Henry Milton - Lessons in Humility

In 1977 I looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw a scrawny, insecure, and confused teenager who could list, as a singular accomplishment, 4 months of dishwashing at the Holiday Inn.  Yet my ego told me I possessed superior talents and skills that simply went unrecognized.  In fact, I had a severe, and probably incurable, case of “anal-cranium.” I am grateful that Henry (Mr. Milton, to me) often reminded me of this because without breaking through my ego I would never learn anything as a student either at that school or, as it turns out, for the rest of my life.  

At Hyde School, Mr. Milton occupied the office of the Dean of Students. If you are unfamiliar with prep school hierarchy, the Principal may be the head of the school, but the Dean of Students is God, dispensing punishment and favor.  Towards the end of my time at Hyde (I found out later – no badges), I became one of “Henry’s boys” - minions privileged to carry out any instructions he dispensed.  He made the mundane seem glorious with his thespian euphemisms.  One task he assigned me was to organize the “Campus Catharsis and Lustration Day.” Kids hated the annual trash pickup – but who wouldn’t want to “catharsize” and lustrate?  

For me, Henry continues as a larger-than-life figure.  Long after I’ve grown up (theoretically) I’m still ensconced as a student when I think of him.  He coached me in JV lacrosse, taught me English and History, and directed me as Billy Budd in the play.  Henry (the name) was nominated (unsuccessfully) as a name for my children.  Through him, I learned an appreciation for the learning process.  My experience turns out to be similar to tens of thousands of other pupils since.  I recently looked him up online and found a student review that read “One of the best teachers ever, but you better hope he likes you…”  His combative style forced you to come prepared or pay the consequences.  

We learned so effectively from him that I often wondered “Why the heck is he teaching in this dump?  He ought to be at some great institution. Plus, teaching is such a dead-end job, right?”  I now understand.  You are a teacher when you can do what he does – help people to learn and change.  As much as my ego wanted me to be a banker, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a writer, or a businessman, in the end, I’m a teacher and a coach.  I’M HENRY MILTON, and there must be hundreds of Henrys (I know a few) like me who he touched when we realized that we could learn and return the gift of learning.  Except I’m a phony – I’m PRETENDING to be Henry Milton because I am not clever, charismatic, charming, inspiring, or fearsome: I only ACT that way.  

Whenever things start going poorly for me, it’s usually because I’ve gotten some GREAT IDEA in my head, and I’m the perfect person to execute it. With that arrogant attitude, it’s just a matter of time until it’s not working.  I’ve gotten to the point where I can self-diagnose myself, and I need a little humility.  I say to myself, “You’ve got anal-cranium.”  

Thank you, Henry.


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