“As we gather today, for the first time all together as a school community, we have an opportunity to pause, to think about the year ahead, to commit ourselves to making the best use of our time together. Our work here at school is great and good work: expanding our understandings of the world, deepening our understanding of ourselves, and building a strong community. I know we share these goals. But there is a real challenge. It is too easy in our world to let time slip by, to go through the motions, and not live intentionally. Henry David Thoreau, writing about why he spent time at Walden Pond, put it this way:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
As a school community we must also live deliberately. It can be easy to let a year go by, just going through the motions. As a strong school, there is a temptation to rest on our laurels, but we should not. Just as individuals must make an active choice to live deliberately, so too must we as a school.
So as we begin the year, let’s be intentional about who we are, and what we do. Let’s name it, and commit to it. Today, I name four aspects of The White Mountain School.
Number one: We are a school of inquiry.
Harvard researcher Tony Wagner has said: “The essential skill of the 21st century is knowing how to ask the most interesting questions.” Here at White Mountain, we start with questions. We are curious about the world around us. We seek truth, we seek beauty. We look outside ourselves, and seek understanding through our academic endeavors. We look inside, and ask ourselves: What are our values? What matters to us? What are the truths by which we live? And we ask about one another in our community. Who are we? What have our lives been like? How can we best live together?
Number two: We are a school of engagement.
We’re involved. We make a difference in our community, we commit to our work, we engage in morning meeting, in clubs, in sports. We stand up to be counted. We are participants, not observers.
Number three: We are part of a long history, and grounded in our Episcopal heritage. We began in 1886 – 128 years ago. We have gathered, like this, for convocation, 128 times. We are one of three dozen Episcopal boarding schools across the country. The Episcopal commitment to high school education can be traced back to the old boarding schools in England.
What does this mean for us, today? We are absolutely open to students of all faiths, and of no faith. And we do not seek to convert anyone. However, being an Episcopal school gives us a place to stand. The National Association of Episcopal Schools states that “Episcopal schools exist to demonstrate and proclaim the unique worth of all human beings.” This is a way of saying that we value and honor students as individuals.
Our service and sustainability work can also be traced to our Episcopal roots. Indeed today, the service mission of the Episcopal Church is tied to the Millennium Development Goals— a set of goals established by the United Nations to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, expand access to education, improve health, and ensure environmental sustainability across the globe. This is work that we contribute to here at White Mountain.
And being an Episcopal school gives us a place to stand to ask and explore the big questions: What do I believe? What is my purpose? How should I live?
Number four: As a school, we have deep hopes for your future. We want you to live with curiosity, with courage, and with compassion. Our world needs people who are truly curious, who try to understand root causes, who challenge assumptions. We need people who are courageous. Who stand up for what they believe, who stand up to be counted. And our world needs people who are compassionate. Who reach out to those around them. Who lend a hand to those in need. Who support the hopes and dreams of others. And who have fun together.
So as a school we must remember Thoreau, and his challenge to us. We must live and act deliberately, and not let the year slip by. We must keep our vision of who we are at the center of our work together.
This past summer, as the first step in our reaccreditation process, our Board of Trustees, in collaboration with faculty and staff, revised our mission statement – to challenge ourselves to stay true to our values and ideals, and to push ourselves to improve.
Our new statement reads:
We are a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in our Episcopal heritage, we prepare and inspire students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.
What does this look like in practice?
In our lives together,
• We start with questions.
• We seek truth and beauty.
• We stand up to be counted.
• We support one another.
• And we have fun together.
This does not happen automatically. We can only do it if we act intentionally, deliberately. We can only do this together.
So today, as we begin the year, I ask everyone in this room to commit to making White Mountain truly a school of inquiry and engagement, and a school that inspires us all to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.
Thank you all for being here, and for sharing in this great work together.”