“Every Person Should be Valued,” A Final Lesson from Mr. Wright
As I situate myself on the gray couch cushions of the bright and airy office that Mr. Wright has resided in for the past two years, he enters and apologizes profusely for his tardiness. I brush it off with indifference, happy to have gotten a chance to even speak with him for a mere few minutes in his bustling final weeks, finally realizing the extent of the frenetic lifestyle our head of school lives. As he refills his coffee and I prepare my questions, I am instantly settled with a deep-seated reverence for the job that Mr. Wright has led for the past 12 years here at Collingwood. His ability to stay calm amid the chaos and even thrive in the disorder is one of the many admirable qualities he possesses. We sit across from each other and begin to speak about his time at Collingwood, and perhaps even more importantly, what he has had the chance to learn as Headmaster. Mr. Wright conducts himself with thought behind each word that leaves his mouth and a careful consideration for how he presents himself that makes every person he speaks to seem not only valued, but truly important.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned here at Collingwood is to be more respectful of diversity with the huge volume and backgrounds that the student body makes up. I’ve become more respectful of the value in every human being and I didn’t have that full appreciation before I came to Collingwood and met so many different types of people. I was cloistered before, living an insular life in the East that didn’t expose me to the extensive backgrounds of so many Canadians today. Every person should be valued.”
Mr. Wright has a palpable love for Collingwood and reflects on his time here fondly. He admits that he’s barely had time to contemplate on the end of an era, just attempting to finish the year as strong as possible before he can finally “turn the lights off.” He is merely driving right until the end, just making sure everything goes off without a hitch. As I continue to question him, he responds with the grace of a true leader and seasoned educator that is humbled by the opportunities he has been given. He talks about how Collingwood has taught him that the job of Headmaster can be harnessed for good:
“Simple things like learning people’s names and showing interest, even just showing up. I’m always thinking about what to do next and there are a lot of ways to spend my day but I choose to spend it trying to celebrate and value experiences with my students and fellow faculty. I like to enforce a positive culture and use my head office to validate things going on around the school in an effective way, creating that inherent trust and respect with my staff.”
He continues to stress to me that he wants the students to know that they shouldn’t underestimate the power in kind gestures and how they can be applied to everyday life. Mr. Wright’s goal from day one, has been to brighten everyone’s day around him, and he has most definitely achieved that purpose, his aura emanating a sense of tranquility that captivates those in his vicinity.
When asked what advice he has to the new headmaster, Mr. Rob Lake, he tells me that he wants him to know that he should never take the opportunity of running a school for granted because it is a blessing. You can tell, even from one conversation, that Mr. Wright feels truly honoured to have had the chance to run Collingwood for as long as he has. He loves surrounding himself with “youth and the bustling of young people that keep [him] young.” He admits to being terrified of not working in a school in the future because he has spent his entire life in and out of educational environments, encircled by the power of adolescence.
“I also love being able to work alongside cool colleagues that enjoy working together towards something that has a real purpose and makes a difference in the world. It has allowed my job and personal life to merge in a way I could have never have expected and would never change.”
Mr. Wright cherishes the worth and purpose of being at a school, but more importantly, the impact that he and his fellow faculty are making in students’ lives. His humility and expressive attention to others has been a key characteristic in what has allowed him to flourish as a successful and reverential leader.
“I like to think that I’ve helped to play a part in creating a culture that is happy, positive and purposeful; ambitious in a good way yet tolerant of differing attitudes and people. There is a very edifying, supportive morale culture in the school that makes students excited to come to school everyday in a comfortable and safe environment. The teachers want to teach and the students want to learn. People want to be together and create healthy, attainable goals. I hope I’ve played a modest part in that.”
Mr. Wright’s genuine intentions for the success of Collingwood could not be more clear, the perspicuous love for what he does is transparent in how he comes across. While he may be retiring from the job of headmaster, he doesn’t plan to leave the school environment just yet, predicting that he can see himself working for five or so more years. He intends to work within an Ontario school, but not at the Head level. He stresses that he still has “gas left in the tank” and is not quite ready to abandon the educational environment yet.
“I haven’t really talked about it, but Louise and I are planning to move back to Toronto and I am excited to be closer to my family and grandkids, of which I have six. I am looking forward to play a more instrumental role in their lives.”
When asked about personal interests he’s excited to now pursue, he sheepishly responds with the fact that he’s largely bereft of outside interests but relents to a few facets that he can think of:
“I love the Leafs, pathetically actually, as everyone knows. I love the science of physical education and training that I can never seem to get enough of. I spent time coaching middle distance female runners in Toronto up until the Olympic team years before I ever came to Collingwood and I love the value of physical activity. As of more recently, I’ve been really fascinated by American politics and can’t seem to get enough of Trump and Hillary and the trainwreck of America. I devour it all, I tape all the political shows and watch them all but I find they all just say the same thing. I am just genuinely fascinated by the mess and polarization of politics in the US, everything is so partisan– what ever happened to independent thought? Canada is lucky to be a neighbor and friend to the US but there is something dysfunctional about the partisanship of American politics these days that is frightening.”
We continue to discuss our mutual fear for the future of America and the fascination that surrounds the seemingly satirized direction that politics have taken in the US. As he discovers that I am American myself, we bond over our connection to Santa Barbara, my hometown, and his favorite vacation spot for the past eight years, “the Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito is the only hotel that Louise and I have actually returned to more than once. We just love it.”
We then move on to talk about what his ideal day will look like when he no longer has the encumbrance of responsibility on his back. Smiling, he tells me that he would start by sleeping in, although not in the sense that most of us would consider “sleeping in,” until around 7:30 or 8:00am, and then read the paper in bed with a nice cup of tea. He would get up about an hour later and proceed to do an intense workout for about 90 minutes.
“Something I think people don’t know about me is that I have to work out 365 days of the year, I need the endorphin hit to survive. Even if I have a flight at 5:30am, I’ll wake up at 4 because I have to work out every single morning.”
While I respond that this is admirable and I wish I possessed such tenacity, he laughs it off, saying he’s almost too obsessed with exercise. He continues on his ideal day by saying he would go on a long afternoon walk with Louise and then maybe play some squash or tennis. He speaks about he’s always wanted to get into golf but he has found it too self-indulgent up until now as it takes up too much time. He hopes to pursue it in the future when he is no longer working. At the end of the day, he would hope to have a nice, relaxing dinner, maybe watch some TV and get to bed early.
For the majority of his life, Mr. Wright has lived a teeming existence imbued with commotion and he wouldn’t have changed it for the world. The tumult of everyday life only enlivens him to keep going. He hopes that his lasting mark on the school is that he’s been a principal part of the architecture of Collingwood both physically and culturally:
“I’m proud of my vision I had for this campus as well as the House system we’ve implemented. I’m proud of the environment we’ve built that has a positive, edifying culture where students want to be here. I hope that teachers feel purpose and feel truly valued. I hope I’m remembered for the small role that I played in that.”
Mr. Wright looks more pensive as our interview comes to a close and I revel in the wonderful temperament that he offers those around him, feeling lucky to have gotten a chance to converse with him so candidly. He not only withholds the attributes of a true leader, but of a profoundly attentive, benevolent and kindhearted individual who cares deeply about those in his life.
Mr. Wright, you are certainly valued by all of us, and we will miss you. On behalf of myself, The Ad Verum, and the rest of Collingwood, thank you very much for the unrelenting and life-changing presence you have played in our lives. We wish you nothing but the best for the future.
By: Emily Larman