Connection and Gratitude: Jarrett Young ’01 Speaks at the 2023 Bond Lecture

Steve Hall ’23 and Kavin Hardison ’23, co-heads of the Black Student Union, welcomed this year’s Bond Lecture guest speaker to MICDS last week. They introduced Jarrett Young ’01, who is now the Head of School at City Academy. Here was their introduction:

Every February, in observance of Black History Month, MICDS holds the Bond Lecture in which a noted African-American comes to campus to speak with students as well as spend time in our classrooms. Past participants have included authors, lecturers, and civil rights leaders. The Erik Lyons Bond ’77 lecture is named in honor of the first African-American graduate to complete all eight grades at Saint Louis Country Day School.

We are excited to introduce our 2023 Erik L. Bond Lecture Series speaker, Mr. Jarrett Young, MICDS Class of 2001. Mr. Young joined City Academy community as Head of School in July 2022. He has held several roles in independent schools across the country as a teacher and administrator. In addition to working in independent schools, Mr. Young worked in higher education, including serving as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Bowdoin College. Mr. Young values education and community and believes the best way for communities to improve is to ensure outstanding educational opportunities are available for all. He serves on the Board of Directors for Aim High and is also on the Board of Directors for The Sons and Daughters of St. Louis. He is a native St. Louisan who grew up close to City Academy, in North St. Louis.

He attended MICDS in Middle and Upper School, and later he received his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in Maine and his Masters in Education from Harvard University. He is married to his MICDS 2001 classmate, Whitney Walker Young.

We are so pleased to have Mr. Young here today to share his story with us. Mr. Young, please come to the stage. 

“I’m so excited to be with you,” began Young. “I loved MICDS. It’s a place I feel incredibly connected to, and it defined who I am as a person. I remember sitting in your seats when I was in high school and thinking, ‘What are they going to talk about, what can I take away?’ It was  approachable and accessible for all of us.”

Young then explained that he was going to talk about connection. While he didn’t know Erik Bond personally, he feels connected because they have something in common: they are both students who exceeded expectations. Bond’s influence helped Young see himself as an MICDS student, which he admitted wasn’t always easy to do. Connection, he said, can be incredibly impactful in your life.

He spoke about how the Eads Bridge connects St. Louis to other communities and how Boston’s “T” connects the suburbs to the city. Both are essential infrastructure that allows their communities to be prosperous. At MICDS, Eliot Chapel was a space Young feels connected to, recalling the fear and exhilaration he experienced as he took the podium in eighth grade to speak about HIV/AIDS to his classmates.

“The most important connections we have are personal. Interpersonal connections can do amazing things, and have helped me find my purpose in life.”

Jarrett Young ’01

Young then shared a series of connections that made him who he is today. His best friend, Jerome, didn’t have the opportunity to attend MICDS like Young, and reminded him every day of the opportunity in front of him. Jerome also helped keep Young connected to their community. His grandmother, Mabel, with whom he and his single mother lived, modeled how to lead a family, how to provide, and how to love. Young strives every day to be the best father and husband he can be thanks to Mabel’s influence. He spoke about how the Bowdoin football team felt incredibly connected through a sense of shared sacrifice, a sense of purpose about people working together in concert with each other to achieve goals they couldn’t achieve alone.

How do we enhance connection? Young says it’s through gratitude, whether that’s an outward measure or inward feeling that you express through your actions.

He shared memories of a preorientation activity at Bowdoin where he was put in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation: white water canoeing. He survived (physically and emotionally) thanks to help from his advisor. He also appreciates the support of a football coach who, understanding Young’s financial situation and that his mother wouldn’t be attending Parents Weekend, ensured Young was not alone that weekend. After graduation, the coach passed away unexpectedly, and Young regrets not telling him how much he was loved and appreciated. “Expressing gratitude is so rare,” he said. “You think you have the time, but it’s not necessarily a given.” Later, when he had the chance to work at Bowdoin himself, he jumped at the opportunity to carry on his coach’s legacy, helping students just as he was once helped. “I still think about him all the time,” he said.

Finally, Young spoke about the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, which happens to be across the street from City Academy. He said it “created opportunities for kids that look like me who grow up in North St. Louis, to engage in athletics and academics.” He played baseball there, explaining that while he swears he was the worst baseball player in the city, it taught him that he could be part of a team and contribute, even without being the best player. He has remained grateful for the work that the organization did for him, and points out that others can invest in you without even knowing you. He recently had the opportunity to meet Mr. Martin Mathews, a co-founder of the Club. He was able to say thank you and share how much Mathews’ life’s work means to him.

“Gratitude can make you feel better, make others feel better, and can give you a sense of purpose. Do the small things, and say thank you to the people who you may not know. See what deep things you may learn about yourself.”

-Jarrett Young ’01

Nyla Meeks ’24 and Zoie Tolson ’24, who also help lead the BSU, concluded the assembly, saying, “On behalf of the Black Student Union, the Upper School, and Mr. Rainey, we thank you, Mr. Young, for taking time to speak with us about your leadership journey. We as an MICDS community plan to utilize the lessons and points you have spoken to us about during this lecture. Thank you again. Special thanks, also, to the Bond Family and the alumni office for holding this annual lecture to honor the life of Erik L. Bond. We appreciate the opportunity to continue honoring his legacy and memory.”

“I liked his lecture because it showed the importance of giving back to your community,” said Hall. “Instead of being a lawyer or businessman, he chose to go back to the area he grew up in and invest in the education of African American youth.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to Mr. Young speak,” said Tolson. “His beliefs about connections and telling people how much they mean to you before they are gone is a message to always be reminded.”

After the assembly, Young spent some time with a small group of MICDS student leaders. The conversation was lively and serious, and often punctuated by laughter. Young shared that playing three seasons of sports (football, hockey, and lacrosse), in addition to working on play productions and tutoring other students, didn’t leave a lot of time for what is traditionally defined as student leadership. “I was focused on being a really good teammate,” he said, “and ensuring that I was preparing especially for theater, so I didn’t hold anyone back.”

In addition to a strong academic foundation, he credits MICDS with instilling accountability. He told stories of learning how to hold himself accountable and how to work to dig himself out of difficult situations he was responsible for. He spoke about discrimination, sharing, “My experience with discrimination is like most people’s experience. It hurts, but people stepped up for me and beside me, and I know that’s not always the case.”

Young again professed his love for St. Louis and is grateful that he had the opportunity to move back and make a difference. He notes that he grew up very close to where City Academy is now located and remembers that it took two buses—and a fair amount of time—to get from the city to Ladue. He used to wish he lived closer to MICDS. Now he lives close to our campus and commutes into the city for work, right back to where he grew up.

“One of the things I loved about this place was the dress code,” he said, remembering the days of teaching in the classroom and recognizing that “so much of the conflict that the lack of a dress code created stopped us from doing school in a meaningful way.”

He shared that his favorite thing about being an MICDS alumnus is that he’s been able to maintain connections throughout the community. He laughs that a close friend who was the “funniest person” in seventh grade is now also a father with whom he can connect about parenting. And the parents of some out-of-town alumni friends came to his lecture today. “The relationships here aren’t quick, transient things,” he said. “They are rooted in long-standing traditions.” It’s those relationships, and the exposure to other parts of his community, that he’s most thankful for. “The things I got here enabled my children to have choices so that I don’t have to stress about in the same way [as his mother did]. There’s a feeling of connectedness to St. Louis and the structure of St. Louis that this place really afforded me.”

Finally, he left the student leaders with some great advice:

  • Take action and then make it right. People make the perfect the enemy of the good. If you struggle with perfectionism, you won’t get it done. Get the right people involved and know you’re all committed. (Young shares that he learned “Take action and then make it right” from Caitlin Condie ’11, who credits her father, Andy Condie ’82, for the theme. “We were talking about the importance of taking action and she reflected on her father’s words. I loved it so much that I shared it with the students after the talk,” he said.)
  • Be approachable, genuine, and authentic with people.
  • College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll do well. (This is a quote from Frank Sachs, the former director of college counseling at The Blake School in Minneapolis, where Young once worked as a grade dean and social studies teacher. “It is so fitting for young people that it still resonates with me,” he said.)
  • Fully invest in your collegiate experience instead of trying to reconfirm that person you were in high school. Fully immerse yourself in the culture, and find the place that’s right for you.
  • When you learn the lesson, you have to accept it to move forward.
  • Find ways to make yourself uncomfortable. Be ok with being scared. Don’t let the fear make you question why you’re in the place you are and why you’re in the role you’re in. Have the self-assurance that you’ve got it. Fear stops people from taking chances.
  • Don’t worry about leaving St. Louis. You can always come back to make a difference.

St. Louis is better since Jarrett Young ’01 returned, and we look forward to seeing all the differences he will make. Thank you, Mr. Young, for sharing your time with us last week.