This is our first time, all together. Welcome. Welcome returning students, new students, parents, faculty and staff. It is so nice to be here with you.
We gather today – students and teachers literally from around the globe. We are called together in this special place. At a school set in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. I want to take a few moments to think about why we gather in this particular place.
I begin with a story.
In the 1920’s, a small boarding school in Concord New Hampshire was struggling. The city was growing, and that meant more cars and trucks, more noise and distraction on Main Street, right outside the windows of the school. This school had been founded before there were cars and trucks, but now the busyness of the world was pressing in. Things got worse when the Masonic temple, a block away, became the city’s movie theater. Movies were growing in popularity and the street was crowded and noisy each night as the movies let out – after bedtime at the school.
In 1931, a new headmistress came to the school. She had spent time studying schools in the Alps in Switzerland and in the mountains of Germany’s Black Forest. So perhaps no one should have been surprised when she began developing a plan to move the school out of Concord, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and into the mountains.
In 1935, Headmistress Aunt Dot McLane moved the school to the White Mountains, to Bethlehem NH. And with the move, she looked to the 121st psalm for the motto of the school: “Levavi Oculos in Montes.”
This is our School. This is the history behind our move to this beautiful setting. This move has shaped us in many ways.
First, our move put us in a more peaceful setting. Away from the busyness of the city. It is no secret that the dominant culture today is one that distracts us from the core of life. Our location in the mountains removes us from the superficial, from the suburban mall culture that works so hard to distract us from that which really matters. Throughout the history of our country, wise educators have founded schools and colleges in rural areas, so students could step away from distractions and engage more fully in exploring our shared intellectual heritage, and in asking the big questions of life.
There’s an important community piece here too. In mountain communities everybody knows everybody, and everyone counts on each other. This plays out in our School. Ours is a school where everyone is known, by name, trait, and contribution. In a city, or in a large school, you can be invisible. In a mountain community, or a small school, we rely on each other, and everyone matters.
On an individual level, we learn from the mountains that hard work pays off. Some climb swiftly, others slowly, but we all face the same challenges. Regardless of our pace, we can all achieve. And there are no real shortcuts to true achievement. Any shortcuts on the trail are simply steeper routes. Remember this in your studies. All true learning takes effort. Challenge yourself to learn.
Finally, there is a spiritual aspect of our mountain location. Aunt Dot famously said that here, we are “surrounded by things greater than ourselves.” There is a humility that one develops when surrounded by such grandeur. We understand that we are not the center of the universe, but part of a larger whole, and in the end isn’t this more beautiful?
A school yearbook from 70 years ago contains these words, penned by Elisabeth McKittrick, class of 1943:
Seeing them transformed from season to season,
I have become conscious of the presence of God,
And have been awed by the magnificence of the world.
It makes one hold one’s breath
Lest any part of the beauty be lost, and say,
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.”
So I ask you, as we begin this year together, lift your eyes to the hills. Lift your eyes and see the beauty around you. Build a relationship with this glorious landscape. Some will do this through climbing or kayaking or cycling. Some will do it through contemplative walks in the woods or through mountain photography.
There are many paths. Lift your eyes toward each other. Make a commitment to contribute in our community. Look around you. We are here to learn and grow as individuals, and also to build a vibrant, welcoming community.
Lift your eyes to a deeper understanding of your place in the world. The mountains force us to be humble, but they also inspire us to new heights, new possibilities, new visions of how best to live.
In the end, we are here to learn and grow together. To prepare for further studies in college, and to prepare for lives of purpose, achievement and joy.
I am certain that the granite of these mountains will provide a strong foundation for you, as you seek to live your best life.