Clyfe Beckwith

“Inspiration lurks around every corner on this campus, like chaos theory where one small difference can result in a completely new outcome.”

Growing up in Zurich, Switzerland, Clyfe Beckwith attended the American International School before coming to the United States for college. He first set foot on campus as a Summer Session Teaching Assistant in 1987 after completing an B.A. degree in physics and math at Dartmouth College. He went on to complete a Ph.D. in physics at Boston College in 1992, and rejoined the faculty at Phillips Academy as a full-time instructor of physics in 1992. He has taught across the physics curriculum, including astronomy and electronics courses, and has taught advanced German classes and a section of mathematics. In addition to his work in the classroom, he has served as head coach for girls’ and boys’ volleyball since 1998, department chair of physics (1997-2005), cluster dean (2005-2011), and as a member of the Community Conduct Council (2011-2017). He also spent more than a decade as a house counselor, overseeing the residential communities of Will Hall, Stearns House, and Allen House. Beckwith’s dedication to students and scholarship has been recognized mostly recently with the Academy’s Elizabeth Rogers Instructorship and the George Peabody Foundation.

Oh, boy. What doesn’t inspire me? Even thinking about how I should answer this question inspires me. Being able to hear the train a mile away down the hill when I am leaving Gelb makes me wonder about how the sound must have been bent by a cold layer of air—will it snow soon? Watching the effects of a sunrise by the sinking shadow line from the top of a golden-orange deciduous tree in late fall—what will the day bring? Yesterday the leaves got caught in a swirling wind and settled by my doorstep; today a stronger wind blows, but the leaves stay put. What changed? Hearing a student’s excitement about her success in solving a problem or the dismay of a student as he describes his apparent lack of success in getting the answer, neither realizing how far they have come in six short weeks of instruction. Practicing with the volleyball team day in and day out, watching team members form familial bonds so deep that they respond as much to body language as they do to spoken words, and observing proud parents absorb how much their child has developed into a mature adult—part of a team, part of a game, part of life.

Inspiration lurks around every corner on this campus, like chaos theory, where just one small difference in input can result in a completely new outcome with the same conditions. I teach the same classes every year and yet not one of them has ever been the same. Every day brings new adventures, and I find immense joy in making new connections, finding ways to thread seemingly separate ideas, defying the odds of making something work. I challenge myself to find the positive; the best day ever is when I can make someone smile.

Reprinted from Andover magazine
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