Good morning and welcome. I am Fay Shutzer. I am the president of the Board of Trustees and an alumna from the class of 1965. When mentioning my year of graduation, I often joke, “Don’t do the math,” and today it is especially relevant, because I am going to tell a story about math in just a minute. So hang on to that thought, while you don’t do the math.
It is hard to believe that we are gathered together, anticipating the first day of classes although the weather tells us it is still summer. This year we welcome 100 new students, 95 of them in our 9th-grade class. So today may be the first day at CA for many of you, but you will gather many times in this space over the course of the year. I hope you will feel increasingly comfortable with each visit. For those who have been here before, whether for just a year, or for a “math-defying” number of years like me, welcome back. It is good to be together again.
So the story I promised: It starts on a warm September day at Concord Academy, a very long time ago. The air was still thick with summer heat, the classroom crowded with 16 girls, seated at individual desks, arranged in rows. The teacher, Mrs. Coogan, was breathless from the heat and exertion. She spoke rapidly, in a high voice that was a difficult to understand. Perhaps that was a hint of the problem. She was handing back geometry tests, the first tests of the semester. Now let me stop to say I was a pretty good student when I came to CA, at least good enough to get in, and math had never been a problem.
As Mrs. C walked up and down the rows, she sighed as she dropped a paper in front of each student. She spoke in her somewhat hard-to-follow voice: … “some of you didn’t understand the lesson, apparently.” Was that a clue? I wondered. And then, my paper was in front of me. I saw my name and some writing and red ink and then, as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, I saw only these two words: “See me!”
So why am I telling you this story? Well, not just because I survived it. And not just because no one thought badly of me or actually even really noticed that I hadn’t grasped the concepts of geometry. But because, surprisingly to my 15-year-old self, the dreaded words “See me” turned out to be far from a reprimand. Mrs. C wrote those words to me, and to all the others like me who thought geometry was a foreign language, in order to offer support and help. They were an invitation to conversation, collaboration, and in my case, explanation. Those two simple words turned out to be an invitation that changed how I thought about CA — and for that matter, about education.
I had come from a school where I was afraid to be wrong. I always needed to have the right answer, but I was discovering that, at CA, education was — and certainly still is —a shared and supportive exploration of ideas. You cannot get to “right” if you are afraid to be wrong, or if you are afraid to show you don’t know and are unwilling to be vulnerable and to ask for help. And who says “right” is the actual destination you want, anyway? Though I suggest you don’t quote me on that on your next math test! I can’t promise how well it will go over.
Concord Academy’s mission statement, which was newly revised a few months ago, talks about “love of learning.” In those early weeks of school, I certainly didn’t love learning geometry, but ultimately, once I cracked the code and understood what it was about, I really did. An environment that fosters love of learning needs to build trust and confidence, and a sense of safety in the process. You will find that here, just as I did. I am confident of that.
So whether you are about to start your first CA class, or you have been here for a while, don’t be afraid to encounter “See me” written at the bottom of a paper. It is an opportunity and an invitation. In fact, don’t be afraid to ask your teachers, “Can I see you?” You too can start the conversation, and extend the invitation. I know your teachers will welcome that. Remember, CA is a place for ideas to take shape and grow. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Not even the seniors. This is a place to learn — to learn about yourself and others, about content in class, about social justice, about the environment, and about the world. You have a truly incredible faculty and staff to partner with you and guide you. This is a place, a community, in which we want to see you and for you to truly be seen. We mean that. Sincerely.
So once again, welcome to all: students, faculty and staff, and the entire CA community.
Let’s make it a great year!