Last weekend, we set our clocks back, entering a season when nature’s light is golden but fleeting, afternoons are dark, evenings darker still. Darkness overtakes the light, but we know that by the winter solstice, light will gain a foothold and once again triumph over the winter gloom.
Now, in a week’s time, most of your children will be coming home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. This season of gathering darkness is also a season of gratitude here in the United States. Day to day, we all have many occasions to thank another person for something they did to help us. At St. Andrew’s, we begin our weekly School Meeting with “appreciations”: students raise their hands eagerly to thank a teacher for a special gesture of kindness, another student for making an extra effort at a community event, a staff member for decorating the dorm, or a senior for helping them through a tough time. These one-to-one expressions of gratitude are important. They are the stuff of community living and a way to say to someone: I see you, I love you, you matter.
There are other occasions when we express gratitude for greater forces at work in our lives. We recognize the blessings of light, love, opportunity, and community that emerge from a greater design. People of every faith and people of no faith at all have explanations for this connection we feel to a larger purpose, a pull to that which is good, even when the path comes with sacrifice and effort.
At chapel on Wednesday night, the South Asian Affinity Group led our annual Diwali chapel. Diwali, Ahilya Ellis ’26 shared in her remarks, is a holiday to acknowledge, “the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.” Following the brief gathering in the chapel, hundreds of residents of the campus ventured from the chapel to the grass docks along a path illuminated by candles, kneeling and releasing innumerable paper lanterns onto the pond. Viewed by a stranger, this act of devotion might have seemed an exercise in futility—after all, what could be the purpose of floating a hundred candles on the smooth and quiet pond in utter darkness?
And yet, the moment was freighted with purpose. The acknowledgement that we seek and move toward what is light and good—what is larger than ourselves—and send it into the world—is an affirmation of our humanity in times that are often, metaphorically, dark. That light and good are the opposite of ignorance in Diwali seems a sentiment especially appropriate for a school. We believe in and move toward what is true.
Our lives at school are thick with gratitude. I would define gratitude in this case as a sense that alone we can do nothing, but together and with a purpose greater than ourselves, we can do anything. That the circumstances and humans around us might unconditionally lift us up—it is a staggering, humbling, and awe-inspiring state of affairs. And so, each day, we gather for a family meal and a blessing. An expression of gratitude and a communal statement of hope and wonder. This year, I have loved that students have begun a new tradition of offering grace for our evening family meals, usually on Wednesdays before chapel. For the school’s entire history, these words of thanks have been offered by the head of school or the chaplain, but our students have felt the pull of gratitude—the pull of what is light, good, and true—and have begun to share their own blessings each week. I am collecting these for all of us to have at the end of the year, but here I will share the one offered by Ronit Goyal, a member of the III Form, on Wednesday:
Dear God, we thank you for this day,
for the food on the table,
for the shelter over our heads.
We thank you for the opportunities that you give us to be ourselves.
We pray today for those in crisis around the world,
for those who need help at St. Andrew’s,
and for our alumni.
We pray for everyone who needs it, O God.
Happy Diwali everyone!
May the light of Diwali, the light of Thanksgiving, the light of children, and the light of truth and knowledge that triumphs over the night, be with each of you in this season of darkness and hope.