When I Was 17: Mr. Mulligan

Where did you go to school when you were 17?

I turned 17 the spring of my Junior year in high school. I went to the oldest boarding school in America, the Governor’s Academy on the northern shore of Massachusetts. It is near the ocean, right on a beautiful, wild river. In the spring every day after lacrosse practice we would hop on our bicycles, ride down, and jump off the bridge into this beautiful river. We would swim next to the salt marshes, ride back to campus, then put on our coats and ties to go to formal dinner. It was lovely!

 

How were you involved in high school? What was the experience like?

I am teaching today because of the magnificent teachers I had in high school. They made a huge difference in my life. It was an all-boys school then. These men (the teachers) were brilliant, funny, kind and thoughtful. My high school experience brought me to a new awareness of how teachers can change the lives of kids. I had great relationships with these teachers and I would go to their apartments in the dormitories and have fun during study hall. These teachers were also my coaches, and a couple of them actually made a big difference in my life. My soccer coach, who was also my English teacher, became a really good friend of mine. Later in life, he actually hired me to teach. My math teacher was my wrestling and lacrosse coach. He was an author of 12 books, wrote the bible of lacrosse, and was a brilliant, eccentric man. He was quite my Mr. Shagam. All the teachers really inspired me and changed my life.

I was a scholar and an athlete. I also did art and music. I was in the Glee club, which was like our chamber. I loved it; I loved music. I did studio art too, but I needed much more practice than I ended up getting. But the music became really really important to me, and I love it to this day. I was also the captain of the wrestling team, which won the New England Championships.

I was also a senior prefect for the sophomore boys, which we know are a handful. I was a member of the Red Key society, which was an honor society that did diplomatic work on campus with visitors and guests. I was the circulation editor of the yearbook, which really means that I passed out the yearbooks… But my major contributions I think was my singing, being a prefect, and the fact that I was a three-sport varsity athlete.

 

High School Romance?

I had my first serious girlfriend when I was 17. She was an 18-year-old girl at the Panery School. I was over my head. She was beautiful! I met her at a dance and she paid a lot of attention to me. I invited her to our spring formal dance. But it was quite heartbreaking because, in short order, she was dumping me for a senior… So I had my heart broken, but it was good for me.

 

What were your dreams for your future when you were 17?

One of my dreams was to have a ranch in Wyoming, which I do now. But it did occur to me that the lives my teachers were leading were really beautiful lives. They were dedicating their lives to help young men (now young women too, but back then young men). They were renaissance people, meaning that they had wide interests in sports and art and music and politics. It was the first time I really encountered the renaissance concept that it is okay for a human being to actively engage in multiple facets of life, as supposed to just doing one thing. That’s why I enjoy teaching here at Thacher, as I get to do all kinds of different things that all have great purpose and meaning for me.

 

What was the greatest thing about your high school experience?

Making such good friends, lifelong friends that still communicate, lifelong friendships with my teachers. I also had deep respect for my headmaster, who actually inspires me to this day. Captaining the wrestling team and winning a championship was also really cool.

 

Is there one academic subject that you liked the most?

I loved Advance Biology and all my English classes. I was an advent reader and couldn’t get enough reading. I loved Sound of the Fury by William Faulkner, The Great Gatsby and Hemingway… We read a lot of dead, white males back then. But my favorite reading for just pure fun was Charles Dickens.

I loved history too. But I really needed a better background for the mathematics. I was always a little behind the 8 ball with the math throughout my entire career, because I went to public schools before high school and they were horrible.

 

Advice to current students?

Look at high school and life as a great adventure. Take advantage of the opportunities and invest yourself in working your hardest and being curious. The grades will take care of themselves in a beautiful way once you learn that you intrinsically want to learn something as supposed to trying to get a grade. Once you want to learn and explore, it totally shifts your relationship with academics. This is what real scholarship is. Colleges are looking for real scholars; they are not looking for kids that are just trying to get a good grade on the AP. Grades are ultimately meaningless unless there is a real internal drive and curiosity beneath them.

Be less judgemental. Be less judgemental of your peers, your teachers, the school, the world. If you spend all of your time being critical of others, you will only be critical of yourself and be unhappy. Be fair to others and yourself.

 

Anything else to add?

The greatest thing my parents ever gave me was allowing me to go to boarding school. It changed my life. I didn’t enjoy a day of school before prep school. It was just fantastic.