Reflections on Unity: One Word, Two Communities

Reflections on Unity: One Word, Two Communities
Kristy Kerin and Craig Gemmell

Kristy Kerin, Head of School, and Craig Gemmell, President of Brewster, BA International and Founding Head of Brewster Madrid, have developed a shared theme for Brewster and Brewster Madrid for the 2023-24 school year: unity. Craig and Kristy offer the following reflections on this word of the year in this start-of-school blog. 

Let’s start with what unity is not. Unity is not conformity. It is not about assimilation to a common norm. Unity is not limiting. It is not about restricting choice or expression. 

It is notable that “unity” is embedded in the word “community.” At its core, unity is an expression of sharing. It is the result of a group of people coming together around shared values and mission, and being aligned in a common goal. 

One of the things I love about boarding schools—and Brewster in particular—is the way that education is a shared endeavor. We know that growth happens most rapidly and most deeply when it happens with and alongside others who are equally devoted to the task. The expression and pursuit of goals may be entirely unique to each individual, but when each individual is focused not only on their own growth, but that of those around them as well, learning becomes more meaningful and joyful. 

In the classrooms, that means asking questions for the good of the group. It is reflected in our math and writing peer tutoring centers when we seek and give help with others. It is evident in dorms and across campus when we hold one another accountable to behaviors and standards that make our community more warm, kind, inclusive, and respectful. 

Our commitment to unity radiates beyond our school, extending into the town of Wolfeboro and the reciprocal relationship we have with our local community. I am so proud of the ways our connection with our local community enriches the lives of our students and the ways our students look to give back and serve others. Through service, our students are enriched by the talents of our neighbors, have opportunities to delve into local issues and develop their critical thinking skills, and connect with others in ways that extend their education at Brewster.

Education is an act of unity with the world around us. We learn so we can go on to contribute to the world in purposeful ways. We improve ourselves so that we may improve the world around us. My hope is that through their time at Brewster, our students will develop new skills, expand their perspectives of the world, activate and test their values, and develop greater empathy for others. 

Unity is about being a part of something that is larger than ourselves. One of the mantras that is embraced by our student leaders is the idea that “Brewster is better because of me and I am better because of Brewster.” This year, I am eager to see the ways we further unite around this ideal and continue to grow together. 

This fall, our 203-year-old campus expands as we launch our first international campus in Madrid, Spain. Our theme of unity takes on even greater significance as we add 150 new students and 40 new faculty and staff to the Brewster community. I am incredibly excited and energized as I think about the tremendous opportunities ahead for our students, faculty, and staff to engage across oceans and cultures, with Brewster’s mission as the foundation for our connections.

I agree–unity is decidedly not about conformity–conformity smacks of totalitarianism! 

To me, unity in the most abstract sense is about how disparate parts come together and make something that is greater than the sum of the parts. Some reading this know that I have for the whole of my life loved machines—particularly those with internal combustion engines—and for me there is something quite remarkable about the simple fact that thousands of little (ball bearings) and not so little (big chunks of machined steel) parts can function together to move people down a road, cut grass, or even fly. Just a bunch of little parts put together in just the right way can even go into space. 

For current Brewster purposes we are not, of course, talking about unity in a collection of parts that make up a 1965 Ford Mustang or the most recent variant of the space shuttle. We are talking about living and breathing kids and teachers and staff members and administrators— people—in all their uniqueness. Can seemingly disparate people be united, which is to say to make something that is greater than the sum of the parts? Absolutely. I’ve watched unity emerge in most of the communities I’ve inhabited over the last 35 years of my life as a faculty member at Brewster and a few other New England boarding schools. 

I’ve felt unity when I’ve been in a pitch-perfect all-school meeting and a single student moves a community to cheers; or when I’ve watched an older student sit with a new student in the dining hall; or when a faculty member popped into my office at just the right time to see how I’m doing. The magic is this: Unity happens when we each act to express our self in ways that are unselfish

The Brewster Madrid campus on opening day, September 7, 2023 

Thirty-five years and counting working in schools, and perhaps I’ve come to take unity at Brewster and allied places for granted. Yet now I sit in an office in Madrid, Brewster has just opened a campus here just a few days ago, and I find my mind being stretched and challenged. Though I do not worry about unity on each of our campuses, I wonder how we can be united despite the thousands of miles of mostly Atlantic Ocean and the equally large cultural and practical differences between these two campuses that share a name. To start, we have shared language in the form of our mission and vision, shared practices in the Brewster Model, a host of shared traditions, a shared mascot and colors, shared teachers and administrators–and all of this will help. And surely having three different groups of Brewster Madrid students on campus in Wolfeboro this year and working with a joint administrative team charged with uniting the efforts of both campuses in preparing diverse thinkers for lives of purpose will also help. But in the end, I suspect that we’ll be most unified for now because of curiosity—the theme from two years ago (!). The act of each campus getting to know and understand and learn from the other is in and of itself a bold means of cultivating unity now and long into the future. Of this I’m sure: We will enjoy figuring it out together and we will be stronger for it.


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