Head’s Address at Convocation

The convocation speech given to the WMS community by Head of School, Tim Breen on opening day.
Below is the convocation speech given to the WMS community by Head of School, Tim Breen on opening day.

Good afternoon.
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.
This past week, we met as a faculty to prepare for this new year.  As a way to welcome the new faculty, one morning we went around the room, with each teacher listing the states and countries in which they have lived. I was astonished.
The wealth of experience is amazing. Collectively, teachers in this room have lived and worked in over 30 states, and over 40 countries. Over 40 countries!
And that is truly wonderful is that we have all chosen to be here – to share our lives with students at this beautiful little school in the mountains of New Hampshire.  As students, you also bring incredible, diverse experiences to our community.  We do we all choose to gather here?
Perhaps one reason is the setting itself. There is a long tradition in America of locating schools and colleges in rural settings. Away from the distractions of cities, students and teachers can focus energy and attention on learning, on personal reflection.  Our school is such a place. Seventy-five years ago, our visionary headmistress “Aunt Dot” McLane moved the school from the small city of Concord NH, to these mountains. She knew that the mountain setting would help students develop both humility and vision. In these mountains we are “surrounded by things greater than ourselves.” We connect with a purpose beyond ourselves. In these mountains we also see new vistas, new ideas seem to come more easily. Many of us are here because we find this to be a setting that inspires us to explore more broadly, to think more deeply, to experience the fullness of life.

Why else do we gather here? We also chose to be here because of each other. Because of our community. Community is a word that is thrown around a lot these days. Most schools will say they have a great community. I want to dig a little deeper here, to explore what we mean by the word “community” at The White Mountain School. I begin by consulting my dictionary.

In biological terms, a community is “a group of plants and/or animals sharing the same environment.” OK. In human terms, a community is “a body of people living near one another and in social relationship.” We’re getting closer. The next definition in the dictionary is “a body of people with a faith, a profession, or a way of life in common.” Closer still. Etymology, the study of word origins, tells us that community is similar to the words communion, communication and commons. It derives from the Latin “cum” meaning with or together, and “munus” meaning gift or duty. This is closer to what we mean by Community. We are sharing our gifts together. We share a duty to each other.

What are the gifts we bring to our community?  What are the gifts we receive?

First, ours is a community where it is safe to be who you are – you don’t have to pretend.  It is also safe to grow, to try new things, and to make mistakes.

We also bring the gift of our past experiences, our diverse perspectives. Take a moment and look around the room. You know some of these faces, some are new to you. You are sitting with peers and mentors from around the country, around the globe. We can all learn from each other. This is one of the gifts we share here.

We also share our energy, our talents, our passions. You return from summer, or arrive for the first time, ready to learn, ready to grow, ready to expand your horizons. And there is something else. Every one of you sitting in this room has hopes and dreams for this year. Every one of you brings individual talents and interests. Every one of you has passions. 

Our school, our community, is one where you can explore your hopes and dreams, you can find and follow your passions. Some of you are passionate about writing, some are passionate about climbing, some about music, some about math. Let these passions grow.  And be open to developing new passions. Your passions add to the fullness of your life.
So we share the gift of our individual talents and interests. At our school, we help other follow passions and achieve dreams, because it is right, because it is fun, and because it makes the world a better place. It is an expression of our common humanity, our living in community. It helps make our life together vibrant and beautiful.

In short, ours is a community where we learn together, we laugh together, and we support each other. 
This type of community does not happen by accident, and truthfully, I think it rarely happens in schools. But we make it happen here. We have a long history of doing so, a history that stretches back over many decades. It is the most common theme when I talk with Alumni from across the years. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us, to those who created and sustained this community. And we must be willing to take on this task ourselves. It begins today. And it only happens because we believe in it, and we work at it.

So as we gather today for the first time all together, lets commit to building the kind of community where we all feel supported to be who we are, and challenged to grow. This is the kind of community that has always made this school such a special place. 

So let’s dedicate ourselves to this:

• To reach out to each other with warmth and understanding
• To help each other make friends, find support
• To laugh together
• To push each other toward excellence
• To learn about each other, about the cultures we grew up in, about the beliefs we hold.
• To help each other accomplish our goals, pursue our passions, reach for our dreams.
Let’s dedicate ourselves to carrying on the great tradition of community at The White Mountain School.