Author Archives: Eliot Taft

WMS thanks Stephen DiCicco

“Have you ever heard of Remington Razor? In the 1970’s they came out with an ad where the president Victor Kiam proudly proclaimed, ‘I liked the razor so much I bought the company.’ That pretty much sums up what White Mountain and my service to the School has meant to me. I liked it so much I couldn’t help but become involved.”

After more than two decades, Stephen DiCicco’s time as a member of The White Mountain School Board of Trustees comes to an end this June. Treasurer for 20 of his 23 years of service, DiCicco also served on the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee.

Co-founder of the educational consulting firm, Educational Directions Incorporated, WMS benefitted greatly from DiCicco’s expertise. A former Head of School with extensive board and strategic planning experience, he notes that the School’s continued success will rely on how well it lives out its mission.

“Lives are changed. We bring out confidence and potential by meeting the needs of each student. A great example is Sol Diamond ‘92 who is now a professor at Dartmouth.”

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Summer Plans: Rachel Van Wylen

As the summer season begins, students and faculty embark on a whole new set of adventures outside of White Mountain. Art Department Chair Rachel Van Wylen talks about her summer plans in Florence, Italy below. Be sure to follow our blog this summer to read more about what students and faculty are doing over the break.

What are your plans for the summer?

This summer I will be the Co-Program Director in Florence, Italy for Abbey Road programs.

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WMS celebrates the Class of 2017

This past weekend, students and families gathered to celebrate the Class of 2017 at The White Mountain School’s 131st Commencement Ceremony. Below is a list of some of the award winners and a quote from senior Commencement speaker Nico Kenn de Balinthazy’s speech. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to check out more pictures.

The Courage Prize

Victoria Breen ’17

The Robin MacQuire Pearson Class of 1916 Prize

Sarah Abbott ’17

The Lt. Michael S. Pierce Class of 1982 Award

Julia Bews ’17

The Bishop’s Prize

Djenebou Semega ’19

The Faculty Award

Bethany Pelotte ’17

The Head’s Award

Edner Oloo ’17

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WMS thanks Barbara McFadden Sirna ’63

The street sign stands tall on either side of West Farm Road: McFadden Drive. A symbol of the profound dedication of alumna and board chair Barbara McFadden Sirna, the sign represents a commitment to The White Mountain School that has spanned over fifty years. Sirna has held WMS close to heart since her graduation in 1963.

Assuming the board chairmanship in 2012 after serving as Vice Chair in 2008, Barbara has been involved with the Board of Trustees since 1973. She notes that she’s known six out of the last nine bishops and has worked with a number of Heads of Schools, and that the changes she’s seen have been gradual, but noticeable.

“The direction of the School is clear and with a continued strong administration, I foresee the School positioned well and headed into 150 years strong. Without a doubt, the School has the most cohesive and best administrative team that I have seen. It takes some work to find the right balance, but Tim’s vision deserves a lot of credit.”

Sirna’s investment and real estate management expertise has been a great asset to the School. Since her time as board chair, she’s presided over a dedicated and more active board. The new buildings and renovations on campus, as well as a growing endowment, are just some of the results.

She sees the School’s small number of students as central to its continued success. Currently, White Mountain averages 125 students every academic year.

“The School has always been a small and inviting place that helps students reach their potential in a caring and supportive way.” Sirna states it’s the reason she’s stayed involved for so long.

In a past interview, Sirna commented that she wishes to ensure that “WMS keeps its basic belief and mission.” She still strongly believes that there is “definitely a need for small schools” like White Mountain.

Sirna reflects, “What am I going to do now? What is the School going to do now?” Although her time on the Board has come to an end, Sirna will continue to be instrumental to the success of WMS. We look forward to seeing her at the 150th Anniversary and watching as the School continues to fulfill one of her long-term goals as board chair: to prosper and grow over the next few decades.

Read more about Barbara McFadden Sirna ‘63 and her time on The White Mountain School’s Board of Trustees here.

A Parent’s Perspective

Every year, the senior class chooses a parent to speak at Baccalaureate. This year Kim DeLutis, parent of Maren Scott ’17, provided her perspective on being a parent of a graduating senior and the impact The White Mountain School has had on both Maren and their family. Check out Facebook and Instagram to view pictures from Baccalaureate and Commencement.

Thank you, Class of 2017, for kindly inviting me to speak to you today.

I’m petrified—I mean I’m honored to be here. I’m Kim De Lutis, proud mum to graduating senior Maren Scott, and I’m equally proud to congratulate all you rad grads of 2017!

Hey, I can say “rad” because I graduated in the ‘80s, and we invented that word.

I will definitely miss the routine of these past four years, getting a smile and a hug whenever I came to school, the Harvest dinners, watching the talented performances in the Black Box Theater, the Harvest dinners and I had fun cheering “GO BLUE!” at the girls’ games.

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of getting to know a few of Maren’s friends at our house over dinner and a good game of PIT. But I have to say the best part of having a day student at a boarding school, was that our family gained a second daughter. Edner spent many school breaks with us these past four years, which makes saying goodbye even more difficult for me. Perhaps less difficult for Edner, since she’s had to listen to me play the drums. You see, I just started learning to play less than a year ago, so you can imagine. It’s bad. In fact, Maren once told me, “Mom. If you want to be good at something, start early.” And so that’s your advice for today. It’s still not too late for any of you. Although I was happy to hear from Caroline’s speech just now that you don’t have to be good at something to like it.

We were on a college trip when we heard the news that the senior class had asked me to speak. I was shocked, and clearly no more deserving than any other parent, as my husband quickly pointed out. “You know they just chose you because you brought them a tent and blankets when it rained on their soccer game—and you made them cookies.” So for all of you that never got a cookie at the soccer games and still agreed to my being here, I made you all chocolate chip cookies today. I think that should become a tradition, don’t you? The parent speaker has to bake cookies for the graduating class. I like that.

I think I can speak for every parent when I say that our motivation is only to have our children’s happiness as our goal. And I believe the key to being happy, is to be grateful. Because you attract what you are and not what you want, a grateful heart is like a magnet that draws good things and good people your way.

Today, we can be grateful for your parents, who started you on this path for a happy life; your friends, who encouraged you in good times, and unknowingly helped you grow through the bad; and your teachers, for the knowledge you’ve gained and the incredible young adults you have become.

Teaching, as a profession, often slips under the radar of gratitude—having to educate many different personalities at once while navigating the highs and lows of the most difficult and often the most rebellious teenage years. The White Mountain School provided our kids with a superior high-school education, but also served as their mentors, friends and family.

Because teaching goes beyond the classroom, I asked a few students to share with me what they learned over the years that didn’t require a grade. Here is what they said:

They taught me kindness, and how to talk about uncomfortable topics.

They taught me to have a strong work ethic, and how to have a sense of humor without making fun of people.

They taught me to think by looking at the other person’s point of view, to put myself in someone else’s shoes before coming to conclusions.

They taught me how to make guacamole.

They taught me good sportsmanship, and how to breathe while hiking.

They taught me how to lift weights and challenge myself without harming my body.

They unknowingly influenced me to be more patient.

And last, but certainly not least, they made me want to leave an impact on the world.

They made me want to leave an impact on the world.

This is the legacy of The White Mountain School.

On behalf of the parents, I would like to profoundly thank the talented and dedicated faculty and staff, for presenting our kids with your best self every day so that they could reach their full potential.

Graduates, I thank you for having opened your hearts and minds to The White Mountain School. For braving that first orientation trip, camping under a tarp with a bunch of scary seniors—and even scarier mosquitos. And for trusting your parents when we knew this would be the best school for you.

Call on that open mind and bravery when you start your next adventure. Find the one thing that makes you happy. Wake up with a grateful heart, and every day you’ll get closer to where you want to be.

I’m grateful that your class is our future. And forever grateful for the impact that you will leave on this world.

LASR Highlight

Leadership, Arts, Service and Research. Much like a laser (which actually stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), our LASR project asks juniors and seniors to focus in on a topic of their choosing related to either Leadership, Arts, Service or Research and write a research paper. Start with a question and see where it leads. Twice a year students present their LASR projects to the White Mountain community at our LASR Symposium. A few students presented earlier in the semester. Some students also presented throughout the semester.

Senior Hannah Selhorst self-published a resource book detailing eight common mental illnesses. Her presentation featured her book and focused on awareness and other preventive measures to curtail the effects of these illnesses on adolescents. We had the chance to sit down with Hannah to discuss her LASR project. Below she talks a bit about the idea and the process of her LASR.

Could you speak a little bit about your LASR project? Where did the idea come from?

For my LASR project, I wrote a book about eight common mental illnesses and disorders. I discussed what they are, possible treatments, and the stereotypes and realities surrounding each. I wanted there to be a resource for students that they could pick up to better understand mental illness. The language in the book is meant to be much more accessible than the language one might find about mental illness online.

I started the second semester of my junior year with research, lots and lots of research. I spent the whole semester researching the illnesses and disorders I had chosen, as well as laying out what I wanted the book to be. Then, the first semester of my senior year, I started writing the chapters. Each week I would meet with my Independent Study advisor, Caroline. She and I would look over the chapters and edit them. Finally, the second semester was spent making guides, filling in the conclusion, introduction, dedication, table of contents, collecting the artworks and testimonies, formatting, a lot more editing, creating the cover, and finally printing and shipping!

The idea for this was actually something I had thought of in middle school. At the time, a few of my friends and I were dealing with a lot of issues around mental illness. We faced a lot of ridicule from other girls at my school who had ideas of mental illness that were very far off from reality. Some of my friends began to believe things about themselves that weren’t true because it was the common belief. This drove me to do a lot of research on mental illness and psychology. I also did a lot of research on the brain, it’s physical form and the functions it performs. I wanted to get all of the information I had down, but I didn’t have a means to do so until I came to WMS and was presented with the LASR project.

Could you speak a bit about your book? Where did this idea come from?

The idea stemmed from the realization that stereotypes on mental illnesses and disorders are extremely harmful to those who have been diagnosed, and to those who know people who have been diagnosed. I noticed that people would think certain things about others or themselves based off of a diagnosis. I also saw a lot of people struggle with having nowhere they felt they could look to find out about mental illness. I wanted this book to be something that people could look at when they aren’t comfortable going to a parent, a friend or a therapist. I also wanted something that would be more easily understood than what comes up when you do a google search.

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Faculty Profile: Matthew Toms

We had the chance to sit down with Matthew Toms for our latest faculty profile. Read more about his experience at White Mountain, the Student Assistance Program, and what brought and kept him here for almost fifteen years.


Growing up in Keene, New Hampshire, I was surrounded by the outdoors at a young age. My career really began as an outdoor educator working as a sea kayaking guide off the coast of northern Maine. As my passion for learning and teaching others in wilderness areas began to take shape, I soon found that my work would take me to some amazing places. I have led trips in experiential/outdoor education in Maine, Utah, Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and New Hampshire.

I now live with my wife and two children in Bethlehem, and I love working at The White Mountain School. The North Country of New Hampshire is a special place to live and raise a family. Although my sons are not quite old enough to access this spot, my favorite place in this area has to be the Upper Pemigewasset River. It is a magical section of river that really can only be accessed by kayak.

Student Assistance Program (SAP)

The Student Assistance Program (SAP) is a program that I started almost fifteen years ago. It is a non-disciplinary, collaborative and integrated program designed to offer in-house support services to students. SAP has evolved over the years and is now really integrated into the school community and support system for our students. About 80-90% of our students utilize it in any given year, almost entirely voluntarily, which indicates a student culture where it is okay and encouraged to get help. There is a lot of buy-in from the entire community.  

Freshman and Senior Seminars

Along with my work with our Student Assistance Program, I also started the Freshman and Senior Seminars here at White Mountain.  

I introduced Senior Seminar a few years ago to really ensure that students were prepared to transition into the college environment. Senior Seminar, which meets several times times a year with the entire senior class, touches upon some of the topics that are most risky, but most important to have a grasp on. For rising college students, this includes: sex, consent, alcohol and other drugs, as well as mental and physical health throughout one’s time at a university.

I have been developing Freshman Seminar over the years in largely the same vein as Senior Seminar, just for students transitioning into high school. We focus on a different version of sex ed and healthy relationships, alcohol and other drugs, communication and assertiveness training, and adolescent development. The way in which you go about these topics with 9th graders and 12th graders can be wildly different, and I have really enjoyed working with both of these age groups.

Read more about our Freshman Seminar and Senior Seminar!

What do you love about working at White Mountain?

Everything! I genuinely look forward to going to work every single day. I have wonderful colleagues, and  great, fun and compassionate students to work with and whom I enjoy being part of such a transformational time of their lives. It doesn’t hurt that I get to share things that I am really passionate about and have fun doing with them.

In my work here with White Mountain, I lead Field Courses, some of which I have designed over the years. In the fall I usually lead a hydropower focused course in Maine where we look at the costs and benefits of damming free flowing rivers. I have also had the pleasure of taking White Mountain students every year to participate in some development work in the Dominican Republic. Aside from these courses, I also am lucky to coach whitewater kayaking and backcountry skiing. I especially love impromptu games of dodgeball and giant slip n slides that happen here on campus!

Find what you love

This morning I had the chance to present a text that has meant a lot to me to the White Mountain community at morning meeting. In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered a well-received Commencement Speech to the graduating class of Stanford University, challenging them to find and dedicate their life to doing what they love. Below is the text from my morning reading.

Today, I am going to be reading from the transcript of the 2005 Commencement Speech given by Steve Jobs to the graduating class of Stanford University. Although geared towards seniors as we embark upon the last week of the year, I believe it’s message is applicable to everyone. A short, yet powerful, address his words brought me much solace and comfort as I worked to figure out my place in this world shortly after my graduation from college.

As with most people, my parents had plenty of expectations for me. My father, a doctor, and my mother, now a retired teacher, had dreams of me following in my father’s footsteps. Clearly that did not happen. And I felt that I had let a lot of people very close to me down when I made that decision including a version of myself.

With my parents, you see, there was a certain level of expectation and pressure for me to live a certain way, to choose a certain life. Now, I’m not saying don’t listen to your parents, go AWOL on them or even to make choices without regard for consequence. Your parents are some of the wisest and most insightful when it comes to you. In most cases, your parents are the ones that know you the best. I am saying that there is value in staying true to who you are, but first you have to know who that is.

My journey towards self-discovery and authenticity has not been an easy one. It has been marred with doubts and concerns, questions and challenges. And I’ve turned many times to parts of this speech to remind me of what’s important: to stay true to myself. I think it was Judy Garland who said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” So it is with that that I begin his speech.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

I am actually only going to read the second story and parts of the third because those are the parts that have meant the most to me and to me are the most true. I’ve also edited a bit for content.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down — that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: It was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

His speech ends there. And so I want to encourage you to stay true to who you are, believe in and love the work that you do, stay hungry or always be ambitious, stay foolish or don’t be limited or trapped by dogma, always question, always reflect, always be in search of your authentic self. Because you, your gifts, your talents, those are the best things you could ever give this world. Thank you.

By: Sarah Wilfred, Director of Communications

Upcoming LASR Symposium

Leadership, Arts, Service and Research. Much like a laser (which actually stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), our LASR project asks juniors and seniors to focus in on a topic of their choosing related to either Leadership, Arts, Service or Research and write a research paper. Start with a question and see where it leads.

Research behind college success clearly shows a correlation between student success, and curiosity and engagement in their learning, skills our LASR project helps to develop. A graduation requirement, past LASR projects have included: The Chemistry of Ceramic Glazing, Fractal Geometry and the Formation of the Universe, Human Rights and Ancient Greece, Ocean Acidification and Shell Formation, and Soil Types and Plant Growth.

Twice a year students present their LASR projects to the White Mountain community at our LASR Symposium. This semester’s upcoming symposium is full of interesting topics including:

  • Education or Incarceration? The School to Prison Pipeline
  • A Study of Leadership and Collaboration through Directing
  • A Letter to Letters (a choreopoem which you can view here)
  • Alzheimer’s: The Disease of the Mind

A few students presented earlier in the semester. Senior Hannah Selhorst self-published a resource book detailing eight common mental illnesses. Her presentation focused on awareness and other preventive measures to curtail the effects of these illnesses on adolescents. Junior Zoey Feng presented her independent research project at a recent morning meeting. Her work involved implementing and adopting strategies to help influence public policy and change the harsh conditions of those living in poverty and deprived of basic human rights in Ho Chi Minh City. Read more about Zoey’s LASR project here.

Stay tuned for a LASR Symposium highlight–coming next week!


After the AP: English and Calculus

When asked, What are you curious about? What do you want to learn these last few weeks?, students in Shane’s AP Calculus class responded with a barrage of answers:

  • How has calculus influenced the human condition?
  • How does math relate to issues of sustainability, leadership, philosophy and religion?
  • How does polling work?
  • Research the 538 blog or dy/dan blog and write a journal article.
  • Put together a set of graphing stories.
  • Study patterns of correlation on campus–Are certain policies working? Are certain rules working? How could you use math to help answer that question?

After the AP exam, our faculty and students capitalize on the opportunity to develop inquiry and build skills (see our Essential Skills and Habits) that help students prepare for college and achieve academic success.

Students in Caroline’s AP English class are working on a comparative analysis paper that includes one piece of literary fiction. Cassie Parker ’17 is examining the 1997 movie Starship Troopers and studying the similarities that exist between it and the current War on Terror. Tori Breen ’17 discusses The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, comparing it to the recent TV phenomenon The Handmaid’s Tale. Caroline Polich ’17 is highlighting the uncanny parallels that exist between the para-surrealist painter Remedios Varo and novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez in her final paper. Although artists from two different time periods, both display similar themes discussing the pettiness of wealth and the shallowness of beauty standards in their work.

Like a college seminar or class, students in Caroline’s AP English class are graded on the final product: their paper. They practice daily accountability coupled with a little freedom by checking in with Caroline before class each day, ready with a plan of what they intend to accomplish in the 70 minute block, and they check in with her at the end, detailing what they completed that day.

Senior Caroline states how this helped prepare her for the AP, “I felt ready. It wasn’t just about getting a 5 or writing the perfect essay. I learned how to manage my time and write a strong essay. These were the most important parts of class in preparing me for the exam.”

At White Mountain, learning extends beyond the classroom and academic content. A large focus of our curriculum is dedicated to student-driven inquiry and developing essential skills and habits that help students succeed and inspire them to become life-long learners. Learn more about student-driven inquiry and our Essential Skills and Habits here.