On Amateurism: RL Opens the Winter Term with a Discussion of Work and Passions


Roxbury Latin returned from winter break on January 3 with a special Opening of Winter Term Hall titled “On Amateurism,” during which Headmaster Kerry Brennan explored the idea of work, and the importance of finding joy within and outside our careers.

When I was younger,” said Mr. Brennan, “it was common for someone to ask about another kid’s parent, ‘What does he do?”

“Of course, we know now there was a problem with that question. What someone did was much greater than his or her job, but one’s job seemed to suggest the most important thing that defined them. Implicit in what the job was were all sorts of inferences about how much money they made, what kind of lifestyle the worker and their family enjoyed, how important they were in the grander scheme of an operating community or, writ large, a society. And what he did surely most important wasn’t what he was.”

“What about the rest of his life? What about what he did for his family? Or the fact he coached a Little League team or helped maintain the church property or was a Boy Scout troop leader or made his own furniture or kept a remarkably productive garden? In the main, these things were seemingly less important but, in fact, they more vividly defined him. Indeed, in the subculture of mid-century blue-collar Schenectady, where I grew up, these were the things that gave life meaning. These were the things that made one’s heart sing. These were the things that suggested contributing to the betterment of others and honoring a communal covenant. These were the things in which one chose to specialize and with which to be identified.”

Today, continued Mr. Brennan, RL boys will enjoy the opportunity to embark on careers that will satisfy more than the need for a paycheck, but will satisfy the soul. 

“My hope,” said Mr. Brennan, “is that in deciding what your job will be that you are pickier and that you do the work necessary to find out first of all who you are and what kind of pursuit will be right for you—that will satisfy your values and your talents and your particular ambition and will make a difference in the lives of others. Our modest attempt of RL@Work is a program in which at the end of boys’ Class II year we intend to introduce them to lots of different people and jobs. In part, that’s also why we invite into Hall or to your classes people with different life paths and careers. We do this so you can begin to conjure various possibilities. Most of all, I don’t want you to feel trapped or doing something that is not meaningful.”

“Today we will acknowledge that whatever your job is isn’t everything, continued Mr. Brennan. “All sorts of other parts of your life complement your job and together suggest who you are and what you care about. And in most cases, you will be pros at what you do.”

In that spirit, the Hall pivoted to a discussion of amateurism, a word, says Mr. Brennan, that is worth reconsidering.

“More than once in my young life,” said Mr. Brennan, “I remember my father characterizing someone as an amateur. When an athlete failed to make an easy play, he was an amateur. When a person treated someone unfairly, usually by demeaning through language, he was an amateur… Today I would like to alter your thinking about the amateur. In fact, the more classic definition of “amateur” had nothing to do with contrasting it with the professional. To be an amateur meant engaging with something for the pleasure of it. Engaging with something for the pleasure of it. In fact, the word “amateur” derives from the ancient French word “love of.” This is what I am talking about: a pursuit that endures because we love it.”

Mr. Brennan then welcomed several speakers to the stage—faculty and students—to share their passions and personal pursuits that provide purpose outside their lives in the classroom. Mr. Jeff Ott spoke about his love of birding, Ryan Peterson (I) introduced his classmates to his passion for beekeeping, Mrs. Kristen Gibbons shared her passion for flowers and floral arrangements, Mr. Alessandro Ferzoco shared his years-long discovery of his family’s genealogical roots, and Mr. John Lieb spoke about discovering his love for crossword puzzles.

“As you can tell from these stories,” concluded Mr. Brennan, “our friends love what they do. It gives their lives meaning and gives them pleasure. As you think of your own lives—of what’s important to you now and will be important to you in the future— think about the amateur spirit. We hope to help you discover and develop passions that will accompany and define you for the rest of your lives. Continue to cultivate these this winter. May this goal like the days ahead shine bright and with compelling promise. Oh, and at some point, in addition to all that, get a job!”

View a complete gallery from The Opening of Winter Term Hall.