Opening remarks for the 2019-2020 school year

Welcome back to you all. Special welcome to the ninth graders and to all of you who are new to the Upper School. I hope that you all had a great week and that those of you who are new to Waynflete will feel, with each passing day, that the Upper School is becoming more and more like home base to you. Please know that we are really excited that you have joined our community.

I want to start the year by asking a question that may seem a little odd coming from me.

What is the point of school? Really, what is the point of school?

By that I mean, what is the point of making this effort to all come together in one physical location to follow synchronized schedules when pretty much everything that is known is available on the Internet, most of it boiled down to “How To” YouTube videos.

Think about it. You could be at home right now catching another few hours sleep before finally rolling out of bed, grabbing a leisurely breakfast or brunch, and then opening up your computer, checking a few social media feeds, and then watching a few YouTube videos. That sounds pretty good, right? So why are we here?

Well, before you answer that question by heading for the exits, I want to tell you how I answer the question. It comes in two parts. The first is sitting on the stage behind me. We are blessed at Waynflete to be staffed with an extraordinary group of dedicated professionals. Across the board, they know their stuff and how best to present it to you, and they are intent on knowing who you are as people, not just students. On top of all of that, they are a pretty fun group to hang out with. We are really lucky to have each and every one of them.

The second answer to the “Why are we here?” question is sitting all around you. You are all Waynflete students, you have that in common, but each person’s path through life is unique which means we all have something a little different to contribute. Whatever subject you are learning, it becomes infinitely richer when considered from as many different perspectives as possible. And the educators sitting behind me care a lot about helping you voice your ideas. They know that when your voice is clear and you are listening carefully to the voices of others, that is when learning takes off and new understandings are forged,endowed with a richness that can only be achieved in person.

We will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue about important topics in our advising groups year. The first topic is immigration. If you have been paying any attention to the news, you know that immigration is a hot topic in the media these days. There is plenty of information about immigration on the Internet, but, unfortunately, much of it is couched in political sloganeering that misses the humanity of the subject.

The important questions seem overlooked or forgotten such as: Why is it that millions of people around the globe are on the move, desperately seeking safety and sustenance for their families. What are their stories? What are they really experiencing? For those of us who are not on the move, what can we do? What should we do? What does all of this mean to me? You can find a lot of information about immigration on the internet, but it won’t help you figure out what it all means to you. You will have to wrestle with that in person.

We will have the opportunity to do just that this fall. Starting next week, Waynflete will host a photography show in our gallery that features the stories of immigrants and refugees. I am going to assign you all the task of spending time in the gallery to consider those stories and then talk in your advising groups about what you saw, what moved you, and why. We will have a couple of assemblies to go along with the gallery show to spark further conversations as well.

Although, with the exception of descendents of the first people, immigration is part of every American’s history, our experiences diverge. For some in this room, our ancestors immigrated to America a long time ago, while others are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves. That means we have a lot we could learn from each other.

We will not resolve the nation’s disagreements about immigration, but we can bring back the humanity into the conversation. I can guarantee that when you reflect on what you see in the gallery show and listen carefully to the diverse perspectives of your classmates, your understanding of not only the show but also of the immigrant experience will expand and deepen. That in turn will help make you a better informed citizen on a topic that will remain relevant throughout your lifetime.

That, in a nutshell, is why we come together to learn, to consider important questions in community, to learn from each other, and to be guided in the process by this talented group of educators. For me at least, that is enough to get me out of bed in the morning, with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, to come to school ready to learn.

Thank you for your attention this morning. I feel really fortunate to be heading into a new school year in your company.

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