Joshua Bennett '06 Kicks Off Character, Ethics, Leadership Speaker Series

Rye Country Day School kicked off its inaugural event for the Character, Leadership, and Ethics Speaker Series by inviting Dr. Joshua Bennett ‘06 to address students in all three divisions. Dr. Bennett recited several of his poems from his debut poetry collection, The Sobbing School, which was published earlier this fall. He then answered questions about his writing process, his time as a student at RCDS, the values that he seeks to demonstrate in his life, and his goals and hopes for the future. His message to students emphasized the importance of love - love for one another, and love for what you do.

Dr. Bennett holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. In 2010, he delivered the Commencement Address at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with the distinctions of Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He is currently a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. Dr. Bennett previously returned to RCDS in 2013 to deliver the keynote speech at graduation.

Winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series, Dr. Bennett has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Cave Canem, the Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust, and the Ford Foundation. He has recited his original work at venues such as the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama's Evening of Poetry and Music at The White House.

Mr. Heintz introduced Dr. Bennett at the Upper School assembly. Following are his remarks:

Good morning. Welcome to our first Character, Leadership, & Ethics Assembly

I want to start by reading from one of my advisees’ lists of goals for his sophomore year:

  1. To get straight A’s

  2. To do well on March Exams

  3. To not fail a test

And his advisor’s goal for him: “Don’t forget your locker combination.”

I can tell you--without revealing too much--that this former advisee did not achieve all of his goals that year.

Sound familiar? At least parts of it? Sounds like a Rye Country Day student worrying about Rye Country Day problems. That list was created by none other than today’s guest speaker: Dr. Joshua Bennett

Dr. Bennett had many of the same anxieties at RCDS that many of you sitting in the audience currently have. He wanted to do well; he wanted to impress his peers; he wanted to be a good son and brother. As his advisor, I recall many conversations with Josh—as I knew him then—about his challenges as a student here at RCDS and how he felt that he was likely to find limited success in his future. I, in my not-so-kind way, would laugh at Josh. See, I had no doubt about Josh’s becoming a successful man well beyond RCDS, because he had drive and he was curious about so much. He never stopped questioning the world around him and his role in it. To me, he was a thoughtful, articulate young man who bettered himself by trying to read one book per week of his own choosing—yes—he did not expect to get academic credit for that reading. Josh’s approach to learning here at RCDS didn’t always translate into his being a top-notch RCDS student.

Although I expected Josh would succeed on his terms at some point, what I couldn’t have known and did not predict was just how quickly Josh would achieve success by rising through the ranks of poetry and education to become the Dr. Joshua Bennett, a Penn graduate with a masters degree in Theatre and Performance Studies and a PhD from Princeton who has recited his poetry at the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama's Evening of Poetry and Music at The White House.

Although Dr. Bennett is a success by any definition, what I find most impressive is how he achieved it: by cultivating his curiosity, pursuing his passions, and acknowledging his own shortcomings and failures--all attributes that had their roots right here at Rye Country Day School.

Please join me in welcoming my friend and distinguished RCDS alumnus: Dr. Joshua Bennett.