From the Superintendent: Learning From the Masters

by | Sep 22, 2023

Above: The Ricca family at a Bruce Springsteen concert at Gillette in August.

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

I am an extrovert. I draw energy and inspiration from being around others. Whether it is My Family, my colleagues, or strangers, I enjoy being around people. On an AAU basketball weekend a couple of years ago, almost the entire team ate together. As you would expect, there was a table of adults and a table of young people. Both tables placed our orders, and we settled in to wait for our food to come to the table. Given the size of our party, I expected the wait to be considerable, and it was. 

What made the time go quickly, though, was that I asked the entire table to share what the first concert they attended was. It was so much fun to hear people’s musical tastes, their experiences, and, almost to a person, the smile on their faces. For the record, mine was Billy Joel and Elton John, floor seats at Giants Stadium before it was renamed MetLife. 

As I retold this story this summer to some friends, My Wife and I realized that our children had yet to go to a concert. When we were their ages (17 and 15), we had already been to our first concerts, so we kept our eyes open for possible options. As it turned out, given our AAU schedule this summer, dates and times were hard to line up. We even went as far as to see if we could see a concert while we were away at an AAU tournament. No dice. It seemed like we would go another summer without Our Boys attending their first concert. 

Until we saw that a friend of ours could not use their tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert at Gillette Stadium. With a couple of clicks and a direct message later between My Wife and her friend, the tickets were ours! No one in our family had seen “The Boss” in concert, and he did not disappoint. Three hours straight. No intermission. A curtain call or two. We did not sit down once. Oh, and Mr. Springsteen spent most of the evening with the biggest smile on his face: 

And did I mention that he’s 73? 

Bruce Springsteen on the jumbotron at Gillette. Submitted photo

It was an epic evening for Our Family. Not to be outdone, My Wife surprised me with tickets to Jackson Browne, just the two of us, at Tanglewood a week later. She bought the tickets for us as a summer send-off. He, too, did not disappoint, and one of my favorite lines from The Pretender is: “I’m gonna find myself a girl, who can show me what laughter means. And we’ll fill in the missing colors in each other’s paint-by-number dreams.” It makes me think of My Wife every time. Every. Single. Time. 

Jackson Browne at Tanglewood. Submitted photo

In case you’re wondering, Mr. Browne is 74, almost 75 (in October). 

When you’re young, ages are things to be attained. At 16, you can drive a car. At 18, you can vote. At 21, you can drink. At 25 you can rent a car on your own. Then, at some point in your twenties (or thirties), depending on your mindset, the desire to age takes on a different perspective. As a culture, we tend to celebrate the decades. I had an epic 40th birthday surprise party and have been a part of several others for friends when they hit the big “fill-in-the-blank-0.”

I was in awe of these two men, in their mid-seventies, playing, singing, and dancing late into the night. Skeptics will point out that they are well-paid, don’t need the money, and don’t work full days. What I do know is that both of these men are passionate about their music. And regardless of how well they’re paid, they would not do it if they both didn’t love it. 

Their voices did not sound exactly like the music I first heard on the radio growing up and now dial up instantly on my phone. Clearly, they’ve aged, but based on the reactions of both crowds, it didn’t matter. Their music caused us to buy the tickets in the first place and stand on our feet for a combined five and a half hours to listen, dance, and, in some cases, sing along. 

I don’t plan on working when I’m their age, which is less than 25 years ahead in my future. I do plan on still doing things that I’m passionate about. Fortunately, I had people around me in my life who fueled and helped me create the time to do those things that mean a great deal to me. My Family still does this. 

It’s essential that we give our students the chance to explore what they’re passionate about. What blows their hair back. What makes them feel authentically themselves. Things they would do that don’t feel like “work.” I am very fortunate that serving as superintendent of schools rarely feels like “work” to me. But there will come a day when I want to do something other than this kind of work. And I’m hopeful that when that day comes, I can remember the lesson that Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen taught me this summer: 

That age is but a number. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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October 16, 2023 7:51 am

As i approach my 76th birthday, i feel blessed to just be alive, and to be in good health is an added bonus. Having worked with Kindergarteners for over 30 years keeps me young – spend five minutes a day to get in touch with 5 year old self and pretend that yesterday and tomorrow do not exist – only today and the present moment matters…


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