The Von Kohorn Address, named in honor of former Board of Trustees Chair Henry Von Kohorn, is given by a faculty member (chosen by the Head of School.) This year’s speaker was Middle School and Upper School World Languages faculty member Ronaldo John. To watch a video of his mesmerizing speech click here.
In his speech to the Middle and Upper School students, faculty, staff, trustees, Warren Society members, and alumni, John lifted the hearts of the GFA community with his effervescent lesson in appreciating the village that got him to where he is today.
“The village, similarly to the community, is a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society,” said John. “Today, I invite you all into my village, to know the many villages that loved, supported, challenged, and nurtured me. As much as this assembly recognizes me, I want to in turn, recognize my villages.”
He details his familial background, fondly looking back to growing up in Trinidad, where his dream of teaching began with a chalkboard up against the walls of his childhood home.
“My parents constantly encouraged me to work to my fullest potential and reminded me that I could achieve anything I set out to accomplish,” he remarks.
John looks back to a poem his father used to read to him, recalling that it was the first poem he had ever heard, reciting it word for word to his kindergarten class. The poem, “Songs of a Banana Man” by Evan Jones, taught John the importance of not judging someone based on their appearance, and that staying humble and remaining true to yourself is imperative to leading a happy and meaningful life.
This lesson of humility and staying true to himself is credited to his parents, who also played a huge role in his college application process.
After sitting in on a presentation by an admissions representative from Trinity College at his high school, John was captivated by the beauty of the campus, and how attractive studying in the United States sounded.
“After an interview, my first trip to the US at the age of 17, a rushed go at the SAT exams and filling out the common application and applying to colleges, I was accepted to Trinity. It took me a long time to begin to understand how much my life had changed in the span of six months.” he said.
During the application process, his mom became his college guidance personnel, “never failing to give daily reminders” on due dates. After his acceptance, his mom did everything she could to make sure John could afford tuition costs, planning a barbecue fundraiser to offset the cost.
“At that time, I felt slightly embarrassed because I felt like she was “begging” but now, I know that feeling came from a teenager who didn’t quite understand that there is no shame in asking for help.” said John.
The day of the barbecue was nothing short of inspiring. After seeing friends, neighbors, and family show up just for him, John was in awe.
“They understood the assignment, believed in me, and wanted me to have the opportunity to elevate myself, and so they all gave of themselves, in whatever way they could have, to help me realize my dreams, a dream that I carried for them all,” he recalled.
Right after college, John began teaching at GFA. Eight years later, he urges GFA students that they need their villages “more than you can begin to comprehend at this age.”
“A thousand hands are on my shoulders, my village, championing me. From the guys in my childhood neighborhood, my schoolmates and teachers, my family and friends, my colleagues, and everyone who has poured into me, offered their counsel, and amplified me and my excellence even when I couldn’t see it, these villages helped me to become the man and the educator that I am today.” said John.
To conclude his address, John taught the GFA community a greeting he learned at a recent conference, ‘Sawubona’. From the Zulu tribe in South Africa, ‘Sawubona’ means “I see you.”
“Just as my villages see me, I see you, students of GFA.”