done, or tasted lately. But I am certain that each and every one of you has a plethora of experiences from the summer and have brought them with you this morning.

The theme for this morning is the Power of Experience. Experience is the foundation upon which our lives are built - and it starts the moment we are born. Every new sight, sound, smell, and touch makes an impression and just like that – the newborn begins to recognize people and things - using those bits of information filed away.

Fast-forward a few years - and for some of us a few decades - and here we all are – a group of people shaped by our experiences – getting ready to teach and support students who are also shaped by their own experiences. This might just be a dynamic worthy of both closer inspection and reflection.

You have heard from Ken Batchelor, Vic Dupuis and Scott Broomall and their stories on experience – let me share mine. My parents were British - and both fought in WWII. Like many of the Greatest Generation they did not talk about what happened. As a curious kid I found my father’s uniform and flight helmet - and would put them on - pretending to be a Royal Navy pilot on the hunt - in the air - for Nazi submarines.

Dad’s real life adventures dwarfed anything I dreamt up - he was stationed on the HMS Victorious and was part of the sinking of both the Bismarck and the Turpitz- massive Nazi battle ships. When the US fleet was down to one aircraft carrier the Victorius sailed to the South Pacific and was temporarily renamed the USS Robin (as in Robin Hood). Dad flew under the stars and strips supporting US Marines before becoming a flight instructor for US Naval pilots - first in Pensacola and then in Willow Grove - which is how my parents ended up in Doylestown.

Mom was charming and doting and never said a word about her role in the war. I knew her to be funny and clever and cautious. But there was so much more. She was born into a military family - her father was a brigadier general in WWI and met his wife while in France.

Mom and her sister grew up bilingual and spent much of their childhoods in France. That much I knew…but it wasn’t until a visit to my uncle in England that I found out who Mom really was. During a dinner table conversation about the Sanville brothers exploits during the war - my Aunt Aliette interrupted and said “Ursula was the REAL hero” and proceeded to tell me the story. 

When the Nazis occupied France Winston Churchill began a top-secret program known as the Special Operations Executive whose mission was to train agents to work with the Resistance forces and create havoc for the Nazis. My mother was the perfect candidate – from a military family, bi-lingual and comfortable living in the country. After training she was parachuted into France and worked with the Resistance through D-Day. She was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the field in the face of the enemy and was promoted to Major on the battlefield. She was one of about 200 in this operation – most were captured and killed. Mom kept all of this to herself.

The complete silence by my parents about their WWII experiences became part of my experience. I did not question them because I did not know there was a reason to. What I always attributed to being British - the reserve, the glossing over of the war years, the quiet looks between them - was most likely partly due to PTSD - undiagnosed of course.

What does this mean? As the son of hidden heroes whose humility trumped egos I saw firsthand the enduring value of dignity. Their survival of wartime - including deprivation on the home front - instilled in me an accelerated appreciation of the little joys - the charm in a tea box, a watchband that fits just right, and strawberry shortcake. Their move to America - putting an ocean between themselves and their homeland - taught me that sometimes starting over is the best option.

Forty-something years ago Mom combed my hair, made sure my shirt was tucked in and that my shoes were shined, handed me my notebook and pencil case, kissed me goodbye and I left for the first day of school. Thus began my education and my experiences multiplied exponentially.

In a week families all over UCF will send us their children and we will share experiences and create new ones. Education at its best affords students multiple opportunities to learn and grow in many ways via numerous means. I know that we will provide every child with what they need so that their experiences become part of what they carry forward.

Earlier this morning we welcomed our newest folks to the team – in a few moments we will appreciate our most experienced members – and the rest of are somewhere in between – all of us with unique experiences – many known to just you. But this I know for certain -- our students entering our schools next week will have access to creative, informational, and uniquely wonderful experiences provided by the most talented and dedicated staff and faculty anywhere - YOU. And for that – I thank you.