Coates, Captaincy, and Curriculum: My Educational Journey

Timmy Sullivan '22


I slipped the sky blue and snow white hockey sweater over my shoulder pads, pads that I entrusted my life with, pads that aided my effort to induce pain on the opposition, pads that fit like a glove. I trotted across the locker room on ⅛-inch steel blades, thudding my skates against the rubber floor as I soon found myself in the bathroom, gazing into the mirror. From my hand, I pulled a white and navy “C” and slowly clipped the letter onto my jersey. I was a doctor and my hands were my scalpels. I assured myself that I had perfectly placed this revered letter onto my jersey, a jersey that represented everything important in my life: home, hockey, hard work, and honor. Once again I stared into the mirror, now understanding that a new era in my journey through life had begun.


In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Coates offers an intriguing perspective on how learning derives from life experiences and reflection, whether it be from the classroom or the “streets.” When Coates criticizes that “schools did not reveal truths, they concealed them,” he gives the reader insight to the lack of relevance to real life that lower income schools provide (27). This concealment of truths, truths that guide one to success, proves its own existence through the statistic that Coates mentions earlier on the page, when he states that 60% of Black boys who do not graduate high school end up in prison (27). Both Coates’ opinion and the previously mentioned statistic reveal the presentation of schools to Black, underprivileged children as an escape from the streets and the only means to avoid death rather than a place of higher education and an opportunity to obtain future success. Coates’ allusion, “when our elders presented school to us [as an escape from death],” exposes that the concept of school providing safety from certain danger passes from generation to generation, destroying Black communities (26). Through this exposure of the school system as one that diminishes hope in Black boys, Coates learns the importance of curiosity. Coates understands that investigation of concepts he finds intriguing will create growth in himself as a learner. Whether he was reading the books his father gave him on Black nationalists and heroes or individually studying in the Howard University library, Coates’s curiosity propels his abilities as a learner rather than a government-made school system.


However, Coates’ curiosity nearly cost him his own life in his sixth grade year. Recalling the imposing presence of the older boys outside the 7-Eleven, recalling that the older boy stood “with the gun brandished… I saw a surging rage that could, in an instant, erase my body,” Coates subtly shows that even curiosity, the one aspect that involved hope and purpose in his life, failed to adequately combat the challenges of life on the streets (21). The information that Coates gains from this experience holds more value than any lesson or unit that exists in any school, and although this educational experience nearly led to his own death, Coates gains more knowledge outside the classroom than he ever would inside the classroom.


In Fairfield, Connecticut, on the top of a grassy hill lies Fairfield Country Day School, my educational home from 2007-2018. Founded in 1936, Country Day, as its students call it, seeks to establish a strong education for the young men of Fairfield County. In my time at Country Day, I never strayed from academic challenge nor did I fail to involve myself in the school's activities. I pushed through challenging math classes, rehearsed for important choir and bell choir performances, and slugged through grueling football and hockey practices in the afternoon. I fought for success like my Scottish ancestors before me, demonstrating a strong work ethic and a relentless fighting spirit, stopping at nothing to achieve what I desired.


Country Day’s motto, created by the school’s founder Lawrence Gregory, reads “Laboribus Iudicamur: We are judged by our deeds.” I relate to and appreciate this motto every single day, understanding how one’s actions influence others, especially in today’s world of video recording and the internet. Although this motto relates to the classroom, I have always considered the motto as something to apply to the real world.

After one of my Friday evening practices, I tossed my smelly bag over my shoulder and trudged out of the locker room, when my coach quietly pulled me aside for a conversation that I expected to be brief yet meaningful. The stench of the locker room hallway attacked my nostrils, the dim lighting illuminating my mind. My coach genially informed me that I had won the vote for team captaincy; he expressed his excitement for the upcoming season and presented the responsibilities that came with the captain role.


I had expected the responsibility and leadership. I had not expected the collaboration necessary to win. I had not expected the pain of losing, a pain that already stung, but this letter stitched over my heart developed a harsh and depressing thought: “It’s my fault.” I had not expected to pull all nighters completing homework and watching game film just to hope that I could execute one simple pass or play. My role taught me how leadership taxes the body and the mind.


Although I depict the role of captain as one of struggle and failure, I would never surrender that position if I had the opportunity to do so. No classroom, no lesson, and certainly no teacher could ever sufficiently display how to collaborate, lead, and love. The bonds I formed with my fellow teammates and the memories I fostered will never leave my mind. This journey taught me every life skill necessary for success, for my letter was my greatest teacher.