On behalf of the faculty, staff, Class of 2019, and returning students and parents, I welcome you to the opening of our 2018-2019 school year. The energy and enthusiasm you experienced this morning with our seniors serve as perfect metaphors for our commitment to you and your families in this new academic year. We are determined to make St. Andrew's the best school, the most enlightening community, a sacred second home for you and your families. This is literally only the beginning of a journey that has the potential to change your child's life and in the process bring more hope, intelligence, and generosity into the world.
We are thrilled you as parents and families accepted our invitation to be a part of this school, and now we are eager to show you how powerful this educational model is. We are eager to have you meet our faculty, staff, and student body; we are eager to make a case for the cultivation of a national and international movement to protect, affirm, and inspire the lives of all children and adolescents. We are eager to demonstrate why St. Andrew's represents a powerful response to the fragmentation, confusion, and disarray of the 21st century. We are eager to pair St. Andrew's with other groups, organizations, and communities fighting hard to come together in the spirit described by the late Senator John McCain:
"To be connected to America's causes: liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people--brings happiness more sublime than life's fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving causes bigger than ourselves. We weaken our greatness when we confuse patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our own ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."
St. Andrew's stands today as a school deliberately focused on cultivating goodness, respect, collaboration, problem solving in the world. We are a place that inspires adults and students to be more open, discerning, humble, compassionate, and kind. We are a school fueled by a commitment to integrity, humanity, and inclusion.
Of course, we understand and appreciate the emotions surging through your children and families during this arrival voyage you have made together. We understand that the road to St. Andrew's is different, unique, and distinctive for each family represented here, and we also sense that this is a moment, an arrival that will remain in your memory for years to come. We remember these moments of arrival because they are associated with change, transition, and the rites of passage that signal a move from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood. We remember these moments because they force us to feel the depth of our love for our children and to begin to evaluate how well we have accomplished the central goal of parenting: preparing our sons and daughters not only to begin living, acting, thinking for themselves, but more audaciously, preparing students to take on the perspectives, the needs, the concerns of others, particularly of those less fortunate, oppressed, forgotten, and despised. We remember these moments because we know a great education is the best gift we can give our children and the children of the world.
Yet, even with all this being said, the transition for parents to boarding school can be complex. Even though we know why a school cultivating independence, character, learning, and grace is a very good idea, leaving, driving down the driveway, looking at an empty bedroom at home seems very hard right now, next week, and maybe for a while after that.
We know that love takes many forms in our hearts and minds, especially as we contemplate a phase in the parenting process when we quite literally prepare for a move from our child's full dependence on parents to an adolescence and young adulthood of increasing independence and responsibility. Love in this stage of life is complex: we want our sons and daughters to grow up, but not all at once. We want them to live more independently, but we want them to remember where they come from and what family values and responsibility entails. We are anxious about how our children will do in a highly competitive world and rapidly changing economy, and at times we may be tempted to try to remove the struggles, obstacles, and challenges they face, just to keep them on track, on time, superficially ready for life. Maybe at times, we need our kids more and more for our own definition of meaning, for our own emotional support, for our own joy of connecting to community through their activities athletics, arts, and community service. Parenting brings us into proximity with life, with community, with the very health and vitality of our communities.
The good news to share today is that your parenting and connecting continues during boarding school. You and your families represent the moral, ethical, spiritual foundation of your child's very heart and soul, and we together will urge our students to study understand and share the wisdom courage and spirit of their families even as they begin life in a new community.
You might ask your son or daughter about the gift Jo Jo finds in Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing several hours into a most harrowing and difficult voyage.
"It is not until an hour later, when I figure the shirt's as dry as it's going to get in the humid--close car, that I see it. A small bag, so small two could fit in the palm of my hand, secreted in my bundle of clothes... I find a white feather smaller than my pinkie finger, tipped with blue and a slash of black... Then I see a small grey river rock, a perfect little dome. I swirl my pointer finger into the dark of the sack, searching, and pull out a piece of paper, rolled thin as a fingernail. In slanted, shaky script, in blue ink: Keep this close... I know it's Pop who wrote the note, Pop who gathered the feather, the tooth, and the rock, who sewed the leather pouch, who says to me Keep this close."
You have created similar artifacts, reminders, touchstones for your children even as they venture forth today: they will hear your voices, your values, your courage, your confidence, particularly in these early days, particularly in times of challenge and complexity.
The good news is that now you have membership and stewardship of a school dedicated to community excellence and service to the world. You join legions of parents and past parents who see the moral compass and packed parachute of a School that educates not just for college but for life. St. Andrew's parents mentor, guide, inspire all students--they deepen and confirm the values we hold.
In addition, you play crucial roles as St. Andrew's parents in the growth mindset messages you send to your children. As defined by Carol Dweck, the growth mindset inspires adults, schools, students to believe in learning, improvement, development, flourishing. For we who parent and teach, the growth mindset not only encourages us to be learners, students of life, character, citizenship, parenting and community, but also mentors who remind students that they can do amazing things in their lives if they work very hard, believe in their own abilities to focus, work, improve, and develop.
We focus on this mindset because the modern world has made us fear adversity, struggle, and failure in schools, colleges, and life. The results of this powerful sense of fear, dread, and uneasiness is that too many students see school as an experience to be gamed, distorted, and endured. It becomes not a search for truth, learning, understanding, and discovery, but instead a process designed to turn us into passive, anxious, and compliant individuals.
"When a child has a setback and the parent reacts with anxiety or concern about a child's ability, this fosters more of a fixed mindset in the child. The parent may try to gloss over a child's failure but the act of doing so may convey that failure is an issue.
It's the parents who respond to their children's setbacks with interest and treat them as opportunities for learning who are transmitting a growth mindset to their children. These parents think setbacks are good things that should be embraced, and that setbacks should be used as a platform for learning. They address the setbacks head on and talk to their children about the next steps for learning."
As for the students, the transition to St. Andrew's is all about activating a web of support that will give your son or daughter grace: time, space, safety, encouragement, affirmation to experience the true potential of school.
As advisors, dorm parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors, we bring experience, expertise, and flexibility to the art of hospitality and engagement. We will communicate with you regularly, even as we focus on a daily and nightly basis on your child's growth, development, and spirit. We will talk to them all the time about sleep and exercise as the foundation of their health and vitality. We will help them see that this educational program will inspire them not to learn compliance and memorization but inquiry and understanding. We will help them to see that the diversity and national and global community of the school are resources we want them to explore fully. We will inspire them to see service to others not as a requirement but a habit of the heart and soul. We will help them see that they are part of a generation of students who care deeply about the future and have demonstrated the ability to embody Senator McCain's call to live for causes larger than themselves.
Yesterday, describing the senior class commitment to younger students, Nick Loh '19 quoted the inspiring words civil rights leader Diane Nash shared with us last year. Explaining how and why she and other leaders stared down the virulent anger and rage of white supremacists who resisted civil rights, Nash startled all of us when she declared, speaking of herself and her colleagues:
"There was a good chance that someone would be killed or seriously injured and understandably, people sometimes got very afraid. Sometimes they'd get freaked out. On several occasions, I recall when someone would burst into tears and be super afraid and freaking out, the person next to him or her would put his/her arm around that person's shoulder and say: 'Remember what we are doing is important. We are doing this for generations yet unborn.' I'd like you to know before we met you, we loved you. We were trying to bring about the best society we could for you to be born into and to come of age in. Future generations are going to ask you to do the same."
What Nick was saying yesterday is that we created this school, this culture because we knew before we even met you that you deserved this opportunity, this school, this culture, this responsibility. In a few days, your sons and daughters will understand the power of that deep, imaginative, redemptive love. Welcome!