An Anniversary Convocation, Honoring the Trustees and Dennis Kanin ‘64

On January 6, the students, faculty and staff gathered in Rousmaniere Hall to formally commence the Opening of Winter Term, with more than 60 special guests in attendance. Those guests included current and former trustees—including all three living board presidents: Harry Lewis ‘65, Dennis Kanin ‘64, and Bob O’Connor ‘85. The special anniversary convocation was intended to honor Roxbury Latin’s “feoffees” and trustees over 375 years, and to celebrate, especially, Dennis Kanin, for his long-standing and unwavering commitment to Roxbury Latin.

“When John Eliot admonished his successors to ensure that The Roxbury Latin School would prepare its students ‘for service in Church and Commonwealth,’ he was simply putting before them the urgent ambition that the school’s graduates would lead and serve,” began Headmaster Brennan. “To lead and serve does not simply mean in politics or actions on behalf of a cause or party. Indeed, the leading and serving we care about has to do with everyday lives and people who make a positive difference on behalf of communities large and small, insignificant and consequential. You are called to that kind of life. And, indeed, you need look no farther than this school’s trustees over 375 years to know the kind of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and commitment to a cause that mark their lives, and indeed their leadership and service on behalf of Roxbury Latin and the ideals for which it stands.”

After a reading delivered by Charter Trustee Anne McNay, and after Assistant Headmaster Emeritus Bill Chauncey read portions of Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena,” Professor Harry Lewis ‘65—former board president and Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard—shared with the students (through clear, accessible, and funny metaphors) what a trustee’s role actually is. Professor Lewis knows well long-standing institutions—the dynamics and complexities, the successes and opportunities—and he has long served as a great steward of RL. In Hall he described himself and his fellow trustees as: the turtles, the climate, and the people. Read Professor Lewis’s remarks in their entirety.

Finally, everyone who was gathered in Rousmaniere Hall turned to honor the man of the hour, Dennis Kanin, who was joined by his wife, Carol; three sons—Zach ‘01, Jonah ‘04, and Frank ‘06; dear friend Niki Tsongas; and several members of the Tsongas family.

“Mr. Kanin’s eagerness to lead and serve was evident from his school days here, during which he showed the virtuous spirit and belief in the political process that would serve as the leitmotif of his whole life,” described Mr. Brennan. “During his schoolboy days he was co-editor of Tripod, played football and soccer, acted, and sang in the Glee Club. As a senior, he co-founded Massachusetts Teen Democrats. At Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Mr. Kanin led efforts in opposition to the Vietnam War and on behalf of greater student empowerment. He became involved in the campaigns of several catalytic Democratic candidates: Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Ted Kennedy. Most notable, however, was Mr. Kanin’s political and personal partnership with his dear friend Paul Tsongas. Mr. Kanin both ran his campaign for the House of Representatives and then served as his chief of staff. Subsequently, he would run Paul Tsongas’s successful Senate campaigns and his unsuccessful run for President.

“In these instances Mr. Kanin’s distinctive ability to utilize political knowhow on behalf of worthy causes, and the candidates who champion them, earned him the notice and admiration of all those in the political establishment—locally and nationally… From 2000 until his retirement as a Life Trustee in 2018, Mr. Kanin served our Board and Roxbury Latin with unfailing energy, integrity, and effectiveness. For nine years, when he served as the President of the Board, I had the pleasure of his partnership advancing causes in which we and, ultimately, the whole Board believed. Mr. Kanin’s faithfulness to the school’s mission and his unselfish eagerness to give others credit for the good work he had done served him well as he led the school’s acquisition of 35 additional acres; authored the first Strategic Plan in the school’s history; established a financial model that would ensure our need-blind admission and enrollment commitment and ensure a distinctively representative student body; and solidified the historic decision to proceed with the renovation of existing athletic facilities and the building of the Indoor Athletic facility and Hennessy Rink. This year he serves as chairman of the celebration of our 375th anniversary. More important than any of this, however, is the model Mr. Kanin offered for humble, smart, tireless leadership—leadership on behalf of the school he loves and the values for which it stands… No one I know so consistently follows a North Star that guides him ethically, politically, and personally.”

Two tangible works of art were then unveiled, both honoring Mr. Kanin in different ways. The first: a portrait of him, commissioned by the school, and painted by the remarkable portrait artist Jason Bouldin. The second: In Tony Jarvis’s fifth and final book, titled Men of Roxbury—published by the famed Boston publisher of fine books, David Godine, RL Class of 1962—Mr. Jarvis included the following dedication:

Dedicated with profound gratitude and affection to Dennis Roy Kanin, Class of 1964. Trustee 2000-2018, President 2006-2015. Wise, strong, and courageous leader—unifying and conciliating peacemaker—who, in the hour of need, was the man of the hour. Scholae Salvator.