• Leadership
New UPrep Head of School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau’s Welcome Ceremony Address

Read Head of School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau’s address from her Welcome Ceremony on October 7, 2020.

Our New Head of School shares her hopes and dreams for UPrep*

By Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau

Good Evening everyone,

I am delighted to be speaking with you from Founders Hall.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. 

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite poets and authors because she gets me, and she sees right into my soul. I begin with her quote because that is one of the best descriptions of my personal mission in life.

I come from a family of dreamers, thinkers, innovators, and doers. I am Black, a West Indian, a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a sister. I am driven to succeed and eager to mentor others in their journeys to leadership. I am just paying it forward since there are many who have mentored me, especially Reveta Bowers and Roger Bass. I am third generation college educated and a firm believer that with a great education we can achieve anything in life. I have learned from the lessons of my parents and grandparents before me, and I am handing on all that I have learned to my two children, Aidan, 18, and Kaleigh, 16. They are my proudest accomplishments, and I would not be standing here today without the love and support of my husband, Patrick, and my children. For that, I thank them.

In 1980, my mother arrived at Logan International Airport with three children in tow. We were moving from Barbados to Boston after a short stop in Canada. Our life was very different from the life we had left behind. There were new customs and traditions to learn. Halloween is still the hardest one for me. Dressing up in costumes and running from house to house begging for candy still seems like an odd custom to me. 

Growing up, I was determined never to become a teacher. After all, both of my parents had been teachers at some points in their lives: my father, a math teacher turned businessman, and my mother, a music teacher. I wanted to be different. I just didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was a little jealous of my sister who knew right away that she wanted to be a lawyer. We are 16 months apart, and it always scared me a little that she knew early on and I had no idea. I thought about entering the medical profession, but realized that I would not make a good doctor as I was scared by the sight of blood. I was not very artistic, so that limited me in some careers. But as a youngster, the one thing I enjoyed was lining up my dolls and teaching them in my make-believe school. But no, I was never going to become a teacher, until great teachers began to influence me.

The first was my sixth-grade teacher. It was a small school, and there were only 12 of us in sixth grade. Having just arrived from Barbados with a strange accent and quiet demeanor, I shied away from mingling with the other 11 students. Every day, my teacher would go out of his way to motivate me, encourage me to participate in recess games or to interact more in the classroom. One day he sat down next to me and told me that introspection was good as long as I was thinking of ways in which to change the world. I have been thinking of ways to change the world ever since. I have no idea where this teacher is now, but every time I enter a classroom, I think of him.

The second teacher to have a lasting impact on me was the head of the English Department at my high school, Boston Latin School. This teacher allowed me to spend hours in her office after school reading. I devoured any book I could get my hands on, and, in those few years of high school, my world expanded and doors were opened to new possibilities. Theodore Dreiser in his novel Sister Carrie and Thomas Hardy in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles taught me the power of a strong woman; and Richard Wright in his novel Native Son and Maya Angelou in her novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings taught me the power of inner strength. I owe this high school English teacher my love of reading and the inspiration each book, fiction or nonfiction, gives me.

My years at Wellesley College grew me from a child into an adult. I felt empowered on that campus full of strong motivated women and learned how to challenge myself and others to lead. Those four undergraduate years quickly came and went, and the cocoon of safety I had built in that protected environment quickly came and went, as well.  Suddenly, it was the middle of my senior year, and I had no idea what I wanted to pursue. I remember walking somberly to my dean’s office to seek her advice about what came next. She asked me to recollect my favorite classes, professors, and moments at Wellesley. As I talked about the time I had spent tutoring students at the local high school, my body language changed and I became energetic and animated. That is how one meeting changed the trajectory of my life.

I have been a teacher, administrator, and school leader for 29 years. Yes, I started at age 12, for those of you quickly calculating my age. I love working with young people and watching them learn how they can change the world, but I also like thinking of how education will change and grow in our future; how the ways in which we educate our children must change and grow to meet the adapting needs of young people today.

When I was a teenager, there were no cell phones, only pay phones on street corners and landlines with phone numbers we all shared. I remember my friends calling me on the house line and then dragging the phone into the closet of my bedroom for privacy. There were no navigation systems in cars and no automatic car locks. I was proud of my Walkman; there are probably some of you who do not know what this is or what a cassette tape is. I was even prouder when I could afford my first portable CD player. I left for college with my typewriter and a small television that you had to get up and turn the knob on if you wanted to change the channel. Just as technology has changed, so must education.

A good school leader must be visionary and be able to share that vision with every constituent in their school. As Burt Nanus writes in his book Visionary Leadership: “There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.” My graduate work at Pepperdine University taught me about the importance of being a visionary. Just as I sat with my dolls in my youth teaching them how to read and as I re-imagined my career path as a senior in college, so must I imagine a future for UPrep. A vision which must be shared and owned by every stakeholder in this school community. That vision can only be achieved if there is trust in the community and if the vision is in line with the mission of the school.

I feel so lucky that my journey in education, through four schools, has finally brought me to UPrep. A school of infinite potential. A school poised to increase its mark on the Seattle landscape. That young girl with her dolls wondering what she would become when she grew up now stands before you wondering what UPrep will become as it grows up, and how I will help it to get there. We are at an interesting intersection in the world today. We desperately need leaders who will listen and lead with compassion and understanding. The students that we have in our classrooms today will be the future world leaders of tomorrow. How will I help this school create strong global citizens? How will my vision for what UPrep can become be realized?

I came to UPrep because it is a school ready to launch idealistic change makers onto an unsuspecting world. This is a school which asks students to look outside their four classroom walls and use the world and the city as real-world classrooms. This is a school which teaches young people how to take risks while accepting the consequences, how to question authority with courage and compassion, and how to lead with strength and motivation. Whether virtual or in-person, UPrep is a community where I see myself growing, leading, and making an impact.

I believe students today must learn by doing and experiencing. I believe they will need to learn the skills for jobs that have not yet been created. I believe our students will need to be personable, be able to dive into difficult conversations, be able to interact with people who look very different than they do and who live far away from them. I believe our students will create prototypes which may fail at first, and they may have to try over and over again to reach desired successes. I believe our students will need to be resilient, confident, and divergent thinkers. I believe they will need to find creative solutions to real world problems, and they will see the world changing rapidly before their eyes. Are we ready to become the UPrep that is strong now, but will be even stronger in the future? Are we ready to create the leaders who will change the world? 

In its own words, crafted by the community and affirmed in everything that the school does and stands for, University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world. Please join me in helping to make this school’s mission a reality.

Thank you!

I want to thank all of our invited guests. We are about to move into the Town Hall portion of the evening and if you are not a UPrep parent or guardian please feel free to leave. Many of my closest friends and mentors are here and I thank you as always for your support and say goodnight to you all!

Thank you!

Watch the Welcome Ceremony, which includes Ronnie's address, and the Town Hall Q&A session here.


*This is Head of School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau’s address during her Welcome Ceremony on October 7, 2020.

More from PrepTalk