Head of School Joy McGrath gave these remarks at her official installation on October 1, 2021
Thank you all for being here today. It is such an honor to celebrate my installation as St. Andrew’s fifth head of school with all of you. St. Andrew’s faculty, staff, and students—thank you for your visible support in being here, and for your embrace of Ty and me over the past few weeks.
Thank you, Scott, and thank you to the board of trustees for investing me with the trust of this precious school. Bishop Brown, thank you for your leadership, wise counsel, and presence here.
Tad and Elizabeth Roach, thank you for being my teachers, for bringing us this far, and for being here today, providing continuity and inspiration in this moment.
Thank you, Ben, for coming from New Haven, Connecticut, to share words of wisdom. You have been an incomparable friend, role model, and mentor for me, and much of what I know about leadership—and the work of education—comes from you.
I would also like to thank my family for being here today, and for teaching me so many things, but especially for teaching me what it is to work.
After all, work is why we are here today.
As I reflect on this ceremony, and these commitments I, and all of you, have just made—it strikes me as an unusual way to begin work. I have worked in three jobs before now and starting them involved none of this—brouhaha.
This service is designed to remind me—and all of us—that our work here is a “vocation and a ministry,” that it is a “trust” and a “blessing.” It is also designed to remind me—and all of us—that we are not alone.
In fact, this work that we do as a school is the work of a collective. We do it together. As a school, as a community, we work together in “fellowship,” in “truth,” and in “love,” all words found in today’s responses.
I am reminded in this moment of a poem about work that I first learned at St. Andrew’s, written by Marge Piercy. It is called “To be of use,” and some of you have no doubt heard Mr. Roach invoke it over the years. It is not long, and I would like to read it to you. Listen carefully to hear the poet’s references to the strength and purpose of the collective at work.
To be of use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
The work of the world is as common as mud. But when we do it together, actually do the work—submerge, pull, move our feet, pass the bags along—the practical becomes the sublime. In work together, Piercy describes us in turn as bold, courageous, patient, resilient, diligent, joyful, and willing. Through repetition, we progress; work satisfies and builds community. In the end, we often come to love those with whom we work—work brings us together. As Bishop Brown put it so beautifully when he spoke to us on Wednesday, “the hardest things we do, the things with which we struggle—they are not a burden we bear alone. They are burdens that are shared with others.”
We were made to be of use to each other, as sacred in our practicality as the vessels that hold the blessings of many faiths and cultures: oil, wine, corn, water. We are not to be admired, but to function, to serve, and to do.
In today’s responses, Bishop Brown referred to our “vocation” and “ministry” as a school. The word “vocation” refers to the work we were meant to do. It comes from the Latin word vox, or “voice” and it refers to a calling. In a few minutes, we will sing together the school hymn, “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult,” which in its short length repeats the word “call” five times. Jesus calls us, as he called his disciples, to serve and to do his work. This notion of a calling contains an element of the divine, even if our work is as “common as mud.”
What a privilege and responsibility it is for us to heed the call of this mission and connect our individual efforts to a greater purpose. Our calling here is, as Mr. Sipprelle said, to provide a residential education, founded on ethical principles and Christian beliefs, which depends upon access for all students regardless of their background or means. In carrying out this mission, faculty and staff expect students here to grow intellectually and spiritually, to lead meaningful and purposeful lives marked by curiosity, independence, tenacity, and optimism. In doing so, we stand in the place of the generations who built and served this mission before us.
Our work at St. Andrew’s is a response to this calling, and in each day, we live out that calling as a common matter: we rise; we learn, solve and debate; we train, compete, and practice; we study and then rest; we rise the next day and begin again. Through these daily habits we make meaning, the most human labor of all. We are participants in a joyful purpose that transcends our individual effort and connects us to a world in need of our service.
In this calling, and in this working, we together make our lives at St. Andrew’s with each new day. This is a meaningful and remarkable honor that we share. Each day that I serve this school, I will know it is a privilege to do this work, and an honor to be of use.