“This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before.”
This quote is one of my favorites and I came back to it often over the past year, my first as Head of School. With beautiful simplicity, Maya Angelou’s words ground me, reminding me to be grateful, to start each new day with eagerness, and to find ways to share joy with others. Living and working among teenagers, it’s easy for every day to feel fresh and full of potential. It’s one of the gifts of being in education. Each day this past year I learned something I hadn’t fully understood or appreciated during my previous 10 at Brewster. Often, it was a student who helped me to see our school with new eyes.
Thank you to each student who took time to catch me for a hallway conversation, a dining hall chat, or an office visit. It was a joy to connect and discover what our students believe makes Brewster special. I heard everything from gratitude for the return of the panini makers to expressions of awe for the beauty of the lake, mountains, and stars around us. We discussed favorite programs, events, and traditions, and their deep appreciation for individual faculty members who were making all the difference for them.
I am also grateful for the students who shared with me where they were struggling or what they aspired to change for the betterment of Brewster. They sought me out to talk about improving the daily schedule, supporting seniors through the stress points of the fall and the college process, and finding new and creative ways to rebuild community activities in the wake of COVID distancing. They respectfully engaged in discourse on enhancing components of the social-emotional learning program and adding new academic and cocurricular programs. At other times, we connected to discuss larger, more complex thoughts about the core issues of our times: civility, belonging, sustainability, and digital citizenship.
In each of these conversations I heard an acceptance of the invitation we lay before our students. Within our Student Charter, a document crafted by student leaders, is the call to “take ownership,” a central tenet that is followed by the words, “we will take responsibility for the growth, success, and happiness of our school. Brewster will be better because of me; I will be better because of Brewster.” When students engaged me on topics related to our program and culture, I saw young people empowered and emboldened to take ownership of their Brewster experience; leaders who understood that great communities are built, nurtured, and improved through the care and commitment of every individual. And wow…isn’t that the flavor of leadership we all need now more than ever?
This year again showed us that we are all living in complex times, and from the vantage point of this new role I have seen how our students feel every bit of that complexity. Yet they navigate it all with hope, perseverance, and action. In what was our third year impacted by COVID, there was a notably small number of students with any idea of what Brewster was like pre-pandemic. This necessitated a different kind of coming together and establishment of norms, one that was not reliant on returning students showing the new students “the way.” While it was not without its challenges, the process felt more egalitarian, as students strove for equilibrium from all corners of campus. As the year moved forward, what started as a disparate group of individuals grew into a more cohesive community that showed up for one another, and, equally important, was courageous in holding one another accountable. Again: ownership.
This may have been my first year as Head of School, but the role I feel most privileged to have taken on was that of participant, of community member, one of many committed people doing their best to contribute what they can toward something greater than themselves. By listening to the perspectives of these remarkable young people, hearing their insights, worries, and joys, I have been stretched and have grown alongside our students. Yes, as an educational professional, but more importantly as a person. They’ve given me tremendous fodder for reflection and planning this summer.
Today is another wonderful day. I have never seen this one before.
As I walk across campus, the paths are bustling with young people: a field hockey camp is in full swing, 43 girls are here for a female leadership camp, and a new cohort of Royal Thai Scholars has made themselves at home here for the summer. Next week, a group of new faculty arrive for BSI, the Brewster Summer Institute. I look forward to their nervous enthusiasm as they embrace the significance of their new roles and begin their journey with our school.
I sometimes lament that most of our students don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of summer in Wolfeboro and all that comes with lake life in the “oldest summer resort in America.” But as wonderful as the summer weather in New Hampshire can be, it can’t compare with the magic of the school year.
Community takes time. This past year more than any prior for me, the students have taught me that. It grows and develops over the course of months, mapping a sprawling meandering path over high points and out of lows, day by day, event by event, connection by connection. It deepens both in times of shared struggle and in moments of collective effervescence when we come together in shared joy and celebration. And as always, I am grateful to be a part of it, and to witness how this endeavor not only affirms Brewster’s position of being student centered, but also how we are student driven.
This is a wonderful year. I’ve never seen this one before. I can’t wait to see what happens.
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