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  • Reverend James Squire

Esse Quam Videri and the Olympics

The French essayist and novelist, Giraudoux wrote: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” Our school’s motto at the Episcopal Academy is Esse Quam Videri which means to be rather than to seem to be. You should be authentic and real, not fake in any way.

To be rather than to seem to be could well serve as the motto of the Olympics. You can’t fake your times in the pool or in an eight-man crew shell. You can’t fake the hours of practice. You get what you deserve, nothing more and nothing less.

We have two athletes and one past parent who were introduced to our motto who are at the Olympics. It was written on the side of our chapel that faces the main drive so that it is the first thing that you see when entering campus. I believe that we are the only school in the nation that has two students and a past parent at the Olympics. Nick Mead, a member of the Men’s Eight, Matt Freese, a goalie on the men’s soccer team, and Jay Wright, part of the coaching staff of the men’s basketball team. Jay has recently been admitted to the Basketball Hall of Fame. His son, Colin, was one of the student spiritual leaders of our school.

I want to focus on the students as the school motto became more than words written to read as they became words written in their hearts. You can’t fake it to the Olympics. Olympians are the embodiment of everything that is real and authentic. That is a shared characteristic of them all. Matt Freese was also one of the student spiritual leaders of our school. He is one of our first graduates to become a professional soccer player when he was a student at Harvard. He had to put his education on hold. His father died a few weeks ago. His dad was a noted scientist who worked on unlocking the secrets of RNA which has become a key discovery that led to the Covid Vaccine.

Because of his spiritual leadership role at our school, I spent a great deal of time with Matt in meetings. He really was one of those people where “what you see is what you get.”

Nick Mead is in the Eight Crew Boat. He rowed at Princeton and was set to go the Olympics when it was cancelled. Nick had a difficult decision to make. Would he put his life on hold and train for the Olympics or would he move on to a more normal life without early morning practices and dedication to try to make the next Olympic team knowing that it was not a foregone conclusion. He opted to train again with not many people watching. The interesting thing about authenticity is that it doesn’t allow easy choices. In ethics we describe it as to choose the hard right and not the easy wrong.

I want to honor another would be Olympian if the fates had not served up a terrible death of one who had the Olympian spirit. His name is Paul Pratt, one of my students, who was one of the best rowers in the nation who was destined to be in a shell at Harvard. Paul died in a freak car accident in May of 2013. Since he had no ID on him, I was asked by the police to come to the scene of the accident to identify him. It was a long walk when I arrived between the front of the Suburban that he was driving and the back where he had been placed. It seemed to take an eternity to walk those ten steps. I taught him and knew him well. To say that he was an engaging student in my Ethics class would be an understatement. He became a class leader during discussions. He had real questions that needed to be addressed. That word, real, is not just any old word for him. He lived the school motto. I believe he made an impact on our community and beyond because he was so “real.” He didn’t have a fake bone in his body whether it be in his relationships or on the river rowing with current Olympian, Nick Mead. To use the oft mentioned phrase, he was the “real deal.” His father, Joe, said it best in describing what occurred at the Stotesbury Regatta.

“At the first race of the 2013 Stotesbury Regatta, a time trial on May 17 at about 1 pm, four oarsmen, Nick Mead, James Konopka, Guillaume Furey, and Jack Alden, rowed the Episcopal Academy Shell. Paul would have been there, rowing bow seat, had he not died 17 hours earlier. At the 500 meters mark which is about where the St. Joe’s boathouse is located, the four oarsmen were met by an eruption of cheering, yelling, and screaming from the crew community from all the participating schools lining the banks of the Schuylkill River. Those passionate rowing fans were not yelling the names of schools. As one, the community chanted one name, “pull for Paul; pull for Paul; Pull for Paul; pull for Paul.” The Stotesbury Regatta is the largest and oldest high school regatta in North America. Long time observers of crew racing have said they cannot recall such an outpouring. In the days that followed, I pondered the question, “Why did Paul’s death cause such a reaction?” As time passed, I could not help but wonder why Paul’s death grew in the minds of our greater community, not only among rowers, but among those who publish national blogs.”

Esse Quam Videri

The Memorial Service for Paul was held at our school chapel which seats a thousand. It was standing room only as people from the school, the rowing community, and the greater community were in attendance.

When Nick Mead and his shell mates row today, I shall say a silent prayer, “Pull for Paul!”

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