DAN ONEGLIA, ’91
When asked to contribute a “where am I now” piece to On Circle reflecting on how where I am today might have been a result of my time at WMS, I was, honestly, skeptical. I graduated WMS in 1991 a seeming lifetime ago and at best precocious and over-confident. Hadn’t I been taught several more pertinent lessons, both in the friendly confines of formal education and in the actual real world over the last 14 years? Nonetheless, I began reflecting on my most vivid memories of WMS and asking myself why they had stuck with me. Was there a correlation or lesson to be taken from these interactions that helps inform who and where I am today and why I might be worthy of a short feature alongside much more talented and accomplished graduates?
I arrived in 2nd grade at WMS from a conventional public school and distinctly remember some discomfort during my first weeks—no desks, calling the teachers by their first names, sitting on circle—all completely foreign concepts, as was learning without a text book and through strange, new, “toys”, like bead games. I remember being immediately fascinated by a multiplication game of some sort and surprise that I could just play that game as long as I wanted. “If it’s interesting to you, keep doing it, we’ll worry about your cursive later.” Thank you, Pam and Diana.
I was very literal as a young person. I focused on what I was good at—fact-based subjects and memorization—and I didn’t take easily to creative or abstract thinking. I can distinctly remember struggling through several creative writing projects in 4th and 5th grades. One assignment stands out. The goal was to use name brand products as descriptive adjectives (as opposed to proper nouns) throughout, like: “the majority’s sympathetic Cheer drowned out the Snickers of the less sensitive as the embarrassed actor tried to remember his lines” (That just took me an hour to come up with.) “Just because it’s hard and not natural doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Work at it, try to develop it. We’ll help you.” Thank you, Marsha, Barat and Jeanne.
In Middle School, we had to write a biography of someone we knew. I chose Kathy Coe, the teacher who had assigned the project. I remember sitting with her at her house and asking many questions—where she grew up and went to school? What she had majored in? How she ended up at WMS? And, my zinger, what was harder, being a Mom or teaching 6-8th graders? After the interview I went home, promptly wrote my masterpiece and delivered it the next day. I couldn’t wait to get the glowing feedback. Kathy’s sole comment—“I hope my life isn’t really this boring!!!!” Crushed though I was, we sat down to review it. “Dan, this is all fact—Kathy did this. Kathy did that. There is no context, no substance, and no why,” she explained. “Learn to marry the facts with the nuance, the art with the science and ask why.” Thank you, Sarito, Karen, Kathy and Chris. (Special mention to Erik, as well, the male influence during these years).
My job for the last 9 years has been to find and make (hopefully profitable) investments for Goldman Sachs, often times in companies that are in some form of financial duress. This requires sorting through financial statements; researching and understanding the facts of the business—what they do, how they do it, what their competitive advantages are, and other tangibles. It also always requires self-initiation, creativity, imagination as well as significant nuance, assumption, and art—especially in projecting how future unknowns, potential risks, and economic, social and commercial change will impact cash flows, valuations and business models. If I’ve had success in this, upon reflection, it’s tied to my time at WMS. The holistic, personalized and independent education fostered the development of my whole brain, not just the areas where I was naturally inclined. It gave me building blocks to be successful at the next levels of education and the confidence to stretch my comfort zones. Thank you WMS.