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

Head of School Joy McGrath ’92 Delivers Fall Family Weekend Remarks
Joy McGrath ’92

Click here to view Joy’s remarks on Youtube.

Good morning, everyone! Welcome back to St. Andrew’s! Welcome to Family Weekend. My husband Ty Jones, and the entire faculty, join me in welcoming you back here. And I would like to thank those faculty, who are just doing an incredible job with your children, for their tremendous efforts this weekend. Thanks, too, to our parent trustees, for all you do as volunteers for St. Andrew’s, and our Saints Fund parent co-chairs, the Dillards and the Halls. We truly couldn’t do it without your support. I know you are tremendously excited to see your children and so I thank you for coming to hear me for a few of your precious minutes on the campus.

I hope this weekend, you will discover that your child’s education is turning out to be a defining experience in their lives. My St. Andrew’s education was the most precious and valuable time in my life—and I am lucky enough that it continues to be, thanks to my teachers, my friends, my colleagues, and your children. I hope you are finding that your child is making the most of this opportunity for a great secondary education, one that is opening their minds, making their worlds larger. That growth, I hope they recognize, is to fulfill their promise and potential as free people.

Emily Pressman recently reminded me of a touchstone essay on liberal education that William Cronon wrote in the late 1990s, in which he defined this as the purpose of education: “to nurture the growth of human talent in the service of human freedom.” I am mindful of this definition, which hearkens back to the roots of the word “liberal” in “liberal education”—not a political reference, but derived from the Latin, Greek, Old English, and Sanskrit roots for “freedom” and “growth.”

St. Andrew’s students are brilliant and gifted—we have no doubt of that. But we—all of the adults in this room—dream of something more for our children: when they leave here can they stand on their own two feet? Are they decent, unselfish, independent people who can do hard things—who WANT to do hard things? Will they look around them, pay attention, and figure out how to help. In short: what will they do with their freedom? How will they continue to grow and stretch as individuals and in turn grow and stretch our world? We—all of us who are looking after these children, together—hope our students leave here seriously engaged with the questions: What is my life for? Who am I responsible for? What are my moral obligations? What will I do, give, sacrifice—to lead a meaningful life?

This education is as necessary as it is bold. It is an enormous commitment. But the mechanism for this growth is simple. We practice.

You know the old joke: a woman runs out of Penn Station in New York with her cello case and rushes up to a hot dog stand, late for an audition. She asks the hot dog guy, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?!” His answer:

Practice, practice, practice—we are practicing practical moral habits—to learn to use our freedom—how to be strong people of good courage—people who have a moral compass, people who are other-centered, who can listen and learn.

It is a truism employed by educators everywhere that our students will change the world. Of course, they will. What matters is that they change it for the better.

***

You have wonderful children. We love them so much. In the last week, they have gone, as a school, to two night games. One was football last Friday, and another was field hockey on Tuesday. I know you will be as proud as I was that at BOTH games, the adults working the snack bars at these two different schools crossed the field after the game to share with our faculty that our kids were “the most amazing students they have ever seen.” At one game, a few of these boosters from our opponents’ schools actually sat with us because it was more fun.

Folks, I am sorry to tell you, all they did was say please and thank you, clean up after themselves, pay attention, and let home fans cut the line when our groups were large, and generally, they were polite. How did the polite behavior of children become so odd that adults walk across stadiums to applaud it?

I recently re-read the keynote address given at the school’s 50th anniversary in 1980 by an alumnus from St. Andrew’s first graduating class, 1935, Holly Whyte. I was struck by how durable our school’s DNA is, and how fortunate we are in that. Holly was one of the original boys to enter the school in 1930, and by 1980 he was a trustee, noted author, and public intellectual. He begins the speech, “St. Andrew’s is a school that is somewhat out of step.” He then lays out the ways in which the school was out of step in that anniversary moment of 1980, all of which remain true to this day: we are small, with strong connections between students and faculty; we are in Delaware; we are an Episcopal school and cleave to those roots. To his list I would add a few modern additions that Whyte could not have anticipated, such as eschewing cell phones and preserving childhood through the high school years.

Whyte concludes his talk saying, “The face we turn to the world when we try to describe St. Andrew’s is often that of a well-rounded school. But it is not a well-rounded school—certainly not in the sense that the term is generally used. We are much more asymmetrical than that. At some things St. Andrew’s is not particularly good. At some things it is utterly superb. We should make the most of these excellences. We should assert them, reinforce them.”

Out of step. Asymmetrical. I thought about Holly Whyte’s idea this week because what our students did at those away games met my basic expectations. I am sure politeness, thoughtfulness, and situational awareness are also your basic expectations as parents and guardians. Yet elsewhere, these behaviors are earth-shattering, out of step. We must continue to practice them—as Whyte said, assert them and reinforce them. In these little decisions we make every day, we create a moral ecosystem with our choices. In the dining hall, the chapel, the dorms. At away games, even. We try to be generous, selfless, driven. We are other-centered, we greet each other, we work and compete with our whole hearts, we care, we leave our cell phones behind. Sometimes, we mess up. So we are humble. We apologize. Sometimes progress seems invisible, but we focus on the process, not the outcome. We are patient—with ourselves, with others.

Bishop Kevin Brown was here on Wednesday on the Feast Day of Saint Luke. He captured this idea beautifully when he noted, “Saints are not perfect but they are dedicated; Saints are not flawless, but they are faithful.” If we live consistently with these principles, we naturally come together in all our glorious differences. Everything we do is premised on people in proximity: togetherness. Together, we cannot be divided or distracted. Together, we cannot feel disconnected or lonely or angry for very long. We bring our full selves, all our identities, everything we are, all our potential, to each challenge.

The whole point of this place is to bring together people with disparate and diverse backgrounds and points of view. Those are shared in an environment insistently non-partisan, free, inclusive, and open to all points of view. I hope our students debate openly, learn to persuade others, and are capable of changing their minds.

Is there a better definition of a free person than one who can change her mind?

This is how we grow and how we stretch. Cronon in his essay identified a few characteristics of liberally educated people—I am always struck by how they are other-centered: educated people listen, understand, persuade in writing and in speech, practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism, they nurture and empower people around them, they connect.

We do not live for ourselves. It is the essence of a St. Andrew’s education, it is the foundation of our faith, and it is what it means to be human. And maybe this is why more often than not, you hear laughter and see smiles in the halls around here. It’s because oddly enough, the science tells us that thinking about ourselves makes us unhappy and fragile. When we forget ourselves, are part of something larger than ourselves, when we know that larger why—even if we are doing hard things, impossible things—we are happier, more grateful, and more resilient. 

If this is out of step, so be it. I am comfortable with that. But, how do we keep it this way?

Well, we need you, as families and partners in this work. You will be meeting with teachers, coaches, and dorm parents throughout the weekend. I will give you the same advice I always give your children:

  • Focus on the process, not the outcomes.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Ask for help.
  • Be yourself—you are here because of exactly who you are, we need everyone! Not a performance, not an avatar, but your authentic and genuine self.

In other words: the fundamentals matter. Let’s not make this more complicated than it needs to be.

Your support and participation make our work even more joyful. You raised these powerful young people! Thank you! We welcome you as you are and we are excited to keep going, by your side, as we see these children stretch and grow. There is no doubt the world needs these Saints to be great and strong, to leave the world better than they found it.

Thank you for your partnership. Thank you for seeing the possibilities in your children and in this school—this out of step, asymmetrical school—and for believing in what we can all do together.

Enjoy the weekend and please say hello when you see me! 

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