It is the end of an era at Peddie School.
Melanie Clements, Patrick Clements and William McMann are retiring at the close of the school year. These esteemed members of the Peddie community have influenced and inspired countless students and faculty over the last four decades.
Here Mel, Pat and Bill share their Peddie memories. Just as they helped shape the school, Peddie shaped their lives. These revered faculty are leaving behind a remarkable legacy, and one that will remain with us for years to come.
Growing up at Peddie
By Melanie Clements P'03
Pat introduced me to Peddie when I was his girlfriend and he was a faculty member. During our first four years living on campus as a married couple, I didn’t know much about the school. My job as a petrochemical sales representative with Chevron Chemical required significant travel. Inevitably, I would return home from a trip hoping to spend time with my husband only to learn that Pat had dorm duty for the evening.
We took a brief hiatus from Hightstown from 1980 to 1986 and returned to Columbus, Ohio where Pat worked as the development director for his alma mater, Columbus Academy. There I spent time doing market research on gasoline additives for Ashland Chemical. We had our son, Peter, in the fall of 1984. Soon after, Pat decided that development was not his long-term career goal and he began to look for a new teaching position. When Pat called Headmaster Ed Potter to ask for a reference, Ed persuaded Pat to return to Peddie.
I intended, at least temporarily, to remain home with our young son. Sometime during the winter of 1986-87, I was cajoled into tutoring chemistry.At the time, I could never envision myself getting along with teenagers. Yet that spring I signed on to teach six weeks of Algebra I. My career at Peddie had begun.
I evolved from being a part-time teacher, to a full-time teacher, and then added dorm supervisor to my list of responsibilities. In 1993, Head of School Tom DeGray offered me the position of assistant dean of students, and since then I’ve divided my time between the classroom and evolving responsibilities as assistant head for student life.
I have been fortunate to teach varied subjects including math, science, psychology, marketing, economics, and most recently, Community Life, a required three-term class for freshman and sophomores. During the first term, we discuss Peddie’s mission, values and our school rules. We then extend our conversation to how our values relate to the interactions we have within the Peddie community and beyond.
Our focus during the second term of Community Life is solely on sex education. If anyone had told me years ago that I would be teaching sex ed to 14- and 15-year-olds when I was nearing retirement age, I would have told them they were crazy. Fortunately, my predecessor, Kate Higgins, had given considerable thought to the structure of the curriculum and the Answer organization at Rutgers provides resources to support teaching this material in an age-appropriate way.
Teaching sex education has made me a better teacher—I have to be mindful of boundaries and yet push kids to explore their reasoning on some very sensitive topics. I have to be prepared to acknowledge when I don’t know an answer and follow up with them after doing research. Moreover, I have to be prepared to control my laughter when all I want to do is double over and laugh until I cry. There is nothing more entertaining than when a ninth grader wants to share absolute truths about their knowledge of sex. I am challenged to debunk what they share, sensitively and thoughtfully.
And yet at its core, I am astounded every day by the trust that students place in me to acknowledge their curiosity and help them find answers. Teaching sex ed has been an invaluable experience.
The majority of my time over the last twenty-plus years has been spent meeting with our students and talking about why they’ve missed classes. Our idiosyncratic missed obligation (MO) system has been in place for well over thirty years. Both Rosemary Gleeson and Kim Samson were fluent in MO-speak, but I’ve certainly had the longest run in this capacity. Quite simply, I’ve spent the last 24 years telling our students to go to class. On the surface it sounds incredibly boring and straightforward. In reality it is a mechanism for me to listen to our students’ wonderful and varied stories. They may be basic (I forgot to set my alarm) or they may be far more complicated (my parents told me last night they are separating and I was up really late worrying and slept through my first period class). I have at least 25 of these conversations during an average week and piece by piece I learn about our students and their lives.
It is very common for alums to approach me on Alumni Day and ask, “Do you remember that MO meeting we had?” Given the sheer number of these conversations that I’ve had over the years it’s rare that I can recall a specific conversation. Regardless, I hope in that moment that that student (now alum) felt like someone listened to what mattered in their life when that unforgettable meeting took place.
What will I miss most about Peddie? I will certainly miss talking with ninth graders about sex and having those brief individual conversations about why a student missed class. I will also miss the sense of community we engender at Peddie. Pat and I have lived this charmed life where there’s always someone to call when your heat shuts off, where a package miraculously is delivered to your desk, where you can always find someone—right now—to share a joke with.
I grew up at Peddie—as a wife and as a mother and as a teacher. While some of the lessons I have learned were painful, I am forever grateful for my career and for the life my family and I have lived at Peddie. It has been a privilege to work here.
My Peddie Adventure
By Patrick Clements P'03
It has been a life for us at peddie. A career for sure. A vocation in retrospect. Our lives as partners, teachers, parents, colleagues, followers and leaders have been shaped by this Peddie community. I hope we helped shape it a bit in the process. Mostly though, Peddie has been, and remains, our home. The trajectory of the school, and our lives, has been astonishing!
I was first hired here in August 1976 after leaving a great teaching job in Michigan to come to Jersey to see if a relationship with college girlfriend Melanie Youderian might work out. After much of a drifting summer watching her work, I finally took her advice about checking out the prep schools in the area to see if there were any jobs available. (Actually, it was just to get her off my back). I walked into the Head’s office at Peddie, was told crisply by Headmaster Kerr’s assistant Bartella Brislin that the faculty had been set since the spring, of course, and thank you very much. The next day some new hire bailed out by telegram. After a phone call from former faculty member Hank Keller, I interviewed the next morning and signed a contract by noon! So, forget law school! I proposed to Melanie, started coaching football, then teaching English, grading essays, writing comments, marrying Mel over Thanksgiving break, and then quickly drove back to Hightstown to start the second term! From the start, everything has been a happy adventure.
In many ways, my thoughts on Peddie at the end of this adventure deal with the growth and trajectory of the school and community, and the astonishing individuals within, including powerful, challenging and nurturing leadership. For me, early trust and leadership from former Headmaster Ed Potter and former teachers Mike Treese, Ray Oram and Anne Seltzer enabled me and the awesome English teachers up in Annenberg to experiment with core courses, spring electives, dorms and residential life — all focused on the kids’ experience — and do so with collegial enthusiasm and institutional support.
Later, after Melanie and I returned from a six year stay in Columbus, Ohio, with more experience and two-year-old son Peter, I was able to be a teacher again, head baseball coach, English department chair, dormitory supervisor, husband and father. Then, after a challenge to the faculty from Head of School Tom DeGray, I led a group of colleagues and kids in developing the Principio Project at Peddie, an interdisciplinary, experiential, full curriculum pilot project in teaching and learning, and we did this with collegial support of faculty and trustees. And Peddie allowed all this to happen while Melanie was growing as a math teacher, dean and leader, and while Peter Clements grew up living in four dormitories, first as a little boy and then as a Peddie and college student. Peddie has a long history and deep culture of nurturing teachers, encouraging experimentation and collaboration, and supporting initiatives that focus on our kids and our mission. I am blessed to be part of that commitment, as a beneficiary and contributor.
Most recently, I have been able to teach great colleagues and kids, help with new versions of some of the contributions of the Principio Project, work with kids in the Summer Signature program and lead many kids and faculty on the Sophomore Bike Trip, and still coach some young guys in football, too.
I must acknowledge the powerful school leadership of Ed Potter, Anne Seltzer, Tom DeGray, John Green and Peter Quinn, the trustee leadership of many, especially Finn Caspersen ’59, Terry Christensen ’62, Chris Acito ’85 and Elizabeth Silverman, the architectural vision of Bob Hillier, and the staggering philanthropy of Walter Annenberg ’27, Finn Caspersen ’59, Mike Armellino ’57, Bob Kaye ’54, Ian Graham ’50 and thousands of others. All have helped, in just one generation, to transform a fiscally sketchy but good school blessed with fine people and strong bones into an extraordinary, powerful and handsome institution filled across the board with even better teachers, more curious and invested kids, more families that are “all in” and an institutional ethos built upon a clear mission and core values. To be a part of that trajectory, in a school built on student growth and steadfast kindness, is good fortune!
Important memories swirl. Some with astonishment, like cycling up some snot-buster hills in Pennsylvania or looking up at cathedrals in Spain. Some with sadness and strength, like coaching and watching a freshman boy lose himself happily to the joy of play in a JV football game on September 13, 2001, freed at Peddie from waiting at home for a phone call that would never come. Like watching John Green or Melanie Clements or Peter Quinn in Chapel as they lead the community in times of crisis, raw with strength. Some memories are full with private pride and a swelling heart, like when our son graduated. Or when Melanie reads names at graduation. Or when we accept the Potter-Kelley Cup!
Much of Peddie has changed, and the physical, academic, athletic and financial growth has all been terrific and thoughtful. The heart of Peddie — the rich relationship with and thorough care of kids, the focus on individual growth as the measure of success, and the guiding power of our core values — respect, honesty, scholarship, balance and courage — remains constant, though always fragile.
Peddie’s steadfast devotion to access and opportunity rather than mere social replication makes my heart swell. Every year when I read juniors’ autobiographies and their essays on “Where I Come From,” I am reminded of what a gift Peddie is to all of us and how deeply our kids understand what others have done and are doing for them. If you could read our kids’ stories, you would want to become another Walter Annenberg.
Many hats, many memories
By William McMann P'13
During my 38 years at Peddie, I’ve worn many hats, literally and figuratively. As an English teacher, I’m always looking for symbolism, and in my hat collection, I think I’ve found some.
1. English teacher
Fittingly at the top of the display since I’ve taught English every single term of my 38 years at Peddie.
The hat: Suitably tweedy and English. Not quite Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson, maybe
Best memory: Back in the 80s as my seniors began the study of “Hamlet” I asked “What were Shakespeare’s plays like when they were first performed?,” thinking that I was going to get some information on the Globe Theatre, maybe some idea that the stage was bare, etc. A young man who had so far that year distinguished himself mostly by his silence in class was wildly waving his raised hand. His answer: “They were all in black and white.” A couple of weeks later the class was watching a video of the opera “I Pagliacci.” This same young man leaned over towards the guy sitting next to him and opined: “They sure do a lot of singing in this village.”
2. “Old School” Peddie cap
The hat: My coaching hat
Best memory: In 1985, my JV basketball team played the prelim to the varsity Peddie-Lawrenceville game at home. Since we were tied in triple overtime, the stands were filled with the crowd for the varsity game. Lawrenceville committed a technical foul and Peddie was awarded a free throw. I selected a player to shoot the foul shot, and my team rebelled, insisting that I let another player take the shot. I was hesitant as the teams’ choice had a physical disability, but I acquiesced. The kid made the shot, we won the game, and it was a great “Peddie moment” for everyone.
3. Pith helmet
The hat: Thinking I was going on a safari, my master prefect (and later my colleague on the faculty) Steve Rogers ’88 gave me this one. I never made the safari, but living in Masters South for ten years was enough of an adventure.
Best memory: Hanging with the Nealies each night and shooting the breeze.
Best prefect ever: James Mucciarone ’86
4. My Hamilton hat
The hat: Almost everything I know about English, writing and teaching I learned at Hamilton College.
Best memory: About six weeks into my freshman year, I was sitting in George Nesbitt’s freshman comp class watching the humorous and energetic 65-year-old professor perform. At that moment I thought, “If I can be that old and be having that much fun, that’s a life well lived.” Immediately I decided law school was out, and I would become an English teacher, a decision I’ve never regretted. As my students will attest, I’m still having a lot of fun.
5. Panama hat
The hat: A bald guy needs protection from the sun, especially when watching Peddie sporting events.
Best memory: Watching Michael Schlessinger ’84 completing a touchdown pass to Rich Rebh ’84 to beat Blair and win the Cup on Blair Day at Peddie.
6. Yacht captain’s hat
The hat: This is my yacht captain’s hat that belonged to my father. It’s the most authoritative hat I own. For 13 years I was the dean of students, responsible for student discipline —often not a particularly happy job.
Best accomplishment: Convincing Headmaster Ed Potter that Peddie had to adopt a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy.
7. Boston Red Sox cap
The Hat: This ball cap does not have any particular identification with Peddie. I just like wearing it around campus to honk off all those obnoxious Yankees fans. And I grew up in Yaz country.
Best Memory: Rubbing it in on Dean of Students Pete McClellan after the Sox overcame a 0-3 deficit to beat the hated Yankees and win the American League Pennant in 2004.
I may be retiring from Peddie this June, but I’ll keep my hats and all the memories (plus thousands more) of all the many wonderful colleagues and students I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Ala Viva.