On the first day of the 2017–18 academic year, the Elizabeth B. Hall Chapel at Concord Academy resounded with a familiar and energizing patter of conversation while students, faculty, and staff took their places and Katie Painter ’19 played a piano prelude. When the Convocation program began, themes of individuality and community dominated the speakers’ addresses — about the promise of new beginnings, opportunities for individualized learning, CA’s guiding principle of common trust, and the importance of friendship.
Head of School Rick Hardy welcomed returning students, faculty, and staff to Concord Academy’s 96th school year, as well as 13 new faculty and staff members and 106 new students from 10 countries and 12 U.S. states. “We encourage you to embrace this opportunity: to listen, to learn, to make friends, and to try things you have not tried before,” he said. “Go for it — you will not regret it.”
Hardy shared his own feeling of nervousness at the outset of every school year, not only about “uncertainty about what’s to come” but also about “the promise of what’s possible.” He stressed the support of the entire community of classmates, teachers, advisors, house faculty, and coaches. “You are not alone,” he said. “You are part of a community, and we are very glad that you are here.”
Kim Williams P’08, ’14, president of the Board of Trustees and parent of three CA graduates, celebrated the school’s commitment to supporting intellectual curiosity and engaging learners as individuals. She encouraged students to “be prepared to challenge the way that you learn as well as what you choose to learn” and to “find what gives you fulfillment, and be tenacious in your pursuit of that endeavor.” Noting that there is always the potential for failure when stepping outside a comfort zone, she said students could seldom find “a more hospitable environment in which to take new risks.” She advised, “Always be true to yourself: CA affords you that opportunity.”
Similarly, Kaity Goodwin ’18, student head of school, urged her fellow students to “be original, be yourself, be extra!” She highlighted the wealth of opportunities beyond the classroom — clubs, athletics, ensembles, and other extracurriculars — that can foster love of learning and adventure at CA. Acknowledging a summer recently marred by violence and tragedy in the U.S., she said “now, more than ever, it’s important for us to build bridges and relationships.” Goodwin called the entire community to work together, to trust and confide in each other, and to “lift one another up.” She spoke especially about CA’s foundational value of common trust, which “reminds us to be good citizens,” “to listen to one another and respect each other’s ideas and opinions,” and “to embrace our diversity and all the stories of our community members.” It’s a value, she said, that shapes the “strong, accepting environment” CA is known for. (Read Kaity’s remarks in full below.)
As faculty speaker, Adam Bailey, Spanish teacher and Modern and Classical Languages Department head, reached out to those who might be feeling alone among others, offering three anecdotes from his life when he could have used a friend — the first being a tumble he took as a 7-year-old off a dock into a lake. With self-deprecating humor, he described times when a helping hand might have prevented embarrassment, injury, or loneliness, and he offered some words of wisdom: “Think less about what you want to accomplish by the end of your journey and more about the people you will meet along the way.”
Looking out into the school, he counted every one of the individuals listening from the Chapel pews as “amazing, talented, and kind people” who can reach out to one another. “We are a community gathered here in love,” he said. “Love of learning, learning from each other and respecting the rich diversity of our backgrounds, and trusting one another to not judge too harshly when we make mistakes and to be there to keep us from falling off that dock.”
Read faculty speaker Adam Bailey’s remarks in full below:
I must admit, I was a bit nervous about standing up here in the front of the chapel all by myself to offer my thoughts on this opening day of school. But then, I thought about it a different way. I am not standing in the front of the Chapel all by myself, but rather I am standing in the Chapel with all of you. Now, if there are any of you who are packed into the pews in front of me or up in the balcony that are feeling a bit “alone” today despite being shoulder to shoulder with your fellow students, faculty or staff, then my only hope is that you might feel differently after you hear my story.
Once, when I was 7 years old … (my apologies if I just put the tune of that Lucas Graham song in your head, I heard it quite a bit this summer on the radio and it is kind of catchy.) Anyway, once when I was 7 years old, I was standing on a dock on a lake in Maine waiting for my turn to go for a canoe ride with my father. He was paddling around the lake with my sister while I waited standing on the dock with my life jacket on and my paddle in hand. I was alone on the dock. Some of my aunts and uncles were sitting up in the screened-in porch overlooking the lake chatting while playing cribbage. My attention turned towards the life under the surface of the crystal clear water of Round Pond. If you look at the water at an early hour before the sun is high enough to cause a reflection, you can see right to the bottom and make out every stone, plant and fish swimming by. I knew there were bass in this particular lake as I had heard stories from my dad, but I had yet to catch one. Not knowing how to distinguish one fish from another, and only having heard stories of the bass, I surmised that the large fish circling about ten feet in front of me was a bass. I was mesmerized, trying to guess which direction it would turn and if it was the biggest fish in the lake or if there were bigger ones. I stepped to the edge of the dock to get a closer look, and as I did, I was surprised that the fish started swimming towards me rather than away. It headed right for me as if to torpedo the posts supporting the dock, but instead of going into a post it swam between the two posts that held up the board that I was standing on. Transfixed by curiosity I continued to follow the fish with my eyes, not fully realizing that they were connected to my head, which was now no longer centered above my feet but peering over the edge of the dock in order to keep the fish in view. As I continued to lean forward to keep sight of the fish swimming beneath my feet, my aunts and uncles were suddenly distracted from their card game by a giant splash, which of course was me falling into the lake fully clothed with my paddle and life jacket. They called down to me to see if I was okay. Aside from being soaked and embarrassed, I was fine, but I could not figure out how to explain to them why I fell off a perfectly stationary dock into the water.
Once, when I was 13, I was leaving the front doors of Madison Junior High School in New Jersey at the end of the day to catch the big yellow cheese bus parked in a row of cheese buses waiting to transport students to the far reaches of town. My bus was first in the row so I knew it was about to leave and I also knew if I missed it, I had about a four mile walk home, so I couldn’t just saunter over. I also did not want to go sprinting out of the doors and across the front lawn in a spastic frenzy where all the cool kids were hanging out looking so casual as if their particular circle of grass was the only place to be at that moment and as if time seemed to revolve around them. I wanted to portray the calm and collected seventh grader. With one eye on my bus and the other on the cool crowd, I strained to make an all out sprint look like a casual stride, which probably morphed into some kind of fast duck waddle like an Olympic race walker. Since I kept one eye on the bus and one eye on the cool kids, I didn’t notice the fire hydrant right in my path until I slammed my thigh right into one of the protruding cast iron pumper nozzles, giving myself such a painful charley horse that I fell to the ground, dropped all my books, and consequently missed the bus I was so intent on boarding without anyone noticing me.
Once, when I was 38 years old, about to embark on a 500-mile walk across the north of Spain by myself, my friend who brought me to the start of my journey presented me with a riddle. He asked, “When you are walking, is it better to look down, keeping your eyes on the ground so that you avoid tripping over a tree root, twisting an ankle on a rock, or stepping in mud? Or is it better to keep your head up, looking forward and around you to keep your bearings, to see the path ahead, and to appreciate the sights and beauty that surround you?” You would think at 38, I would have had the wisdom to figure that one out, but no. “The answer,” he said, “is that it is better to walk with a friend.”
As I think back to my younger selves, I realize how this simple solution might have avoided some embarrassing if not dangerous moments in my life. If someone was with me on that dock, they could have seen me peering precariously over the edge and grabbed me before I fell in. If someone was walking with me to the bus, they could have alerted me to the impending hydrant or pushed me out of the way. Undoubtedly I would have been better off with a friend. The irony of my starting that journey on my own at 38 in the north of Spain is that my goal was to reach a chapel in Santiago where I was to get married, and I would have a companion to walk with me for the rest of my life. So the thought I would like to share with you today is this: As you sit here on this first day of the 2017–18 academic year, whether you are a freshman about to take your first steps in the journey that is Concord Academy, a senior with only two semesters left to travel, or a sophomore or junior somewhere in the middle of your trek, think less about what you want to accomplish by the end of your journey and more about the people you will meet along the way.
A good friend of mine, Mihir Desai, who was on the journey with me from fourth grade through high school graduation, just published a book this summer titled The Wisdom of Finance. In chapter six, “Living the Dream,” he writes about a study of Harvard undergraduates that tracked data on their physiological and emotional development over more than 70 years to find evidence on what matters for longevity and happiness. In 2008, one of the research psychiatrists was interviewed about their findings and was asked, “What have you learned?” His response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
So think about the relationships that you have or that you hope to foster this year. Who will be the person to reach out and grab you before you fall of the dock? Who will you reach out to and keep from slamming into a fire hydrant? Who will accompany you on your journey this year? Look around. There are some amazing, talented, and kind people sitting here in this chapel. You are one of them. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Recent news from Charlottesville may make you hesitant with all the talk of hatred and violence, but that is not who we are here at Concord Academy. We are a community gathered here in love. Love of learning, learning from each other and respecting the rich diversity of our backgrounds, and trusting one another to not judge too harshly when we make mistakes and to be there to keep us from falling off that dock. If you need any reminder of the importance of love in this community, all you need to do is read the words carved into the wood that will be in front of you each morning as you sit in this Chapel. There is a pretty cool history to this woodcarving. If you don’t already know it, ask someone to tell you about it. All of you have some pretty cool histories. If you don’t already know them, ask each other to tell you about them. Don’t be afraid to reach out. And if we know we are all reaching out to one another, none of us need to fear standing alone on the edge of the dock.
Thank you all for being with me this morning, and I wish everyone a great year!
Read Student Head of School Kaity Goodwin’s remarks in full below:
Hi, everyone. I hope you had a fun, relaxing, and productive summer! It’s so great to see a mix of old and new faces, and I’m glad to be welcoming you all back to campus! I hope you all are as excited as I am to see what this year has in store for us.
I know that Council has been hard at work this summer, planning new events and improving old ones as well as brainstorming initiatives and projects for our community. The members of Council are diverse in our backgrounds and interests, and we are approachable and looking for feedback and new ideas all the time. This year we are trying to make Council more inviting and inclusive by having open meetings and lots of other way for the student body to give input. Know that we are always willing to listen to you, and no matter what, we will always have your back.
We are a strong community full of talented, brave, passionate, and hardworking individuals. In the last few weeks of summer, however, we saw acts of hate and violence, as well as tragedy and destruction throughout our country. I know this isn’t the first time that events like this have impacted us, and unfortunately I’m sure it won’t be the last. But now, more than ever, it’s important for us to build bridges and relationships. Change happens when people work together and can trust and confide in each other. We are a community that can lift one another up, make new friends and reach out to others that may be feeling alone. Let’s tear down the walls of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and class that separate us, for these divides only exist if we allow them to.
When we are in doubt, let’s not forget the core values of our school, for they remind us to be kind to one another and keep our perspectives open: Common trust reminds us to be good citizens. It reminds us to listen to one another and respect each other’s ideas and opinions. Remember that common trust extends beyond just leaving your stuff in the MSL or at your desk, trusting that no one will take it. It encourages us to embrace our diversity and all the stories of our community members, as we are all coming from different places and from different backgrounds. Common trust is not a lie; it is not dead if we don’t allow it to be so. We are the ones that dictate how it will impact us. I think we can agree that our community benefits greatly from common trust, and we have seen those benefits in the past, and will continue to see them if we commit and work hard to contribute to it.
With common trust by our side, and the support, love and care of our community, I know we can maintain the strong, accepting environment that CA is noted for. The same environment that I fell in love with as a freshman and have continued to love over the past three years.
CA is a place where I know I can be myself. During the first few months of my time here, it took me a while to integrate into the CA community and to find my friend groups and niches. Of course, I always had a bubbly personality and a love for a certain male celebrity pop star, but I had a hard time broadcasting that to my classmates and peers. I feared judgement and rejection. I feared that I was too stuck in a middle school mindset and that high schoolers were “too sophisticated” for rolly backpacks and hot pink zipper pencil cases. As soon as someone looked at me, I was afraid they were silently mocking my giant phone case and sparkly sneakers. Come to realize that maybe yes, they were judging me, but was it really a bad thing or did it just make me who I am? When I started ditching the things that made me me, I felt empty and uncoordinated. I felt boring and unoriginal -— which definitely isn’t me at all. Once I started being myself, I got my act together and thrived again. I stopped caring about what others thought, or might have potentially thought of me, and just did me. Surprisingly enough, I found out in the middle of last year, that all the people whom I feared judgement from the most were the people who really enjoyed my quirks and said that’s what made me so iconic. I had worried for nothing, and I rediscovered a supportive and accepting community to call home.
CA inspires confidence, independence, and a willingness for trying new things. There are so many opportunities presented beyond the classroom that will spark a further interest in learning and adventure. Take advantage of all the clubs, athletics, ensembles, and other extracurriculars to get involved in on campus. Don’t be afraid to try out for a spot on a varsity team or audition for a play or musical. Take a challenging class or one that’s out of your comfort zone. I said this the other day at orientation, but think that it is relevant to all of us: Throw yourself fully into everything you do and don’t let your potential awkwardness or fear of standing out keep you back; you’ll probably regret it later if you do. Put yourself out there. Make yourself known. Be original, be yourself, be extra!! But don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back once in awhile. You’ll definitely have earned it.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a quote from a Disney classic: Mary Poppins once said “with every task that must be done, there is an element of fun.” I encourage you to find your fun, even in the toughest of situations, and seize every opportunity presented to you throughout the year with enthusiasm, grace, and a willingness to learn.
Thank you, and welcome back!