What Advice Do I Have for Our Graduates?

My final words to the Dwight Class of 2015 during graduation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were woven together with a single over-arching message in mind: Find a mentor or mentors on your path through college, graduate school, and in life.

My own early experiences were shaped dramatically by inspiring mentors. In turn, having served as a mentor to countless Dwight students over the last half-century, I have been reminded time and again that this particular role is among the most gratifying for me as both an educator and as Chancellor.

With pride in their numerous accomplishments at Dwight and unbridled enthusiasm for what lies ahead for our newest alumni, I bid them farewell with the following remarks:

As graduating seniors, you have shared a common Dwight experience built on our school’s three pillars of personalized learning, community, and global vision. At the same time, each of you has taken your own, unique journey based on your personal talents and spark of genius. Guiding you along both paths have been administrators and faculty members who have cared deeply about your growth and success, and who have served as inspiring mentors along the way.

With this support, you have embraced your passions, found your purpose, and persevered. Now, you must challenge yourself to think and to dream even bigger ― and to make the impossible possible.  

This next step requires that you find a mentor for the new path that you will walk at college or university…for the path that you will walk in life. Sometimes, a mentor arrives unannounced, but more often appears when a student is ready. Dwight graduates who found such mentors have achieved many noteworthy accomplishments. Among them are young alumni, who only a few years after high school with mentors by their side, are already leaving their mark on the world. One launched a company to increase the efficiency of commercial solar energy systems. Another is leading an avant-garde movement in architecture by merging the monumental works of great artists into design projects. There is a young entrepreneur who built a pharmaceutical testing company that is dramatically reducing the time needed for FDA drug approvals. And another became the youngest American director to win the student category at the Cannes Film Festival.

What do they all have in common? All were willing to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and had mentors to light their way. 

Class of 2015, your collective caring spirit, singular achievements, and strong work ethic will leave their mark on Dwight for many years to come. During the past year alone, with your insights, we launched the Spark of Innovation Program. The Dwight School Foundation will now be providing innovation grants to students and teachers who are envisioning exciting new pathways for the future, bringing the stars closer in reach. You will always be a part of that.

I encourage you to make the impossible possible. Keep your spark of genius alive. Be true to yourself…and remember that you’ll always have a home at Dwight.



Why Does Education Have to Think Outside the Box?

Education is the pathway to the future ― and innovation is integral to paving that road. That’s why schools have a critical role to play in nurturing innovation and in harnessing its power to take us where we never thought possible.

Dwight is proud to play that role for students and faculty, encouraging them to imagine a better world today. Thanks to the support of The Dwight School Foundation, we have launched the Spark of Innovation Program to provide resources, both financial and in the form of mentors, to help take ideas for new products, businesses, public policy, and social enterprises with real-world applications from the drawing board into the marketplace.

While leading universities have created such programs in support of start-ups by entrepreneurs at the college level, we want to bring the same opportunity to students at a much younger age when imaginations know no boundaries. The Spark of Innovation Program is designed for students beginning in kindergarten through grade 12, who think outside the box and envision a better world.

I see hundreds of glowing embers of possibilities in Dwight students, and every day I am reminded that if they can imagine it, we as educators owe students the chance to help make it happen. Thanks to The Dwight School Foundation and its supporters, we’re on a path to nurturing innovation beyond the classroom on a level previously unimaginable. I invite you to watch the Spark of Innovation video to learn more.

What Is Symbolic about Dwight’s “School of Spirits” Doors?

Anyone who has crossed Dwight’s transom at 18 West 89th Street knows that the gateway to our school is comprised of double hand-forged iron doors that are not only quite heavy but also beautiful to behold. These architectural icons of our campus, named the “School of Spirits” doors, were designed intentionally to be difficult to open.

Each door weighs 1,000 pounds. They were crafted by James Garvey, a Dwight parent (Sara ’95, Dwight+EntranceConstance ’98, and Noah ’99), who is one of the leading metalsmith artists in the world. He wanted students to realize that they need to make an effort to learn, to overcome inertia to enter and excel; and that once inside Dwight’s learning community, they would feel safe.

The ironwork is complex and labor-intensive — and reflects Dwight’s 143-year legacy of merging tradition with innovation. The doors were created using ancient forging methods that originated before the Middle Ages combined with techniques developed in modern times.

Donated to Dwight in 1994 by the artist, our “School of Spirits” doors are again in the spotlight through a current re-crafting project by Mr. Garvey. I am reminded that the ornamental doors mirror the narrative of every child that enters Dwight’s portal. It is the story of overcoming small setbacks as a necessary ingredient to achieve anything of significance. Great teachers, just as the artist who created the “School of Spirits” doors, help to forge students with iron wills and open hearts. Historic and heroic teachers are memorialized in the doors, as they assist children to ascend to become ethical leaders. The doors represent the hopes and dreams we have for our children.

To learn more about Mr. Garvey’s work and the original concept for our “School of Spirits” doors, visit jamesgarvey.net






How Do Students Benefit from Being Part of a Global Network?

Stretching across three continents, five Dwight Schools educate 2,000 students in New York, London, Seoul, Shanghai, and on Vancouver Island. We share the same singular commitment to igniting the spark of genius in every child, so that no matter where in the world students attend Dwight, they are inspired to find their passions and excel in their own unique ways.  Being part of a global network enhances opportunities for students to do so, as demonstrated by three seniors who recently traveled to our new Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School. They were inspired to contribute personally to the burgeoning school community and together, they designed a means to introduce their peers in China to the International Baccalaureate’s CAS (Creativity, Action, and Service) program. This trip, as you can read here, was mutually enriching for all.

Journeys like this are but one of innumerable benefits students reap as part of a global network. They also participate in grade-wide exchange programs, curricular collaborations, leadership conferences, online learning, athletic competitions, and cross-campus concerts and traveling art exhibits. With ever-advancing technologies, there is no limit to how students can connect, share ideas, and develop innovative solutions to global challenges. In Dwight’s network of IB World Schools, students have the added benefit of learning a universal curriculum, providing countless opportunities for them to work and learn together on common units of inquiry across date and time zones.

The IB was founded to develop students to be internationally minded, sensitive to other cultures and perspectives, proficient in several languages, and critical thinkers who can help make our world a better place. It provides the ideal framework for creating today’s global citizens, who will become tomorrow’s agile, highly desirable job candidates poised for success in our increasingly competitive global marketplace.

The advantages of being part of a global network extend well beyond commencement. Dwight alumni around the world provide professional support to fellow graduates, mentor students, and connect socially in ways that bind those who share a common educational experience together for a lifetime.

Who Will Become Tomorrow’s Walter Lippmann?

A new book about one of Dwight’s earliest alums entitled Walter Lippmann, Public Economist by Craufurd D. Goodwin, came across my desk recently. Lippman was an enormous thinker. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, social theorist, adviser to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and public philosopher, he was, indeed, a force whose writings about politics and modern democracy, foreign affairs, media, economic policy, and more helped to shape American thinking for three-quarters of the 20th Century.

Though not trained as an economist, Lippmann focused his intellectual prowess on economic issues for many years that spanned some of our country’s most difficult economic trials, leading him to become a “public economist.” Goodwin traces Lippmann’s path there, beginning with his early life, documenting that Lippmann attended Dwight’s ancestor school, The Sachs Collegiate Institute, just after the turn of the century.

The author reports that while at The Sachs Collegiate Institute (described in Dwight’s history), Lippmann distinguished himself in many ways ― academically, as editor of the school paper, a leading debater, successful athlete, and class prize winner ― demonstrating early on his intellectual capacities.

Among Goodwin’s numerous observations about Lippmann is one that speaks to the value Lippmann placed on a liberal education: “From his own experience Lippmann came increasingly to conclude that a liberal education, rather than simply intense specialization in a technical subject, was essential for the development of effective leadership in all walks of life.”

Lippmann, no doubt, would have supported the International Baccalaureate (IB), which was designed to develop open- and broad-minded, critical thinkers able to see issues and explore ideas in their larger, more complex contexts. The broad-based, international IB curriculum offers a liberal education, which empowers students to develop intellectually, as well as socially, and emotionally, into great thinkers ― the Walter Lippmanns of tomorrow.


How Can a School Today Ensure Tomorrow’s Innovations?

Dwight’s motto, “igniting the spark of genius in every child,” is imbued with a promise that the interests and passions of students — as well as those of faculty — can and should be nurtured. This philosophy requires a commitment to supporting creativity and pursuits that may take students and faculty, alone or together, down a new road of inquiry, discovery, and innovation.

How can a school like Dwight pave that road when their path is not yet charted?

The answer may lie in embracing the mindset of such leading universities as Stanford and Harvard, where programs designed to support innovators, business developers, and social entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to market and build a better world have taken hold. My hope is that Dwight will join them by developing its own culture of innovation program.

As an International Baccalaureate (IB) School in which faculty and students embody the IB learner profile, which includes being a risk-taker, Dwight already fosters a culture in which innovation is the norm. Students as young as three years old begin to learn what that means through the IB Primary Years Program. As they grow and develop their own interests and talents, students start to take larger risks in areas where they excel or strive to go.

We hope that where they go is wherever their minds, hearts, and imaginations can take them. And we know that they may need our support in doing so.

Can a school develop a platform for catapulting student and faculty designers, artists, engineers, scientists, and enterprising individuals who wish to explore their ideas, develop prototypes, and map their vision for a better product, service, or world? How would you develop an innovators and entrepreneurs program at Dwight, so that great ideas and inventions can go beyond the classroom and into real-life application?



Welcome to My Blog!

What’s Behind Dwight’s “Spark of Genius” Philosophy?

I can think of no better topic to explore in my first blog post than “spark of genius.” Comprised of just three words, this phrase can conjure up an inestimable number of possibilities. A person’s “spark of genius” is an interest, activity, talent, or passion ― whatever captures the mind, spirit, body, or imagination. The one aspect that’s true for everyone about a “spark of genius” is that it is personal.

Dwight’s motto, “igniting the spark of genius in every child,” drives our personalized approach to learning, permeates the culture of our school, and differentiates our educational philosophy from others. Personalized learning is the first of Dwight’s three pillars, and stands alongside community and global vision.

The premise is straightforward: When a child demonstrates a particular interest in, or talent for, something ― whether in the arts, technology, science, sports, etc. ― that endeavor should be fostered. Children benefit in innumerable ways when they are encouraged to carve their own path, to not give up ― and to get up and try again should they stumble along the way. In so doing, children gain greater self-confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment that carries over into other areas both inside and outside the classroom.

A nurturing teacher who taps into what excites a student opens the door to greater learning. Working one-on-one with students, Dwight faculty members empower students to pursue their own passions, believe in their own talents, and seek their own unique path of learning. This personalized attention translates into greater mastery and success.

Like some other Dwight traditions, this educational approach emerged from a Spahn family philosophy, which has been passed down for three generations: from my father and former Headmaster, Dr. M.C. Spahn, to me; from me to my sons, Blake ’89, Vice Chancellor, and Kirk ’95, Chairman of The Dwight Schools; and from Blake to his two children, who are both students in our Lower School.

A school is like a family, and at Dwight, we live this philosophy.

As students grow, graduate, and move on to higher education and careers, their passions may change, evolve, or translate into life-long meaningful purpose. Regardless, when a “spark” is ignited, the potential is limitless. As educators, we inspire children to believe that anything is possible.