In addition to alumni accomplishments in many other fields, Williams is known for producing leaders in secondary education. I thought of that this morning as I read the obituary for Bruce McClellan ’45, the long-time head of the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
The obituary notes that, “During his tenure the school underwent major changes, most notably with a student body that became both coeducational and increasingly diverse. Mr. McClellan was the driving force behind the admission of black students in 1964 and girls in 1987.” In addition, he greatly increased the school’s endowment, enabling Lawrenceville to offer institution-altering levels of financial aid and to provide impressive facilities and curricular offerings.
An outstanding student, a varsity athlete, and a student leader at Williams during World War II, McClellan also managed to serve as a summer warrior: “Between his sophomore and junior years at college, Mr. McClellan served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps and was separated from service in September 1945 with the rank of captain. He saw combat service over Europe with the 8th Air Force and earned the Air Medal with clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
McClellan then went on to take up a Rhodes, and returned to Williams for a year as an assistant dean before leaving to teach English at Lawrenceville, where he became Head Master at 35. His work there would eventually win him honorary degrees from several colleges, including his alma mater.
As with many of the most effective leaders in secondary education, McClellan always kept his hand in as a teacher: “Mr. McClellan continued to instruct English through his time as head master, explaining, ‘It feeds my spirit to teach.’”
Secondary school teachers and administrators labor in something of a backwater, largely unrecognized, and yet providing vital services and having an enormous impact on our whole society’s future. Williams recognizes this with various programs designed to help students who plan to enter the field and with its acknowledgement that “we stand upon the shoulders of giants” in the form of granting the Olmsted Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching at Commencement to four high school teachers who have made a difference to graduating Williams seniors.
Often, more cherished than any institutional award are the thanks of, and being remembered by, former students. Sadly, the mentors of our youth seem to pass away all too soon while we are off pursuing our careers and busy with raising our children. The upcoming Thanksgiving season would be a good time to write a note or pick up the phone to call one of your (or your child’s) former teachers or coaches.