What a week!
January 8, 2021
What a week!
Its wild ups and downs emerge in these excerpts from messages to students and teachers over the last five days:
Monday morning email to the Faculty:
“The shaping of lives has been on my mind this break and how necessary it is to honor those experiences and the forces that are literally molding the future versions of our students. They will indeed be children of the pandemic, as others have been children of things adults would have prefered they never stood witness to. Yet in the midst of the terrible, our students have nonetheless forged friendships, learned new concepts, gained early mastery in skills, written poems, painted, fallen in love.
And through all of it you’ve mentored them.
Of course I want to rush right to the end of the pandemic as soon as possible–a jab in everyone’s arm next week, thank you very much. But I want, too, that our Seniors get a chance both to have and to savor their traditions, that our 7th graders experience the hormonal awakening that is the spring of that year, that our 9th graders feel for the first time that satisfaction of completing a year that matters in and for their long-term. These children will, as a result of growing up in a pandemic, be unlike any we’ve ever taught; and they and the world we’ll inhabit with them will be unlike anything we’d envisioned. All the more important that they enter it well informed and well equipped to face its challenges and solve its problems ethically and compassionately. All the more important that we do what we do in this vocation, this calling that we share: teach them well, with heart and determination and conviction, towards an ever better future through the work of their hands.”
Wednesday night email to Parents/Guardians:
“Everything that Vermont Commons School is about–educating young people well so that they can make the world a better place–chafes at the destruction and violence we saw this afternoon, even as we embrace the peaceful expression of freedom of speech and diversity of opinion and point of view. Our work tomorrow is to acknowledge the difficulty of witnessing and living through these events, to refocus our students positively towards a better future and their own agency in making it better, and to make a safe, supportive space for them to respond to these events, process them, and learn about them under our teachers’ compassionate mentorship. Our task in the coming days is to remain–simply–a center of stability, consistency, dependability, compassion, inquiry, and optimism in their lives.
I suppose these are the times of things we never imagined we’d see. And yet as I have been impressed by the growth in our students’ resilience over the last ten months, you too never cease to impress me with how you are managing the intense, perhaps unprecedented burden of parenting well in these times. Your resilience, too, has seen and will see you and your families through. As I said to the faculty earlier, stay strong, and if you feel weak, extend your hands: the rest of us are here for you, anytime and always.”
Thursday morning to the Students and Faculty:
“Our nation has a long and powerful history of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau wrote an world-famous essay of that name in the mid-1800’s, and he was later quoted by Gandhi in the civil resistance in India that led to independence from England. Ghanda was in turn cited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also championed peaceful civil disobedience as the method for bringing civil rights into law in our country in the 1960s, following the Women’s Suffrage movement at the start of the 20th Century. Non-violence is a proven, powerful, lasting agent of change.
What we saw yesterday in the Capitol was completely unacceptable. Violence has no place in our politics. If you have seen any of the footage or images, you may have been as disturbed as I was. Violent disruption of our political process and destruction of our collective site of national governance is disturbing. We need to recognize it as such. We should be disturbed.
But we should not and must not be discouraged. Our School’s mission gives us guidance and hope. Scholarship. Community. Global Responsibility: Mind, heart, and conscience. These concepts help us to understand and analyse these events, and they help guide us in our future actions.”
This morning to the Faculty and High School Students:
“A heartfelt congratulations for concluding the first semester of classes!!! If ever there were a wacky fall semester, 2020’s goes down in the school’s history, for sure. But you made it, you kept the integrity of the curriculum and the community, and you got through it. CONGRATS!!! I do hope you can step back for a moment and appreciate your accomplishment. It is, in fact, a truly major one that does not go without saying.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the week, and the Vermont winter sun is blazing bright outside. The ski program launches at Bolton tonight. Our High School students have made it through their first semester of classes, and our Middle School students are right behind them. Seniors have been getting into fantastic colleges with incredible merit offers left and right. Sure, we know winter–this winter, these times–always has some long dark stretches. But our students–their growth, their ceaseless progress and success, their continued optimism and embracing of life–they are the most powerful reminder of a better future and greatest inspiration to do our best, this or any week. They remind us that the brightness of 2021 doesn’t hinge on a bumpy or smooth start, but rather on the long view of all that they will learn and do the next twelve months.
Indeed, may 2021 be a brighter, better year for you and yours, for us all, for Vermont Commons School!
Dr. Dexter P. Mahaffey, Head of School