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

The Great Work Begins
Emily Pressman

Dear St. Andrew’s Family, 

A little after 10:30 PM last night, the Pell seniors sat around my kitchen table, eating Derby pie. In many ways, it was an ordinary night, like so many others throughout the year; gathering for baked goods around that table is a tradition with the Pell senior team, a place of communion for these VI Formers who devote so much of their time, energy, and love—without regard for the busyness of their own year—to mentoring the newest St. Andreans. But last night felt just a little different, as we’ve reached the point in the year when the seniors are starting to realize they’re coming up on lasts: their last couple of duty nights, their last Spring Fling free day (at least if the weather gods and Mr. Roach finally accede to their pleas), their last handful of classes, their last games and Arts Weekend performances.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a senior at St. Andrew’s, and how different it looks here than it does in most places. This thinking is, of course, occasioned by where we are in the calendar year—those lasts we mark with the seniors, even as we begin the process of building new senior teams to take up this mantle next year—but it’s more than that. In conversations with teaching candidates over the last few months, the question I’ve most frequently been asked is, essentially some variation on, “Is this real?” Is this remarkable culture they are glimpsing in the twenty four hours they spend on campus actually possible, and if so, how have we achieved it?

There are many ways to answer this question, but most often, I end up talking about our seniors—and when I do, I am thinking not only of the wonderful members of the Class of 2019 whom we will celebrate in a few weeks’ time, but also the years of seniors I have seen precede them. There is something distinctive here about the depth and power of the collaboration between students generally, but seniors especially, and the faculty towards a shared vision: the power and potential of a school community that balances intellectual rigor with kindness, authenticity, and human connection. The teaching candidates see it when they speak with the Senior Interviewing Team—an experience they usually describe as the best and most intense part of their interview day. They remark with surprise that current seniors are so deeply invested in what the school will look like next year, when they won’t even be here.

But that’s the thing about generations of St. Andrew’s seniors. As excited as they are about the possibilities that await them in college next year, they remain fully committed not only to the St. Andrew’s of right now, in the waning days of their senior spring, but to the St. Andrew’s of tomorrow—the St. Andrew’s their own III Formers will lead in three years time. 

It often makes me think of the final lines of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, one of my all-time favorite plays, which Elizabeth Roach and I always teach in Humanities at this time of year. Prior Walter, the play’s central character—a prophet for a new millennium—ends the seven and a half hour play speaking directly to the audience with a blessing, an invocation, and a call to action.

“Bye now. 
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. 
And I bless you: More Life. 
The Great Work Begins.”

This feels like it captures something essential in what our seniors do each spring: having offered the underformers the blessing of their care, their mentorship, their guidance, the seniors pass The Great Work that is the preservation of the St. Andrew’s ethos on to them. It will begin again as the rising seniors take up their charge.

More life,
Emily Pressman
Dean of Honor