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. This means that I am also, like all of you, a member of this community. I love CA, and like many of you, wish that we could be physically together in the Chapel today. Instead in this, our 99th year for Concord Academy, we are holding our first virtual Convocation, so we are making history as we speak.

I know it may not be the history we all wanted, but this is our moment nonetheless. We can still be creative and imagine that we are in the chapel. This may be a little harder for our new students but I picked the chapel background to help set the scene. In my mind, I can picture all of you seated on the wooden benches, from the 9th graders on one side, alert and looking around, to the seniors on the other, relaxed and crowded onto your benches, and spilling out into the aisles.

Being together in CA’s Chapel represents time that we spend here where we are listening, truly listening, to one another. It’s something we don’t do enough of in our world, but it is core to what we do here at CA: We attend to one another with mutual respect, with the kind of care and attention, that I wish we could see more of in the world.

It makes me think of our mission:

We are a community animated by love of learning,
diverse and striving for equity,
with common trust as our foundation.

Honoring each individual, we challenge and expand
our understanding of ourselves and the world
through purposeful collaboration and creative engagement.

We cultivate empathy, integrity, and responsibility
to build a more just and sustainable future.

In reading our mission, I am reminded of what grounds us. Together, we are doing something truly remarkable. Though mediated through Zoom — something that my class of ’65 would have thought sounded like it came from the pages of Harry Potter — the work is no less important.

We have more than this chapel and our shared values in common. Before you came to CA you likely had people who have had a special impact on your life, by encouraging you, validating you and helping you become the person you are today, and maybe even guiding you on your road to CA. When we are very young, it is our parents and family, but as we grow, it is often a teacher or a mentor. For me, in third grade, I thought I had a magical teacher. That may seem like a funny word to use, but it is true. She looked magical. She had long hair to her waist which she braided and wrapped in a crown around her head. She was young, incredibly pretty, and kind. But it wasn’t that. The magic was in her ability to actually see me — to see what was on my mind and in my heart.

How could she possibly know? I was quiet and rarely spoke up. But somehow Ms. Neely saw me. One day I erased my name on my workbook and wrote my favorite name in its place. I need to explain something here: I grew up in an era when it wasn’t cool to have an unusual name. My short three-letter name, was as stark as my unflattering haircut, which was also short and simple, designed to be kept neat. She saw that I had written “Polly” on my workbook, a name of a heroine in books that I had read, a girl with long braids like my teacher — my imagined better self. Somehow Miss Neely saw that I longed and needed to be seen differently.

And most importantly, she truly saw and accepted me. She asked if I wanted to be called Polly, and from that moment on, that was my name. And I got up the courage to grow my hair. Into braids, of course.

By the time I came to CA, being called “Polly” was long in the past, but the beginnings of confidence and trust in myself had been seeded. At CA, I found more magical teachers who saw me, who validated who I was, and who encouraged me forward. I cannot tell you about each of them today. But I will mention one who stands out. He was my 11th-grade advisor and history teacher, Mr. Scult, who may not have looked magical in his dark suits and skinny ties (it was
the early sixties after all), but was revered by all.

At the time, he was reviewing my semester report, and in particular, the comments from teachers, a number of which said the same thing: I needed to speak up more. No surprise here. Though not as shy as before, I was still quiet and reserved. Mr. Scult took a deep breath and said, “I don’t see a problem. In my class, you speak up when you have something to say. That is all that matters.” His words in that moment have stayed with me to this day, turning what seemed like a wrong into a right: criticism into praise. If that isn’t magic, what is?

So, if this is your first year, you have yet to meet those magical CA adults who will see you, help you, connect to you and inspire you. If you are returning, you most likely have met some of them already, and maybe you might even say “they have changed your life!” CA is that kind of place.

After the events of this past spring and summer, as we navigate the challenges of a global pandemic and dedicate ourselves to anti-racism, our commitment to the values in our mission, common trust, empathy, equity, and integrity, is truly remarkable. There is magic in them — the magic to make our community, and our world, a better place. This commitment is our North Star. And you are surrounded by teachers and mentors ready to guide you to your best self.

I like to think that these ingredients — a community that truly listens, the magic of inspiring teachers and mentors, and the commitment to the values of our mission — are essential to what makes CA special. You have what you need for a great year.

Together, we can create a remarkable experience for one another this year, and, lofty though it may seem, a better world in the years to come. I believe in that, just as strongly as I believe in all of you.

So once again, welcome to all: students, faculty and staff, and the entire CA community.

Thank you all for listening.

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