Keys to the Castle
November 1, 2012
The most common use of the word “steward” in modern terms is likely to refer to the people whose job it is to assist passengers during airplane flights – stewards and stewardesses. Not to slight these hard working folks who put up with all manner of issues from customers, but the word in old English and in Medieval times, referred to a very different job. The original meaning of the word “steward” is “house guardian” and often translated to “one who manages the affairs of an estate on behalf of his employer.” As the daily manager or overseer of a castle or manor house, these people were invaluable to the lord. They handled everything from administering the finances, to repairing facilities, to making certain that the kitchen crew was ready to put on an exceptional feast. Good stewards often spent their entire lives within one household, passing from serving parents to serving children as they proved vital to the success of the family. They had to be smart, well educated, forward looking, and capable of dealing with all kinds of issues. The best ones guaranteed that a noble family would stay solvent, maintain a good reputation, weather storms, and pass the family fortunes on to future generations.
When it comes to independent schools “stewardship” takes on a meaning not too dissimilar from that of the Medieval times. The “stewards” charged with overseeing the success of these institutions from year to year and into the future are vitally important. Encouraging the survival of a school ensures that it will be here for generations to come. Stewards have to carefully manage the school’s finances, take care of buildings and facilities, and surely weather the storms of fortune to make that happen. They accept the responsibilities as they are handed to them, perform their duties during their lifetimes, and pass the school on to the next generation – hopefully in better shape than when they inherited it.
Independent School Magazine had an interesting article this month about schools that did not survive during trying times. It was sad to read about institutions that folded by mismanagement, lack of resources, or because they were run by people who simply did not plan for the future. Undoubtedly, these schools were started by visionary people who eventually passed on, but the stewards that followed them failed to do their part in insuring the schools’ survival during their own tenure. Thus the doors were closed, and the incredibly vital life that every school enjoys at some point, was snuffed out. I have always held that there is nothing so quiet as an empty school.
The important thing to remember is that we are ALL stewards of our school. The teachers, the trustees, the parents, the alumni, and even the students are responsible for Vermont Commons here and now. For the time being, we hold the keys to who and what we are as a school, just as those old stewards held the keys to the castle. A constant flow of stewards comes to VCS each year and performs all the various roles necessary to keep the school moving forward. By caring for VCS in all its manifestations, we are doing the job that must be done. By looking to the future and providing for it, we are insuring that VCS will live on well beyond our own lifetimes.
It is critical that each person understand their role in this endeavor – no one can rely on others to do the job for them. Certainly, we are all here to gain from VCS in some manner, whether it be to gain an education or gain experience in a profession, but we also all must give as well to help the school survive and thrive. We inherited this school from others who worked hard and cared in their time, so must we now do the same. The future students and parents as well as future faculty and trustees, are all depending on us.
I hope in the end that those future stewards will look back on us with admiration. I hope they will recognize not what we gained from, but what we have given to this school in our time. We completely control that reality, as we are in complete control of the school and its future together. Let us choose to hand them a school they can be proud of, a strong and vibrant school filled with the same types of wonderful people who populate it now. As we each find our own way to help, perhaps someday they will thank us for a job well done.