Artwork by sophomore Olivia Li
Artwork by sophomore Olivia Li

Thank You, Dr. Kupersmith

The CCES Family Says Goodbye to Leader, Mentor, Friend

April 24, 2020

Dr. Leonard Kupersmith has run 153 marathons in his life. 153 times, he has laced up his running shoes, stood at the starting line, felt the tension building in his muscles, exploded at the sound of the starting gun, and maneuvered through hundreds of bodies before ultimately reaching the finish line. This year, Dr. Kupersmith will cross the finish line of his 13-year tenure at Christ Church Episcopal School. There is no more fitting analogy for the administrative career of a man who sees his essential makeup defined by marathon-running. For Dr. Kupersmith, his love of running is parallel with his love of working at Christ Church. The characteristics and principles behind his distance running career are the same ones that have fueled the leadership that Dr. Kupersmith has brought to the school. The most obvious example of this ideological carryover is Dr. Kupersmith’s general commitment and dedication to both the school community and his running goals. The drive, endurance, and, as he puts it, “‘no pain, no gain’ pathology” required to complete a 26-mile race are also necessary in the leadership of one of South Carolina’s top independent schools, an institution responsible for educating roughly 1,100 students each year. Dr. Kupersmith’s ultimate goal, his final finish line, is, in his words, “to have left the school in better shape than it was upon arrival.” 

Long before this arrival, Dr. Kupersmith’s formal education began at Brooklyn College where he earned his B.A. in English in 1968. He then attended Kansas State University in 1979 to complete his doctorate in English. Since then, Dr. Kupersmith has worked as an administrator or teacher for the past 46 years. According to Dr. Kupersmith, books have  profoundly “shaped his outlook” and influenced the way he “exercises judgment.” Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is perhaps the one that resonates with Dr. Kupersmith the most. In the first chapter, “Economy,” Dr. Kupersmith admires how Thoreau “asserts the fundamental importance of prioritizing our resources and distinguishing between ends and means.” Remarking on the monetary resources of the school, he reflects, “When I came here in ‘06, our reserve was very marginal. We built that reserve up to industry standards.” Throughout his career, he prioritized the CCES endowment which has been used to build The Hartness Performing Arts Center, add more pews in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, and improve the school’s athletic facilities. Dr. Kupersmith explains, “Everything we do is measured by how good our service to students is. There’s no other measure. In order to have this, we need financial stability.” And as Dr. Kupermsith leaves CCES, he can be proud of the great financial strength he has helped CCES achieve. The last chapter in Thoreau’s Walden champions an artist who always strives to be better. Dr. Kupersmith has this same mentality for CCES and believes that “a school that continually focuses on improvement will connect its daily activities and the character of the people who lead those activities with the Mission.”

For a school that prides itself on character, community, excellence, and service, it’s befitting that our Head of School embodies all of these values.

Anybody who has listened to Dr. Kupersmith’s speeches can attest to his character– from his scholarly vocabulary, to his literary anecdotes, to his memories of meaningful encounters– his words mirror his ethos. As a member of a community, he goes above and beyond. One of his most memorable moments this year was his participation in the student vs. faculty basketball game in January, where he proudly showed the school that he’s not afraid to get up from his desk and have fun. But his talents and abilities certainly extend beyond the lighthearted. He is the Head of School who took quick and necessary action with Digital Learning Days. He is the leader who prioritizes a service every Wednesday inside the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. He is the innovator who ensures every student’s success as he pioneered the Achievement Center with the goal to “enhance the CCES experience for all students through enrichment, remediation, and support services across a wide range of disciplines and grade levels.” He is also the friend and mentor to many CCES faculty members. For the last two years, Dr. Kupersmith and Senior Chaplain Father Wallace, often connect through running. They’ve turned what might otherwise be just another meeting between two school leaders, into something Father Wallace will remember as “refreshing, enjoyable, and valuable.” 

Not only has Dr. Kupersmith encouraged and activated the Cavalier spirit through his visionary leadership, carefully chosen words, steadfast runs, and basketball finesse, he has also led by example in his daily life. One of his colleagues, Mrs. Barbara Carter, has been teaching English at CCES for 49 years and, unsurprisingly, has profound respect for Dr. Kupersmith’s intelligence and dedication. She elaborates, “He has been a hands-on leader whether teaching in his early days, participating in the games of a professional day with the faculty, or choosing a Lower School student to be ‘Headmaster for a Day.’” He’s not an unknown entity or simply “The Boss” of the school; he’s the passionate, involved, caring head of the Christ Church family. Or, as Calculus teacher and girl’s golf coach, Mr. Dan Wilkie, puts it, “the father of CCES.” 

Artwork by freshman Marissa Larocque

A community can only function with a foundation of harmony and compassion, and Dr. Kupersmith has manifested this foundation by making kindness the norm. As a new hire this year, Mr. Wilkie recounts an interview with our Head of School, saying, “Dr. Kupersmith made me feel at ease with the way he described not only what to expect from CCES but how the community treats one another.” And, like a good father, Dr. Kupersmith has instilled a tendency for kindness and compassion around campus. We hear it preached in chapel, taught in class, and practiced by students in all grades. As one might expect, the school environment is a reflection of our leader’s own personality. His longtime secretary, Mrs. Kathy Corwin, observes: “He is very compassionate. He is very engaged in people. They are wowed by the fact that he can meet you today, have a good conversation with you, and six months from now run into you somewhere and ask you about this obscure piece of information that you shared with him about your family history.” And it is his eagerness to engage, his attention to those around him, his empathy for each and every person he meets, that has enriched the CCES community these last thirteen years. 

Even before Dr. Kupersmith took his first position in a school, he had a love for all things literary and academic. “I admired many teachers,” he remembers. “I thought that they did noble work and many of my teachers took me under their wings.” Dr. Kupersmith attributes his love of teaching to the dedication of his teachers. In college, he studied for his degree in order to teach at the collegiate level, but his freshman English teacher changed his mind. He describes his experience as “learning to read critically” but with “a methodology that also enriched meaning.” As he began an administrative career, Dr. Kupersmith served as the college counseling department in addition to his role as headmaster at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri. He worked alongside current CCES math teacher, Mr. Chris Forbis, who maintains that Dr. Kupersmith’s “most remarkable quality is the breadth of his knowledge.  He seems to know something (and in many cases much, much more than something) about everything.” Mr. Forbis also admires Dr. Kupersmith’s sense of humor, recalling, “his remarks about Mr. Adamee at last year’s retirement ceremony brought the house down.” It is this early commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and teaching coupled with his good-natured wit that will be sorely missed upon Dr. Kupersmith’s retirement. 

Students at Christ Church pride themselves on a strong and inspiring community. As such, a community celebrates when any member lovingly leaves– be it through a move, graduation, or retirement. Even after leaving this community, each Cavalier is a member for life. One member of this community who has transitioned to life away from CCES, has advice and commendation for our retiring Head of School. Former Upper School Director, Mr. Pete Sanders, who after leaving in 2016 is now the headmaster and history teacher at Memphis University School, a college preparatory school for boys in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. Sanders comments on his time with CCES: “Saying goodbye is hard.  After ten years, I left CCES.  I love my new job and city but I still miss many of the fantastic people of CCES and Greenville.  I know it will be hard for Dr. Kupersmith to say that final goodbye to the school.” He went on to encourage Dr. Kupersmith to “soak up all of you can of that wonderful school and community.” Mr. Sanders’s message holds true not only for Dr. Kupersmith but also for the departing Seniors: “Enjoy what time you have left. You have been at a truly superb school.  As I recommend to Dr. Kupersmith: soak it all up so that you can hold onto the memories.”

One of these departing seniors, Charles Sagedey, remembers his years under Dr. Kupersmith with thanks and reverence, commenting, “Dr. Kupersmith has changed the Christ Church community in ways that if he wasn’t here, this school would be completely different.” Sagedey appreciates how Dr. Kupersmith walks the grounds of CCES to “check up on his community” and when students walk past him he always “greets you with a big smile on his face.” Sagedey continues, “If it’s your first time at this school, he will be one of the first people to meet you, shake your hand, ask for your name and tell you how wonderful it is to have you here.” Braxton Westfield, an alumnus of the class of ‘16, agrees, saying, “When I attended Christ Church I remember Dr. Kupersmith greeted me, asked my name and said, ‘We would love to have you here.’” Unsurprisingly, Westfield recalls that Dr. Kupersmith “never forgets a name” and even years later, would greet Westfield personally upon each encounter.

Artwork by freshman Vivian Lin

As Dr. Kupersmith prepares to say his goodbye to Christ Church Episcopal School, his legacy will be that of a man who deeply loves his work. Even though no one can match his varied and sophisticated use of the English language, one word in particular stands out as Dr. Kupersmith’s favorite: love. When asked what his last words to the CCES community would be, he replied with a simple and heartfelt, “Thank you.” Dr. Kupersmith’s last marathon may come to an end this year, but the love and admiration he has for every member of the community will be felt at Christ Church for a long time to come.

*Read more from CCES students:

Students Reflect on Dr. Kupersmith’s Legacy 

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