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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Joy McGrath ’92
  • Head of School's Blog
Joy McGrath ’92

I am so grateful to Richard for his remarks and to all the parent trustees and volunteers who are here today. Thank you, Richard. And parents, thank you for all of your support of the school. It is incredibly meaningful to all of us here that our parent body is so engaged and positive. We are so lucky to have you.

Welcome, everyone! Welcome back! It is good to be together at Arts Weekend as we start to feel the culmination of the year.

What a beautiful year it has been—your children should be very proud of themselves for all they have accomplished—and you of them!

The faculty have been absolutely amazing, and I am so grateful to them. Their dedication to the students and the school is unmatched by any group of adults at any school, anywhere. Their teaching, their coaching, their advising and parenting of your children—they have just been exemplary. I especially have to thank our magnificent Arts Department faculty, who have worked with your children throughout the year and brought out their very best in the works and performances we are going to see this weekend. I cannot thank them enough.

And welcome to this beautiful campus, which looks just fantastic thanks to our staff members, and we are so fortunate to be able to gather here this weekend in this setting.

I am looking forward to celebrating the seniors, the class of 2024, at commencement in two weeks—I am so grateful to them for their leadership. Recently, as you know, the seniors decided to have a phone-free weekend and they collected 100 percent of the students’ phones. It was an incredible weekend and on Sunday afternoon, everyone was looking so refreshed and happy and relaxed that I decided to call a free day for the following day. When I announced that we would continue to keep the phones, that decision received the biggest cheer of all.

St. Andrew’s is out of step.

Holly Whyte, Class of 1936, said this at the school’s 50th anniversary and it’s still true today. We are out of step. People visit the campus and always say, “Something is different here.”

And when you are out of step, how do you feel about that? You can experience negative emotions like fear, despair, and anxiety, and let those emotions shape your life and experience. Is everyone looking at me? Should I just join the crowd? The weight of that can be very real, and yet I see our students responding with fearlessness and hope.

I see that fearlessness everywhere this Arts Weekend.

Getting on stage—or for that matter on a boat, court, or field—to perform is terrifying. Putting yourself out there, knowing you are not perfect, is enough to strike fear into anyone’s heart. I don’t care how experienced you are, getting up in front of the school and hundreds of parents is nerve-racking. And in many cases, we see students learning new instruments or taking up new practices entirely, such as dance, or painting, or crew.

Let’s pause for a moment and just say: this is incredibly brave! In fact, it’s no wonder that when we are profoundly stirred by a performance, we shout “bravo!” Literally: brave!

In some respect, this is what the arts are about as part of a liberal education: banishing fear. Knowing that we are not—and never will be—perfect means that we must never fear failure but rather live in the belief that our greatest fear should be of not trying at all.

But like everything else we wish to do well, we must practice fearlessness:

We fear that the world might come apart into tiny bits and so we bring people together.

We fear a breakdown in trust will paralyze humanity in the face of grave challenges, and so we believe in each other.

We fear the destruction of which human beings are capable and so we create.

We fear suffering, which we see everywhere around us, and so our art expresses love and brings joy.

When we talk about “resilience,” this is what we mean. Because when we face a world beset by serious challenges it is too easy to give in and sit on the sideline. The world is, sadly, full of cowards—and in one of the great ironies of our time, many of them are quite powerful, having an “audience,” a “platform,” and commanding the great currency of this era, “eyeballs.” We can retreat into our devices and feel that we are taking a stand, all the while lurking behind anonymity, chaos, and thoughtlessness.

Authenticity and integrity are part and parcel of the arts, and all elements of a St. Andrew’s education, and doing hard things that are not “virtual” and “remote” takes guts. But when we stand up in space and time, in real life, with our bodies, minds, and spirits, and respond fearlessly—yes, we may look out of step, and yes, we may be uncomfortable—but we definitely will inspire others, who might also banish their fear in service to something larger than ourselves.

And the upside? In doing this, we are never alone, we have not retreated into our pods and echo chambers. No, our artists have drawn on this community, worked together, reached out, communicated, asked questions, and spoken. They have found their voices. As artists they command, and touch, an audience. They make us look—really look—and challenge our assumptions and, quite literally, our perspectives. They ask of us, “Really? Are you sure?”

We know a liberal education that features the arts makes our worlds larger and develops our empathy, our openness to new perspectives, and our understanding of the world, other people, and perhaps even the sublime. But I think we underestimate how brave our children have to be to make the most of that education, to practice those skills, and step onto their stages and into their galleries and venues, not knowing how their audience will respond.

So, thank you for being here this weekend: supporters, critics, and cheerleaders—the all-important audience—that gives their performance a meaningful place to land. Let us honor their fearlessness with our awe at their gutsy accomplishments, and our joy in the fires they have lit, the windows and doors they have flung open, in their practice and performance.

May they go forth and do this in the world, using their voices, inspiring others, fearlessly out of step.

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