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Dec 8, 2020

Head of School Mark Anderson chats with the three current colleagues and also former students from the class of 2016—Mesha Mosley, Freddy Ryle, and Justin McLellan—about returning back, how Sanford prepared them for college and advice for students going to college.

Episode Guide

1:00: Head of School Mark Anderson introduces Mesha, Freddy, and Justin.

5:20: How does it feel returning back to Sanford?

9:08: Are there skills you learned and practiced at Sanford that prepared you for college life?

13:45: When you think back on your time as a student and the Sanford you see now, what changes have you noticed?

24:00: What advice would you give juniors and seniors entering the college search process in this environment?

28:23: What message would you send to the rest of you classmates from the class of 2016 about their Alma mater?

Download the transcript for this episode here or read below.

Welcome to Sanford Spotlight. The podcast that helps you get the greatest benefit from your Sanford School experience. Listen in to learn about Sanford's people, programs, news and events. Today's host is Sanford Head of school, Mark Anderson.

All right, we're live. We are live. And welcome to Sanford Spotlight. It's been a while since I've done a podcast episode. This is actually our first version of 2020 with COVID. And wanted to fire up the podcast once again, and bring some guests to the table. It's been a busy fall, so we've missed podcasting, missed so much of what we had been doing in previous years. But we're going to get back to a bit of normalcy.

And I'm excited to welcome three guests who know Sanford so very well, three of my current colleagues and also former students, who are Sanford alums. A little mini version of a Sanford Alumni Reunion in the class of 2016. So we could just bounce around the table, if you could introduce yourself, and what you're doing at Sanford this year.

So I'm Mesha Mosley. I graduated in 2016. My older brother also went to Sanford. He graduated in  2014. I went to USC,  Southern California, not South Carolina, and graduated, after graduation in 2020, COVID hit. So now I'm back in Delaware and I'm here at Sanford while I get my Master's degree and pursue my career in sports reporting.

Excellent. And what are you doing for us this year, Mesha?

I am an Upper School teacher's aide. So I help do anything really the Upper School needs, sub, front desk, coverage, helping hand, anything really.

Making sure all those upper schoolers are staying socially distant?


Washing hands and all that other good stuff. Awesome, thanks for being here today.

And my name's Freddy Ryle and I also graduated class of 2016, the best class to come to Sanford.


One of them, he tried to be one.

That was politically correct right there.

I went on to George Washington University, where I studied sociology and creative writing, also graduated in 2020 in a COVID year. And I'm fortunate enough to be back teaching eighth grade English in the Middle School. So yeah, glad to be here.

Back where it all began.

Back where it all began.

Quite literally.

I'm Justin McLellan, also a 2016 grad. Like Mesha, my older brother went here and graduated with Mesha's older brother in 2014. I just recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame. And I am back here at Sanford as working in the communications and technology department, so helping out with all the technology changes that we're undergoing this year, and on the communication side as well, which means that I'll probably be editing this podcast after we record it.

And thank you in advance for your hard work.

Of course.

Actually, Justin was also in my classroom first thing this morning. So he's got a double dose of me. He was helping me in the leadership class I teach, helping me set up the Swivl, and giving me a tutorial so that I could get that going, so my remote learner could see and hear better. So all of that worked well. Well, I want to thank you all for joining me today and having a conversation. But I also want to thank you just for joining us this fall.

I feel like the alums who have come back to Sanford in so many different capacities this fall, it's been such a fun story for me, and one that not only am I so proud of all of you having known you when you were adolescents and teenagers, and to see what would fine young people you are, you're really helping us big in a great way. Folks are so happy that we're here and successfully running and operating in-person. And people have asked, well, how are you able to do that. Part of it is because we have brought so many hands on deck. The jobs that you're doing, whether you're teaching, or a teacher's aide, what you're doing in communications and technology, it's all so valuable.

And I feel like the alums of various ages, those who are college graduates like the three of you, but also the recent high school graduates who are either taking gap years, or doing online learning, and just needed something else to keep them busy, they are littered throughout our divisions and extended day. And it has just made everything smoother. And as a person who knows virtually all of those people, I think, yes, I do know them all now, it just-- it gives me tremendous pride.

And I wanted to say that and know that we're just so happy to have you all here. And it's working out really well. How is it for you all being back here? Coming back and being in these buildings again where you spent four years, Mesha. Fred, you were here for five years. Justin, you were here for a little bit more than that. How was that experience when you first came back? How is it now being back at your Alma mater?

Well, when I first came back, I was excited, really happy, really looking forward to meeting all the students and new faculty. But I low-key felt out of place. I'm like, wow, things have changed, but a lot of things have stayed the same. A lot of new faces, for sure. But now after a couple of months, I'm getting adjusted well. it's not really an adjustment, because I'm used to it, but I've been able to make relationships with a lot of new people. And it's been fun.

That's cool. Freddy, what about you?

I love being back, man. I love being back more than I did as a student. I can’t lie. And I think it is really teaching. Honestly, I think it's the role more than anything else. I felt confident coming back. I always thought that I would be a good teacher. I always thought I would be good at it in terms of the relationship that I knew I could build with students. But I always was a little hesitant to know if I felt like teaching would really feed my soul. I think there's a difference between being good at something and truly enjoying it.

And I think it's, so far, has surpassed my expectations of the level on which I thought I would enjoy. I truly love working with the kids. They're so funny every single day, especially eighth graders. They're like right before they're too cool for school, but they think that they're so mature, because they're the oldest in the building. So yeah, just working with them and just seeing how their mind works every day has been fun.

Good for you.

And yeah, and I enjoy seeing all the old teachers that I had, and stuff like that. It's different having a student teacher relationship and a colleague relationship. So everybody's been super supportive and--

Teacher right next door to Mr. Pell. Are you able to rock? Hey, Bruce. How are you this morning?

He was one of my teachers. Yeah, it was surreal for a long time too, like Mesha said, just getting adjusted in that way.

It's the first names for me.

Yes, I still don't do it. I don't do it on time.

Justin does. Justin was pretty quick. He said, OK, Mark.

I force myself. It wasn't an easy transition.

Yeah, it's hard. But overall, I would say I'm enjoying being back, for sure, definitely enjoying it.

Yeah, I would definitely echo that. The first few weeks were definitely very strange. And especially right after graduating college where you're expecting to move on to a new city, new people, all this newness that you're anticipating, and then to be back, for me, at a place where I've been 12 years I know so well with all these people that I'm very familiar with it was definitely a bit of a shock. But it's also been really nice being here in a new role, having different types of relationships with my former teachers.

And that, for me, at least, cemented, I guess, how much I've changed in the last four years. And even though it's an old place with old people, I guess, that I've known before, it's still very new in that regard that I'm a different person and my role here is different.

It's very healthy.


It's a healthy way to look at it. And I hope that in some ways, it is that homecoming. And I'm glad to hear Mesha, you say it's changed. The environment has changed, the faces changed, because they do. And that's one of the things that-- human nature in your mind's eye, it's what it was in 2016. But kids have come and gone. Teachers have come and gone. School leaders have come-- and we're a dynamic organization. And we, as the faculty, staff here also sometimes I forget, it's like, wait a second, you're 18. You're in your 20's now. Time marches on for all of us.

When you think about going on to USC, and George Washington, and Notre Dame, if you go back to the years that you were in undergrad, are there skills that you learned and practiced here at Sanford that you look back and you know translated well to your college life?

So many. I feel like going to Sanford and coming into college my freshman year, I realized I was much more prepared than a lot of other students who were there, not even just academically. Like Sanford was very-- you guys gave us a lot of freedom as students. And I feel like that also translated like I can manage my time. We had to be involved in-- we had to have two extracurriculars. So we had to be involved in other things. And we had to learn how to manage our time. We had to learn how to be independent, really, at Sanford. And I think that is one of the biggest things I took with me to college, just knowing how to handle my business, for sure.

That's well said.

I will second that, at least academically. Academically, I was prepared, even though college is still insanely hard. I don't think you can ever truly be prepared. College is very, very hard. But yeah, I think I was prepared academically. And like Mesha said, we balanced a lot from student council to extracurricular activities, just the travel that we make to school every day, sports all year round, the academic rigor. So academically, I definitely was prepared in a manner in which I don't know if I can say the same had I not went to Sanford.

Socially, I think it's a little maybe the other way around. And I think it's more on me than it was on Sanford. But I think I had to embrace individuality and find who I was in college.


Yeah, I don't think I really liked who I was, per se, in high school in retrospect. I think I was just trying to fit in more so than be who I was and who I wanted to be. It may not seem like that, but that's how I feel in retrospect. So I had to spend more time alone in college, and really reflect, and try to figure out who I wanted to be, and stuff like that. So maybe not socially. I think I had to work backwards and start from ground zero, if that makes sense. But academically, for sure. It definitely prepared me in ways that I'm grateful for.

Justin, what would you add to that?

Yeah, my experience-- I definitely felt academically very prepared, but although, I guess I didn't really see that so much in college, just because everyone was fine academically, like that got to Notre Dame. Everyone did really well in high school. So I didn't notice that difference so much that


Excuse us.

Right, excuse me.

No, but I say that because that's not what stood out to me from Sanford experience as a difference. But more so, I think I have some confidence I had that instilled in me from my time at Sanford, because there so many chances to have responsibility, and just step up, and exert leadership. While a student at Sanford, from starting a club, or running something like student government, or doing these different things, that I feel is a lot of times at Sanford, you were given the reins on a lot of those things in a very healthy way.

But as a student, we were entrusted with a lot of those things. And I think because of that, I came to college and I was just ready to keep that going. And I didn't hesitate when I was doing something for my dorm, and I had to make all these phone calls, and organize these things. It was just normal for me, whereas other people hesitated more for that.

Yeah, sometimes we hear from alums who get to the college campus and they'll say, I'm with some kids who-- they just have never been given that freedom or the expectations of work. They're not used to that, because they're just taught in a different way. They come from a different school culture of high school. And I have always just thought that we try to put kids in a place where they can figure that out.

And I can relate to what you're talking about, Fred. I don't feel like I hit my stride until I probably was a freshman or sophomore in college. And high school was just a little bit of a pre-training ground.


And then when I was able to get on a college campus, I think it hits everybody differently.

Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. When you all think back to your time as students and what you're seeing now, what changes are you noticing? Good and bad.

That's a good question.

Yeah, I can't tell. I'm struggling with my perceived changes of Sanford, being back with-- if I've changed, so I'm seeing things differently or if Sanford has changed. That's where I'm struggling right now.

And I also think because we came back while it's COVID, it's very different as well. So we don't even really know how Sanford has changed really.

What's the real 2020?


Good to have. That's a good point.

I would say that I feel like Sanford is more welcoming than I remember and more-- I think that Sanford-- the way that I feel is that Sanford embraces individuality and diversity a lot more than I remember. And I can't really give a specific example. It was more so a feeling that I have since I've been back in the past-- what is it-- November now, maybe four months or so.

But again, I think that I personally am a lot more open to different walks of life. I think you experience so many emotional highs and lows in college that you can begin to see yourself more in people that you may not have otherwise been able to resonate with. So I think that I'm just a lot more welcoming and humble. I would say I can see a lot more different types of people. I could see myself in them. So it could just be the way that I'm viewing Sanford from my new lens.

But yeah, man, I just feel like everybody embraces you. They want you to be the best version of you. And therefore, you can be the best version of yourself in our community. We can all benefit. So I just feel like that approach is much more prominent than I remember across leadership, across the student body, and so on, and so forth. So that's how I feel. But like I said, I'm struggling with whether or not that's a Sanford change or just I've grown so much, so that's just the way I view things.

That's fair. That's fair. And I ask because for me, it's always great to get a lens. Because I've been here-- this is my 10th year, so my experience has changed since 2011 when I arrived. And I know what I think we are. And I know what we did five years ago. And I know where we are. But that's my view. And I'm Head of school. And I'd say to your comment, Fred, I think Sanford predating me, probably has always been, to a degree, a welcoming, inclusive place.

But for a whole host of reasons, I think we're much more explicit about it now and we're much more intentional about it now, whereas before, it might have been, that's just who we are. And usually it worked. And it worked really well. But until it didn't. And then it's like, well, wait a second. That's counter to our culture. So we've had to be very explicit about decisions in language and frankly responding to things that are happening outside of our school campus. And our country's in a much different place than it was when you all graduated in 2016.

So I'm glad to hear that's your perception, because that's my perception too. I'd be disappointed if you all came back and said, well, this was like a time capsule of coming back to a museum. Nothing has changed. And the little fossil of a teacher still doing the same thing too. We should be a dynamic place, but the heart stays the same and the culture stays the same. Mesha, you were going to say something.

I think that I agree with Freddy about the individuality aspect. Everyone really is pushed to be the best version of themselves, not trying to be anyone else. Do what you will like to do, what you're interested in. I definitely feel like that's stressed here. I feel, though-- I don't know-- when I was at Sanford, I feel like it was so a robust community. And everyone kinda intermingled with everyone. And everyone spoke to each other across grades. Teachers and student relationships were really well.

And I feel like now the students are a little shy. I feel like-- and I don't know if it's just because I'm a newcomer, so of course, maybe they are going to-- well, I guess I'm a newcomer, whatever. So maybe people have to get used to seeing my face. But I will say that I'm not getting the give and take that I am used to getting from Sanford, for sure.

Well, I would say it's probably something that you said a moment ago. And I think that 2020 is just different. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I will. One of the things that I've always prided myself on, both at my previous school and ever since I got here, is knowing every kid's name. I don't know all those new kids. I probably only know half of them by name, because I haven't seen their faces.

When you're looking at somebody from the eyes up, it's just different. My daughter, who's a junior this year, she and I were talking about this, because she had to make a morning announcement for Lit mag. And she was talking about what she thought she was going to say. And we were talking about not having a morning meeting every day. And it sounds like a small thing, but for those of you who went through high school here, morning meeting is a seminal part of your day.


Every day.

It's culture.

Five days a week. That whole upper school, when you guys were here, we would do it in the Commons. We had to move it to the library because the high school got too big. So for the past two or three years, we'd go to the library. Whole floor is full of kids 9 through 12. And she was talking about being a freshman and sitting on the floor and looking at those seniors, and listening to where they were going to go to college, and listening to what clubs were happening, and how they made announcements, and looking around and all the teachers sitting around that square, most of whom weren't on her schedule. She didn't even know who they were, but she knew them and she knew them.

So all of that is not with us right now. It will come back eventually at some point. But to your point earlier, I just think it's such an unusual time. And those of us who've been here and will be here after this is over, we can't forget. Because what I don't want to have happen, is when the masks come off-- we're all sitting here, the four of us, in masks right now. Who would have ever guessed this? When the masks come off and we can have morning meeting again, that somehow that greater culture and energy comes back. But if I'm being 100% honest, it's just not right. It's not there. It's not, which is sad to say.

I didn't even think about that, because I'm not in the upper school every day, so I never even thought about what losing morning meeting could be like every day.

It's a big difference.

Or even just where you sit. Freshman sit right here, sophomore here. We still look forward to that first day of school, that new year when you get to--

And you can move.

Just like you say, hearing where the seniors are going to college, that was always something you look forward to. Hearing all the teachers announce the different clubs and stuff like that, it definitely forges a sense of community that I didn't even realize that could be taken away.

And it's morning meeting, and it's convocation, and Founder's Day, and all the pep rallies, and assembly.

The pep rallies.

The middle school, they were hurt about that.

The sporting events.

Yeah, I'm thinking about when I would go to watch a sporting event with my friend.

Yeah, I miss that.

And it's just like even people you didn't necessarily know, like I don't know you for real.

But like you said, we kind of knew everybody.

Exactly, I see you up here talking. I think I kind of know you. If I see you outside, I'm going to wave to you and say hi. Yeah, so I don't know. It's just different.

Yep. Well, and the thing that gives me hope and encouragement while we all know it's different, and our juniors and seniors know it's different, those new freshmen, they don't know any different. And the report that they give back is they love it. They love it. The kids who came up from our eighth grade, the kids are new to Sanford, they're really happy. And they're enjoying the experience, because they don't really know what they're missing. And sophomores don't as much either.

Juniors and seniors, I worry about them. I do because this class, not unlike how I worry about your generation as you're graduating college into COVID, but the juniors and seniors who are now thinking about going to college in this environment, and all those decisions they have to make. It's really a challenge, which is a good segway to my next question. What advice as recent college graduates would you give to juniors and seniors who are now entering the college search in this environment, knowing what you know about COVID, and all the things that we have to do differently. What would you tell a 17 or 18-year-old?

I think I would say you just have to make the best out of your situation. We're all going through COVID, but you have to find the silver lining, I guess, and stay positive. And just remember, COVID is not going to always be here. That's what I did to get myself through. I'm like OK, COVID is not always going to be here. I'm not always going to be in this uncertain space. And I think I just try to make the best out of my uncertainty. I make things certain that I can make certain, and things that I can't, then just don't stress about it.

That's really healthy.

Control's in your control.

Control's in your control.

I think it's crazy that during our freshman year, three months later, Trump got elected. That was a major shift.

That's so crazy.

And then we end our senior year with COVID. We didn't even get to end it. It's so crazy how it started and ended for us. But I would say my advice is similar. You can have goals for yourself. I think it's healthy to have goals for yourself every day. But I would also tell kids, don't let anyone  goal make or break their happiness.

College is so hard-- socially, academically, financially-- for a lot of people. Just balancing everything, the stress, and seeing what your peers are doing and comparing yourself, you have to know that if you have a goal, whether or not you reach that goal, or the outcome is something totally different, that you're going to be OK. It's not going to be the end of the world.

So if I could tell kids whether or not you get into this school, or you end up going here, it's going to be OK. Whether or not you're able to attend classes in person, or be online, you're going to be OK. And if I could-- it's one thing to tell somebody that and hear, but it's another for them to actually believe it. If they know that no matter the outcome of whatever this goal is, I'm going to be OK, I think that that's a very healthy space to be and to continue to wake up every day. Because it's easy to find yourself down and out when a lot of things are against you. And it's going to happen. It's not like you can avoid it.

No matter how much money you make, how good your grades are, how great your roommate is, you're going to have bad times no matter who you are. So you just got to know that I'm going to be OK. So that would be my thing. That's kind of how I feel.

I think in a similar vein, just I would encourage them to have just an openness to whatever does happen to them to show to the experiences that they will have. I think especially this year having, some kind of expectation that you-- like you said, Freddy, like you pin your happiness onto, can be dangerous.

Whether it be, oh, I want to get into this college, or I want to have this SAT score, but even in a sense of like OK, I'm going to go to college, and by then COVID will be gone, and everything will be happy and fine once I make it to college. And it's like we hope so, but if it's not, you have to be open to that and open to making the best out of that experience for what it is.

So I guess just having goals, expectations, all these things, but then also having the adaptability to shift how you feel about whatever outcomes do occur.

That's a good one, for sure.

I think you should have goals, but maybe not expectations. Expectation breeds disappointment. And if you have expectations in a COVID setting, I don't know. What can you expect?

Any 17-year-old listening now, please have goals.

Yeah, goals.

Have goals, but you don't live and die by them. I had read something recently and it was that the goals are important, make your goals, work towards them, but the key is the work, is the process. Because if you're working the process every day, every step, whether it's COVID or non-COVID, or now or 10 years from now, the process will always get you through. And that won't let you down, because the circumstances are guaranteed to change. We definitely know that.

When you think about your classmates who aren't at this table, because we have three of-- I don't know. However many-- there was 60 of you?

56 I think.


58, something like that.


Or 54.

We got a good 56, man.

What message would you send to the class of 2016 about their Alma mater? Many of whom probably haven't set foot back on campus in the last four and half years.

Come back. Come say hi. I miss class of 2016. It's been so long. I've been telling Justin since we-- when was that? July, August, new faculty orientation, I was like, we've got to get everybody back together.

Let's do it.

That's how I feel.

No, seriously.

Come back together whenever.

So since the three of you are working here, was there somebody else too from '16 around?


Isn't Rachel Rice around?

Rachel was, then I think she decided-- she was working with the little ones at the lower school. She said, I think I will focus on my music. But with the three of you here, and this spring is your five year reunion. We've got to get with Katie Trachtenberg. And we're going to have a five year reunion even if we have to be socially distanced. Let's do it. Let's have a gathering. And it'll be lit.

That'll be my message, just get everybody together if we can. I would love to see some people and just hear about how when they went off to college, just their four years, five years, or if they didn't go off to college, whatever happened, I just wish that they would catch up with everybody.


That's my--

You all had a good group as I recall. I have a gift for you. Now your class is one of the few classes I think that they beat the faculty and the floor hockey game.

We did. We did indeed.

With an overtime goal? Am I remembering that correctly?

It was an overtime goal.

I remember I was a cheerleader.

Or was it just a spanking? I can't remember.

I don't even know. I just know--

No, I think it was close.

I just know we got the win.

So I have pieces of the old floor.

Shout out to Mr. Shields.

What? Wow.

So we just redid the sports center, as you all know. And if you haven't been in there yet, you've got to go check it out. It looks so much better.

It's nice.

It's like a whole new deal. And I know all three of you were athletes in your own regards, so I'm sure there's some blood, sweat, and tears soaked into this hardwood. But I'm going to share that with you. And Katie and I are working on ways to get out some pieces to some of our other former players. But just as a token of my thanks for joining me today, but more importantly, for joining us this fall. And please know that all of us here are just so proud of you all. And thank you for all your hard work.

Thank you.

Good deal. Thanks, guys.

Yeah, no problem.