131st Convocation of SMS/WMS

The following is the transcription of Head of School Tim Breen’s remarks from the 131st Convocation of SMS/WMS on Sunday, September 4, 2016.

Welcome. This is our first time all together as a community, and it really is a great pleasure to be with you here today, together in this new space for us. The word convocation means “calling together.” And now, as part of our convocation, I’d like to ask all of the faculty and staff who are present to stand up and briefly introduce themselves, saying what you teach, where your office is, what you coach, and where you live.

[Lots of applause. Faculty and staff introductions.]

This is the 131st time teachers and students of our school have gathered for convocation. And, it’s the first time that we’ve all gathered here in our new chapel — though it’s not quite done. We’re hoping by the time you return from Orientation Trips.

Since we’re in this newly renovated space, I wanted to take a moment to mention a couple of things about the renovations. This chapel really consists of two parts: this space and then the room behind us, to the right, which will be the new location for — what the official name is — the Gilbert Tanis Oratory of Saint Mary, which was the official name of the previous chapel. If you look on the door of the [old] chapel, that’s what it says. “Oratory” is the name given to a small room in a larger chapel or church. It will be a place for small gatherings and quiet reflection and meditation — just as it was before.

This part of the chapel will serve as our community gathering space, for Morning Meeting and for other events. The Great Hall is now the hub of our library and research center. It’s sort of the casual part of the library, where we are not expected to be quiet. Upstairs, on the third floor, there are places — yes, the library extends upstairs, too — there are places up there for quiet study: a reading room set-up, and there are small study rooms as well.

The other major aspect of the renovations — and you may have gotten a sense of this because teachers talk about where their offices are — is that teachers now share offices and classrooms. This is meant to facilitate collaboration among teachers and to make all of our spaces more vibrant. I’m excited to live into these changes with you all. I’m sure we’ll figure out how best to use them. It’s been exciting over the summer working to see this change. It’s an incredible opportunity for the School, and we hope that it enhances all of our experiences.

Today, I want to pause just for a moment and think about the year ahead. Now, I know that each of us — individually and in community — are committed to making the most of this year, to grow in curiosity, courage and compassion. This is really the great task ahead of us.

In a book called Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spiritauthor and educator Parker Palmer suggests that hutzpah and humility are the essential qualities citizens must have in order for democracy to thrive. “Hutzpah” is a Yiddish word meaning audacity. And “humility” is the quality of being humble, of not thinking yourself better than others. It’s also linked to the word “grounded,” as it derives from the word “humus” for soil or earth.

Parker Palmer, speaking of this work, recently said, “If I were asked for two words to summarize the habits of the heart citizens need to help democracy survive and thrive, I’d choose ‘hutzpah’ and ‘humility.’ By ‘hutzpah,’ I mean knowing that I have a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it. By ‘humility,’ I mean accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all. So I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to the other.”

I think this also applies to our lives and work here at White Mountain. We need hutzpah and humility to make this year together a great one. We need them in the classroom, we need them in arts and athletics and in our community life.

In the classroom, we need the humility to listen deeply to the lessons of the past and the great ideas of our predecessors. Learning is a humble act. You have to acknowledge that you have something to learn. You must be open to feedback from teachers and peers. You must have reverence for our shared intellectual heritage. But it’s not enough. Learners need hutzpah, too. As Jacob Bronowski once said about students, “They’re not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”

We must all learn to frame great questions and develop the tools and inclination to follow these questions, wherever they lead. We need to develop the courage and conviction to make a contribution to our world — to make a difference. That’s why learning at White Mountain blends student-driven inquiry — which takes hutzpah — and deep engagement with our intellectual heritage — which takes humility.

Now we also need hutzpah and humility in the theater and the studios, on the playing fields, on the trails, on the slopes and on the cliffs. An actor has the humility to learn from the playwright and the director and the hutzpah — the courage — to stand and deliver on stage. A musician has the humility to practice and practice and practice and the hutzpah to know that their work will add beauty to the world. The climber has the humility to prepare fully, to know their limits, and the hutzpah to begin the accent. The soccer player has the humility to develop a deep understanding of the game, and an appreciation of how all 11 players must work together, and the hutzpah to take the shot. And, to live well together in community, we need hutzpah and humility.

This community is for many of you, the most diverse community you have ever lived in. We differ from each other in so many ways — race, gender, culture, sexual orientation, political views, religion, athletic and artistic interests…I could go on. This diversity is essential for building a great school community. It is because of this diversity that we can learn so much about the world and about ourselves. Without this diversity, our assumptions about the world would never be challenged. We would not have the same opportunities to learn, to think differently about others and ourselves. But to do this well — to live in this diversity well — we need both hutzpah and humility. We need the humility to truly listen to each other, not the kind of listening we do when we really just want to prove that we’re right; but rather the kind of listening we do when we seek to understand the perspective of the other person, the listening we do when we want to learn and grow. And we need hutzpah, too, to know that we matter, to know that all belong here and all are expected to make a contribution and to be supportive. It takes hutzpah to be compassionate — to reach out toward a new friend and to stand up for each other.

So, as we begin this year, I ask everyone in this room to commit to approaching your work, your play, your friendships with both hutzpah and humility. If we do this, I have no doubt that we will make progress toward our highest goals, which, of course, are preparing and inspiring us all to lead lives with curiosity, courage and compassion.

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