This year, Jonathan Brougham celebrates his tenth year as The Hun School of Princeton’s tenth headmaster. We sat down with Mr. Brougham and asked him … you guessed it … ten questions reflecting on his time as Head Raider for the Spring 2019 Hun Today.
THINKING BACK TO 2009, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE HUN SCHOOL? It was completely new to me. I’d never been to New Jersey before. (A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, Mr. Brougham previously worked at independent schools around the country.) The first thing that struck me was the people, the pride they had in the place, and their hopes and energy about what Hun was and could be. Especially the kids, they really loved the place. It always comes down to the people and the kids you get to work with.
WE CAN’T BEGIN TO LIST ALL OF THE WAYS THE SCHOOL HAS ADVANCED IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. HOWEVER, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST EXCITING NEW OPPORTUNITIES HUN STUDENTS ENJOY TODAY? Their academic opportunities are so much broader today. The faculty and division heads have done an amazing job of diversifying the curriculum and letting kids take courses that they’re really energized about while ensuring their thorough preparation for college.
AS A FORMER HISTORY TEACHER WHO SPENDS A FAIR BIT OF TIME MEETING WITH ALUMNI, WHAT IS AN INTERESTING BIT OF HUN HISTORY YOU HAVE UNCOVERED THAT PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW? I love the stories about how Hun was close to the brink, way back in the late ’40s, early ’50s, and the people who loved the place had to pitch in and hold it together, sometimes contributing their own money to keep the School afloat. John Gale Hun wrote a letter to his constituents to be mailed upon his death. “If you receive this letter, I’ve just passed away. And, I’m very worried about my legacy. I am hoping you will pitch in to secure the School’s financial strength." The response was tremendous. To think of the love they had for the place and the shared belief in what it stood for. And that’s still going today.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING TEENAGERS TODAY? They are distracted. And I think their path in life is less defined, which can be an opportunity, but it can also be an overwhelming experience. Because they have unlimited distractions in the form of media and societal expectations, it can be especially difficult for teenagers today to have time to reflect, to become self-aware, to identify their passions, and ultimately, to find purpose. This constant pull outward can make it an anxious time. Life fulfillment comes from finding one’s purpose, and they need space to explore and time to reflect in order to do that. That kind of space and time is difficult to come by for today’s teens.
HUN STUDENTS LEARN FROM SOME OF THE MOST INTELLIGENT AND COMPASSIONATE TEACHERS IN THE WORLD BUT, THEY ALSO LEARN FROM EACH OTHER. WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT AND HOW DOES IT SHAPE THE STUDENTS WE LOOK FOR? When we look back on our own schooling, we realize that many of our memories are about classmates – how they introduced us to different ways of thinking or habits, or inclinations. Research shows that by high school especially, peers become one of, if not the greatest, influence on a person’s life. If you are around happy, creative, kind people, you are going to be more happy, creative, and kind, and feel like you have a little more room to grow. We keep that in mind during the admission process. Every student who comes to Hun has an academic and a personal impact. We ask ourselves not only who will thrive here, but whose personality will have the most positive impact on his or her peers?
WHAT ARE THE SCHOOL’S STRATEGIC PRIORITIES FOR THE NEXT 3-5 YEARS?
A lot of our attention is focused right now on developing the facilities and physical spaces that best support our educational philosophy. We have some of the best teachers in the world at Hun with a shared vision. Now, we want to do everything we can to let the students and teachers do what they do best and support them in the learning process. Part of that is upgrading our facilities to facilitate collaborative, hands-on learning, and outfitting our spaces with the best and most current tools.
NextTerm is a really good reflection of who we are and where we want to go. We want learning to be as engaging and inspiring as possible and acquaint kids with the world beyond our walls. Few schools have imagined, let alone instituted, as creative an approach as this. We really think it’s going to be extraordinary and that it’s a model that other schools will want to emulate.
At the same time, we’re certainly going to continue focusing on faculty-student relationships and support students’ personal development just as much as we do their academic development. You will see that come through in our programs aimed at character education and wellness education and opportunities. These efforts will help protect students against the risks that we know are out there, but it will also strengthen their emotional intelligence and give them the self-management skills that will help them thrive.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FAMILIES CONSIDERING A BOARDING SCHOOL OR A BOARDING-DAY SCHOOL? I would ask them to put their own child’s needs and interests first. It’s always an emotional decision and sometimes a difficult one, but we ask parents to consider the opportunity for their child to grow independently in a world-class educational environment. And, to consider the opportunity to have their child live among students and faculty from twenty-two countries and eighteen states. There is no substitute for the preparation, resilience, and self-management that stems from boarding school or boarding-day life during a child’s most formative years.
WHAT ARE THREE THINGS ADULTS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BEING A KID TODAY?
Kids need space and a chance to test themselves and experience failure. They need an opportunity to be brave. They need to know that we respect the ways they see the world differently than we do, that there is value in their different perspectives. That even though this generation is different, they are fundamentally the same as we were.
DINNER WITH THREE PEOPLE ALIVE OR DEAD? Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. If one of them turned me down, I’d give John Gale Hun a call.
WHAT ARE THREE THINGS MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
- I saw the Beatles in concert once.
- I was the Betty Crocker Future Homemaker Award winner for my high school. Someone said, if you take this test, you could win $50. I took the test and I earned the best score. They even announced it at a school assembly, which delighted my friends at the time. I remind my wife of that sometimes when she questions my housekeeping abilities.
- As a lifelong Boston Celtics fan, one of my prized possessions is an authentic Celtics jersey, signed by Larry Bird. I never had his jump shot, but I loved his determination!