My first sit-down meal as a new sophomore was incredibly frightening. Unsure of how to conduct myself and what to say, I kept uncharacteristically quiet. Mr. Thiel ’91, however, did not. In fact, he spoke so much it shocked me even more. He demanded that I introduce myself to the table which, at the time, was daunting. He was not your average table head: rather than choosing to delegate the conversation to the students, he poked and prodded until everyone had something to say.
Two weeks in, he said something controversial: that edamame was the same thing as a regular old soybean. I couldn’t stand such blasphemy, and I was compelled to speak up for what I believed in. We spent the next 30 minutes battling over edamame, much to the other nine students’ chagrin. Thus the Gastronaughts were born at Table 60, and from that day forth Mr. Thiel and I would argue over just about everything.
If seeing Mr. Thiel at sit-down wasn’t enough, he also happened to be my debate coach, showing up late to meetings bearing M&M’s and witty remarks. He once concluded that I seemed so comfortable on the MSB third floor couch that the school should rename it the “Camille Glatt corner.” Soon after, Mr. Thiel invited me onto the TEDx team, where more friendly discourse ensued. We would bicker over font design, logos, and budgetary matters. Mr. Thiel, you still owe the team breakfast at the Inn, by the way. This constant back and forth taught me to always be on my toes, prepared for a peppering of typical Thiel questions.
Mr. Thiel is no stranger to the Deerfield campus: he himself was a student. He graduated in 1991 and, as he constantly reminds me, we will have class reunions together. In 2008, he decided to return to campus to serve as Director of Communications. From 2017 on, Mr. Thiel’s role on campus has been Assistant Head of School for Strategy and Planning. As Mr. Thiel said, he has spent ⅓ of his life at Deerfield, 12 as a faculty member, and 4 as a student. On top of his other duties, he also teaches design. His classes’ work can be found in the iLab, another one of his contributions to the campus. He aided in bringing the iLab to campus, installing it, and educating students about its technological offerings. Aside from planning, teaching, and running TEDx, Mr. Thiel uses his free time to hike, backpack, and cycle.
Next September, Mr. Thiel will assume the role of headmaster at Tilton Academy in Tilton, New Hampshire. He will be the school’s 27th headmaster and hopes to bring some of his witty humor and love for technology to campus. He explained, “Imagine the boarding school that has all the magical elements of one but is fully modern and unsentimental, that is what I want to create. A school where kids can create in adobe and e-sports will be as big as live sports like football.”
This year, I was fortunate enough to have him as my sit-down head again. Long gone was the shy sophomore year Camille. I came back to table 60 prepared to battle. Every day during the fall term sit-down rotation, he would grill me and another student at our sit-down table about our blazers, often commenting on whether or not he believed our blazers adhered to the dress code. These comments, of course, led to the whole table teaming up against Mr. Thiel to assert that yes, in fact, they were acceptable attire.
While it may seem as though our relationship was solely argument-based, Mr. Thiel was also the first person I would reach out to with any problems or ideas. He was always there to lend some cryptic yet, in the end, fantastic advice. If he could not provide a solution, he would point me in the right direction.
Alex Leong ‘20 said, “Mr. Thiel has been one of the most impactful advisors I have ever had at Deerfield. He always encouraged me to reach out and try new things—even if it was sawing things in half with a jig. We did crazy things together in the iLab during study hall. It is because of Mr. Thiel that I found the arts at Deerfield- which I couldn’t be more thankful for.”
Mr. Thiel made Deerfield feel safe and a place where students could be themselves. He pushed me to think through my words and always remain inquisitive. Mr. Thiel is always honest and straightforward; he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which is how you know you are getting an authentic opinion. All I can say is that Thursday meetings in the iLab will not be the same without you, neither will team TBG dinners where you command everyone to eat the dumplings. To use your own words, you “are a big Thiel,” and it is safe to say you will be sorely missed.
I can’t thank you enough for all that you have done for me and other students on campus. I hope you find someone at Tilton just as willing as me to argue over just about anything. Clearly, all these years interviewing prospective employees has prepared you for your first job interview! We wish you well on your next journey!