Simon & Schuster has asked me for a list of my speeches about Seward, which turns out to be a long list. While looking for them on my old computer, I came across these remarks at Seattle Prep in early 2014. I post them in case they might help others understand why and how I write books, and indeed help students as they research and write their own papers. They end with a bit of a “teaser” for the Stanton book, coming some time next fall. “Mr. McCarthy,” in the first line, is my good friend Andy McCarthy, head coach of the Seattle Prep mock trial team.
I am in the Boise airport, waiting to board my flight home to California, after attending high school mock trial nationals with the Phillips Exeter mock trial team, which I coach.
I am, I must confess, tired and disappointed. You are not sure, as the weekend progress, how you have done, but we thought by the end of yesterday that we had won three trials and lost one. It turned out, when the results were released this morning, that we won only one trial and lost three. So instead of being, as we hoped, something like tenth in the nation, we were thirty-fourth. Disappointing.
The Phillips Exeter mock trial team has won the New Hampshire state championship; the team will compete at nationals for the fourth time in five years.
This year was different, very different, because I live in California not New Hampshire. So I was not able to work with the Exeter students in person, only by phone, email, text message, Skype sessions. It was not easy: some times I could not reach them or they could not reach me, sometimes the connection would drop or the voices would garble. But they worked away to read and master the case, an aggravated assault charge against a teenager, arising out of a knife pulled at a graduation party. The students held tryouts and formed three teams, A team, B team, and C team, each with about ten students. I focused almost all my energy on A team, hoping they would win and go on to nationals. I spent a bit of time with B team and no time with C team.
Yesterday was graduation day here at the Phillips Exeter Academy. A wonderful, emotional, difficult day.
It was a beautiful, sunny day here, and graduation was held on the lawn in front of the main academy building, where the dog Sunny and I have walked so many times. My daughter Lydia—intelligent, beautiful, poised, gracious—was among the 318 students who received their diplomas from Principal Hassan. Lydia graduated with honor, a member of the Cum Laude society, the students with the highest cumulative grades. My wife Masami and I had many of the customary emotions of parents at high school graduation. “When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall? Wasn’t it yesterday that they were small?”
I have just returned from the national high school mock trial championship, held this year in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an exciting, exhausting, and in the end somewhat disappointing weekend.
Most of us traveled Wednesday, arriving in Madison after nine that night. The next morning, at nine, we had our first scrimmage, against a solid team from Jonesboro High in Georgia. We have a team connection to Jonesboro High: our state coordinator, the great Kyle Skinner, competed for Jonesboro when he was in high school. Competed at the highest level, winning the national championship one year. This year’s Georgia team was not that good, but they were good, with some interesting ideas. For example, the first words of the Georgia defense opening were “Occam’s Razor.” We had considered, briefly, using the very same phrase as our defense opening, but rejected it because we thought it too obscure, too erudite.
Phillips Exeter has once again won the NH state championship; we are once again headed to the national championships. I cannot claim to be surprised–we were the favorites heading into this weekend’s state competition–but I am so pleased.
In December, we formed three teams for the state championship; an A team composed mainly of experienced seniors and uppers; a B team with some strong lowers and preps; and a C team, also of lowers and preps. The case, originally from Georgia, was a murder at sea; two men went out shrimp fishing, the boat went down, one of them, Sam, was picked from the sea, and the other, Jude, washed up on the beach, with stab wounds matching Sam’s knife. We assigned roles–who was going to be Sam, who was going to be the police detective–and we went to work.
In September my mock trial team put on a short mock trial for assembly for the whole school. One of the Exeter students, not on the team, did not much like what he saw, and he posted a long critique on his facebook page.
As is the way of these things, other people saw the post, commented, word got around. The student newspaper here asked me to comment, and I put pen to paper. On some levels, mock trial is easy to mock; a bunch of kids pretending to be lawyers! But, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I find mock trial incredibly rewarding, mainly because it allows me to work with incredible students.
This past weekend I took about twenty Exeter kids to Harvard for a mock trial training weekend. The weekend has two main components: lectures by the Harvard students, in which they explain some of the basics of mock trial, and a scrimmage among the various high school students, in which they get a chance to practice what they have learned. I suppose the third, most important aspect of the weekend, is preparing for the scrimmage, which occurs between the lectures, and especially in the hotel rooms on Saturday night.
It is seven am on what promises to be a beautiful graduation day here at the Phillips Exeter Academy.
In one sense I do not have any of my own children graduating; my son graduated from Exeter in 2011 and my daughter (God willing) will graduate one year from now.
In another sense though I do have children graduating: in particular three mock trial students with whom I have worked for three and in one case four years: Gene Chang, Ange Clayton, Joon Yang. They were the senior leaders of this year’s team, a team which achieved great success, both in the state and at nationals, a team I will always remember with great pride and affection.
The Phillips Exeter Academy Mock Trial Team, of which I am the proud coach, just won tenth place at the 2013 National High School Mock Trial Championship. At the awards banquet Saturday night, the top ten teams are “called out” and honored, starting with tenth and proceeding to first. We knew that we had a chance to be ninth or tenth, a slight chance. When our name was called, we exploded in joy: screaming, jumping, hugging, crying. It was an amazing moment, an amazing weekend.