Ruth Cook Reflects on the Role of Tradition In Her Own Life and at WMS

Ruth Cook ’55 shares her thoughts on traditions both personally and professionally.

Reflections on Tradition

Whether it’s celebrating a religious holiday, anticipating the winter solstice, contemplating a year-end gift to a valued institution, or pondering New-Year’s resolutions, this season of the year engages one in reflection and in tradition. My own reflections have included the meaning of Christmas amid the season’s hustle and hassle, Hanukah and the people celebrating it, the state of our planet at this time of winter solstice, the opportunities and responsibilities presented in the approaching New Year, and The White Mountain School, always near and dear to me. 

The following definition has captured my thinking and deepened my reflections: 
tradition… 3. An inherited or established way of thinking, feeling, or doing; a cultural feature preserved or evolved from the past.
                                                    Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged 
My understanding of tradition has evolved to center on the WHAT and the HOW.
The thinking, feeling part of the definition is for me the WHAT of tradition —the constant, deep beliefs, the underlying principles. Simply put, it’s what we stand for.  Knowing and maintaining these principles is vital to preserving culture.  
Doing is the HOW of tradition — the fluid and varied ways that actualize the underlying principles.  
This understanding clarifies my thinking in any category of my reflections.
Christ Mass is the underlying principle, the constant, the WHAT of Christmas.  
Carols, lights, gifts, decoration, and foods are the HOW Christmas is activated. They evolve and change season-to-season.                 
At The White Mountain School, the WHAT obviously includes academics as a constant, a major underlying principle of a college-preparatory School.      
The curriculum — HOW academics are activated — is tradition that evolves.  Latin is      no longer taught as it was early in the School’s history; field courses that take academics beyond the classroom and the Leadership for Global Sustainability program are more recent curriculum additions.  
Another underpinning WHAT of the School is our cherished Episcopal heritage.  The HOW of that heritage is evolving within the growing geographic, cultural, and religious diversity of the student body as we respect and celebrate differences.  There are both constants and evolution.  The Bishop of New Hampshire is still President of the Board of Trustees; the School Chaplain, a Deacon at All Saints’ Church in Littleton is provided by the Diocese of New Hampshire; attendance at All Saints’ or other local places of worship is voluntary; students work at the All Saints’ soup kitchen as part of our community service program; the Millennium Goals adopted by the Episcopal Church have been embraced by our School. It is important as we acknowledge and celebrate our differences that we continue to acknowledge and celebrate our own Episcopal roots.
Tradition preserved from the past is more commonly understood and is often more personally valued than is tradition evolved from the past.  While we understand and accept — at least to some degree — the adage ‘The one constant we can count on is change,’ when it comes to traditions that we hold dear, we tend to feel uncomfortable when they evolve.
Alums often ask if a tradition familiar to them still exists.  Some have been preserved and some have evolved.   
Community service has expanded to include local, national and international service. The ritual of Light Blue/Dark Blue competition continues to be a part of campus life while the ritual of presenting class rings with the ring song has not been preserved.  Theatrical performances take place in a black box theatre in the “Valiant House barn” rather than in the space below the Annex.   Work jobs still exist.  We ride as well as ski and it happens at Bretton Woods as well as at Cannon.
All too often in our concept of tradition we place too much weight on the doing of tradition, the way things are done.
When doing becomes an over-weighted portion of tradition, it relegates thinking, feeling to a back seat position.  If I allow myself to fall into the trap of becoming burdened with the doing of Christmas – the hustle and hassle of gifts, traditional dinner, special baked goods, getting the cards out — it begins to dominate the holiday season and diminish or even negate the deeper, underlying thinking and feeling constant of Christmas.   

The same is true of the rituals (the HOW) of the School. When the HOW is held onto too tightly, it can begin to define the School in our minds and eclipse the deep constant of the School.  Whether known as St. Mary’s School, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, or The White Mountain School, its underlying principles define the WHAT of the School— academic education that includes ethical and moral training within a small, accepting and caring community, preparing young people for college and for life beyond formal academics, helping them to understand themselves, their connections to community and planet.
Whether your current season is Christmas, Hanukah, Winter Solstice, New Year’s resolutions or something I have not mentioned, enjoy its HOW and celebrate and maintain its WHAT.

Leave a Reply