Character and Connection

Taft faculty members wear many hats: They are teachers, coaches, advisors, dorm parents, mentors, and role models. Math Teacher and Lower Mid Class Dean Kevin Danaher has been almost all of those things to Sam Shaker ’21.

“I first met Sam during his lower mid year when he was a member of the golf team and I was a coach,” says Danaher. “Golf is an individual sport, so as coaches, we have a lot of one-on-one conversations with the players about their individual strengths and opportunity areas. I found Sam to be very open and willing to engage in those conversations; and he improved quite a lot as a player over the course of the season. Sam asked me to be his advisor the following year, and we continued to have those types of conversations, though now they were about academics and other areas of life at Taft. I think the advisor-advisee relationship is something that is unique at Taft and we (advisor and advisee) have the freedom to determine what that looks like.” 

And what that looks like for Sam and Mr. Danaher is both unique and meaningful. 

“I think one thing about our relationship that is unique in a community like ours is that Mr. Danaher and I are both from the same area. I am a day student from Middlebury, and Mr. Danaher grew up in Watertown.  I think we’ve had some similar life experiences, which has always made me feel close to and understood by him.”

That connection and understanding has created a deeper bond, a greater openness, and a level of trust that makes their relationship an important one for both of them. Sam has turned to Danaher for guidance on many traditional advisor-advisee fronts, from class selection to balancing SAT prep with his demanding workload. Danaher’s strategies for starting each academic year strong—getting organized, connecting with classroom teachers early, and establishing and sticking to a routine—have translated to academic success for Sam, something he truly values. But he has also turned to his mentor and advisor for guidance outside the classroom, including says Danaher, Sam’s desire to impact the Taft community in a positive way. And on that front, Sam hasn’t just listened to Danaher, he’s watched closely.

“I think what I admire most about Mr. Danaher’s character is his kindness; it is something I value dearly,” says Sam. “In the winter of my sophomore year I went with him and two other students to a soup kitchen in Waterbury run by the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries. After serving food I took time to reflect on the experience. One of the things I realized was that Mr. Danaher’s dedication to the work at the soup kitchen was really a tribute to his character. It helped me understand that the care he shows everyone in the Taft community extends outside of Taft; I knew that he was one of the people I wanted to remain connected to, and learn from.”

Danaher learns from Sam, as well. He admires the way he effectively manages some of the challenges that are unique to day students: The balance of all things academic, extracurricular, and social at Taft coupled with the demands and expectations of life at home. All while constantly striving to contribute to the Taft community in meaningful and lasting ways.

“Sam is a two-sport athlete, a member of the Taft Financial Society and the class committee, and continues to extend his reach on campus every day,” notes Danaher. “Impacting the community in a positive way is very important to Sam, which is what we hope for with all of our students. I want Sam to be a great math student and a really good golfer, but I also want him to be a good friend to others, a good leader, and overall a really well-rounded person by the time he graduates from Taft.”

His efforts and dedication are not lost on Sam.

“Choosing Mr. Danaher as my advisor was one of the best decisions I made at Taft. He is someone who truly cares about my well-being and wants to see me succeed. I’m thankful to have him by my side.”