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In History and International Relations, Gurry ’66 Uses Experiences from a Past Andover to Shape Courses

Seated in his basement classroom in Samuel Phillips Hall, Chris Gurry ’66, Instructor in History and Social Science, remembers receiving a 38 percent on a history exam—earning zero out of 60 points on an essay—as a turning point in his challenging career as an Andover student. “That [moment] stuck with me, even after I left Andover. [As a teacher] I knew I never wanted to be dictatorial like that,” said Gurry. He recalled that teachers during his years as a student seemed to take pride in how many of their students did poorly in class. His own failing grades at Andover stood in contrast to his straight-A record at his previous school. Despite the sometimes rocky beginning to his relationship with Andover, Gurry is now in his 38th year of teaching here. Gurry’s first year as a student at Andover was especially difficult because he had to deal with his father’s passing as well as adjusting to new surroundings. Recognizing this challenge, the school offered him the opportunity to study at Andover for an extra year and gave him five years to complete his diploma. Gurry was an active athlete at Andover, focusing primarily on ice hockey, a sport he picked up at the age of nine. “Students had the options of studying, playing sports and participating in the arts [at Andover],” said Gurry. “Usually, you would choose two out of the three. Everyone studied, and they studied hard. I chose to also focus on sports during my time here.” A member of the varsity hockey team throughout his time at Andover, Gurry was regarded as a talented defenseman on the ice. He considers Fred H. Harrison ’38, former Director of Athletics and his longtime hockey coach, to be one of his most influential mentors. After Andover, Gurry went on to major in American history with a focus on foreign policy at Harvard University. He also played for Harvard’s varsity hockey team and captained the team his senior year. “I must say that my experience at Andover was that [students] were truly beaten up intellectually. It took me about a year to realize that I was just as smart as the people I was with at Harvard,” said Gurry. After finishing his undergraduate studies at the height of the Vietnam War, Gurry was drafted by the United States military and by the National Hockey League shortly thereafter. He served as a hockey coach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for four years. After serving in the military, Gurry returned to Andover as Assistant Athletic Director in 1974, declining an offer to be an assistant hockey coach at Yale University. He became a full-time faculty member in the History Department in 1980 after finishing his graduate studies in foreign policy at Tufts University. He also served as a house counselor in both Taylor Hall and Stearns House. “[Once you teach here] you have such a different relationship with the school. The members of the faculty become human once you’re no longer a student,” said Gurry. According to Gurry, the school’s transformation since his arrival in 1961 has been astounding. John Palfrey is the fourth Head of School that he has seen at Andover. “It’s a very different place—a better place,” said Gurry. “We’ve extended the idea of ‘youth from every quarter.’ There was very little diversity when I was a student, but we’ve become a socially and economically diverse community.” Gurry has taught four different history courses during his time teaching at Andover. He currently teaches the International Relations elective and History 300, or U.S. History. “Teaching International Relations has been a very different experience. You have to keep current and use a lot of modern material,” said Gurry. In 2006, Gurry spent five months attending classes at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in order to gain a deeper understanding of how modern classes on international relations were taught. Gurry believes that knowledge of history is crucial in analyzing current affairs. He cites the United States in the 1790s as an example, noting the parallel between the country then and the current, politically divided atmosphere. “You have to understand the past to have a perspective on the future,” said Gurry. Gurry said that the most rewarding aspect of teaching is hearing from former students who realize how much his history classes have meant to them. “If you’re going to teach, there’s not a better place than Phillips Academy. I’ve had a lot of personal changes over my lifetime here. I’ll best remember my mentors and the relationships I’ve formed with my colleagues and the ones I’ve built with my students,” said Gurry. “[Gurry] is a wonderful colleague and a great teacher. That’s what makes the Sam Phil basement such a great place to teach and to learn. His enthusiasm for the enterprise and his sense of humor are both contagious and keep us all on task,” said Vic Henningsen ’69, Instructor in History, who was a Junior at Andover when Gurry was a Senior. As Gurry draws closer to finishing his 39th year of teaching at Andover, he recognizes that retirement is an upcoming prospect. He said, “I’ve coached JV Football and Lacrosse. I lived in a dorm for 23 years. I’ve sort of done everything. I’ve seen it all, and I’m heading towards retirement. I don’t know when exactly it will be, though.”