On May 4, 2023, Henry D. Fairfax was installed as Concord Academy’s 11th head of school. The Student Health and Athletic Center (SHAC) was filled with students, faculty, staff, current board members, as well as former board presidents, and the extended families of Henry and his wife, Ivy.

The cool, misty spring event began at 9:30 a.m. with a student performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” led by vocalist and guitarist Andrew Wood-Sue Wing ’25. Fay Lampert Shutzer ’65, president of the Board of Trustees, greeted the more than 600 guests. She also shared the story of the leadership transition during her student years from Elizabeth “Betty” Hall—for whom the Chapel is named—to David Aloian, who perpetuated Mrs. Hall’s class called “Stuff” and added his own mark: teaching young women how to change a tire, using his wood-paneled station wagon as a classroom.

Noting Fairfax’s work ethic immediately upon his appointment, she quoted Fairfax’s mantra for moving forward the most important work. “He is ‘running but not hurrying,’” she said. Shutzer then introduced Community and Equity Co-Heads Aisha Aina Tasso ’23 and Kadija Bah ’23. The students, who shared the podium, said that places like CA were not designed for people like them. Bah said that, of course, Fairfax can’t yet have all of the answers, but, noted Tasso, he moved his office to be closer to students and connect with them. She also appreciated that Fairfax is committed not just “[to] striving for equity, but running toward it.” 

English teacher Sabrina Sadique also addressed those gathered. She explained that, being from Bangladesh and Muslim, she was both honored and excited to be part of the rewriting of the CA mission and ensuring that equity was included. It was 2016, and she had recently become a naturalized U.S. citizen during a time when political polarization had escalated palpably, she said. “I am as legal here as legal gets,” she said, while also noting a decline in civil discourse at that time. When COVID struck, and classes were put on hold for an uncertain period, she remembers that she was teaching The Book of Job. She also referenced the virtual commencement of 2020 at which time the country was still processing the murder of George Floyd four days before. She said that Fairfax revealed in early conversations that “striving for equity” is the part of the mission that drew him to CA.

“Implicit in striving is not merely the imperative for ceaseless renewal of actions, but also our transcendental capacity to keep fighting in the face of failure,” she said. “And to struggle, as I know it, is the kiln that forges self-knowledge—the very condition that dazzles our blind spots into light.”

Guest speakers included Tom Wilcox P’01, who served for 19 years as CA’s eighth head of school as well as Fairfax’s best friend Ashley Howard, whom he met in sixth grade on a basketball court.

Wilcox has known Fairfax for 19 years—since 2004 when Fairfax was the director of the Foundations Program at the McDonogh School in Baltimore, an institution that identifies and supports first-generation students and families at independent schools. “You should know that nominating Henry to be your head was one of the greatest moments in my life, surpassed only by him telling me that he had indeed been asked to serve our school,” Wilcox said.

Howard told the story of how he and Fairfax met at basketball camp in 1993. They both loved basketball, and played thousands of hours together—including their college years at Drexel University—over the last 30 years. While Howard is now assistant basketball coach at Villanova University, Fairfax ultimately landed at CA. 

Henry and I care about a lot of the same things: equity, providing access to education, and recognizing the pain and joy of being part of a great team,” Howard said. “We care about making an impact on those around us. … I’m honored to have a person of Henry’s integrity, energy, and wisdom as my friend.”

Ashley introduced Fairfax as the final speaker of the morning. Fairfax shared his love and appreciation for his family and friends in attendance as well as his appreciation for the CA community.

Fairfax closed the morning’s remarks, sharing his personal journey and his “why” for becoming a lifelong educator. “Competition and humility do not have to be in conflict or paradoxical concepts,” he said. “CA family, I’d like for us to work together to find the intersection of humility, collaboration, and vigorous competition. I believe these ingredients breed champions.  

He also addressed equity, a throughline of the installation. “Let me be [clear]. I intend to make sure that striving for equity and honoring the individual occur in perpetuity. However exhausting, uncomfortable, and humbling that work might be, it is who we are and part of our institutional superpower.”

Watch the full recording of the event here >>

Story by Heather Sullivan
Photographs by Nicholas Pfosi

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