Message from the Future:
Incoming Director of Schools Dr. Jeff Suzik
The first time I visited Cranbrook—as a Director of Schools candidate—was in late December and smack-dab in the middle of the current global health crisis. I’m sure you can picture it: the very nadir of winter darkness with the campus understandably deserted, being then just a few days into the holiday recess. While I had the pleasure of interacting with many different folks face-to-face over the course of my visit, all of us were masked and meticulously socially distanced, appropriately so for life during a pandemic. The trip proved wonderfully engaging in so, so many ways (and how could it not, this being Cranbrook?!?); but as you can imagine, the current climate and context made it more than a tad unusual!
When I returned for a follow-up, now as Director of Schools-elect, nearly three months later, face masks were still ubiquitous and six feet of spacing was still very much in order; but the days had grown longer, the temperature warmer, and—best of all—human activity of all sorts had returned to campus. Nothing, it seems, can keep a great institution and its people down, not even a pesky and persistent coronavirus. Cranbrook, I found on visit #2, is exactly this sort of place.
Monday morning began with a stop at the Girls’ Middle School, where I was greeted straightaway with bright smiles and warm wishes. Within minutes of my arrival, GMS Head Stacy Rivard handed me an impressively ginormous party hat and a blinking, light-up St. Patrick’s Day necklace. “Today we are celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the opening of our new building!” she announced, with great enthusiasm. “So suit up and join us outside for health checks. This is how we roll.” At that moment, festive party attire donned and digital thermometer in hand, I knew I was “home.”
I had this feeling over and over again as the days of my visit flew by. Visiting the Boys’ Middle School and seeing Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Jim Miller-Melberg’s concrete porpoise sculpture was another special moment for me. You see, my current school has not one but three of Miller-Melberg’s iconic mid-century playground sculptures, including a giant turtle that has delighted generations of students and their parents, a silent but cheerful sentinel guarding the front doors. Learning that the artist who designed this truly beloved piece of art in my current school community was a product of my new one has been beyond meaningful to me.
Another highlight occurred when I was invited into Vlasic Early Childhood Center Director Karen Watson’s office for a get-to-know-you-better chat. Karen presented me with an archival copy of an admissions booklet for Brookside School from the 1930s, and we quickly found ourselves pouring over the pages of this delightful piece together, marveling at the deeply innovative and truly child-centric learning environments that were created by pathbreaking institutions like Brookside nearly 100 years ago now. Geeky historian of kids and schools that I am, all I could think was “wow, I wonder what other treasures await in the archives of the Center for Collections & Research?!?”
Perhaps one of the most meaningful moments of my multi-day stay was having the opportunity to have lunch with middle and upper school Cranbrook-Kingswood students who I had met virtually during my candidacy. To a person, they were articulate, well-spoken, enthusiastic, kind and perceptive—just as I had remembered them to be when we connected on Zoom in December. They asked great questions, gave equally great responses to mine and seemed as eager to get to know me as I am to get to know them.
On my last night on campus, as I was departing a boys’ varsity basketball game with President-elect Aimeclaire Roche and her husband, Nathan, one of these amazing Upper Schoolers—a boy named Sam—greeted me warmly and asked how my visit had been. We had an animated conversation all the way back to the parking lot where we parted ways. It was proof positive that I was where I was meant to be. I had clearly made a new friend—or, perhaps many new friends, in fact—and that felt really, really good. And, even more so, it felt right. I am so honored and thrilled to have been given this opportunity to join the Cranbrook community, and I very much look forward to being back “for good” this July!