Michaels Dickson Scholars Weekend A Huge Hit In Every Way

  • Monday, February 26, 2024
  • McCallie website

One day in the 1990s, Ed Michaels ‘60 went out for a run in his hometown of Atlanta, and a remarkable thought entered his head. What if McCallie started a scholarship program seeking out the best and brightest students of character from all across the country to spend their 9-12 years on the Ridge?

He called his buddy Alan Dickson ‘49, who’d served for years on the Morehead Scholarship Board overseeing a similar program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Soon, they had a meeting in Charlotte with Spencer McCallie III and others to discuss details.

And when they emerged from that meeting, Michaels told the group, “The more I think about this, the more excited I get.”

Judging from this past weekend, that excitement remains at a fever pitch for the Michaels-Dickson Scholars program, which celebrated its 25th year with two days of banquets, parties, and final on-campus interviews for this year’s 15 student finalists.

Given the passion and appreciation shown for the MDS program from past winners and their families, the weekend just might go down as one of the most memorable, important and inspirational 48-hour periods in McCallie history.

Or as Jackie Ellsworth, mother of McCallie senior and MDS recipient Joshua Ellsworth, said during a wonderful Friday night talk to more than 200 people that included this year’s finalists and their families: “What resonated with us was that the culture at McCallie was different – the depth of relationships formed within the McCallie community surpassed anything Joshua had previously experienced at other schools.”

Added Jonathan Manta ‘23, an MDS winner who’s midway through his freshman year at Tufts University as a quantitative economics major, during Saturday night’s 25-year celebration dinner at the Westin: “I feel like I never felt so much love in my life as I did at McCallie. So many smart people want to make you smarter. I built lifelong friendships. There really is a Long Blue Line of alums to help you.”

So many alumni came back for the Friday dinner in the Alumni Hall dining room and the Saturday gala. There were more than 200 on Friday and close to 250 on Saturday. And on Saturday, an event that was scheduled to wrap up no later than 8:30 p.m. was still going strong two hours after that.

“Look around this room and how connected everybody is, all these people of different ages and backgrounds celebrating McCallie and what it’s meant to their lives,” said New York resident John Arsala, whose son Sebastian was an MDS winner a year ago, as he scanned the Westin ballroom a little past 10 p.m. Saturday. “Words can’t describe how special it is to have a Michaels Dickson Scholarship awarded to your child. This program is life-changing. We are so grateful to be a part of this.”

If any two people employed by the school are responsible for the success of the MDS program, which was originally known as the Honors Scholars program, it would be David Hughes ‘78 and Steve Hearn ‘73.

McCallie Chief Development Officer Drew Read took the podium on Saturday night to present each man with a proclamation from the Board of Trustees on what they’d meant to the school during a combined 63 years of service.

As he addressed Hughes, he said, “David, thank you for tirelessly going everywhere to find mission-fit young men to come to McCallie. It was said by (Board Chairman)  Gary (Welch), that you are the heartbeat of all of this. Will you pause and look around you and see all the lives you have touched? Your impact is truly generational. All the alumni in this room are heirs of your efforts.”

Then he turned to Hearn: “Steve, thank you for making the blueprint come to life. Your management of the non-obvious pursuit of excellence, and desire to ensure McCallie is the best, is inspiring. Will you pause and look around and see the fruits of your labor? There are many who  see you as the agent of transformation in their lives.”

A side story on how eager Hughes was to find mission-fit young men for what became the MDS program in 2017: On his first trip with Hearn to seek out candidates for the program, he received a speeding ticket somewhere in North Carolina to the tune of $150. But they got the student. Haddon Kirk, along with Ensworth head of school Prentice Stabler, became the first two Honors Scholars in McCallie history.

Twenty-five years later, Kirk told the parents of this year’s candidates who came from as far away as Los Angeles, California, and North Dakota and as close as Gadsden, Alabama: “Every time I come back here, it feels like coming home.”

He then added, “And David got that ticket because he had so many candidates to see. He was everywhere, and he wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”

Head of School Lee Burns made sure to let this year’s MDS candidates know that their McCallie home would not always provide a place of comfort.

Using a bit of reverse psychology in Friday’s talk, Burns said, “Let me tell you why you don’t need to come to McCallie. You don’t need to come here to make good grades.

You are already doing that. The easiest, most comfortable, most predictable thing to do is to stay in your same school or hometown next year. Most people default to the easy, the same, the comfortable.

“(However) come to McCallie if, somewhere deep down, in a way you may not be able to articulate, you sense there is something more you crave than the simple and easy,” Burns continued. “Do you have an adventurous spirit, even if you haven’t yet acted on it? Do you like challenges? Do you want to grow? We grow through challenges, doing things that are new and uncomfortable, and I assure you that coming to McCallie will challenge and grow you in ways that remaining in a day school at home never will.

“Come to McCallie if you have high standards for yourself, if you want to be in a culture of excellence. It’s cool at McCallie to be smart, do well, and do the right thing. It’s also cool at McCallie, to be who you are. Come here if you value independence and authenticity.”

Over MDS’s 25 years, more than 300 exceptional boys have chosen that path. They now live in 29 states and three foreign countries. Eighteen are serving in the military. Three are professional athletes, numerous business leaders, doctors, and Ph.D.s. 

A second quote from Jackie Ellsworth, recalling the process, including the night she and her husband Mark sat in Alumni Hall listening to MDS student Manny Mitchell describe his McCallie experience.

As Mitchell spoke, Mark leaned over to Jackie and whispered, “If Joshua could be as well-rounded and as confident as this kid is in four years, then this is the right place for him.”

To that end, Joshua said of his parents’ hopes: “Honestly, it’s been life changing. I’ve met people and had experiences I never would have imagined in middle school. Accepting MDS has been the greatest decision I've ever made.”

Hughes was the Ellsworths’ first contact with McCallie. He convinced them to send Joshua to CLC camp after his eighth-grade year. He impressed enough folks during that camp to become a MDS finalist, then receive a scholarship.

And that passion and determination by Hughes convinced the Board of Trustees to honor him and Hearn in the most permanent way possible _ with a yearly scholarship tied to the Michaels Dickson program.

In announcing the two scholarships, one in each man’s name, Read provided details. The two combined need two million dollars to be fully endowed, of which $200,000 has already been raised by three donors.

Said Read: “I look forward to talking with each of you on how you can help create change for others and continue not only the legacy of McCallie, but the legacy of David and Steve. Will you alumni and parents make this a home for those you will not know?"

Not to mention further strengthening the legacies of Alan Dickson and Ed Michaels, whose lives were so eloquently framed Saturday night by two-time Board Chair Hal Daughdrill, who perfectly labeled the Harvard MBA grads as “Men of distinction, men of honor, men of McCallie.”


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