McCallie is an All-Boys Private Boarding School and Day School, a Christian-based College Prep School. 
McCallie seeks out and accepts boys from all ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds and places a high value on a diverse student body.

Head of School Blog

Lee Burns '87

This is the text from a video message from Head of School Lee Burns '87 to alumni to update them on the work of the school's "Moving Forward Together as Brothers" Initiative.

 

Greetings to McCallie alumni from the Ridge. 

There are many things I admire and love about McCallie, and chief among them would be the brotherhood that boys enjoy during their years here and even carry with them throughout their lives. As alumni, we are brothers. We are family. We are McCallie. 

Yet brothers and families, and McCallie, face challenging times — moments that test our bonds and brotherhood, that cause us, rightly so, to reflect upon our mission and values and how we can best express them, how we can get even better and give every boy our very best so he can be his very best. 

One of the things I have realized is that, despite the strength of McCallie and the powerful and palpable brotherhood here, some of our students, past and present, haven’t experienced the fullness—and thus the best—of McCallie. 

We are a school anchored today, and throughout our history, by our Christian foundation and principles which find expression in our motto — man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever — and our ideals of honor, truth and duty. We recognize that every boy is a child created by God in His image, with inherent dignity and worth. We therefore seek to love every boy, to treat each one with dignity and respect and equality. 

We can and have, though, fallen short sometimes in living out and up to our ideals, regardless of our good intentions and many strengths. 

Last month, Board Chairman Jim Ruffin emailed you about our work on diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to race and sexual identity. You may have read my emails about aspects of this over the summer or read about this on our website. These are important but complicated and even polarizing topics in our country today. 

I want to take several moments to update you on McCallie’s approach to this work. 

First, we are clear on who McCallie is  — what our mission and values are — and discussions and decisions are and will be firmly rooted in them. Our work flows from our core. We need not, and would not, reinvent McCallie. We can more fully and consistently express who we are. And we are a Christian boys’ boarding and day school that is lovingly concerned with the character formation of every boy entrusted to us, respecting his own identity and beliefs and where he is on his own journey. We are also a school concerned not only for our students’ preparation for college and work, but also for their chief end as well. We believe each boy is made in God’s image and has a calling that will shape him throughout his entire life. That means we must treat him with dignity and love, speak into his life in ways that build him up, and watch in wonder to see who he will become and what he will do.

Some of our current and former students, especially those of color and those who are gay, have not experienced the fullness of the McCallie community. Sometimes, they have experienced pain and shame, been hurt and inclined to hide. It deeply grieves me, not just as Head of School but as a man and person of faith, to read and hear the powerful stories and experiences of McCallie students who felt less than, unloved or unworthy, unseen or unsupported. And while we cannot undo or right past wrongs and hurts, we can learn and do better and assure our students of color, our gay students, our students no matter what their ethnicity or religion or culture or country of origin or socio-economic or any background or identity, that we see you, we value you, we love you. We are all equally and fully a part of the McCallie family. 

Among you our 16,000 alumni, you certainly hold a multitude of beliefs, ideas and worldviews, and you surely hold them in good conscience on a number of topics, including on ones of diversity and inclusion. 

I hope and think that, despite the range of beliefs represented by you, our alumni, we would all agree that every boy at McCallie has inherent, God-given worth and should be seen, valued and heard and be treated with love, respect, dignity and equality. Every McCallie boy, every human being, deserves that. 

Our work on diversity and inclusion will reflect those principles, which are consistent with our Christian identity, and be guided by the question of what is best for the boys of McCallie. 

While many in our society see issues through a political lens or cultural framework and vigorously debate and advocate for certain social positions and causes, we are simply and solely an advocate for boys: for their best interest, for their wellness, for their holistic development, for their character formation, for their growth into men who will make a positive difference in the world. 

And while we are a Christian school with a Judeo-Christian heritage that welcomes boys of all backgrounds, we are not a school that takes positions on specific doctrinal matters that Christians and others can in good conscience disagree about. We are and will remain firmly rooted in our non-denominational Christian foundation, and we are and will remain firmly rooted in our commitment to loving well every boy. These are not in conflict but in complement to each other. 

Our work on diversity and inclusion will not only benefit our boys who might be marginalized, excluded or pained due to their background or identity, but it will benefit all of our students in preparing them to live and lead in a diverse world in which empathy, social-emotional intelligence and collaboration are vital skills...and in which we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and be merciful, compassionate and just. 

As a faculty and staff, we are in a posture of listening and learning. We are hearing from our students, alumni and parents…and what we hear is sometimes difficult, but we welcome it nonetheless. We welcome ideas and feedback from all our alumni. We are reading and discussing, and we are and will be evaluating and synthesizing ideas and resources from a variety of people and perspectives in light of our mission. We have task forces and committees to organize our efforts and an overarching initiative called “Moving Forward Together as Brothers.” We are leaning into this. We are moving at a pace that is slower than some would like, but in a way that is deliberate and thoughtful. This work, which is both of the head and heart, is too important to rush, despite the urgency. 

I do not know the specific outcomes of our ongoing work in this area, but I hope that by understanding the foundation and framework for it, you will have confidence in both the process and outcome. That process will include our Board of Trustees setting broad and strategic policies in their stewardship of our mission and enduring foundational values.

Our work in these areas has entered the public domain, not just because these are vital topics in our interconnected society, but because McCallie’s reach, reputation and impact are national, even international. From social media platforms to an upcoming newspaper article, people are watching, commenting and discussing. And we welcome that public examination. It makes us stronger, more accountable, and more consequential. 

Sadly, though, we live in times in which individuals and groups with opposing viewpoints and ideas are accustomed to attacking and vilifying each other, attempting to shame or cancel, rather than listening, learning, empathizing and looking for common ground. Though members of the McCallie community will of course hold different ideas, it is my hope and expectation that we can and will model for our students and society how to hold discourse with civility and respect, how to extend grace and compassion, and how to listen carefully and love well. 

As alumni, you and I are the products of McCallie teachers who loved us well. They met us where we were and walked alongside us as trusted guides and mentors during the challenging and confusing journey of adolescence. We each needed them. And we are better for them. 

And our faculty today is doing the same -- walking with our students, guiding them, mentoring them during a journey that may be even more challenging than ours was. But we need to make sure we do that well for every single boy, including and especially those who are gay or of color. For some of these students, we have, regrettably, fallen short of giving them the best of McCallie. 

As fellow alumni, I hope you will join me in supporting our work to give every boy the fullness and richness of the McCallie experience: one in which we express well the love, dignity and respect that he deserves as a child of God created in His image. And I pray that we, as a school community, as the McCallie family, would glorify God in modeling the love and teachings of Jesus Christ as we nurture and love every McCallie boy. 

Let us move forward together as brothers. McCallie brothers. 

On McCallie, and onward McCallie. 


 

Head of School Lee Burns '87

This morning, we gather for the opening of the McCallie School for the 116th time in our storied history of the slopes of Missionary Ridge, a sacred land of wars, struggles and dreams that have transformed a battlefield and family farm into a school that shapes boys into men.

That you are sitting here this morning -- as young men on  a hot August morning in 2020 -- as part of the great and unfolding story of McCallie is a remarkable moment for you. You’ve gathered here from 27 states and 12 countries around the world, from 31 elementary schools last year within the region, and yet that’s not the most significant aspect of your being here.

You’ve come here for many different reasons: to grow, to get better, to be your best selves...to understand what it means to be a man of honor, truth and duty. You’ve come to broaden and deepen your thinking, to open your minds and hearts, to develop lifelong friendships and experience a supportive brotherhood. You’ve come because you are courageous and in need of an adventure. You’ve come for the doors McCallie opens, for how it changes the trajectories of lives. You’ve come to be a part of something bigger than yourself. You’ve come because life is hard, and you need love, support and encouragement from trusting guides and mentors. You've come to play and enjoy these special years, to be known and loved. You’ve come to discover your identity or to discover God and what a life of glorifying and enjoying Him can mean.

Whatever your reason, you are here for a reason. And when we hand you your diplomas at your graduation, you may realize that your reason for having learned and laughed and played and prayed on this Ridge is different from the reason you believe it to be today. McCallie has a way of changing you, of broadening and deepening you. You’ll leave different, and better, than how you came, than how you sit here now.

You sit here this morning at a historic time in our country, and for this school. The year before us will surely be unlike any other in school history. Throughout the school’s history, we’ve faced serious challenges -- wars and depressions, financial peril and diseases, civil strife and social unrest. McCallie students and young alumni have battled in wars abroad and fought cancers within. They have encountered times of scarcity and scary seasons of uncertainty, each of which demanded selflessness, sacrifices and self-discipline.

Difficult and challenging times reveal one’s character. They reveal the character of an institution as well. They call on us to be our best selves and give us the opportunities for doing so. When we are faced with difficulties, it’s easy to whine and complain, to make excuses, to wait or walk away or wilt, to look for others to speak up or step up, to follow the crowd, to sink to the path of least resistance or the lowest common denominator.

But that’s not the McCallie way.

We are a school that looks at a challenge and says, “Bring it on.” We are gutty and gritty, innovators and idealists, big thinkers and brave doers, not afraid of 4th and long. We will roll up our sleeves, do the difficult, put in the work, make the sacrifices, and get it done.

The pandemic is one of the challenges we are facing this year. It’s a worthy adversary, one we must all take it seriously. We must all individually do our part to conquer it. The difficulty of this unique challenge is that it forces us to refrain from that which we would naturally do. We are a school of close relationships and brotherhood, and we are accustomed to showing that in close proximity to one another. We can’t do that. As boys and men, we are often messy. Hygiene isn’t necessarily our strong suit, but in these times it must be. We must be extraordinarily disciplined in our developing and following new habits of health, safety and hygiene. 

McCallie boys and young men have, throughout our history, including our modern history, achieved outstanding accomplishments. We’ve earned national recognition for outstanding academic, athletic and extracurricular feats. We have exceptional teachers and coaches and outstanding facilities. We are a school of scholars and champions, of excellence and high standards, and certainly a national leader among schools. 

Building on this foundation and national reputation and leadership, I’d like us to manifest our school character and history by demonstrating extreme discipline in following the protocols and practices that will keep us safe. I’d like us to be a national model and example of how 938 boys, and 200 plus adults, can learn and live together in safe and enjoyable ways during a global pandemic. I’d like to show the world that pre-teen and teenage boys can defy stereotypes and be hyper-hygenic and self-denying and self-sacrificial for the greater good of the community. I’d like us to show the world that if one lives wisely in these times, we don’t have to live fearfully. I’d like us to show that we can be as passionate and unified about whipping Covid-19 as we are about beating Baylor on this very football field. 

A key part of our plan entails wearing face coverings. Face coverings protect us and especially others around us. Wearing a mask or gaiter is not simply a practical step to limit the spread of your germs to others, but it’s an act that says, “I care about you. I care about other people. I care about my school. I care about my community.” Refusing to wear a face covering is not only short-sighted, it is selfish. Not wearing a face coverings sends the message that I am more important than you...I prioritize my own comfort over your health. As members of the McCallie community, we have duties, including to care about and protect others.

I don’t like wearing a mask. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hot. I can smell my own trapped breath in it, and that’s not pleasant. I wear a mask to serve my community, to put the health and safety of others before my own discomfort. I wear a mask, and I expect that each of you will as well, to protect the health of our community.

I don’t like them for another reason. They hide us. It’s tempting to give in to the need to be someone else different than who you really are. The masks we wear to prevent COVID-19 remind us that we can figuratively wear masks to hide our true selves, to hide our fears and failings behind a stoic face, to hide emptiness behind achievements, to sacrifice our passions for something more staid. In short, we can lose our authentic selves when we put on masks. We can become a shadow of who God designed us to be...and calls us to be.

McCallie gives you the powerful and profound opportunity to discover who you are, and who God is, and what is true about Him, you and the world. I hope you will pursue that truth.

Our masks can also disconnect us from one another. We don’t see each other as well. We see the superficial facades, we see the differences, and we feel freer to mock, to discriminate, to hate, to vilify. We fear. Our masks can keep us from seeing or sensing the soul, our beautiful common humanity as God’s children. 

One day, but not now, we will joyfully take off our face coverings and masks we wear for our physical safety, but before then, I hope we will take off these figurative masks behind which we can hide and isolate.

I want to mention another issue of community health that we must all take responsibility for this year. The events of recent months, most notably the terrible murder of George Floyd but certainly of others as well, have reminded us again as a country and as individuals that we fall short and fail to live up to our ideals. We must take stock of how we as a community are living up to our values and standards, honoring the dignity of each person in our community. The Bible calls us to treat everyone with love, dignity and respect, to promote and seek justice and mercy, to care for and promote the needs of the marginalized, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It teaches us that we are all children of a loving God, created with inherent worth and value. Texts that are sacred in other religions call for many of these same ideals. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution espouse inalienable rights and equality, among other things. The Civil Rights movement for decades has fought for applying these rights to all citizens, especially to Black Americans.

Work remains to be done, not just in our society, but in our hearts.

McCallie is a school of tight community and brotherhood, and yet we, too, have work to do. It is vital that every single member of our community, regardless of the color of his skin, his country of origin, his religion, his identity, attraction or orientation, his ethnic or cultural background, be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Sadly, there have been moments, oftentimes inadvertently, but sometimes intentionally, when words or actions have undermined that and even caused pain and shame and hiding for others. We must do better, and we must be more intentional, and we will. We will be talking and acting on that this year as we articulate and enact the high standards that are consistent with our mission and values. We will move forward together as brothers.

We will ask a lot of you this year. The standard for being a McCallie student is a high one. Besides the requirements for treating everyone with respect, kindness and equality, and for following all Covid-19 protocols, we expect you to work hard, to come to class prepared every day, to participate in class, to throw yourself fully into extracurricular activities. Take chances. Try something new or out of your comfort zone. Do a flip off the Tower in the lake. Be vulnerable and authentic. Be a mentor. Find a mentor. Don’t cut corners. Sprint through the finish line. We are a school of passion and spirit, of being fully committed, fully present. 

While the demands of McCallie are high, the award for being a McCalle student is a high one as well. McCallie men emerge with purpose and poise, confidence and character, a sense of who they are and who God calls them to be. They emerge as changed men. McCallie Men.

One day, I hope, you will look back and see what arose from the daunting challenges of 2020, from a Convocation on this field as the sun began its ascent over the Ridge.

May God bless you on your ascent up the Ridge.

Lee Burns '87

I delivered the following remarks at the delayed Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020. A video of these remarks is embedded below.


 

We now present you men with your diplomas. We do so with celebration yet sentiment, and smiles mixed with tears, and while we look back on your years and accomplishments, we know it is timely and right to let go and look forward.

Congratulations, men, not simply on your graduation from McCallie, but on closing one chapter in your lives and opening new ones.

I have heard it said -- and I believe it to be true -- that the days are long but the years are short, and as we send you men off into a new season and adventure in your lives, we do so with great affection and admiration. Thank you for your service and leadership, and for your resilience and positive attitude during the pandemic and transition to remote learning. Thank you for your character and accomplishments and championships. Thank you for your hard work and humor, for your spirit and songs, for your ideas and intellect, for your touchdowns and takedowns, for your poems and plays and prayers. You are a source of joy and pride for McCallie; you are a class that will always hold a special place in our hearts during one of the most challenging times in school history. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us,
"To everything, there is a season,
A time for every purpose under the sun."
We have times to laugh and dance, to weep and embrace, to heal and mend, to plant and build. Your senior spring was a season of chaos and distance, screens and sickness and political and social strife. 

The symbol of 2020 is a mask. The masks, of course, help protect you and especially others, but they also hide us...and hinder us. 

While I want you to wear a literal mask until the pandemic subsides, I don’t want you to wear a figurative mask when you leave McCallie. It’s tempting to give in to the need to be someone else different than who you really are. We can wear masks to hide our true selves, to hide our fears and failings behind a stoic face, to hide emptiness behind achievements, to sacrifice our passions for something more staid. In short, we can lose our authentic selves when we put on masks. We can become a shadow of who God designed us to be...and calls us to be. 

We don’t breathe well in masks. We don’t take in the beauty and majesty and passion of life. We instead suck in a lot of our own stinky recycled breath. That’s what we get when we try to sustain ourselves with ourselves, when you fixate yourself on yourself. 

Our masks can also disconnect us from one another. We don’t see each other as well. We see the superficial facades, we see the differences, and we feel freer to mock, to discriminate, to hate, to vilify. We fear. Our masks can keep us from seeing or sensing the soul, our beautiful common humanity as God’s children. 

And, of course, our masks annoy and agitate us. They exhaust us. And when we are irritated and focused on the petty things that bother us, we lose sight of the big picture—of glorifying and enjoying God, of loving each other, of seeking justice and mercy, of pursuing and promoting noble causes.

You and I weren’t designed to wear masks. We aren’t supposed to hide and pretend, to disconnect and isolate, to simply see the small. Perhaps the mask you wear today will be a reminder not to wear them later. 

But more important than the masks we gave you today are the diplomas we now present to you. 

The diplomas we hand you represent that you have met the high and challenging standards to which we held you. They represent thousands of moments and memories, of long days and duck days, of tests of subjects and character, of games and grades, of big and small choices and decisions you’ve made. They represent the relationships and brotherhood you’ve found and forged here, of the faculty who have poured their lives into you.

But rather than simply representing special and even transformative moments and diverse and even remarkable achievements, they represent values and duties...a challenge and call to lead uncommon lives...lives of honor, truth and duty.

Honor these diplomas by being men of honor: men who do the right thing even when it’s not easy or popular; men who are both courageous and compassionate, whose convictions and commitments flow from character and care; men who do what they say; men who stand up, who speak up, and who act, and whose actions match their principles.

Seek the truth. It may be obscured or hidden or disguised; it may be difficult to find, even deliberately so. Its pursuit may be contentious; its meaning may be debatable; its applications may be uncomfortable. But pursue it nonetheless. Think critically about what is factual, what is morally absolute, what is at the foundation and essence of this world and of our beings. Strive for that truth -- truth both with a lower case t and an upper case t -- and let that journey toward truth shape and guide you. We need truth-seekers and truth-speakers. Honor the truth.

Your diplomas should also remind you that you have duties to others: to a God who created you and calls you to love and serve and enjoy Him and others. A life centered on serving God and others is a deeply fulfilling one.

As the Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:7, seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Be agents of unity, justice and reconciliation. Don’t simply and selfishly take your extraordinary education as an entitlement, as an excuse and opportunity to simply claim for yourself all that you can. Share your gifts, talents and resources. Look outward and upward rather than inward. Invest in others. Wash the dirty feet of the disenfranchised. Give your life away.

Use your privileges on purpose for other people.

Your diplomas should remind you of the importance of your character, and especially of the ideals of honor, truth and duty. In college and in your professions, you will face many temptations and opportunities to cheat and cut corners. Lean upon the bedrock values you learned here.

Be different than the college culture and the people around you. I hope that attending McCallie has impressed upon you the value of being uncommon.

Your diplomas should remind you to be outward facing and forward-leaning and that you have the character and resilience to be adventuresome.

So study abroad if possible. We live in a diverse global community. Explore and embrace it, and protect our planet. Take classes that you find interesting and are out of your comfort zone.

Befriend people from all backgrounds and identities, from different cultures and faith traditions, people whose orientations and worldviews may be different from your own. Listen carefully to them. Learn from them. When you disagree with them, do so agreeably. Treat everyone with dignity and kindness, the way Jesus did.

And while your diplomas should remind you to be outward-facing, they should also remind you to be introspective as well. Contemplate spiritual matters, the profound questions of who you are and what your purpose is.

Order your life intentionally, starting with the most important things. The order in which we do things matters. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

I encourage you to prioritize your inner life, to develop your spiritual life as intentionally as your academic or professional one, to spend regular time with God in prayer and reflection. Chart a life of significance, not simply of worldly success.

Do something that gives you a sense of meaning and fulfillment, that seems purposeful. Serve and mentor others. Devote regular time to community service. Start a non-profit organization. Advocate for causes. Consider unconventional jobs in unusual places. Throughout the Bible, we read of God taking a man from one place and asking him to do something radical and unexpected in some other place.

I look forward to learning about the remarkable things that you do with your lives. More importantly, I look forward to the outstanding men that you will become.

These diplomas are a challenge -- a charge -- to become uncommon men doing extraordinary things that make a positive difference in our world. It is now my great honor and privilege to give them to you on behalf of an appreciative and admiring faculty.

 

Lee Burns '87

Hello. At McCallie, as with all schools and organizations, we’re still practicing social distancing and I suspect we’ll continue to do so for quite some time. That makes it impossible for me to meet with alumni and friends in person and spend some time with you. So, instead, I thought I’d spend a few minutes with you today through this video reflecting on the school year that just ended – the 115th in McCallie’s storied history. One of the most challenging . . . And quite frankly, one of the best in my opinion. 

First, I want to thank you. To all the alumni, all the friends, parents and grandparents, the faculty and staff, and, yes, especially to the students, I thank you for all that you have done and all you continue to do to make McCallie such a special community. 

There is nothing like a pandemic to make one reflective -- and nothing like the closure of a school’s campus to make a head of school perhaps overly reflective. In addition, the tragic events in the nation surrounding the death of George Floyd has forced us to reflect on a lot of social and racial questions. But it is in being reflective that we can see the larger picture, and by seeing that larger picture we can more clearly and confidently set the course for the future. 

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to say, as I just did, that this was one of the best years in McCallie’s history. Many would argue that it was one of the worst, with the pandemic, the closing of campus, the necessary elimination of spring sports, spring traditions – as well as the national economic downturn and the stirring of our national consciousness over the questions of racial equality and social justice. All of these created a year in which there wasn’t too much to celebrate. But it was under the burden of these great challenges that the best of McCallie was demonstrated. Our faculty, parents, alumni, and especially our students rose to the occasion. They turned adverse, perhaps even unfair, circumstances into learning and growing -- and healing -- opportunities. That’s what I mean by saying it was one of the best years for McCallie.

As part of this process of reflecting on the past school year, I’ve been thinking about the words we at McCallie have been using to describe the past few months. Over those months, I’ve Zoomed with students and teachers, participated in virtual Chapels and assemblies, and been in meetings with faculty, staff, the board of trustees, and countless other sessions. And I’ve listened for the words that keep coming to the surface, that keep recurring. 

The first word that pops to my mind is a word that many of us were taught by our college professors -- at least our liberal arts professors -- never to use: unprecedented. In fact, I understand the New York Times’ stylebook says that word should be used sparingly, if at all. 

Well, I’m not afraid to use it. This year has been an unprecedented one. Over the course of McCallie’s history, we’ve had a lot of challenges: I have heard and read about how school administrators, including my grandfather, wrestled with how to keep McCallie open and operating during the Great Depression, world wars and previous epidemics. But through all of those events, the school, the campus, stayed open. 

That wasn’t the case this year. We had to close our campus. We had to transition – and transition quickly – to online classes, as well as online chapel services, advisor groups, counseling sessions, dorm meetings. It was unprecedented. 

And it was challenging. That’s another word I kept hearing. Followed by the word resilient. With every challenge, we met it and kept moving forward. This occurred well before the pandemic. For example, our football team last fall battled through a long season with a brutal schedule in an extremely competitive league. But they were up to the challenge. They were resilient. And in the end, they claimed the state championship. The same is true for our swimming and diving team and our cross country team. Our squash team placed third nationally in their division, and our soccer team was ranked second in the country as their season was beginning. In fact, all our athletic and academic teams demonstrated that resilience that has defined this year. 

Our students staged outstanding performances this year, from Candlelight and Romeo and Juliet to their one act plays and McCallie-GPS got talent. I marveled at their poise, presence and talents as they delight us with their singing, acting, and playing. 

And I marveled at their passion for community service, for their clubs, for the ways they love and support one another...and their school. I marveled at their work ethic and high standards and energy, and how they balance their many activities while still laughing and playing and enjoying their preteen and teenage years. 

And when it came time for us to transition to online classes, we were resilient. It took only three days to make the transition. Our faculty had been trained and prepared, and students were comfortable with our curriculum and pedagogy, and have such close and trusting relationships with their teachers, that they could quickly adjust to the changes. I don’t think I’m tooting our horn too much when I boast that our transition to online classrooms was much smoother and successful than most of our peer schools. It wasn’t perfect, and we’re addressing some shortfalls in the event we have to return to online classes, but it was in many, many ways successful. 

So that’s another word that describes this year: successful.  

We started the year off with a strong enrollment, including the largest boarding enrollment in school history as we progressed toward our goal of 300 boarding students. A new addition and renovation to Hutchison dorm greeted the boys at the start of the school year, along with a beautiful greenway space, the Keith family greenway, for outdoor fellowship. Construction began on a fabulous rowing center that we will share with GPS on their campus on the banks of the Tennessee River. It is on track to be completed this summer and will enable us to build on the great rowing tradition at McCallie. We ended the school year with successfully fulfilling online all the requirements of our demanding (that’s another word) academic curriculum, despite having to transition to remote classes. Between those successes were a lot more. I’ve already mentioned our athletic successes. Let me touch on just a few others: 

We had 18 seniors recognized by the National Merit Scholarship program as either semifinalists or commended scholars, the most of any school, public or private, in our area; 

We received national media attention when Newsweek magazine and STEM.org recognized McCallie as the 68th overall best STEM programs out of 5,000 top public, charter and private schools in the nation. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. That made us the top ranked school in Tennessee, the 21st best among private schools, and 6th best among boarding schools. Elite New England schools were looking up to us. 

What is it that makes us one of the premier STEM schools in America? Walker Hall, our relatively new, world-class science and engineering building, contains an innovation lab, engineering lab, and cell culture lab. Coding, programming, robotics and virtual reality are integral parts of our curriculum. Students are engaged in college level independent research projects and have earned national and international recognition in competitions. Our AP results are outstanding.

We offer four years, six classes, of math beyond calculus BC. Our center for animation, video and entertainment offers students a technologically rich environment for video and digital design and production. 

Among the countless successes of the year, one significant item to discuss is the college selection list of our graduating class. You will be hearing more about this in some upcoming correspondence, with much more analysis and insight, but I want to share a couple of high points with you, because I think it demonstrates the level of excellence this class has achieved. 

This year, 87 percent of our seniors were offered merit, athletic, talent, or lottery scholarships. And our acceptance rate to the most selective schools in the nation was 25 percent, compared to a national average of 9 percent. Similarly, our 20 percent acceptance rate to Ivy League schools was much greater than the 6 percent national average. And we stood at 50 percent in acceptances to the most selective liberal arts colleges, compared to a national average of 18 percent. On top of all of that, we have five – yes, five – students who will be attending Yale -- and all of our seniors found the right fit -- the right college or university for them.

I would proudly put the education and experience a boy at McCallie receives up against what he would get at any school in America, including what are considered the elite schools in New England. Increasingly, we see ourselves competing with and overlapping with these schools for talented boys from around the country and world. 

Yet we remain distinct from these and other schools, as our mission and values are still firmly rooted in our Christian principles and Judeo-Christian tradition and the ideals of honor, truth and duty and our commitment to single sex education in producing men of character and service who will make a positive difference in the world. 

I might add here that while we’re reflecting on the past school year and the young men who graduate from here, it isn’t really over. We’ve delayed graduation, which won’t be held until late July at which time the seniors will come back to campus for several days of fun and celebration -- including a final duck day -- prior to graduation services. 

We’ll be sharing more details about graduation and the college choices of our seniors in upcoming correspondence with you, but I can’t describe how impressed I am with these extraordinary seniors. 

Just as our graduation was being delayed, just as all the students were finishing their online courses, our nation was shaken by the horrific murder of George Floyd. I hope you have had a chance to read the statement I sent out shortly after the killing of Mr. Floyd. In it, I talk about the commitment McCallie is making to address the causes and expression of racism in our community and our nation. We see our role in this as leaders, leading our community in the ways social justice and equality are taught and practiced. And we will produce leaders who will carry this message into the next generation.

I’ve been especially impressed at how many students have reached out to me and to other administrators and faculty during these last few weeks of troubling and tragic national news. They want their school to confront uncomfortable truths and to act. And we will. Again, I can’t emphasize how extraordinary these students – of all races and beliefs – are.

And that’s the next word that I heard time and time again this year: extraordinary. I know I use that word a lot, but in this case, it is fitting. 

I think that I realized how extraordinary these young men – seniors and underclassmen alike – were when we assembled them on the last day that we held on-campus classes. They were uncertain, nervous, just like we all were, about what the future would hold, what the pandemic and the move to online classes would mean. But throughout that entire assembly, there was such a strong feeling of pride, of unity, of resilience that, as I said in an earlier correspondence to you, made my heart soar. They loudly issued a statement that a pandemic can’t destroy the sense of community and brotherhood of McCallie, and throughout the online classes of the past two months, they were proven right. Led by the seniors, who had lost so many spring on-campus traditions, the whole student body refused to surrender community and brotherhood to the pandemic. 

Throughout this academic year, we’ve recorded some videos and shared them with students, parents and alumni. They helped keep us focused, mindful, and thankful . . . Even in times when we were separated. I’d like to recommend four of them to you . . . And you can find links to them at the end of this message. They are all short.

One is a video of four students, boarders and day students, who talk and explain how they are adjusting to online classes.

Another is a talk of encouragement and inspiration by Brown Hayes, president of Keo-Kio and recipient of the Walker Casey Award.

And just recently faculty and administrators took their cell phone cameras along when they paid surprise visits to the homes of many boarding students -- just to say thanks and let them know we were missing them on campus.

And finally, to pull the heartstrings even more, we had some of the teachers and administrators over the last decade or so, as well as current faculty and staff, sing the alma mater. I hope you will take some time and watch those videos. 

I want to give you another example of that community, that brotherhood – this one from halfway around the world. 

When we closed campus, there were some students, mostly international students, mostly Chinese, who were unable to find flights home and so they remained on campus. Other schools throughout the United States told those students they had to leave campus. At McCallie, we did just the opposite. We told them they could stay. We planned activities for them, kept the dining hall operating, and day students and their families reached out in friendship. 

Then we started receiving boxes of face masks. This was at the time when face masks were in short supply in Chattanooga. Parents of these Chinese students organized an effort to secure face masks in China and shipped them directly to McCallie. Thousands of them. We gave them to our faculty and staff, and then we distributed them to area hospitals, and finally to business and neighbors in our community. 

The shipments from our Chinese parents came with a logo, in both English and Mandarin, that said, “be brother. Be together. We are family.” 

I think this speaks volumes about how McCallie’s community – the brotherhood of McCallie – has extended around the world. 

So those are the words for the 2019-20 school year – not my words, but the words that I kept hearing throughout the year, from students, faculty, administrators, alumni, parents: unprecedented, challenging, resilient, successful, extraordinary, community, brotherhood. And, of course, honor, truth, duty. 

Though it has been a challenging year and with so many of you facing economic and other uncertainties, our Honor Fund has nonetheless grown, a tribute to the generosity and love that alumni, parents, grandparents and friends have for McCallie. Thank you to the thousands of you who support McCallie financially. And when we asked alumni to pitch in and donate to a special fund that we call the Big Blue Hearts Tuition Support Initiative to provide financial support to families hit by the economic downturn as a result of the pandemic, you responded tremendously. We raised a substantial amount for that fund. Your support is impactful and inspiring. 

As we reflect on this past year, I want to offer a big thank you and congratulations to three valuable members of the McCallie community who are retiring. 

Bob Bires has worn many hats, and all of them well, over his 35-year career. He is one of the top English teachers, not just at McCallie, but in the nation, has served as chair of the English department, and most recently has served for several years as Dean of Student Life and Enrichment. 

Penny Grant has helped lead the Advancement team to great successes and recognition. She joined us in 1987 as an assistant annual fund director, rose to direct the annual fund, and then a director of development, concentrating on stewardship and operations. Penny has quietly worked tirelessly for McCallie and leaves a wonderfully positive mark on the advancement office. 

Finally, one cannot look back on the past year without thinking of Bill Cherry who we lost in February. Bill was a living legend on campus, having served us for 50 years and was still at his duties the night before he died. He was a great teacher, a great athletic director, but most importantly, a great McCallie man. We miss him and we consider ourselves fortunate to have known him and served with him. 

As the year wrapped up, we invited our day students to return to campus to drive through it as teachers, coaches and advisors greeted them and cheered them on. That same day, others of us drove to cities all over the south to surprise many of our boarding students with visits to their homes -- one of the videos I mentioned earlier that I hope you will watch. I saw, and heard reports from boys, teachers and parents, of both smiles and tears as we reconnected. Teenage boys shedding tears with teachers about school? That’s uncommon. But that’s McCallie, and we are uncommon. We are McCallie. 

 

 

Lee Burns '87

Greetings from the Ridge!

As we turn the page from 2019 to 2020, I’ve taken some time to look back at the past year and reflect on the accomplishments that McCallie has achieved. And by McCallie, I mean you: parents, students, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends who form the wonderful community that we call McCallie.

This past year has been an extraordinarily ordinary year – or perhaps, more correctly, an ordinarily extraordinary year. What I mean by that is that no matter how you measure things, this past year was an extraordinary one for McCallie. And that means that it was ordinary, because it seems that every year over the many years of McCallie’s existence has been a year of extraordinary accomplishments, of reaching higher goals, and of earning greater recognition as a top national school.

John (Bud or Yo) Strang, who graced McCallie for many, many years as a Bible teacher and coach, would say to every entering class of middle schoolers: “You boys just get better and better every year.” That’s what I mean. McCallie has been the best for many years, but somehow, it just gets better and better every year. 

Let me share with you some of the accomplishments that I’ve had the honor to observe during 2019:

  • Newsweek Magazine and STEM.com recognized McCallie as the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program in Tennessee, the 6th best among boarding schools in the nation, the 21st among national independent schools, and the 68th overall among more than 5,000 STEM programs.
  • We had 18 students recognized as National Merit Semifinalists or Commended Scholars, and more than 100 Advanced Placement Scholars.
  • Our student-athletes won six (yes, SIX) state championships: Cross Country, Football, Soccer, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, and Crew.  
  • Our science students participated in college-level research programs, with some of them, in recent years, having competed on the regional, national and international stages. For example, Keith Kim and Eric Suh won the Sweepstakes Grand Prize at the Regional Science Fair for their research project titled, “Excess Carbon Dioxide Compromises Shell Integrity, Reproduction, and Behavior in the Freshwater Gastropod Melanoides Tuberculata.”
  • We had the highest boarding enrollment in the school’s history and finished an addition to and renovation of Hutcheson (South and North) Dormitories. This brings the capacity for our growing boarding program to 300. Our reach and reputation continues to expand, as our students join us this school year from a record 23 states and 17 countries.   
  • We added new courses to our curriculum: Graphic Design, AP Computer Science Principles, Introduction to Philosophy, and The Art of Poetry.
  • We expanded our Tornado Term with more internships for seniors, quadrupled the number of students in robotics, and added Model United Nations in the Middle School.  
  • Squash became our 15th varsity sport, and the squash team won victories in their first competitions in Virginia against schools from Virginia and Pennsylvania. 
  • We broke ground on a new $5 million rowing center that we will share with our sister school, GPS.
  • We graduated 176 students who matriculated at 96 different colleges in 31 states. They earned acceptances at rates significantly above the national averages for all categories of colleges, including the most selective ones. Most of the class earned merit, athletic, talent, or state lottery scholarships.
  • Our Christmas Candlelight performance celebrated its 35th year with another beautiful production, and elsewhere on campus, drama productions, musicals, and recitals recorded high numbers of performers and viewers. 
  • Students participated in close to two dozen community outreach activities, and worked with organizations such as the Humane Society, the Ronald McDonald House, the American Red Cross, and many others.
  • We continued our focus on student wellness, as we developed initiatives, curriculum and approaches to promote balance and integration as we help boys learn healthy skills and approaches for their overall social, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. 
  • Middle Schooler Connor Parks ’23 won the Tennessee State Spelling Bee and represented McCallie and the State at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • We launched a podcast series that already has received widespread acclaim. Through December, we had 19 podcasts posted. You can listen to them here.
  • Our videos, which we produce in-house in our CAVE (Center for Animation, Video and Entertainment) and which frequently garner admiration from around the country, reached almost 1.3 million views on YouTube.
  • We hosted more than 2,000 summer campers and continued to expand summer offerings with camps on filmmaking, science and robotics, and rowing, in addition to our long-standing camps. And Sports Camp, our signature boarding summer camp, celebrated its 40th anniversary.  
  • We erected fencing along the length of the campus bordering Dodds Avenue and began landscaping projects that reflect the beauty of the rest of the campus.
  • In recent weeks, our Advancement Staff traveled to 61 different cities in 18 states and 3 foreign countries to meet with alumni, parents, grandparents, and friends and share the McCallie excitement with them.
  • This fall, we had a record number of parents participate in our Honor Fund drive, as well as a record number of faculty members, a reflection of how much both groups value their school. Gifts to the Honor Fund support our boys and teachers and enable us to offer the breadth and depth of programs we do. 
  • The SLAM (Stories, Lessons, Adventures, and Mistakes) program, in which alumni returned to campus to talk to juniors about their careers, was a huge success, so much of one that we have another event scheduled for 2020.

These and other 2019 accomplishments were achieved in the context of our timeless and enduring values — Honor, Truth and Duty, and man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever — and in a community, a family, of brotherhood and close relationships. 

This is a fairly long list, but it only begins to touch on the many wonderful things that McCallie – Your McCallie – accomplished over the past year. 

As impressive as this list is, probably the most important accomplishment I experienced for McCallie this past year was an observation by a friend who over his career has visited many of the great boys’ schools in the nation and abroad. He told me that he had never been to a campus where virtually all of the boys were all talking excitedly with each other, were all wide-eyed about learning and exploring and growing.

As Bud Strang would say, “You boys just get better and better every year.”

And it is because of you:

  • The parents who have honored us so much by entrusting your sons’ educations to us;
  • The students who daily express that intellectual curiosity that defines a McCallie Man;
  • The alumni, parents, grandparents, and friends who have supported us through volunteering your time and gifts;
  • The faculty, coaches, and staff who see their honored profession not as a job, but as a calling. 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I thank you all and wish you a wonderful 2020.

Lee Burns

 

On Wednesday, December 11 during Upper School Chapel, Headmaster Lee Burns '87 shared his reflections on what the Christmas season means.

Just before the Thanksgiving break, I was fortunate to spend about 10 days visiting South Korea and China to see many of our McCallie parents and some of our alumni living in that fascinating, dynamic and extraordinary part of the world. For those of you from there, I am grateful for the hospitality of your parents and their sacrifice in sending you halfway around the world to join us at McCallie. I am grateful for the courage of all of our international students for journeying so far and sharing your countries and cultures and stories and talents with our school.  I am thankful for the diversity of McCallie—including of people and place and background. 

I am also grateful for the many of you who participated in Candlelight this past weekend. Your music was beautiful, and it helped me to begin to prepare my heart and mind for the holiday season. December is a holy time for Jews and Christians, and if you are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, I hope it is a special time for you and your family.

Over the years, as a boy, teenager, young adult and now middle-aged adult, I’ve approached and experienced Christmas in a variety of ways. As a boy, I recall the longing for certain presents. What would Santa bring? What would my parents give me? I remember the delight of a Christmas morning with a pinball machine, another year with a used space invaders video machine. I remember the shock of getting a $100 bill from a great aunt I rarely saw. But I also recall Christmas mornings that left me flat and disappointed: sweaters and coats didn’t excite me, a pair of dress socks each year from a great uncle; an Odyssey video gaming system when all my friends got an Atari; a sense that some of my brothers or sisters got more than I did; being forced to eat a green bean casserole prepared by an aunt.

Some of my childhood Christmas memories are of trips: a family ski trip to Breckenridge; a trip with my parents to the Sugar Bowl to see the Vols play; a trip with friends to play a tennis tournament in New Orleans.

I recall some Christmas traditions as a boy and teenager: Christmas Eve dinner as a family, all of us going to the midnight Christmas Eve service, with some of us wearing pajamas as little children. I recall my parents making all seven of us children sit on the stairs for a picture on Christmas morning before we raced down to see what Santa and my parents had brought us. I remember that we drank orange juice out of Santa cups on Christmas morning and that my mom cooked a terrific coffee cake.

Earlier this week, as our Christmas tree and wreaths and bows on the windows were put up, I recalled many childhood memories of Christmas, including developing a list of what I wanted and wondering what I might get. 

I was recently asked what I wanted for Christmas. For many years of my life, it was easy to come up with things. The challenge was narrowing it down or prioritizing it. “I don’t know what I want” was the first response to the question. I’ve thought about it some in the last few days, and here’s what I came up with. 

I want to learn to fly fish. 

I want to have dinner with Will Ferrell. 

I want to lose 10 pounds. 

I want a real snow, enough to call off school for three days and have the McCallie Winter Olympics with a ski course and bobsled run and schoolwide snowball fight. 

I want a candle that smells like a sizzling Ruth’s Cris steak.

I want a hammock.

I want to slow down and relax more. 

I want to play a duet with Billy Joel on the piano.

I want a Jeep Wrangler or a convertible of some sort.

I want the Vols to win the SEC next fall, and for me to run through the T.

I want alumnus Mike Monen to open one of his restaurants here on campus or next to it. 

I want to be digitally untethered for a month. 

I want low fat or turkey bacon to taste like real bacon. 

I want some really comfortable L.L. Bean bedroom slippers.

I want more trees on campus, and more flower beds in place of some turf. 

I want a Seinfeld reunion and another season of The Office. 

I want to read more, especially fiction books. 

I want to win my fantasy football league. 

I want us to beat Baylor in wrestling this winter. 

And I want U2 and Bruce Springsteen to play Spears Stadium on a warm Friday night this May.

So that’s my list. I think it’s a pretty good list. That’s what I want.

Christmas, it seems to me, is often a grab bag of getting. Throw out a bunch of things you want, and see what you get. After all, we live in a culture of wants, a society that says it’s appropriate to try to get all you want, an economy significantly predicated on buying and consuming what we want. 

But perhaps a more important question than what I want is this: What is worth wanting?

As I’ve aged, I’ve gained, I hope, some wisdom. And by that I mean, you see how and why things are likely to unfold, what patterns and trends emerge and play out. 

But wisdom is, I think, more than simply having a good guess of what’s probably next, based on prior experiences. It’s understanding a bigger picture, a bigger narrative, a bigger story of our lives and life itself...a picture, a narrative, a story that may not be readily or easily seen.

Like many of you, I’ve heard the Christmas story dozens or even hundreds of times. My parents made me go to church starting as a little boy. I learned many Bible stories. I knew many Bible verses. In some ways, earlier in my life, I may have heard it so much that I was desensitized to it. That may be the case with some of you. For others of you, the Christmas story — the story of the birth of Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the Son of God — may simply seem peculiar or a distant historical event or a cute fairy tale for children and unsophisticated adults.

The message of God as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer can be a hard one to wrap our minds around. It’s natural to resist, both with our heads and hearts. We live in a world which promotes self-sufficiency, which tells us to chart our own course, to develop and use talents, and to be resilient. We are taught that we are inherently good. We believe we are smart, able to comprehend everything, and we should only believe that which we can detect with our senses and measure. We are encouraged to follow and trust our hearts, whose desires must surely be noble and pure and good. Why would we need a Redeemer, and from what would we even need to be rescued?

At McCallie and in your future colleges and graduate schools, you will study many important subjects, and I hope you do so with great dedication and passion. As adults, you will make many decisions. But of anything you study or contemplate, I believe that the most important question with which you must wrestle and eventually answer is this: who is this God of the Bible, and what is my response to Him?

The God of the Old and New Testaments claims that He created the universe and our earth, that He created humans, that we humans, of our own volition, rebelled against this perfect and loving God, from whom we were all then cut off because He, being perfect, cannot be with anyone imperfect. So he sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life, a life that we with our fallen nature in a broken world could not live, and then for His Son to die an atoning death for us, to be sacrificed in our places, so that we might have the perfect record one day of Jesus standing in front of a perfect God.

It’s a magnificent claim, a miraculous, supernatural claim, and I understand why a lot of people have a hard time believing it, even resisting it. And I respect the fact that there are other faith traditions with different claims.

As Christmases passed by in my life, I began to contemplate more deeply the messages from the Old and New Testaments. I began to spend more time reading the Bible. I began to spend more time in prayer. I considered carefully how these 66 books, written over several thousand years, fit together so beautifully and precisely, how all these prophecies came true centuries later, how historical evidence from other sources seem to confirm the Biblical accounts, how brilliant philosophers, scholars, scientists and others came to believe that it’s a greater leap of faith not to believe in God than to believe in God.

I began to read more about and spend more time with people who had a peace, joy and purpose in their lives, and they attributed it to faith in God...and an ever-growing trust in Him. I saw they wanted less, and wanted different things...that they gave more of themselves to others. They seemed to have a different script, a different story, that animated their lives. Their lives seemed deep but not necessarily fast. They were humble and repentant, authentic and vulnerable, grace-filled and forgiving. I wanted to be more like them; I wanted what they had.

And, finally, I began to spend more time reflecting about the nature and desires of my own heart. Though I and all of us could present a nice public image and do good things and achieve impressive things, I began to realize the human heart, including my own, was messy and selfish, anxious and restless, driven by I want, I want, I want...and that satisfying the wants proved not to be satisfying. 

I’m glad that McCallie is a school in which we have different faith traditions and that we demonstrate respect for all individuals and their faith traditions. Some of the closest friends I have are members of other faith traditions, or those without a faith tradition, and I cherish those friendships. 

When I, though, made the conscious decision to place my trust and hope in Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be the Son of God, I discovered a profound peace, purpose and hope, especially by knowing that I need not earn God’s favor; in fact, I could not earn his favor. Conditioned to be a goal-setting high achiever, I only needed to be a receiver: to accept His love. I was given what I did not deserve, making His grace and love all the more remarkable. And I found that unconditional love far more fulfilling than any grades or achievements or positions that I had earned, or any gifts I had been given or things I had bought. 

I wasn’t given an assurance of prosperity or health, but of peace and hope. I wasn’t enabled to stop sinning, but to be forgiven of my many sins...and freed from the ultimate consequences of them...and freed to lead a life less constrained by the trappings and wants of the world...a life with a coherent meaning despite the chaos of the world...a life of joy and hope despite the seasons of pain...a life with a growing impulse to serve and love despite my natural selfishness.

The story of Christmas is, I think, primarily one of a loving rescue mission. It’s a mission of love we can’t fully comprehend, of God breaking through time and space to rescue a fallen people who may not even know they need rescuing, who certainly don’t deserve it, and who could never rescue themselves. It’s the ultimate gift of what we most deeply want and need—to be completely known yet perfectly loved. It’s a gift that brings a radical reorientation of the heart and mind...a reordering of one’s life.

We live in a noisy and busy world, and it’s hard to find silence and stillness...and meaning. It’s often, though, in silence and stillness that we do our best searching: that we consider and sense that there is something beyond the here and now, that we have souls, that we long for something or someone that only finds its satisfaction in the supernatural.

LIke a small baby born on a starry and silent night.

This Christmas, I want something worth wanting: something not just good and fun, but something ultimate, something that won’t fade or dull or grow boring or be forgotten, something that won’t leave me thirsty for that which never quenches my thirst. In John 4:13, Jesus says to the woman at the well:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This Christmas, I want more of Him and less of everything else.


 

Lee Burns

While life ticks along at a fast pace each day on campus, moving from classes to after school activities into study hours, it is important for us to stay connected to the happenings in the world. Calling attention and connecting to cultural events and phenoms like the December 20 release of the third installment of the sequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode IX:  The Rise of Skywalker, reminds us and our boys that their learning and skill development is for use in making sense of and connecting dots in the world. Star Wars is an exceptional text to study The Hero’s Journey, to discuss decision-making and risk-taking, to emulate filmmaking techniques, or to prompt a discussion of the value of a diverse and driven team with unique talents. Relevance in subject matter and learning approaches are key to keeping boys attentive and engaged as well as piquing their curiosity to know more.

Having his teachers step out of their comfort zones to dress up in full make-up and gear or to wield a lightsaber in a battle royale in front of a green screen expresses to boys that McCallie is a safe, fun-loving, and collaborative place to learn. We provide a learning environment that values the sticky learning that comes from extending and stretching oneself by risking an answer that goes deeper than the safe answer believed to be what his teacher wants to hear. We take our work seriously. We create an intentional atmosphere of high expectations, support, and levity. 

The Star Wars films illustrate all types of bizarre characters, masters, and students who have real friendships and courageously band together to destroy a Death Star. At McCallie learning is relational. Boys develop trusting relationships with their teachers, coaches, and advisors as well as their peers. Teachers are unequivocal masters who model the values, temperaments, and mindsets they want their students to develop yet are open, eager learners collaborating in the learning they lead in and outside the classroom. In our classrooms, dialogue (from the Greek dia ‘through’ +  legein ‘speak’) among the boys and their teacher constructs the learning instead of a more traditional teacher-transmitting-knowledge approach. It is the relationships of respect and trust and the bond between brothers that create the foundation for each boy’s journey of learning and growth at McCallie

Boys enter learning best through relevant topics. They trust the learning environment at McCallie because our teachers, masters that they are, don’t reside on pedestals. Instead, they are as fun-loving as they are expectant. Boys rise to high levels of performance through partnership, teamwork, and brotherhood. They work diligently for teachers who know that learning is a process and a journey – at McCallie, a journey worth mastering and a journey no one makes alone. Enjoy our McCallie Wars video.

Lee Burns

 

McCallie Headmaster and Staff Journey to Asia: Long Blue Line and Love of McCallie Strong Around the World

 

I have just returned to campus from a whirlwind visit to China and South Korea, and I’m proud to report to you that McCallie’s name and reputation stretches those 8,000 miles. The McCallie family extends throughout the world, and it was important to see and experience that community abroad. The loyalty and love for McCallie is strong and powerful among our families in Asia. 

McCallie currently enrolls boys from 17 countries, including 31 from China. Their talents and passions enhance our school community and learning for all our students. For example, while traveling, I learned that one of our China students, Byron Zou, received the highest score in the drum set in the All-East Tennessee Jazz Band competition. He is now going to audition for the All-State band.

Our nature as an international school helps prepare all our boys to be responsible global citizens in an interconnected world. 

With Bess Steverson, Director of Development for Special Initiatives, and Patch Lawson, Associate Admission Director, we traveled to Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen for receptions, meetings and interviews. In all, more than 270 individuals – parents, alumni, parents of alumni, prospective parents and prospective students, and friends – attended several events and dinners and extended to us a level of warmth and love of McCallie that is hard to describe. 

Bess put it this way: “Our parents were incredible hosts and showed us warmth and kindness in welcoming us to their cities. They are so proud of McCallie and are so appreciative of the experience their sons are having.” Many of the parents traveled great distances from other cities in China to be part of the McCallie event.

They treated us to special meals and tours, enhancing our understanding of the country, its culture and its traditions.

And I had the opportunity to talk about McCallie through the Chinese media. Three Chinese newspapers and magazines interviewed me about McCallie and boys’ education. Boys’ schools are virtually non-existent in China. The first story appeared Friday, Nov. 22, in the Shanghai Post, and it is a long and positive story about McCallie. For those of you who are fluent in Mandarin, you can read the story here. Once we get an English translation, we’ll post it.

In addition, we were excited to connect with several McCallie alumni who are living in South Korea and China. These included Bryan Tilson ‘00, Joe McPherson ‘92, Montgomery Belk ‘16, Oscar Hwant II ‘12, James Morgan ‘15, John Yoon ‘13, and Steven Bernstein ‘17. It was great to see these gentlemen again, 

We used the trip as an opportunity to spread the word about McCallie as a destination boarding school for talented, mission-fit boys of good character from Asia. This was Patch’s fourth trip to Asia, and while Bess and I have returned to Chattanooga, Patch extended his trip with a visit to Vietnam to talk to prospective students in that part of Asia.

Our reputation and reach are growing each year, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. More and more families and education consultants in all parts of the world are becoming aware of McCallie as one of the premier boarding schools in the world.

Patch interviewed more than 50 boys in China and South Korea who are interested in McCallie. In fact, he had so many interviews that Bess and I pitched in and helped him with some. The admissions office will offer admission to a small number of boys, with a goal of enrolling approximately 10 to 12 new Asian boarding students next fall.

“Our boys in Asia are thriving at McCallie,” Patch said, “and their parents are pleased and proud. They expressed deep gratitude for McCallie as they described the profound impact the school is having on their sons.”

Though approximately 8,000 miles separates Chattanooga from Asia, the long Blue line closely connects McCallie families. We are so grateful for these families and want to develop even closer relationships as part of the great McCallie family. 

_____

One thing that travel does -- especially when one is as fortunate as me to visit with such friendly, caring, and supportive people such as those we met in Korea and China, and where I meet everywhere I go representing McCallie -- is instill in one a great sense of thankfulness. So during this Thanksgiving season, I want to wish you and your families the very best, and extend to you my personal thanks and the thanks of the faculty and staff of McCallie. Be safe and enjoy the Thanksgiving break.

 

Photos from the trip are posted here.

 

Lee Burns

Each year, I have the privilege of addressing our students during the week of Easter in Chapel and sharing a message about the season with them. Here's my talk from this year. 

On a sunny, late Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1986, I sat glued to my television watching the final round of the Masters, golf’s premier championship and one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Though not a golfer then as a junior at McCallie, I was nonetheless captivated by the unfolding drama set on a gorgeous stage of perfectly manicured fairways and of undulating, shadow-filled greens guarded by pristine bunkers and blooming azaleas and towering pines and rustling creeks and serene ponds.

Jack Nicklaus at the Masters

Amidst this magical place was its former king, Jack Nicklaus, the glorious champion of a bygone era who, at age 46, was a sentimental favorite, but whose best days and championships had long ago faded like evening sun into the dusk. Yes, Nicklaus still played the Masters, but he was surely too old to compete for winning it once again.

But something stunning started to unfold that Sunday afternoon, as Jack Nicklaus made a charge on the back nine. He reached par fives in two shots, and sank sweeping putts across both sunny and shadowy greens. He eagled some holes, birdied others. He electrified the patrons in Augusta. Their roars rang through the pine trees from one part of the course to another as Nicklaus continued his dramatic charge. Could the golden-haired old man do it one more time in a “win for the ages?”

I wish I’d been there that day to witness one of the most memorable moments in golf history as Jack Nicklaus, with a 30 on the back nine, claimed his final championship. Many Masters enthusiasts claim it was the most electric and glorious day in tournament history.

That is, until this past Sunday.

About a week ago, one of my brothers, who lives in London, asked me if my 14-year-old son Arthur and I wanted to go to the final round of the Masters. He had two extra badges. It didn’t take me but a second to say yes and thank you.

Lee and Arthur Burns

As Arthur and I were driving down to Augusta on Saturday afternoon, we were listening to the tournament on the radio. The leaderboard was jammed with the world’s best players. A dozen or so of them were within a stroke or two of the lead. Multiple players had been tied for the lead. A little ways back were Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

I’ve most often pulled for Mickelson or Webb Simpson in big tournaments in recent years. Mickelson seems increasingly a long shot to win at perhaps the twilight of his brilliant career. Tiger has been injured and irrelevant for a long time and he’s gotten old too, but it was intriguing to see him in the mix through the first part of the tournament.

Arthur and I talked about who we’d each pull for. He said Tiger. Why don’t you pull for Tiger, too, he said. I thought about it for a while.

Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in 1995 as a 19-year-old golf prodigy. Two years later, he won his first Masters, by a staggering 12 strokes, at the youngest age ever, in a brilliant display of power, accuracy and shotmaking the tournament had never before seen; in fact, the game of golf had never seen someone with such talent. For the next 10 plus years, he would dominate the sport as no one ever had before, winning over 80 PGA tournaments, including 14 majors. His youth, his drive, his incredible talent and his athleticism drew millions of fans, both to him and to the game. He became one of the most recognizable people on the planet. He earned tens of millions of dollars a year, in prize money and endorsements. He married a Swedish supermodel, and they had two children. They lived in a $39 million mansion in Florida. He continued to win tournaments and adulation.

Life surely was good for Tiger Woods. Except that it wasn’t.

Seemingly having it all wasn’t all that it seemed. Being full on the outside doesn’t mean being fulfilled on the inside.

Rumors and then reports and then recordings came out in 2009 that showed a very different Tiger Woods. They showed a secret Tiger living an unseemly and seedy life in the shadows. The stories were humiliating and shameful, full of scandalous moral failings. His wife left him. So did most of  the companies that had endorsed him. He played a few tournaments to a reception that could be at times chilly and sometimes included jeering him. He entered a treatment center. His world ranking dropped from 1 to 1,199. His back gave out on him, requiring four surgeries that seemed certain to sentence him to a life of crippling pain and of course end his golf career. He was arrested for DUI. He wrestled with temptations and entitlements, seemed to struggle with prescription pain medication, and squandered his reputation and relationships with reckless living.

The star had risen quickly, and shined brightly for a while, but it had crashed in an ugly and permanent way. Some golf fans and others who, perhaps themselves full of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, had found him to be arrogant, aloof and amoral took some smug satisfaction in his demise.

He was mostly out of sight for a while, but was doing physical therapy. His injuries and surgeries were such that it hurt him to walk or stand or lie down. Two years ago, he had to get a nerve block shot just to be able to fly to the Masters for a dinner of the former champions. It seemed clear to most everyone that he would never play golf again. He allegedly confided in friends that his career was over.

He finally, though, did get to hit a golf ball. He took out his driver. He drove it a paltry 90 yards.

He kept working. He got better. He eventually played a few tournaments, but not particularly well, until last fall.

And then there was the Masters this past week.

Early Sunday morning, Arthur and I set up our chairs on the hillside overlooking the par three 16th hole over water, with a view of the par five 15th green a bit beyond. It’s customary at the Masters to set up one’s chairs in a spot early in the day and leave them until you are ready to sit there. We’d come back to them later in the day as the final groups rounded Amen Corner and came to 15 and 16.

We then made our way to the 5th tee box, where we waited for Tiger and his two playing partners. We were maybe 15 feet from them, standing in the first row right behind the ropes. Tiger blasted his drive down the middle of the fairway to loud cheers. He was laser focused. He had that look in his eyes: Eye of the Tiger.  

Arthur and I were a few feet away from him on eight as he chipped out from behind a broadcast tower behind the green and birdied the hole on the next shot. His confidence seemed to grow, as did the passion and energy of the massive crowds that followed him.

Tiger Woods lining up a putt

As the round continued, Tiger played better. He got closer to the leader. And the cheers got louder and louder. We could hear long roars through the trees near where Tiger was playing. An electricity, powered by the red-shirted Tiger hunting down the leaders, surged through Augusta National. Could the 43-year-old man, the injured, written-off, broken man who hadn’t won here in 11 years, do it again?

Arthur and I were in our chairs when Tiger birdied 15 to claim the lead. The crowd exploded. The 16th hole is a short but tricky one over a long pond, with the green sloping down to the water and the pen placed near its edge. Tiger’s shot was high and soft, landing I guess 60 feet above the pen, but the backspin and slope started to slowly bring it down to the pen. It rolled. It kept rolling. It looked like it was on line with the pen. It rolled and the crown roared. The rolling and roaring was probably just a few seconds, but it felt much longer. Was it going in? The patrons, nearly all of whom, myself included, were pulling for Tiger, seemed to be willing it in, as the roars reached a crescendo. It rested two feet from the hole. The crowd seemed to me as intense and loud as at any SEC football game or Duke-Carolina basketball game. Tiger birdied the hole. He was in first place by himself, with two holes to play. History seemed to be in the making. The impossible was on the verge of being possible, even probable.

Arthur and I skipped the 17th hole and hurried to 18, trying to find a good place to view the final hole and, presumably, Tiger winning the tournament. We had a good vantage point for his second shot in the fairway and his walk up to the green to a throng of thousands of cheering fans chanting his name.

With a short putt, Tiger won the Masters several minutes later to perhaps the longest and loudest cheering in its history. I found myself pulling for Tiger and happy for him and cheering for him, too. But why?

We love comeback stories. We love it when broken pieces and lives are are put back together, when the wayward are found, when our better selves win out over our baser instincts, when good triumphs over evil, when the endings are happy. We love redemption. We are wired for redemption.

A few years ago, Tiger Woods’ life was littered with personal failures and shame, reduced to shambles. He seemed to have no path forward with his golf...not even the physical capacity to hit a golf ball. He had been reviled by many, written off by many more. And yet there he was, wearing the green jacket, basking in the cheers and chants of thousands as he embraced his family. Some pundits have already called it the greatest comeback in sports history.

Redemption.

Redemption is often unexpected. It begins at a low place of brokenness, of emptiness, of neediness. Each of us, despite the many ways we are blessed, despite the resources we enjoy, despite even our successes, will, like Tiger, encounter moments or seasons of brokenness. We will sin; we will fall; we will fail. What, though, will we do with our failings, with our neediness? Will we quit, languish in self-pity or pride, bitterness or blame? Or will we see our brokenness as the start down a path of redemption, and will we walk down it?

This week, Christians around the world celebrate Easter, recalling the sorrow and shame and seeming loss of Jesus crucified on a cross. His cruel death was a bitter, devastating low point for His followers at the time, but in reality, it was the necessary turning point for a glorious redemption. Easter is the story of God’s redemption of a fallen mankind through sending His Son Jesus to rescue us from our sinfulness, to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross instead of us doing so and receiving His perfect record instead of our stained one. It’s an incredible act of love, forgiveness and grace.

Christianity is often misunderstood, even by some of its followers, as centering on rules and recitations. In reality, it’s about repentance and redemption. The Gospel message tells us that being saved doesn’t depend upon being good, or following rules, or earning it. It rests solely on God loving us, most powerfully demonstrated by His sacrificing His son for us. Our only contribution to salvation is our own sin: being dirty and messy, falling and failing, in need of rescue.

This redemption, solely done by God, frees us up from needing to perform—for God, ourselves or others. We don’t need scorecards; we can take His score, claim His hole-in-ones rather than our own triple bogies. It can free us from our guilt about all the things we’ve gotten wrong...and free us from our worries and anxieties about the future. We can be gracious and forgiving of others rather than judgmental and self-righteous. We can be different, changed, whole and healthy and humble. To be known intimately by God, and yet also to be loved unconditionally by Him, frees us up to be authentic and vulnerable, to be bold and courageous, to serve God and others with purpose and gratitude and joy.

Easter is rebirth, resurrection. It is a crucified Jesus walking out of the grave on the third day, with a promise to resurrect us also. It is taking new life from death. It is healing up our brokenness. It is redemption.

A number of people have noted that, since his life and golf career fell apart a few years ago, Tiger has been more humble, gracious, authentic, vulnerable, apologetic and approachable. Brokenness has a way of changing us, preparing us for redemption.

Broken Tiger Woods gave rise to Redeemed Tiger Woods. And both are better than Original Tiger Woods.

The same goes for all of us. Our broken, redeemed selves are better than our seemingly self-sufficient, successful selves. Lean into your failings and falls, and embrace your brokenness, for God is at work on a redeemed you.

Tiger’s comeback was pretty incredible. It’s but a foretaste, though, of the redemption that God promises us. His rescue is far more dramatic...and far more needed. God’s rescue of us is the ultimate redemption. The joy and love that Tiger experienced on the 18th green was pretty incredible too, but it is but a shadow of the joy and love that God promises us in an eternal victory.

I hope this Holy Week you will contemplate the redemption that our loving God offers all of us as His beloved children.

Lee Burns

Honor, Truth and Duty—ideals that have guided McCallie for more than 100 years—are, sadly, elusive in today’s world. They are situational, even secondary, in a society that most highly esteems success, prestige and power. At every turn, we are told to do or say whatever it takes to win, to get ahead, to promote and protect oneself. Is honor but a quaint notion, the truth but a malleable tool of manipulation, our duties limited to our own interests?

Historian Jon Meacham writes that as individuals and a country, our base, selfish instincts wrestle with our noble virtues—our better angels. This week, a better angel won.

29-year-old John Harris, an assistant U.S. Attorney, found himself testifying before the North Carolina State Board of Elections about the allegations of voter fraud in a Congressional election in which his father, Mark Harris, had won a narrow 905-vote victory over his opponent in November. The elder Harris, was seeking to have the election results certified so he would be seated in the United States Congress.

Reports emerged shortly after the election that there were irregularities with absentee ballots, and that the Harris campaign had engaged the services of McCrae Dowless, a veteran political operative with a reputation of dirty tricks in prior campaigns. Harris acknowledged the campaign had hired Dowless, but he denied having any warning or knowledge that Dowless might commit voter fraud.

But John Harris knew that wasn’t true. In fact, he had had warned his dad, both verbally and in writing, about what he believed to be illegal tactics Dowless had previously used.

Further, without his father’s knowledge, he had been subpoenaed as a witness in the case and called to testify.

What is a son to do when his own father is not being forthright under oath about something as vital as the integrity of our democratic process?How does he respond beneath the glare of national media attention while surely knowing his father’s livelihood and reputation hang in the balance? John Harris did what is right. He testified, truthfully and fully, with his father seated just steps away.

He professed his love for his father, even as he shared information that contradicted his father’s sworn testimony. He honored the truth. He discharged a duty.

The cameras in the hearing room that day captured the scene: his father, weeping. They were, I hope, tears of pride in the virtue of his son rather than of sorrow for the electoral victory which would soon vanish.

John Harris graduated from McCallie in 2008. He was the President of our Senate— a student-led  honor council that seeks to seeks to ensure that students are behaving honorably and truthfully in all aspects of their lives at McCallie. He was also a member of McCallie’s chapter of the Young Republicans.  

John’s actions didn’t derive from political allegiance or expedience, or even the strong pull to protect one’s family. They sprang, with courage and conviction, from noble ideals: the virtues of honor, truth and duty.

At the conclusion of his testimony, John said he thought about the lessons he wants to teach his young children and the need to rise above the politics that divide us. He said we can all do a lot better. He’s right, and he showed us how to this week.