The More Things Change…by Head of School Bob Henderson
One of my Nobles classmates (class of ’76) recently was cleaning out some files and found a 40-year-old edition of the school magazine, then called the “Noble and Greenough Graduates Bulletin”, published in the early summer of 1974. He sent it to me, thinking our archives might have better use for it than he would. A much simpler publication for a much simpler time in the history of this school, the entire issue is 16 pages long. The cover headline was “Last All Male Class Graduates”; the Class of 1974 consisted of 48 boys. The following fall the school opened with 3 grand new buildings and girls, and the graduating class of 1975 jumped to 70 students. Truly, this publication was heralding the end of one era at the school and the dawn of a new one. And yet, as I read through the magazine, I was more struck by some striking continuities between that time at Nobles and today than I was by the differences. For instance, the cover picture showed a crew boat approaching one of the bridges on the Charles, an image that could as likely have been captured in the last week. There were many more familiarities, and I share a few below.
In a long article on the college admissions process, I came across all of the following quotes from Dick Flood, Jr., who was at that time the director of college placement at Nobles. You will note that the tone, cadence and, perhaps, the urgency of advice shared with parents on the college process may have shifted, but some of the core parallels are striking:
“The competition from highly qualified public school graduates is keen.”
“Students continue to ignore, against the advice of the college placement office, some excellent schools in the South and mid-West.”
“The national trend away from liberal arts and toward a more practical educational experience has not been felt at Nobles, where students, in general, remain confident and optimistic about the value of a liberal arts education in an overcrowded work world.”
“Parents continue to be more ambitious for their children than they have a right to be, but they wouldn’t be good parents, I suppose, if they weren’t.”
“The outstanding independent school athlete with a solid academic record is in a favorable position with the top schools.”
“A student who may be at a disadvantage is the all-around student who gave 100 per cent to the school but whose academic record suffers … The student’s academic record remains paramount in the selection process.“
In an unattributed article on the athletic program, I discovered the following wonderful statement on the school philosophy of athletics, again asserted in the language of a bygone era, but nevertheless articulating the essence of values still endorsed at Nobles:
“Whether or not a win is achieved is relatively unimportant, but trying to win is all-important. In fact, the athlete who has completely spent himself even in a losing cause has a feeling inside that he has given himself for something greater and that his opponent knows it when they shake hands in mutual respect. Nobles has had a winning tradition in athletics and (we) hope we can keep it, because if we keep trying to win as hard as we do, we will likewise learn that a hard-fought loss can be as meaningful as the win we failed to achieve.”
A current grandparent at Nobles, Walter Cabot, was appointed as a trustee of Nobles that spring, and he is pictured in the magazine. Walter Cabot has been regularly at Grandparents Day in recent years in support of currently enrolled grandchildren Noelle Anderson ’14 and Nelle Cabot ’16. Also pictured in the magazine at his 25th reunion of the Class of 1949 is Bob Morrison, grandfather of current students Tom Morrison ’14 and Lucy Morrison ’19. There is also a small photograph of a very youthful Mr. Dick Baker in his role as the assistant coach of the undefeated varsity lacrosse team!
It is easy to note how the school has changed over the last four decades. The physical plant was dramatically smaller in 1974, the student body and faculty were tiny compared to today, and significantly more homogeneous, and the program was streamlined and narrow. There were no athletic trainers, school counselors, or learning specialists. The annual fund for that year, also acknowledged in the magazine, raised a total of $125,989, a far cry from the extraordinarily generous levels of annual support provided now by the graduates, parents and friends of the school. In that edition of the magazine there is absolutely no mention of the arts, service or travel, and only limited recognition of the challenges and opportunities provided by diversity in a community like Nobles. Still, the conversations about academic excellence and commitments beyond the classroom resonate with clarity. The close relational connections between teachers and students are readily apparent, and the tight sense of community was clearly in place. The Castle was already the central and enduring icon of the school. I do not wallow in nostalgia for the old Nobles, the one I attended for three years in the 1970s, and I often say in public forums that I generally feel like I attended a different school on the same site. And yet, the more things change…