First HWPA gathering provides time to look back on Hudnut’s career

David Lim

In his final First General Meeting of the Parents’ Association, President Thomas C. Hudnut reflected on his life, from his experiences as a young student to this past summer watching his son play water polo at the 2012 Olympics on Sept. 19.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts also paid tribute to Hudnut’s leadership in the merger that created Harvard-Westlake in his 25 years at the school.

“You reach a stage in your professional life where you become reflective,” Hudnut said. “You hope you’ve done something good, improved some lives, made a difference.”

Hudnut said his son’s efforts with the U.S. water polo team reminded him of his desire to “emphasize the journey and not the medal-winning hoped-for designation.”

“Let Harvard-Westlake be an end in itself, not a means to an end, not a way station on the road to something else,” Hudnut said.

“I stand here tonight a happy man with few regrets,” Hudnut said.

In a speech titled “He Dared to Dream Big,” Huybrechts shared ‘Hudnut-isms’ she collected over the years, including this year’s character theme “Do Well and Do Good.”

“His wisdom and humanity are revealed in his words—in the familiar maxims he slips into conversations,” Huybrechts said.

Facing backlash from the 1989 merger announcement, Huybrechts recalled Hudnut’s suggestion for faculty to “Radiate Calm” and described Hudnut as always “the coolest head in the room.”

Huybrechts also detailed Hudnut’s role in the construction of science, arts, and athletics facilities on both campuses to carry out his vision of a school that works to “send students home feeling challenged, stimulated, and treated fairly.” In addition to the high standards environment Hudnut set for the school, Huybrechts emphasized a spirit of “playfulness” in Hudnut and his efforts to “regularly rekindle childish behavior” in a “serious school like [Harvard-Westlake].”

“[Hudnut] has reminded us from time to time that he is, at heart, an eighth-grade boy. He likes to have fun, likes to joke and laugh and be around other fun people,” Huybrechts said. “His playfulness gives everyone permission to lighten up a little, and that’s a good thing.”

Huybrechts concluded her speech by mentioning that she presented Hudnut a few weeks ago with a commemorative  “loonie,” a Canadian coin embossed with the bird that was first minted in 1987 as he started his tenure as headmaster.

Hudnut has often shared parables about the loons that frequent a pond near his summer home in upstate New York in his annual opening-of-school speech to faculty. The loons served as a reminder that it would be time to return to the school he has built up during his tenure.

“Listening to late-summer loon’s call, [Hudnut] would begin to think about returning to what he loved most and that was being in school—teaching, spending time with young people, continuously supporting all of us and our great school, building a lasting institution—one building and one parable at a time,” Huybrechts said.

This year the loons mean something different for Hudnut.

“Fall always comes,” Hudnut said. “The trees turn, the flowers wither, the grass stops growing, the birds head south. Fall always comes—it does for all of us and, like the geese and the loons we need to know when it’s time to leave.”