At a recent reunion of McCallie Honors Scholars, Prentice Stabler '02, now the Head of the Upper School at Franklin Road Academy in Nashville, reflected on the impact McCallie and the Honors Scholars program had on his journey to the Ridge:
Good evening, my name is Prentice Stabler, proud member of the class of 2002. The Honors Scholarship program has changed hundreds of lives, and Steve Hearn asked me to share a little bit of my story this evening to provide a glimpse into how instrumental this scholarship was and how fundamentally it shaped my journey.
In a lot of ways, I probably shouldn’t be here. In 1997, I was an 8th grader in Denver, living a Colorado life of skiing, fishing, hiking 14ers, and celebrating John Elway super bowls. My family lived three doors down from the top high school in the state, and I was excited to go there with many of my best friends.
That fall, two McCallie men, Breck Grover and Charlie Pride, came to my school, where my dad was the Headmaster, to share about the honors scholar program. Always the tactful statesman, Dad told them that they were wasting their time; no young man in his right mind would leave God’s country in Colorado to be a boarder in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Well, I’ve always thought God has a sense of humor, and I’m sure He was smirking as I told my dad that I actually might be interested, even though I had never heard of Chattanooga, let alone McCallie. I’ll never forget sitting down to interview with Steve Hearn that fall. He was perhaps the first real southerner I’d met—accent, southern manners and all. After 30 minutes of hearing Steve, share about dorm life, elite academics, and the unique culture of McCallie, I was all in.
But McCallie was always a dream that I knew was likely beyond my reach. Dad is descended from good Scotsmen, so he’s always in search of a good deal, and he and my mother were clear that they were not going to pay a boarding school tuition for me when we had a fantastic option at home. Without a full scholarship, I would stay in Denver. During my honors finalist weekend, I grabbed an extra copy of the program that listed all of our names, a keepsake to remember that brief window into what would have been a great adventure.
But here I am. The honors scholarship provided an opportunity that would have been impossible otherwise. Accepting the honors scholarship that many of you made possible was the most important worldly decision I ever made. My experience as an honors scholar pushed me to redefine myself, to pursue excellence at a level that I never had before, and to be bold. Accepting the scholarship and leaving home was the first time in my life that I can really remember embracing a challenge of the highest order rather than choosing an easier path.
It would have been far easier to stay home. At our core, though, I think that all boys crave adventure and thrive in the midst of challenges if we are brave enough to step into them. McCallie was that adventure for me. I found myself surrounded by an incredible array of talented students and teachers. Our honors scholar class numbered 19, each one immensely gifted. Being part of this cohort and being taught by men like Chet LeSourd, Cleve Latham, Michael Woodward, John Pataky, and Dave Mouron changed me as a student.
I had been a fine student before coming to the Ridge, but in the classrooms of these teachers, fine was not the goal; they wanted our best. Because I felt compelled to make the most of the opportunity that I had been given, I worked harder than I ever had before and left McCallie with an entirely reshaped sense of what I was capable of doing.
That healthy pressure to make the most of an incredible gift is something that I imagine many honor scholar alumni in this room share, and though it came with a dose of high school stress, I believe it was one of the great character-shaping realities of my time at McCallie. In my career, I’ve learned that one of the great challenges of working with high school students is getting them to embrace a sense of duty and to build a sense of responsibility for others. This ethos is built into the DNA of McCallie, but I felt it all the more intensely as an honor scholar whose time here was the direct result of visionary donors and school leaders.
My story is not unique or remarkable at McCallie. Hundreds could get up and tell similar, though far more impressive tales. But I share it with you tonight because it could not and would not have happened without the Honors Scholarship. My experience as an honors scholar opened up the door to two Ivy League degrees, shaped my character, and built the foundation of my faith. Against all odds at a boys’ school, it even compensated for all of my natural awkwardness and connected me to my wife.
If the goal was to transform lives, then I’m here to say thank you, as many of you in this room unequivocally changed mine. I chose to invest my working life in education because of my time here, because I saw with my own eyes what a school grounded in faith, guided by relationships, and committed to excellence could do in the lives of young people. How could I not get into education when my own life was so radically altered by a school? It is no coincidence that the first person I wrote when deciding whether or not to enter the field was Sumner McCallie.
So, thank you.
Thank you to Ed Michaels for having the audacity to put together a program of this scope and for investing the time and resources needed to convince others to join you. I know this was no easy task and I will always be especially grateful to you.
Thank you to Gloria Walker, Alan Dickson, Olan Mills and others who were brave enough and generous enough to help make the program a financial reality, and thank you to Curtis Baggett, who I am sure doggedly pursued each of you.
Thank you to Spencer McCallie III for leading the first year, and to Kirk Walker for sustaining it and always being such a strong supporter and sounding board in my own career path.
I have to be back at work at 7am tomorrow in Nashville to speak at our Veterans Day celebration, but I could not pass up an opportunity to be here tonight. I will always feel a debt of gratitude to McCallie, to the honors scholarship program, and to those of you here who helped make Ed Michaels’ vision a reality. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this feeling, so I be bold enough to speak on behalf of hundreds of honors scholars and say that if you need us, we will be here—each with our own unique combinations of gifts, talents, and resources—to give back. We stand on your shoulders, and we will always be grateful.