Jason Dunbar ’95 (1976-2011)

I began teaching when I got out of college.  I’ve spent most of the following 35 years at Hyde School in Bath, Maine where Jason graduated in 1995.  A fair amount of time has passed since those days.  My daughters were babies then . . . now they’re in college… but the longer I do this, the less certain I am about who is the teacher and who is the student.  Maybe that’s the riddle of life:  although it must be lived forward, it can only be understood in reverse

One thing it’s taught me is to be nice to everybody.  Today, my boss – the chair of Hyde’s board – is a guy who sat on the bench of my lacrosse team 30 years ago.  Each year around contract time, I say, “If I had known how things were gonna work out, I would have played you more.”  I can’t even get a smile out of him.

It’s also taught me that kids’ dreams stay with them and sometimes blossom into some beautiful things many years later.  Maybe that’s why I’m especially honored to be celebrating Jason’s life today.

When Jason enrolled at Hyde in the summer of 1993, he provided a glimpse into those dreams on his application essay when he wrote:

I want to find some direction in my life.  Figure out what I want to do and where I’m going.  I want to get a good education, not only in academics but to find out about myself – my goals, beliefs, feelings, who I am, etc.

In that same essay, he wrote the following about his parents:

I’d like the relationship with my parents to change.  Where they’re proud of what I’m doing, where we can spend time together and have a lot of fun.  Also, to where we can sit down together and tell each other how we really feel.

Jason began with us in our Summer Challenge Program.  At the end of his very first day – one spent on outdoor group challenges – he unknowingly provided a deep glimpse into his dreams, one that turned out to be profoundly – with a capital “P” – prophetic.  In a journaling exercise on that first night, he wrote… and I offer it here with neither editing nor censorship (!):  

My first day at Hyde was very challenging.  We did a lot of stuff with our challenge groups.  We learned to work together as a team.  That was the best part of the day.  The food sucks.  It is the most processed stuff I’ve ever eaten.  The people are cool though.  They’re really helpful.  If you got a problem they’ll really help you out.  It’s real hot though and I’m getting kind of bored.  There’s not a lot to do, at least there isn’t yet.  I’m pretty sure I’ll have fun though and I’m really looking forward to the back-packing trip.

But Jason didn’t just dream.  He truly got down to business – well, maybe he did test the rules just a tad in the early going.  Proof of that was in the Honors Awards he received in English and History.  In fact, at the end of his time at Hyde, his History teacher, Mark Duethorn wrote: 

Jason has discovered that his opinions are more difficult to support than expected, and, as is often the case with Jason, he now thrives on that challenge. 

Similarly, Bud Cox, his English teacher, chimed in:

 Jason decided that he would make this class one in which he would explore his perceptions at all moments.  I can remember his exhaustive work on several film journals in which he explored ideas that were fully unique…  I will truly miss Jason next year for his quiet determination, his joy in discovering new ideas, and his sense of personal integrity.

I would also note that teachers Cox and Duethorn stand among the most challenging and demanding we’ve ever had at Hyde.

While 1000s of kids have passed through Hyde’s doors on my watch, I recalled Jason’s approach to things as quiet and deliberate.  Searching through records, I observed that he also received an Unsung Hero award, a special determination made by the entire faculty involving a review of the entire student body.  Jason was one of about a dozen so selected, evidence of a student who gets it done without a lot of fanfare but definitely with a sense of style worthy of emulation by all.  That was Jason.

At Hyde School, we try to do two things:  1) graduate young men and women who will reflect positive character by reflex – that is, automatically, without having to think about it – and 2) who will evolve into adults who will pursue a deeper purpose in their lives.  Character and purpose – Jason embodied both qualities.

I mean, every kid at Hyde – or for that matter, at any boarding school – complains about the food.  But it’s like the weather, nobody ever does anything about it.  Last Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of dining at Millennium.  While I get the feeling that this may be the wrong audience to admit this in front of, I had never eaten at a vegan restaurant in my life!  If they’re all like Millennium, I’m ready to dramatically revise my eating habits.  But, as great as the food was, it was matched by the quality of the people, by the very spirit of the place.  More than a few of those folks assured me that Jason had a lot to do with that spirit.

As for the back-packing reference in Jason’s journal passage, I will be surprised if I am the only person today who will note that Jason died doing one of the things he loved most.

While I accept that the kids I teach will and do become adults, for me, parts of them remain fixed in time at age 17.  Bob Dylan’s Forever Young often plays in my head.  Maybe that allows me to do the same.  In fact, one of my mottos is:  “Maturity is for those who cannot handle teenagers.” 

I’m grateful to Jason’s parents — Marjie and David – for sharing Jason with us for two years.  And most of all, I thank Jason for making our school a better place and then taking his dreams to a bigger canvas, and having the same effect on the world.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld