On May 3, Charlie Frankenbach P’12,16, Russel Bigelow Chair and chair of the English Department, was awarded the 2021 Lufkin Prize during an All-School gathering in Katherine M. Elfers Hall.
In introducing Frankenbach, Dean of Faculty and Associate Head of School Merrilee Mardon noted that a member of the faculty described him as “wonderfully patient with his students, though he is pushing them all the time to understandings they perhaps thought beyond them…. [He] has an intellect that should be given the freedom to roam…Students need him, colleagues need him, and the curriculum needs him.”
Another colleague observed that in Frankenbach’s classes, “there is sort of an aura…a magical invitation to be yourself, to take risks, to laugh, and to think. His classroom is not only safe, it is energetic…Charlie combines genuine substance, challenge, and difficult issues with warmth and fun.”
In 2020, Frankenbach was named an Outstanding Educator by the University of Chicago, based on the nominations of former students. In 2018, another former student nominated him for the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Award at Amherst College. The student emphasized that “he was the first person to tell me I was a good writer. He was the first person to tell me my story was important on the page. And, most of all, he was the first person to tell me my remixed, multilingual-self was just as worthy.”
In accepting the award, Frankenbach demonstrated some of the very qualities for which he is known, mixing provocative eloquence with humor that resulted in laughter echoing throughout the hall as well as a few tears. He extended gratitude to his family, his own teachers, and former Hotchkiss colleagues.
“When I list the influential people [at Hotchkiss], my own personal Mount Rushmore grows each year, newer colleagues joining those long gone as influences, as tributary streams to the river of my time,” he said, going on to name several members of the faculty whose early influence on him was particularly profound.
In remembering lessons learned, he harkened back to a colleague who taught him “that fun and humor had to be in the mix [of teaching], along with standards that allow students to discover themselves while, ideally, seeing rigor and the rigor of places like these schools not as mere weight, but as clean, good, combustible fuel for the self.”
In connecting his remarks to a lesson that he hoped would be of value to current students, Frankenbach read from the autobiography of John Hammond ’29, a jazz musician, record producer, civil rights activist, and music critic, who in 1927 was granted permission by Headmaster George van Santvoord ’08 to study violin in New York City on weekends. During these days away from campus, Hammond attended violin lessons but also immersed himself in the live jazz played by jazz greats of the time. As an adult, he would work with artists including Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and many more, in addition to advocating for racial integration in the music scene.
“[Graduating] in June of 1929, I was a changed young man. I was convinced that there were no absolutes, that it was impossible for me as a human being to follow any line -- a political line, religious line, or a philosophical line. I recognized that there would always be points of view based on others’ experiences which must be considered, and I had learned that dogmatism as a result of insecurity, intolerism, including my own, is always suspect. And thanks to George van Santvoord, I had heard more jazz, seen more live entertainment, than any boy in my class, and I could even hold my own in string quartets.”
Frankenbach used Hammond’s story to illustrate the manner in which he crafted his own Hotchkiss experience rather than waiting for Hotchkiss to “happen to him,” and encouraged students in the room to do the same.
In addition, he offered the following advice:
- Never wait in line for lunch.
- Sit down at a random table for a meal, and just meet someone you don’t know.
- Wave to drivers who stop for you at the crosswalk on Rt. 41.
- Go to stuff! [Take advantage of the tremendous opportunities Hotchkiss offers.]
- Meet your obligations. [Show up for classes, practice - and be on time.]
- Read poetry. Poetry is powerful. “It sounds out all those truths that we all know silently. And when we read it, we know we are in good company.”
- Celebrate daily the accomplishments and talents of those around you.
- Match the brightness and abundant promise that Hotchkiss offers with your own. Go for it!
The conclusion of Frankenbach’s remarks was met by thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Established in 2006 thanks to the vision and generosity of Dan Lufkin '49, P'80,'82,'88,'23, the Lufkin Prize is given in recognition of faculty members who make significant contributions to the Hotchkiss community and serve as role models for the students. While the prize recognizes excellence in teaching, advising, coaching, and overall service to the Hotchkiss community, the constant demonstration of ethical character and moral leadership and a commitment to these values in day-to-day interaction with students are also critical factors.
Past winners include Richard Kirby P’08,’09,’14,’15, David Bolmer ’73, Christy Cooper P’08,’11, Sarinda Parsons Wilson P’14,’17, Charlie Noyes ’78, P’03,’07, Letty Roberts P’12,’15, Brad Faus P’10, Ana Hermoso P’16, Keith Moon P’13,’16, and Ginny Faus P’10.
Watch a replay of the presentation below: