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The first time I met Grant Gonzalez, I thought he was a student. I was a very small, very nervous, freshmen sitting in a pew just like you guys are now. It was during orientation, and I was sitting with all the other freshmen, when a heard a voice saying, “Are you Henry?” I turned in the direction of the voice and saw a smiling young man wearing a peach-colored polo Ralph Lauren cardigan, a crisp pair of khakis, and a polished pair of penny loafers. At that moment I was thinking two things. The first was, “What on earth does senior possibly want with me?” and the second was, “This guy is far too well dressed to be a student here.” Nonetheless, his welcoming smile and firm handshake made me feel a little less nervous.

It was only when he introduced himself as Grant Gonzalez and asked whether I would be coming to cross-country practice that afternoon that I realized he was not a student, he was the cross-country coach, and I’d be seeing a lot of him over the next four years.

Now those four years have almost passed, and I count Grant not only as my coach, but as my mentor and friend.

Here at NMH we talk a lot about the head, the heart, and the hand. (To be brutally honest, I am so sick of hearing about the head, the heart, and the hand.) Nonetheless, as I was thinking of what to write for this introduction, I realized that Grant Gonzalez is one of the few people I know who truly embodies all three.

Let's start with his head. I know Grant mostly in the context of cross-country and track, where his head comes into play by poring over the latest training developments with surgical fastidiousness. But those who have had him as a teacher know that his brainpower is put to far greater uses than running. He teaches Arabic, World History, and the Islamic Middle East. The other day I was talking to Ismini Ethridge, who had Grant in both Arabic and Islamic Middle East. She talked at length about how Grant is an “amazing teacher who challenges his students to settle for nothing short of their full potential.” Then she said something, that, to me, really got to the soul of the matter. She said: "In Grant’s class, you learn so much, without ever feeling like you’re learning."

Now let's talk about the hand. The hand symbolizes virtue through physical effort. Any of you who are up before 6 am might have seen Grant in his neon green Saucony quarter-zip finishing up a 15-mile run. Any of you who go to the gym after 7 pm might see him grinding out a few more miles on the treadmill before the day is done. And anyone who has been to an NMH cross-country race has seen Grant sprinting from point to point on the course, wide-eyed and full of nervous, bubbling energy, cheering every single one of his runners on with pure passion.

And lastly, we have Grant’s heart. This one is tough for me to talk about, but last cross-country season, for some reason, I started getting paralyzed with self-doubt before races, when before, every race had been pure fun. I tried everything from jumping in a freezing river every morning, to meditating, to seeing a sports psychologist. Grant could tell I was struggling, both by my race results, and by the way I would act before them: quiet, pale, and scared. He did innumerable thoughtful and kind things to help me through that rough patch, but one of them in particular stands out. About fifteen minutes before our race at Loomis, as I was putting on my spikes and gathering my nerves before going out and running, Coach walked over to me, and, without saying anything, he looked me right in the eye, and handed me a small envelope. I want to share the contents of that envelope with you:  it’s a quote from the legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. He said “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush or paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I’ve never seen anyone like that before.'" Underneath that, Grant had written something that might have seemed obvious, but was actually the most helpful advice he could have given me: "Enjoy it, Henry!"

Grant may not have Steve Prefontaine’s legs, but four years after meeting him here in this chapel, I can say, without hesitation, that Grant Gonzalez has one got one hell of a head, hand, and heart. Thank you, Coach.


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