The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

The Student Publication of Keystone

The Keynote

An Interview with Dr. Lawrence


When Dr. Lawrence announced he was leaving his position at Keystone after this year and teaching in North Carolina, even the ascent of one thousand splendid suns over Founders Hall could not illuminate our sorrow. Teaching and catching stones is a noble pursuit wherever he may seek it—however, it stands indisputable that there will be a Dr. Lawrence-shaped hole in Keystone School. It will be like Stone Soul without the Soul, LitMag without the Lit. 


Here is an interview I conducted with him towards the beginning of February. All its content was approved by him to be included in the transcript. It ended up being much longer than we expected, and he hopes that this helps you understand him and his life on a deeper level. 




Part I:


Tell me a little bit about your early life.


I was born in Dallas to houseparents at a Catholic girls’ school that also functioned as a convent. They weren’t Catholic, but they were teachers by training and wanted to help people. Being both houseparents and teachers, it was kind of a 24/7/365 job, so, ironically, for the first two years I was partially raised by nuns. The nuns would watch me during the day, and they had a vision of me being a Catholic priest someday. I’d stay with them in the summer sometimes–I had a grand old time–and they expanded my view on what it means to be faithful.


Once, I spent a week with them, and all the nuns had their armchairs in the TV room with a beer laughing at movies I would laugh at.


Honestly, I can imagine you being a priest! You have the right voice.


You know, I’m taking some seminary classes right now. It would not surprise me if I’d end up doing some ministry or chaplain work someday–it’s on my radar!


Anyway, I moved to San Antonio at two and a half years old. We moved in with my grandparents. We all shared one bathroom in this little house. My father bought an acre past SeaWorld, and there my grandfather and my father built the house over a year..that’s the house where my parents still live. My parents were both teachers and counselors so that probably says something about my temperament. I went to a few different schools…I did a lot of things…I played basketball and baseball, I was in ROTC, did theater, Student Council, AP classes, all that stuff.


What did you want to be when you grew up?


Initially, when I was really young, I wanted to be a truck driver. A friend of mine and I fantasized about each having a big rig and drinking Cokes. “Wouldn’t that be cool, driving a BIG truck around the country and drinking Cokes whenever we want and stopping and eating fast food whenever we want?!” Later, I went through phases of wanting to be a vet, an astronaut, an aerospace engineer, a lawyer, a fighter pilot…I was in that Top Gun generation.


What is a specific moment from your childhood that you still remember?


A couple–I have some early childhood flashes of images. One was of my grandma (who has passed away)–I remember her taking me to Dunkin Donuts and buying one as a grandma treat.


Another big memory of mine is the Big Snow of 1985. I went to a Spurs game with my cousin, and we went back to my house, went to bed, and he woke me up and shook me–yelling “Get the hell up!” It snowed 13 inches! We went nuts. The city shut down, and we went outside and had snowball fights in the cold. There was a layer of ice on top, so we got to carve under the ice and crawl in these tunnels.


When did you realize that you loved teaching? I mean, you were raised by educators, but…


Well, I ran away from that at first, if I’m being honest, [because] I wanted to do something different. So I started college at the Air Force Academy as a prelaw major on a track to maybe fly. I’d gone to the Academy with five friends in my graduating class, but I began to discover that being military was not what I was wired to do. I loved the law, I loved the idea of flying, and I’d always loved English throughout high school…but when I got to college I had a freshman writing instructor. 


I’ll always remember this: I got a C on my first essay. I went and talked to him, and I remember [that] we talked for two hours in his office about writing and what he saw the purpose of writing as. He wanted to see more of my voice because it was mechanical, and it opened my eyes to some things. Something snapped. I watched him and my other professors over the next couple of years, and I realized: “I’m wired to do this.”


You could leave the Academy [before or at] two years, so I did two years there and transferred to UT Austin as an English major. The rest is history. 


I did clerk at my [grandfather’s] law firm one summer when I was in high school, and I love the law. If I could live multiple lives, I would probably be an attorney, but above all, it’s not what I’m wired to be. 


What have been some of your favorite moments from Keystone?


…It’s a hard answer! I’m not being careful or political when I say this, but I can’t name one specific event! For example, sometimes during Stone Souls, I’m like “YEAH, this is it, this is what being a teacher is all about,” and seeing that unity–that’s one of my favorite memories. Being at the Stonecatcher Fair and hearing people passionately speak, looking out at the crowd, seeing all these parents and teachers and students at the booths talking to people about their passion projects…that too. Sometimes we’re in the classroom, and someone will say something and it sparks a moment of understanding…that’s why I keep coming back! Just the day-to-day being in the classroom with students. 


What do you believe is the purpose of education?


Given my love for Don Quixote, it would not surprise people for me to say this–I’m a person who would rather see the world as it could be. Education is about that. It’s aspirational at its best, it’s about helping people develop the knowledge and skills, yes, but also the temperament and humanity [for people] to be positive forces in the world. You can learn about the world and the people in it, and how you can be part of the discourse in communities, how to live with empathy, purpose, and integrity in peoples’ lives. 


Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen or high school underclassmen who are tearing their hair out about the college process?


I think the biggest advice I have is that–this’ll sound trite–but life is not a straight line! We–I want to draw a straight line– “that’s where I want to go,” but life doesn’t work that way. Have a destination in mind, but then be okay with there being a million different paths to get there… You may think you want one path, but it’s not necessarily, and the fact is that you will find ways to be successful, whichever path you take…well, it’s less likely if you screw around for 4 years and get Ds in everything, I’m not saying that. 


I’ll say: work hard and participate, but it is far better to engage in your classes and learn something and get 92s than to just worry about the grade and not engage at all and get 98s. I think colleges view it that way, frankly, and really, teachers can write you a better recommendation if you do that. I’ve written recommendations for people with really high averages that were not as good as what I wrote for people with Bs who were totally engaged! As a teacher, I could tell that the [people who were not engaged] cared about the grade above all, and that wasn’t as compelling for me or, frankly, college admissions officers either. 


The other thing–and you know this as well as anybody, Evan–is that life doesn’t give any guarantees. Somebody who’s here one day may be gone the next. It doesn’t mean we become nihilists.


I think it’s the opposite of nihilism, really. It’s about embracing it all–


Yeah! There’s a sense of “let’s just enjoy knowing people and get the experiences we can.” Also, please enjoy your outside-of-school experiences. Get grades that are as good as possible, but you want to have a life that really shapes you that is not just academic. 


Part II: Diving Deep


What is your greatest memory?


It is hard to specify a single memory, but being a father–as a collection of memories–has been my greatest joy in life. Watching my kids grow…now one of them is married and has a job and the other is a junior in college. Collectively, it’s like a slideshow of memories from birth to early adulthood. That time is my favorite memory. I love being a dad.


What are some of your non-literary hobbies? 


Other than reading, I love to fish and look at the stars. I’m a minor astronomy buff…it’s not like I know a lot…but I have the app on my phone. I love being at the ocean, seeing the water…I love watching movies and good TV shows and cooking.


Do you have a favorite dish that you like cooking?


Last night I made one of my favorites for my wife and I–a pork tenderloin with butternut squash risotto and some asparagus and zucchini that I seasoned and broiled.


Favorite book? Movie? Food?


Food…probably fajitas or grilled shrimp. Movie…Lord of the Rings trilogy., Llots of others, but for a lot of reasons, I could watch it over and over. Book…wow–picking one is tough. I obviously love Just Mercy, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Things They Carried…In recent years, I have enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land, Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans, The Overstory, there are so many…I am reading a book called Integrity by Steven L. Carter.


What does your perfect day look like?


A perfect day I can choose? Well, I would say…one of the reasons we really like living in North Carolina is that I like cold mornings…I wake up to a cold morning, sit on the porch, look at the mountains, read a book for about an hour, have a hot drink, and maybe a little fire. Then I’d have breakfast with my wife in a leisurely way, and then, frankly (ok, you’ll think this is cheating or disingenuous, but it’s not) I’d go do some kind of…work in the world. Whether it’s teaching kids or comforting someone in a hospice facility, I’d be going and helping people in the world for most of my day.


What makes that different from days now? At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have to take any work home. No papers to grade, no emails to answer, none of that! When I get home, I could go back out to the mountains with my family and friends, have a relaxed dinner and a glass of wine, enjoy an evening outside together, maybe hike and go by a river and listen to the water over the rock and see the fireflies come out…then I’d go home and have at least an hour before bed to read whatever I wanted to read and then go to bed with my wife.


A crystal ball can tell you a one-word answer about anything in your future. What’s the first thing that you would ask?


Okay. This is going to seem grim, but I would want to know when I am going to die. I would want to live differently when it comes. If I did know my death was a year or ten or thirty from now, I would do things slightly differently when it comes to providing for my family and making a positive difference in the world. I hope I have about thirty or forty years to do that, but if I had a year, I would want to know that. 


I’d like to think I value life a lot and make the most of it every day. But if I knew that I just had a year left? One of my sons lives in Boerne but they’re going to move out in another year. For example, I’d say “I’m going to pay, and you can come live with us.” It’s about pacing and not necessarily about changing what we’re doing.


…But I would not want to grade another paper if I knew I had a year left. 


[I started laughing and it led me to asking:]


Is there anything too serious to joke about?


…That’s a tough question with a long answer. As a fan of free speech and expression, I’m going to say no in general–there’s not anything too serious. Humor at its best can be like a powerful weapon and a tool to point out all kinds of things–sometimes just to make us laugh, but also to point out important things about society and help us be critical.


[He heavily stressed this next part.]


But I do want to have several caveats, because my view has everything to do with context. You know that I believe strongly in fighting for oppressed people, for example, so if humor is used to perpetuate oppression (as it sometimes is) or hate or cruelty then absolutely not, or if it brings more hurt into people’s lives in the world. If I know there’s someone who’s known someone who’s committed suicide, I’m definitely not going to joke about it. It has to do with context, audience, and purpose…it all matters…if it’s being used in ways that would violate those other things that I hold dear. 


Otherwise, I don’t think anything is off-limits given the right context.


What is your worst memory, if you’re comfortable sharing? 


What I still say is probably my worst memory was when I was an assistant principal at [redacted] High School. I remember that morning sort of laughing with one of the other APs. Then we got a call over the radio saying “we need an administrator down at the track,” and that kind of stuff happened all the time, so we did rock-paper-scissors. I lost. 


I ran down to the track, and then they said “we need a nurse, and someone call the police.” So I ran down, and when I got there, there were a couple of teachers doing CPR on a student. He was a fourteen-year-old boy, and had been walking vigorously on the track that day during PE class and collapsed. He was asthmatic, and they tried to get his inhaler from his locker and they tried to get it but it didn’t help, so these two teachers were doing CPR. They called the ambulance, and the first responders pulled up and started doing CPR. Nothing was working. They called an AirLife helicopter, and his parents arrived right as the AirLife helicopter was getting there. They were putting him on the helicopter, and the mom was grabbing the AirLife people and telling them she needed to go with them. They told her she couldn’t be up there while people were working on him, and she said “he can’t be by himself,” so my principal asked me if I could go. I said sure.


I rode in the helicopter with this kid–it was tight in there and they were close, working on him–and they were doing everything they could. We landed on the top of the hospital, they were wheeling him in, and a doctor met us in the elevator and they were working on him on the way down. As soon as we came off, one of the hospital administrator people grabbed me and said “I need to talk to you. I understand you’re with the school. You have to help me–I’m going to be honest with you. He hasn’t breathed on his own for about 45 minutes now. There’s almost no chance he’s going to make it. We can’t tell the parents that right now. We need to ease them into it.” I asked him “how can I help,” and they said “we want you to sit with them while we go through this process.”


And so I sat with them in our own little room, and three different times the doctors came in and said “we’re working on him, we’re doing what we can.” The parents were grilling me, asking–what had happened, what was going on, what was going to happen to him. About fifteen minutes later, the doctor came in and said “we’re doing what we can, but he’s not responding.” The parents started praying…


About fifteen minutes later, the doctor came in with a priest. I was there and the mom was grabbing onto my arm and neck while they told her that her son had died.


That was, without a doubt, the hardest day of my life. I was different after that day. 


What do you believe happens after we die?


So, in my faith tradition, you know, there’s this notion of heaven, but I would say my view of heaven is probably not the traditional clouds and streets of gold and angels flying around. I don’t know if that’s the case. However, I do think that after death there is life of some sort, and perhaps that is an actual embodied place where a part of people goes. It’s possible–I’m not arrogant enough at this point in my life to say for sure. 


Maybe it means that peoples’ energy–peoples’ life force–is simply reborn, because we become a part of the Earth and then become a part of the ecosystem. Maybe when we think about what heaven is, it’s simply being a part of the remaking of life here on Earth. I’d say that’s a possibility. I believe that life itself is special (and not just human life, frankly) and there is something magical about life. Almost like the conservation of energy. I don’t think that the energy just ends and there’s just no more energy. Whether we think about that as a soul, or we think about that as a personality, or as a force of some kind–I don’t think it just disappears like it never existed. Maybe it’s living on through stories and maybe it’s living on in the lives of people we affect. 


Maybe that’s what heaven is. I’m okay with not knowing how it works.


[We talked. We reminisced. We mourned.]


Part III: 


You can become internationally famous as the undisputed best in the world at one thing. What would you like that thing to be?


I would love to be a world-famous magician! I’ve always loved magic…. Though I’ve got, like, two good card tricks, people are like “Woah!” when I do them.  


[Author’s Note: He is already the best English teacher. He doesn’t need to have a wish granted for that.]


Bryan Stevenson says that “we are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Do you believe anyone is beyond redemption?


It’s a complicated question…my general answer is no–I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption, beyond mercy, or beyond being shown humanity. That being said, I do think there are still people who don’t need to be living in the public arena–for their own protection or the protection of other people because of inclinations or mental illness if they’ve shown a tendency to hurt others. For those people’s good and society’s good, there are times when people need restrictions–in some cases, they’re able to live their best lives in a restricted situation. But in general, given those constraints, everybody–everybody has the potential to demonstrate humanity and a sense of redemption in their lives, to be taken back from whatever was grabbing them and capturing them, keeping them from being their best selves.


I like that. I do want to go into law or criminal justice still, because of you, but I’ve been asked “how would you defend a murderer or a pedophile that you know is guilty?” I think that would surely happen in my career, and I don’t have an answer to that quite yet. 


Well, there are some people in Just Mercy that did things [Bryan Stevenson’s] not defending nor even saying should be out of prison. But they should still be treated humanely, because if we don’t, how are we any better than the person we’re accusing them of being? We improve our society by acting humanely and showing mercy…the whole idea of mercy is that someone doesn’t deserve it. They’re being treated in a way they don’t deserve to be treated. It doesn’t mean we forget what they’ve done, but we must treat them with humanity. Evan, you can work for justice in someone’s life even as a defense attorney by treating someone humanely and being on the side of creating a better world.


[We then started talking about Good Will Hunting and it led me to asking:]


When did you know that your wife was “the one?”


The best friend I’ve ever had is my wife. I’ve been married to her for thirty years. She’s the most generous, graceful, gracious, kind, encouraging life partner. She makes me a better person. When did I know…the honest answer? Our second date. 


On the first date, we went to dinner and a hike…later, I’d asked her if she wanted to go to this dance, but before we went to the dance, I thought we ought to get to know each other a little bit. After the dance, some people went to a party…we watched some movies. It was our second date, we were watching some movies and she fell asleep on my shoulder and I said to myself: “This may be the one. I want to marry her.”


So yeah, I knew pretty early. It took her just a little longer. It was maybe two months later I told her: “Hey, I’m thinking this may be a forever thing.” She decided we didn’t need to see each other for a little while. But she had some space, and upon thinking about it, she said “Maybe this is worth giving a try.” 


And so we gave it a try. A few months later, I got engaged–and our first date to marriage was about a year. I don’t recommend that for most people, but…we’re 31 years in March. Again, she’s my best friend. It’s worked out well. 


Aww…you were around twenty then?


Yeah, I was young. Again, that’s not for everybody, but for us? We finished growing up together.


If you had a time machine that could travel to any day in your own life and change the outcome of something, where would you go? Why?


That day. Grab that kid before he went to gym and call his parents and say there’s something going on. 


You wake up tomorrow with infinite money and power at your disposal. What are the first two things you would do?


First thing…I would form a secret low-profile nonprofit, where I could consult with people I see doing the most good, like the heads of the Food Bank or Bryan Stevenson, and figure out how to do the most good for the most people with the money and the time that I have, especially given the information from the crystal ball. Secret because there’s so much time and energy spent when people know you have the money and you get disingenuous people…I’d love to be in the position to help people…if there’s a poor, local high school student working at a coffee shop, I could drop a 10,000 dollar tip and leave without them knowing who was so they can buy a car. Or be able to give scholarships or form relationships with homeless people in town and figure out what’s really needed to help them and to fix housing. I know I won’t be able to fix everything, but I’d like to spend the time that I have using the money to fix as much as I could.


The second thing? ….I would buy, just once, courtside seats for a Spurs game. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be one of those people sitting right on the court. And, maybe, if they had more tickets available, I’d buy more of those close seats, go once a year, and give them to teachers or students without people knowing who I was.


If I were to build a statue of you, and the pedestal could only fit three descriptors on it, what would you like those descriptors to be?


I’d put compassionate, loving, and hopeful. Those are…if I died tomorrow, I hope that people would say that I had compassion, I loved other people, and I had hope for them and the world.




Out of any teacher throughout my time at Keystone, Dr. Lawrence has had the greatest impact on me, and I hope that he continues to do this with the students he will teach next year in North Carolina. 


Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Evan Hamaoka
Evan Hamaoka, Student Life Editor
Evan Hamaoka is a senior at Keystone. His hobbies include creative writing, playing guitar, eternally searching for the worst movie of all time, listening to music, performing harsh vocals, running, and over-analyzing media. He is a part of LitMag, theater, soccer, and track.

Comments (0)

All The Keynote Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *