On September 4, Head of School Rick Hardy welcomed returning students, faculty, and staff to Concord Academy’s 97th school year in the Elizabeth B. Hall Chapel, encouraging new students and teachers to embrace the opportunities that this new beginning brings.
Convocation, a tradition that marks the opening of the academic year, provides an important moment for the CA community to come together to articulate and celebrate the school’s mission: to engage one another in a community animated by a love of learning, enriched by a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, and guided by a covenant of common trust.
“Implicit in this mission is the idea that learning is not a solitary pursuit; it is a process that is enriched, made better and more meaningful, by being with people, people whose ways of thinking and whose personal histories are different from ours,” Hardy said. Discussing CA’s balanced focus on individuality and community, he said, “We become a community by respecting ourselves and one another.”
Fay Lampert Shutzer ’65, who assumed her duties as president of the Board of Trustees in July, discussed the building in which she was speaking. CA’s iconic Chapel was relocated to CA from its original location in New Hampshire by former Concord Academy Headmistress Elizabeth Hall and English teacher Doreen Young, both of whom Shutzer knew during her time as a student and both, as she said, “extraordinary women with with a lasting effect on CA.”
Shutzer reflected on the tradition of senior chapel talks and their centrality to the experience of this school — not only to the seniors who deliver them but to the entire community that spends many hours in the Chapel listening and thinking, perhaps laughing or confused or sad, and sometimes lost in thought. When she gave her chapel talk 53 years ago — Concord Academy was then a girls’ school — they were, she said, “much more reserved and formal,” with no hug line, friend bench behind the podium, posters or decorations, or rock or rap music of the student speaker’s choice. Nevertheless, Shutzer returned to her remarks as a senior at CA, as they still hold relevance today.
“I was concerned with how much we wished away the days, waiting for the weekend, and then for the next vacation, and how we literally crossed days off the calendar in our eagerness to get there,” she said. She questioned why she and her fellow classmates were rushing through the present to arrive at the future. She urged students not to “let the days become a means to an end,” to keep looking for things to appreciate, not to let the schedule settle into routine. “Like I did, every one of you will have your turn to stand up here for your chapel,” she said. “Between now and that moment … try to capture time: Be present, aware, know where you are, hold on to what is most meaningful, and search for how to share it with others. When the day comes, and you stand up here, you will have that moment. Don’t waste a second until then.”
Ananya Pani ’19, student head of school, encouraged all students to engage with the Student Council and attend at least one meeting, as well as to try everything and take advantage of unexplored opportunities. “CA has a lot to offer, and we must give back,” she said, urging students to take care of the school’s common spaces and encourage others to do so as well. “Make your voice heard, while also taking the time to utilize the places we have created to listen and learn about others’ experiences,” she said.
As faculty speaker, Sarah Yeh, dean of faculty, recounted her arrival at CA as a new history teacher 10 years ago, still adjusting along with her family after moving from New York. Despite the tumultuous start, she felt a sense of peace sitting in the Chapel. CA was the school Yeh’s mother had attended and called the best educational experience of her life, and where Yeh as a new faculty member met her mother’s favorite teacher, Sylvia Mendenhall, still tutoring at CA well into her 80s. Yeh recounted how when Mendenhall passed away two years ago, she left her Chelmsford, Mass., home to Concord Academy “because she believed so much in this place.” Mendenhall’s selfless gift made possible some of the renovations to CA’s students houses completed over the summer.
Yeh too reflected on the chapel talk tradition. “I love to sit and think about what these walls and beams have seen — in 1800s New Hampshire, and in the 60-some years that they’ve been in this place — moments of profound joy, moments of deep sorrow, acts of bravery, and endless peals of laughter,” she said. “We are all now part of the chorus, and there is no place I would rather begin another school year.”