This article appears in the Summer, 2023 issue of The Light magazine, Brooklyn Friends School’s official publication. You can read the entire magazine online.
As Mark Buenzle stepped to the podium as the Colleague Speaker during the Class of 2023 Commencement this past June 9, he looked out at the more than 500 people staring back at him at that moment. Of course, he went on to give a rousing speech, one—in fact—that was actually 35 years in the making.
“I feel very honored to have been chosen as the faculty speaker at graduation, although I wish every one of my Upper School colleagues could give a speech,” Mark said prior to speaking. “This is an amazing group of people to be a part of and I have the highest regard and deepest affection for them.”
Having people listen to his remarks is nothing new to Mark, albeit it is usually in a less formal setting. Still, when you have been a teacher for 35 years—all of those at Brooklyn Friends School—being the “speaker” is certainly not unusual. His speech that morning stressed the importance of “paying attention,” something he has been doing since he began his long journey as a teacher in his early 20s. He arrived at 375 Pearl Street in the fall of 1988.
“Still working on my master’s degree at Bank Street, I’ll forever be indebted to Diane Mackie, then the Head of Lower School, for taking a leap of faith and hiring me as a head teacher for kindergarten,” Mark said. “I had been interviewing at several New York independent schools, but when I arrived at BFS, I had a powerful sense that I belonged here. Clearly, I was right. At that time, Jennifer Knies was the administrative assistant for the Lower School, and the way she welcomed me at the beginning of my interview made me feel like I could bring my full self to this place. And that continued with all of my interactions. The atmosphere was qualitatively different here than any other school I had been to, including my own schools as a child. I immediately perceived a sense of ease, trust and fellowship in the way people interacted with one another, among colleagues, among students, and between colleagues and students.”
Over the years, Mark has only strengthened that belief, forging so many important relationships with BFS students and colleagues. He credits a very simple explanation for why he has remained here for all of these years.
“Obviously the students and my colleagues are my primary reasons,” he said. “I love and rely on the Quaker values we share. In a culture that increasingly emphasizes consumption, distraction, immediate gratification and transactional relationships, the ethos of Quakerism is more and more necessary. Social justice, goodness, community, and integrity are all nurtured by our shared silence.”
However, it has become more than just a job for Mark, who credits being at BFS for much of his life and career decisions outside of school.
“On a more personal level, Brooklyn Friends has always encouraged me to grow and to use my strengths in our community,” he said. “After teaching kindergarten here for seven years, when I completed my MFA, I expressed interest in moving to the Upper School to teach art and art history, and the school honored that wish. Similarly, BFS has supported my work as a psychoanalyst from the time I began my training, through certification and licensure, and building my own private practice. In fact, for several years, I was able to offer a yearlong psychology class to 11th and 12th graders that I really loved teaching. So I’ve never outgrown my job, it has grown with me.”
Now, 35 years after first stepping into BFS, Mark cannot imagine being anywhere else.
“I feel incredibly grateful to have a career that has given my life meaning at every stage, that has given me some of my most cherished relationships, and that still excites me year after year,” he said. “My 24 year-old self could not possibly have imagined anything 35 years in the future. It is still strange to think of myself as currently being the teacher with the longest experience here. How did that happen? Who would I be if not part of this school?”