Reflections and Advice:
1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
McCallie is unquestionably one of the finest boarding schools in the nation. It prepares its students to achieve excellence in every arena. Three things in particular distinguish McCallie from other schools.
The first thing that struck me about McCallie was the strong sense of community that pervades all aspects of campus life. Students are friendly, good-spirited, and make it a strong part of school culture to treat each other with respect. The camaraderie that students share is really unique. Now that it’s been several years since my graduation from McCallie, I can attest to the fact that McCallie men form lifelong bonds on friendship on Missionary Ridge (where McCallie is located in Chattanooga). Attending McCallie is a chance to meet some truly fine people, and to establish connections with them that will last for a long time.
At McCallie, faculty, staff, and administrators share a common passion for what they do. Many of them could easily be teaching or working at the university level, but they choose to teach at McCallie because that’s what they love. They want to give McCallie students the best possible education and they do so by working hard all the time to a learning environment in which every student has the support to know that he’s a valued member of the community, and in which every student is challenged to push his limits. Teachers will do everything they can to guide students along the way, whether they are at the top of the class or need extra help to make the grade. And McCallie’s staff view every aspect of their jobs—not just what happens in the classroom—as a teaching opportunity. McCallie’s sports fields, dining hall, art studios, climbing gym, dormitories—all of these becoming classrooms of one kind or another. Enrolling at McCallie as a boarding student offers the chance to be immersed 24/7 for 4 years in a profoundly rewarding learning environment. It offers opportunities for instruction and mentoring that simply don’t exist at a day school. I remain just as close to some of my teachers at McCallie as I do with my classmates, and I continue to learn from their wisdom years after my graduation.
Finally, McCallie constantly impresses on students values of community service, honor, and integrity. All students participate in some kind of meaningful community service during their four years. Many even participate in international service-themed trips, such as those taken by the school’s Habitat for Humanity chapter to build houses around the world. McCallie’s teachers and staff embody the school’s values of “honor, truth, and duty,” and they set a strong example in their daily lives for students to follow. A student-run Senate administers McCallie’s honor code, by which students are bound to refrain from lying, cheating, and stealing, and to report any student who does so. McCallie’s emphasis on personal honor creates an atmosphere of trust, and it also underscores the school’s expectation that students will constantly strive to do their best in all their endeavors.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
When I arrived at McCallie, I approached my education there in terms of, “what can I get out of this experience?” By the time I was entering my senior year, about to serve as a resident advisor in the school’s freshman dormitory, my perspective had changed. I was asking a different question: “how can I contribute the most to this community?”
The best thing that happened to me at McCallie was that shift in perspective. This shift came about because of the constant mentoring I received from teachers, coaches, and other staff, and from the strong sense of community that defines McCallie.
I can’t pinpoint a single experience that caused this transformation. Rather, I’d point to many. Part of it came from the advocacy I did with Amnesty International, encouraged by an English teacher who took me and several other students to Amnesty’s Regional Conference in Atlanta one year. Another part of it came in the weight room and in the lacrosse field, where I worked hard for four years, learning what it means to devote all of your energy to achieving a team goal. Still another part of it came from the daily example set by my friends and teachers—incredibly talented people who dedicated themselves to serving the school, whatever their individual gifts were.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
Generally speaking, I have no regrets about my years in high school. I had a resoundingly positive experience in every respect.
If I were to do it again, I would have made a point to develop strong relationships with day students, not just my fellow boarders, early on during my time at McCallie.
I would have taken more courses in the arts, especially photography, and I would have devoted more time to writing for campus publications such as the Argonaut.
I also would have committed myself to one service project, such as Habitat, and worked with it for all four years, rather than choosing different projects at different times. I think continuous, sustained involvement in something like Habitat would have been really rewarding.
At the same time, though, I recognize that my time in high school did allow me to explore a lot of different interests—things that I needed to try out one way or another. I’d happily do all four years again, but I think it would be hard for to have had a better experience than I did.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
As mentioned above, the strong friendships that I was able to develop with my peers, my teachers, and my coaches. My classmates are like brothers, and I’ll say that without any apology for sounding hackneyed or trite. It’s the truth. Having attended college with graduates from many other boarding schools, I can say that it’s rare to develop such lasting bonds at high school. Sometimes people speak of McCallie graduates as a “long blue line.” My father, a member of the United States Military Academy’s “long grey line,” can attest that the bonds that McCallie form are just as strong as any friendship that grows out of the service academies.
In addition, I’ll offer that the McCallie experience is both affirming and challenging from more than a social standpoint. Teachers recognize that students have all kinds of talents to contribute to the school, whether they’re artistic, athletic, intellectual, pastoral—you name it. All of these are valued equally, and McCallie strives to create an environment in which students can try out all kinds of activities to find out what their passions really are as they get ready to make the next step toward college.
Now that I’m about to graduate from a liberal arts college, looking back, I can say that McCallie reminds me very much of a liberal arts education. Curiosity, diversity of thought, and free inquiry are some of McCallie’s top values. McCallie students have a lot of freedom to craft a unique high school experience for themselves, and they have access to unbelievable resources to do this (teachers, facilities, extracurricular opportunties, and so on).
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
On my first visit to McCallie, I showed up a skeptic. It was raining, I was tired, and McCallie was the last of a long list of schools that I was visiting. But McCallie won me over in about fifteen minutes. I could tell that it just “fit,” and I have never second-guessed my decision to enroll.
My boarding school search began because I wanted to play collegiate lacrosse. The school that I was attending as an 8th grader, and where I would likely have gone to school had I not attended boarding school, did not have a lacrosse team. To be recruited, I knew I had to play for a good high school program. Ultimately, McCallie’s lacrosse program, led by an incredible coach and teacher in Troy Kemp, was just one of the reasons I chose to attend McCallie. Starting on day one of freshman year, I knew I was going to get good athletic exposure and a great education. But McCallie gave me so much more than just that. There was no way I could have envisioned the personal, intellectual, and spiritual growth that I would experience at McCallie.
Finally, I’ll mention that it was financially possible for me to attend McCallie because of the Honors Scholarship program, modeled after some of the most prestigious university-level scholarships in the States (e.g. UNC’s Morehead, UVA’s Jefferson). McCallie wants to attract the best students and it’s finding more ways to do that through merit- and needs-based aid programs. Be sure to look into these opportunities.