It’s only fitting that Vatche Hagopian and John Ruch retired from Prep on the same day. The two friends are birds—or perhaps birdies—of a feather. Combined, they have 68 years of service to Prep, both coaching girls athletics and making their mark on Prep’s community-first culture. And, over the years, they’ve received the same honors: the Parents Association Teaching Chair and the Senior Class Faculty Recognition Award. It’s fitting that the Class of 2018 nominated them as a pair to receive the award for a final time.
Ruch started at Prep in 1982, coached girls basketball for eight years, served as 12th grade dean for 14 years and chaired the History Department from 1998-2005. He helped create the American Identity course in 1988 and has taught it ever since, helping with its transition to ID in the last few years. In his administrative roles, he is a problem solver, working both as director and assistant director of scheduling for a total of 27 years. Informally, he is the campus concierge who calendars faculty happy hours, softball games and other social events.
Peter Bachmann notes with a smile, “John swings by my office frequently at 8:00 am to make sure that the schedule is running smoothly and I have what I need. He takes his job seriously. And he takes his tee times seriously, as well.”
Ruch’s formidable exterior disguises a warm and generous heart. He cares about focus, discipline and participation, about making connections for his history, economics and investments scholars. He wants his students to think and to be prepared for the future. All the same, by midterms, his students have seen through the gruff, ironic crust to his gooey central core.
Meanwhile, Hagopian is all gooey core. He began teaching math at Prep in 1986 and has been a fixture at games and performances for over three decades, founding and coaching the girls soccer team in his early years. He’s been on 31 senior trips, 25 9th grade trips and eight 8th grade trips, all with a perpetual grin and a zen-like sense of calm.
His starched cuffs, ruler-straight classroom desks and photos of years of class trips and alumni weddings are the stuff of legend, as is his sense of humor. Room 32 is a structured, supportive and friendly place, where Hagopian strives to dissipate math anxiety in an atmosphere of trust and rapport, where he is careful to correct and grade the paper but not the person.
His calling to be a heart-first teacher is manifest in his formal and informal mentoring of new teachers. Over the last several years, he has supplied first years with so much inside information, humor and wisdom that he’s been dubbed their guardian angel.
“Vatche combines perfect graciousness with a perfectly sneaky sense of humor,” says Bachmann. “His devotion to his students and colleagues is legendary.”
Both teachers have their quirks and habits. Hagopian keeps the classroom neat and clean because it creates a sense of calm; he brings a Christmas tree to the Senior Patio as a celebration of the class’s senior privileges. Ruch’s water jug is no more mysterious than his requirements: paper, pencils, textbook, notebook. Both are about preparation and participation. The mug is always full of water, for hydration. The classroom paraphernalia is because, Ruch says, “I don’t care what you think, just that you think.”
The pair are Prep for Life, especially in life after Prep. Ruch has three kids: Anne ’08, Margaret ’04 and George ’02; Hagopian met his wife, Laurel, when her daughter, Jill Bigelow ’95, was a student. The two plan to play a lot of golf—a game to which Ruch was introduced by Hagopian.
Words From Students and Colleagues
“John Ruch is a good friend, and what you see is what you get. There are no two Johns.” — Vatche Hagopian
“ I have not found a kinder, nicer human being than Vatche Hagopian. He’s just one of those gems that you find out there.” — John Ruch
“Mr. Hagopian noticed that I collect buttons/pins to put on my backpack and every now and then gives me a math pin or just a fun one to add to my collection. I will truly miss his stories and wisdom.” — Alex Kyriakakis ’20
“Vatche is the perfect guide to shepherd new faculty their first year. He does this for veteran teachers as well. I always appreciate his point of view, his words of encouragement and his even-keeled approach to daily life at Prep even when things get overwhelming.” — Jodie Hare, English teacher, college counselor
“Around Thanksgiving, Mr. Hagopian was teaching us square roots. He wanted to show us a way to say thank you to our relatives in a mathematical way, so he created this square root problem. If you cut the square root in half to simplify, it says ‘I love you.’” — Alyssa Christopoulos ’21
“Mr. Ruch, you have an insane amount of passion for teaching. You’ve helped me learn one of the most important lessons: financial responsibility. I’m extremely lucky to have a teacher who has equipped me with skills that will help me succeed in the real world.” — Andrew Cheng ’18
“I’m not sure I will ever be more terrified than when I was climbing into Ruch’s truck for our daily carpool and he said to me, ‘I heard you got your permit this weekend.’ My stomach almost jumped out of my mouth. I learned to fight my way through the 210 Foothill exit with Ruch clutching the passenger side handle. I’m proud to announce that I passed my driving test on my first try and credit my dear neighbor, favorite critic and best teacher with that success.” — Casey Cousineau ’13
“I will miss Mr. Ruch, his blue jug and his unrivaled aura.” — Francesca Song ’18