During morning meeting on May 9th, Assistant principal Bernard Geoxavier stumbled over the word “students,” instead replacing it with “soldiers.” The auditorium shared a quick laugh with Geoxavier before quieting down to listen to the rest of the announcements. It was a rare instance in which students get a small glimpse into a side of Geoxavier that they don’t normally see. Maybe you’ve sent him an email and gotten back an automated response: “I am currently off-campus on military orders, back on Monday,” but in general it seems as though his military life and Rowland Hall life are distinctly separate. However, Geoxavier details how these two seemingly polar-opposite positions have more overlap than you’d expect.
Geoxavier was born in Santa Monica, California. His high school life sounds not-unlike Rowland Hall students today – constantly doing something. He competed in track and cross country, running the 110-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles in track. He was also in the marching band and jazz band, playing saxophone and clarinet. He got his undergraduate from Middlebury college, which had a joint program with Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University, making up the Center for Chinese-American studies. This center was located in Nanjing, China, where he spent 3 years completing his master’s degree. His impressive list of accomplishments continues; he has several articles published on scholarly sites such as the Yale Journal of International Affairs, with focuses on Chinese foreign policy and security studies as well as Chinese currency and the bridge between economics and politics.
But he realized that that side of academia didn’t align with his goals. “I could’ve, coming out of Johns Hopkins, gone and worked for a think tank, and wrote a report that nobody reads,” he continues, “and if the people do read them, half of them disagree with me.” He found himself asking the question, “Where’s the impact?” and so he started teaching Chinese at Avenues: The World School in Manhattan and Belmont Hill School. After serving as the dean at Avenues, he joined the Rowland Hall community in 2019 as the assistant principal. The position certainly isn’t an easy one. Education Week said that it may potentially be “the toughest job in American education.” When asked if it was hard constantly having to be the person to reprimand students, Geoxavier replied, “Every day.” But he continued, saying, “I do it all because you’re gonna become greater, stronger, more compassionate, more empathetic people at the end of the day.” For him, the struggle of disciplining students is worth the rewarding nature of making a large impact. He said that the most important skills necessary to complete his job every day are being able to take a joke (yes, he knows about the Instagram account), and being willing to “talk to every person you come across.” He said, “You need to be as extroverted as you can even if you’re an introvert.” Saying “hi” in the hallways or greeting students during the mornings with a joke are some of the smaller ways he strives to make this community more welcoming and inclusive.
Another way in which Geoxavier makes an impact is through what he does in the military. When he periodically leaves school, he says “we’re training for our jobs.” He continues, saying, “we are the logisticians for the special forces groups.” He uses Call of Duty as an example – the characters in the game are like the special forces groups. But unlike COD, they can’t simply find a health pack or ammo pack – that’s where GeoXavier comes in. His team is responsible for supplying the special forces with whatever they need to stay alive, whether that’s food, water, munitions, medical care, etc. Essentially, he says they’re practicing getting these supplies to various places in various situations in order to be prepared for a real scenario. “At the same token,” he says, “we’re also national guardsmen, so we’re here to help the community. Just like all the commercials say, when a hurricane comes, or when a tornado hits, or when an earthquake happens, and people don’t have food or water, we can also mobilize to do that same mission – minus the bullets.” The things he does, though, don’t come without risks. On one occasion at a training course, he had to fast-rope down from a helicopter to repel attacks from an area they were defending. Geoxavier said that as he was fast-roping down, he went too quickly, and broke his ankle as he landed. He then had to complete the rest of the training week on the broken ankle. “It was a little intense,” he said.
On the surface, the job of assistant principal and quartermaster officer in the military seem dissimilar. But in the military, “we’re training, practicing, rehearsing for what we have to do,” said Geoxavier. “In school, you’re training, practicing, and rehearsing for what you’re ultimately going to do in college and beyond.” He said the connections go further than that, with discipline and logistics being two common themes of these professions. “If I want to make an impact to society, it’s not going to be through writing articles,” Which, to him, is what truly unites these jobs. “If I’m in a school, and I’m teaching a class – I used to teach Chinese – are [the students] all going to become Chinese language translators? No. But if I can move the needle to where students are open to learning a little bit differently and thinking about others… and I do that with 30 kids or 100 kids, compounded every single year, that’s where I’m gonna make a difference.” Concerning his purpose in the military, he added, “We always like to say, sitting in a comfy chair in a beautiful place, ‘I really hope those soldiers have good leadership and good officers that will take care of them and they’ll come back alive.’” But he would ask himself, “What stops me from actually putting the uniform on and putting my money where my mouth is?”