In her first address to the Brewster community as Head of School, Kristy Kerin shares a message filled with optimism, and how moving forward together challenges us to see our collective strength in shared joy.
In August of 2015, then head of school Craig Gemmell stood in front of a group of Brewster parents and projected a horizontal line on an otherwise blank screen. This was his first parent gathering as Brewster’s new Head of School. I’ll paraphrase his comments, and hope to do justice to his message:
“This line,” he said, “represents the span of a human life, an average of 80 years.” He went on to break up the line into segments: childhood, early professional life, middle age, retirement. Craig posited that the first 18 years of a person’s life hold disproportionate power over the ensuing 62 years. If, during this early stage, we focus on the intersection of what we love, what we are good at, and how we can be useful, then we will be prepared to make the most of the years to follow.
His simple message has stayed with me, and I hope with others: How we spend our time matters a great deal.
How can we help students discover what they love, hone their strengths and talents, and determine how they can be useful and bring value to others and the world around them? In short, how do we help to prepare them for lives of purpose?
Writer and organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently wrote a guest essay in the New York Times. He reintroduced a concept of “collective effervescence,” a phrase first coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.
As we emerge from a school year like no other, we are all craving opportunities to build connections and find shared purpose with others. As grateful as we were to be together for in-person learning this year, it was far from ideal. New students met roommates and friends from six feet away. International students navigated learning in a second language from teachers who wore masks covering their mouths. Throughout the year, students and faculty were placed into quarantines for possible exposures. We ate meals separated by Plexiglass dividers. All-school gatherings took place over Zoom. And we collectively held our breath every Wednesday while we awaited the results of weekly community testing.
In spite of the challenges, there were surely countless moments of joy throughout the past year. Smaller moments took on greater importance when so much had changed. The ability to participate in athletics was no longer something that we took for granted. An unseasonably warm spring was a special gift. The March arrival of our students from Thailand after two trimesters of online learning was a moment to celebrate.
We also experienced unforgettable moments of that collective effervescence that Adam Grant was describing—moments when joy was experienced with others in harmony and shared purpose. For me, I think about the annual spring musical. This year, the drama department put on High School Musical, using the front steps of the Academic Building as the stage and Lamb Green as the seating area (see photo). Sitting outdoors on a cool spring evening, surrounded by a community of students, faculty, staff, and parents—with cars passing on Main Street and drivers craning their necks to see what was happening—I found myself smiling nonstop with one of those grins that makes your face hurt. Our students sang and danced with sheer joy and those in the audience shared their exuberance for the moment. It was an evening I won’t soon forget. A refrain from one of the songs from the musical stayed in my head for weeks after: “We’re all in this together.”
Another moment of collective effervescence was watching the Class of 2021 celebrate their senior prom. As a surprise, Craig and the senior team faculty arranged a fireworks show. I took my three children to watch from the hilltop in front of the Smith Center. It was a beautiful sight to see our seniors gathered outside on Palazzo Field in a big group, finally maskless, dressed in an array of dazzling colors, watching the fireworks over Wolfeboro Bay with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American” playing in the background. Talking with a student the next day, she told me with hushed reverence, “It was just perfect.”
Commencement, even in the cold and rain, felt like one of those moments. We celebrated the accomplishments of our graduates, acknowledged the unusual nature of their high school journey, and absorbed the poignant wisdom of Diane Foley as she shared the story of her son’s life of purpose and its tragic ending. We shivered in our seats and huddled into ourselves to stay warm, yet there was collective effervescence. We were learning, growing, and loving together.
Grant concluded his essay in the Times by saying, “The Declaration of Independence promised Americans unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we want that pursuit to bring us bliss, it may be time to create a Declaration of Interdependence. You can feel depressed and anxious alone, but it’s rare to laugh alone or love alone. Joy shared is joy sustained.”
Joy shared is joy sustained.
So I come back to Craig’s line on the screen. No matter where we are on our own journey, be it 15 years, 40, 60, or more, we all intersect with lines outside of ourselves. We join new lines, making connections with new people and with new communities in which we choose to live and work, each with their own stories and traditions. By getting involved, we leave our marks on our schools, our communities, our loved ones.
We have choices. We can be as connected as we choose to be, for as long as we choose to be. How do we want to measure our individual impact? How do we channel what we love and what we are good at to be of use to others? How often and in what ways do we want to engage with lines outside of ourselves? How do we contribute to collective effervescence in our communities and in our world?
As I begin my journey as Brewster’s thirteenth Head of School, I am eager to facilitate an ever-growing web of intersecting lines. As those lines connect together at Brewster, cross over and weave together with others, we will bring increasing collective strength to the Academy and to one another. By coming together, we’ll create moments of sustaining joy as we contribute to something greater than ourselves—and do our part to leave this 200-year-old institution even better than we found it.
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I would love to hear from you. I have cherished the connections I’ve made over the past 10 years living and working at Brewster. Connections with students, parents, and alumni have informed what I value as a leader and what matters to our community. Please reach out anytime to meet, call, or Zoom. I look forward to hearing from you. —Kristy email@example.com
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