Gentleness, Virtue, Sincerity


Decades of Thacher students have heard the wise words of a humble man. On October 9th, we gathered at Mr. Shagam’s service on the Upper School lawn. This serene outdoor setting seated about 600 people, including students, faculty and alumni. The tent was decorated with his signature hats and scarves.

The service started with the Thacher String Ensemble performing a piece that Mr. Shagam loved: Andante Cantabile by Mozart, with Isabel Ouweleen ‘17 as the soloist. This was followed by opening remarks from Henrique C. Cordeiro Guerra CdeP 1989. He appreciated Mr. Shagam’s sense of humor and unique style of teaching. Mr. Shagam’s presence enriched the valley and the legacy of the Marvin Shagam program will live on forever.

After the Thacher Chamber Ensemble performed Wir Eilen Mit Schwachen by Bach and a short meditation from Rabbi Alvin I. Fine about the journey that is life, three alumni went up to the stage and shared with the community stories and impressions of Mr. Shagam over the years.

Photo by Dana Vansicin

The first speaker was Robert K. Gardner CdeP 1960. Mr Shagam came to Thacher during Mr. Gardner’s junior year. Thacher was an all boys school then. Rock & roll was three years old; The Catcher in the Rye was not being dissected in English classes; there was no such thing as chocolate chip cookies at the head’s house. This was 1958, and when Mr. Shagam first arrived, the students did not know what to make of him. There were rumors of him being on a secret spy unit. At this time, Mr. Shagam coached the 4th soccer team, and Mr. Gardner was the captain. Before every game, instead of a cheer, Mr. Shagam read Greek poetry to the team. He was indeed an interesting, quirky teacher, who later became a beloved member of the community. Mr. Soraccho, a parent of a Thacher alumnus talked about how everything was a teachable moment to Mr. Shagam: ““My eldest son went here, he graduated in 2000. I just remember once during a cheer from the soccer team, they went ‘two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?’ Mr. Shagam stood up and yelled ‘Correction! WHOM do we appreciate?” His quirkiness is even more evident in the story from Mr. Boswell Cdep 1997: “When Mr. Shagam taught us, he would point his finger at you. If you could grab his finger, he would owe you a steak dinner.”

The second speaker was Lauren C. Zakarian-Cogswell CdeP 2010. She met Mr. Shagam her freshman year on move-in day. It was about 90 degrees outside and Mr. Shagam was dressed up as if a blizzard was coming. Even though she was a freshman, Ms. Zakarian-Cogswell was encouraged by Mr. Shagam to take his course, which was usually offered to upperclassmen. His classes about the holocaust usually turned into Mr. Shagam’s thoughts on the current events. He also never felt the need to stop good discussions during class. Mr. Shagam encouraged Thacher students to live outside the bubble and direct care and attention towards the world. As mentioned before, Mr. Shagam had an air of mystery around him. Transcending time, there was once again speculation that he was part of the C.I.A, or that he was a spy. There were even rumors that he had a secret family in Thailand. During Mr. Shagam’s travels, he would send postcards that were comical to fellow students and faculty(he often wrote in puns). Even after Ms. Zakarian-Cogswell’s graduation, Mr. Shagam was a source of wisdom in her life and he was privy to her most important decisions. Even though Mr. Shagam is physically gone, his spirit will be omnipresent.  

The third speaker was Andrew R. Shakman CdeP 1990. Mr. Shakman met Mr. Shagam as a freshman. Mr. Shagam was a dorm head and he was rather intimidating and mysterious. However, he was the one person students would approach when they found themselves in real trouble. Mr. Shagam always welcomed everyone with warm counsel and advice. Mr. Schryver shared this moment: “There was this one time when I lost my temper at a student. Later I was upset that I had lost my temper so I talked to Mr. Shagam about it. He told me that sometimes we lose our temper because the students need it, but it was always an act. So when they said Mr. Shagam was without guile, it was not entirely true.” Mr. Shagam served generously to make Thacher, and even the world, a better place. He has done the best work in the world that he could, and the best he could do is all done. Yet Thacher never truly felt like a job to Mr. Shagam, it was more of a home, a purpose, and a family. Mr. Twichell, a former faculty recounted this anecdote: “My nephew had a summer job here and he helped faculty move during the summer. Usually every person took a day of moving. However, to help Mr. Shagam to move from Upper School to Lower School, it took three days. Because every time they packed away an item, Mr. Shagam told a story about it. Everything had a story behind it.”

Next Mr. Mulligan gave a touching eulogy, where he reveal that the “H” in Marvin H. Shagam stood for Herbert, a question that plagued the minds of many students over the years. He shared anecdotes about Mr. Shagam. One of which was when Mr. Shagam warmed up the metal bit in his hand for his horse on a cold day; or the fact that Mr. Shagam never produced a syllabus in his 64 years of teaching because he “could not predict how the students reacted to the material.”; or when Mr. Shagam would drop his head in agony when someone else mispronounced a name or a word. He was an astute, witty, tough-minded character who thought there was “much more to heaven and earth than Casa de Piedra.”

Photo by Dana Vancisin

Following the eulogy was the Thacher Chamber Ensemble’s performance of An Sylvia by Schubert, a short memorial film was shown in the Milligan Center where we saw pictures and videos of Mr. Shagam. The short clips of Mr. Shagam showed him in his usual outfit, he said it was a privilege to teach at Thacher and that when he started to teach, he only wanted to do the right thing. There were also a few faculty members who honored Mr. Shagam in the video. Mr. Shagam taught students to build up character that would serve as a true north compass later in life.

Mr. Perry Cdep 1985 talked about his thoughts on the memorial: “The service was touching and appropriate. It focused on the impact of Mr. Shagam across generations of Thacher students.”

Personally, I’ve known Mr. Shagam for less than a year. To me, he was the wise and enigmatic man who had no regard for the heat. He would always greet me with a smile and ask about my day, usually in the dining hall or on the Pergola. Then he retreated back into his own musings and introspections.

I remember that day when Mr. Shagam said to me: “It’s 85 outside.” And when he noticed my confused expression because I did not understand the imperial system, he told me: “It’s quite warm.”