Mark Terry

Academics, Alumni, Arts, Community, Events, Faculty

A Speech in Honor of NWS Founder Mark Terry

By Philip Benjamin ‘05

The following speech was delivered on Thursday, September 2 during a Naming Ceremony in honor of Ellen Taussig and Mark Terry.

I am a member of the graduating class of 2005, but really, that is just the year I graduated. I started NWS as a pre-pubescent middle schooler, and it saw me through my 18th birthday. We call people like me a “lifer.”

I’m here though to talk about Mark Terry, and I’m sure there are countless old students of Mark’s who would have their own insights and praises to sing, but apparently, I’m the only one who lives in Seattle and is free mid-afternoon on a Thursday.

I’d like to briefly highlight two major contributions of Mark’s that I personally had the privilege to experience and benefit from. Mark as a founder and Mark as a teacher. Although they are inextricably related, I want to briefly touch on both. 

First, Mark as the founder. As we all know, there is something magic about Northwest. Of course, from an educational standpoint it is top tier, but that isn’t just it. When you distill down what makes Northwest so exceptional, it is the culture, the values, that underlie the institution. I believe those values came directly from the founders, Ellen, Paul, and Mark. It is very difficult to convey how much NWS contributed to my development as a young man, but I left having internalized their values of courtesy and common sense, tolerance, open-mindedness, respect, and intellectual curiosity. As a privileged white male, I can’t tell you what difference these values have made in my life. So many educational institutions teach that individual achievement is the highest priority. However, I believe this promotes toxic cultures full of exploitation and zero-sum mentalities. At Northwest, we learn together, as a family, in a giant house.

Now, for Mark as the teacher. I took 10th grade biology and 12th grade primate biology with Mark Terry. When I first stepped foot in Mark’s biology class in 10th grade, I remember feeling a little intimidated. I mean, he had a reputation and a certain gravitas in the school. However, by the end of that first class, I knew something was different. He made the class and its material feel important and relevant. He had the ability to make you feel motivated to learn, not to get a grade. 

Over the course of that year, I felt more and more comfortable in his classroom, learning from a teacher who was passionate, but also warm and funny, and who, I knew, could have easily been teaching at some university. It made me feel lucky to be there.

So naturally, come 12th grade, I elected to take primate biology. I remember signing up for that class and thinking to myself, I’m pretty sure not a single high school student in America is taking a class called primate biology (and to be honest, most undergrad students weren’t either). I loved it. Mark wove in tendrils of evolution, genetics, anthropology, and sociology. It became a pre-cursor for much of what I went on to study in college. My best friend, Adam Miller and I found the class so interesting, and to be honest, wanted to be around Mark so badly, that we even volunteered during some of our free periods to help painstakingly brush, pick, and clean a few of the many mysterious fossils Mark had lying around classroom shelves. Mark, it was a privilege to have been your student!

I’ll end by posing the question: “How do we truly honor the legacy of Paul, Ellen, and Mark?” In my opinion, it is not just in naming a room after them, which is an honor, yes, but does not in and of itself serve current and future students who sadly did not get to experience them as teachers. It is essential that we, past, present, and future Northwestors honor them by actively striving to maintain and build upon the foundation, the culture, that they so graciously laid for us.

Thank you.