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!
More School News
As I write to you today, our world is still grappling with the great challenges that COVID-19 has created. Indeed, the situation in many places has unfortunately grown considerably worse since my last letter. I offer my sincere condolences to those of you who have suffered illness or lost loved ones to this pandemic. This disease has caused extraordinary pain, stress, and dismay on so many levels. We must all find ways to focus on hope and the prospects of the recovery that will come, and the opportunities that any crisis presents to assert our powers of caring and goodness. We hope you are leaning on and helping those around you.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic prevented Concord Academy alumnae/i from returning to campus, it did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm for reconnecting with classmates, faculty and staff, and fellow CA graduates as part of the school’s first Virtual Reunion. More than 225 alumnae/i joined via videoconference as CA hosted three special reunion programs, the annual Alumnae/i Association Assembly, and 13 virtual class gatherings for reunion classes over four days in early June.
Commencement 2020: Virtual Ceremony Recognizes Real Achievement, and Speaker Ambassador Samantha Power Offers a Simple Suggestion for Individual Action
In Concord Academy’s 98th year, Commencement didn’t exactly resemble the annual ceremony we’re accustomed to. The Covid-19 pandemic may have kept the 98 honorees from physically attending the ceremony, but their presence was felt. A mixture of prerecorded video and live remarks and student recognition for diplomas allowed CA to preserve many of the hallmarks that distinguish the school’s graduation ceremony. And Ambassador Samantha Power, by livestream, offered words of wisdom for the class of 2020.