Another school year is underway at Oakwood, and I hope you’ll join me in wishing the students, faculty, and staff a happy journey through the first months. If you’re like me, you may have your own good memories of Oakwood in the fall: the maple leaves changing colors along the main drive, soccer games and races on crisp afternoons, the fall drama production. Whether you’re a former student, a parent or family member, former faculty or staff, or any other friend of Oakwood, if you told me that there wasn’t anything about autumn at Oakwood that really sticks in your mind, I’m not really sure I’d believe you.
Fall term at Oakwood was always an important time for me, though in ways that I didn’t always quite realize. It was cross country season, the sport which I had picked for myself at the start of freshman year – and let me say honestly that I was not a good runner. I barely finished my first-ever race, and I definitely did not finish my second. All through my first seasons I ran mediocre times, and never contributed to our team score. I set my best times early in my sophomore season, and struggled afterwards to improve on them.
Still, I kept running. And it paid off: over time, I became a better runner. My endurance grew, and with it my consistency. My times improved. I still didn’t always contribute to the team score but a few times a good final sprint bumped us up a few points in the rankings. Today, ten years after my final season, I’m likely to head home from work, change into running gear, and try to get in a solid two or three miles before dinner.
There were any number of other areas during my time at Oakwood where I was able to excel and rise to meet challenges gracefully and with confidence. The way that Oakwood nurtured my creativity and scholarship through its incredible arts and humanities programs is still so important to the person I have become since, and the particular care taken towards shaping us as people of integrity and empathy have impacted so many of the choices I have made in my life, everything from how I engage with my community to the career path I’ve pursued. But even among all these other highlights and life-changing moments, the memory of lacing up my running shoes and teaching my body to endure demanding and rigorous activity stands out more than I would have thought it would, all those years ago.
Oakwood lived up to its promise to me, as it has for so many other students over so many generations: it nurtured the spirit, the scholar, the artist, and yes, the athlete within me. It turned out that the first three were easier than the last, but in the long term none of us gave up on it. I give to Oakwood for that reason: so that young soccer stars can discover a passion for music performance, so that freshly-minted activists can learn strategy lessons from the finer points of U.S. History or the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and so that talented actors can realize how what they love to do most can be a force of change in the world. Whether in yourself or in a student you know, I am sure that you have seen the way that Oakwood changes lives, and I hope that you will join me in celebrating that by giving this year.
After graduating from Oakwood in 2007, Nick attended the University of Chicago (BA History, 2011) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (M.Ed. Youth Development, 2014). He has worked in a variety of non-profits, churches, and youth spaces around the city of Chicago, in part through his two Years of Service with the Episcopal Service Corps (2011-2013), and since 2014 has worked at the University of Chicago's Community Service Center (UCSC) where he currently serves as the Assistant Director for Student Leadership and Advising. In this role he works with student leaders to nurture their passion for service and civic engagement, and frequently finds himself applying lessons he learned as far back as his own Oakwood days.