Please enjoy these Convocation Speeches and pictures from 2017. The full video of the event is available here:
A Welcome by Robine Vaneck, Associate Head of School.
It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to the 2017 Convocation of the Waring School.
For me, Convocation has come to feel like the final welcome of the new school year – that moment when the airplane has finally reached cruising altitude (only in this case do NOT take your seat belts off!). From late August until this event there is a fairly regular drumbeat of beginnings: orientations, pre-season practices, pot-lucks, camping trip, the first day of classes, the first soccer games and cross country meets. But this is the first time we are assembled together to affirm that we are all in – as students, faculty, parents, Board, and all other constituencies – and that we are ready to learn and build community together. But although Convocation is the last of the formal welcomes, it is also the beginning of a year-long journey together.
For my part in this welcome, I wish that there were an easy way for me to run a film reel of my memories of this school. My own perspective goes back to 1976 when in my first year as a student there were cows grazing right here where we are assembled, a furrowed field where in an hour or two there will be a soccer game, goats where the new makerspace now resides, a hayloft where I teach my math class, and even Amy Taylor Rhyneer (a new parent this year) striding out of the door of the white farmhouse where she grew up, a student a couple of years my junior. My long view of the physical features of the campus might be interesting – at the very least it dates me (!) – but it is not the essence of the school. That lies in the traditions and values that have held constant over decades – the love of reading and understanding and discovering, the pleasure of building, creating, and tending, the joy of sharing, presenting and performing. It is the opportunity to be part of a community that lives and expresses those values but that also thoughtfully and fearlessly takes on what is new and different that keeps someone with my perspective right here.
As I have already alluded to, I am not alone in my longevity here. Sitting in the ranks of students we have several who are of Waring’s second generation, and in the audience I see alumni, past parents, and even a category that we are now calling – originally for the purpose of reserving seats, although really, they are – dignitaries.
In the spirit of recognizing longevity and commitment and service, could I ask you to please stand if you are an alumnus or alumna, an alumni parent, a Board member or a member of the Advisory Committee.
You might have noticed that some of those who stood up are in this spectacular group to my left – the faculty. While many of them can wear more hats than just the faculty one, I think they would all say that it is their vocation to be here – that it is difficult to imagine a more authentic and fulfilling way of living and working. They bring their academic and life experience to learning and building relationships with their colleagues and students in every class, every walk from the barn to the school, every All-School Meeting, every lunch-time spent together. I feel very fortunate to work with such intelligent, caring and talented people.
I would also like to introduce our Parent Group Chairs, Craig Douglas and Stephanie Patrick, who are well known to most of you by now I think, and if not yet they soon will be. The parent group plays a valuable role in serving the school in many ways, from organizing speakers for the community, to creating unique and aesthetic settings for nearly every large event throughout the year, to making sure we always have delicious food prepared with loving care after events such as this; and speaking of lunch, a final recognition and thank-you to the Group 4 Parent Reps – Nicole Glass and Marietta DeAngelo – and the Group 4 parents who decorated the tent and prepared lunch for us this afternoon.
Finally I would like to introduce several new teachers and administrators who you may have read about in communications from the school, and perhaps already heard about from your child. Hopefully this will allow you to put a face with a name.
My first introduction in this group, however, is not quite in the ‘new’ category because although this is her first Convocation, it is her 11th month at the school! She just missed this celebration last year and deserves (and has certainly already earned) the honor of being recognized here – our Director of Advancement, Laura Bitler. I hope that this event is everything that we’ve led you to imagine over the past almost-year, Laura!
Also in the advancement office, Emily Cooper joined us over the summer as our Events and Alumni Relations Coordinator. Emily hales from Willamette, Illinois, but graduated from Bowdoin where she studied visual arts. Emily’s touch has already been very visible around campus (like with our new word of the day board complete with graphics) and she will also be helping out in the elective program, helping to take our school publication, Le Temps Retrouvé, from the copy machine into a new dimension – don’t worry, there will still be print issues as well.
Marika Whitaker is nearly in the category of new, but has actually been with us since last winter. Marika graduated from Gordon with a BA in Drawing and Painting, and is finishing her thesis for her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a practicing artist with a studio in Beverly where she works when she’s not here or with her family. She is also a French speaker, and a writer and a musician – sounds like Waring; welcome, Marika.
The last person in the category of ‘new, but not really’ is Charles Newman, a former colleague to many of us and whose love of travel has taken him away many times to teach in international schools, and whose love of Waring keeps bringing him back – Charles will be teaching Writing this year as well as offering an evening short story class for adults during the months of October and November.
Also on the teaching side, but fully new to the community – although he comes well known to a few of you students sitting over here to my right I think – Cory Grant has joined us to teach Core Math and Science and Health. Cory hails from Kentucky but has taught locally at the middle school level for the past several years, is an accomplished runner and triathlete, has hiked the full Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and is a competitive Billiards player. And I have to say, it occurs to me that his serene manner belies the rather competitive picture that those accomplishments portray! Welcome to Waring, Cory.
We’re also very happy to have Brendan Pelsue here as a Core Humanities and French teacher and joining Edith’s tutorial. Brendan was one of those faculty members standing a moment ago as he graduated from Waring in 2004 and has since graduated from both Brown and the Yale School of Drama. He is a traveler and has spent some time teaching at the Taktse School in Sikkim. He has chaperoned both the Angers exchange and the Junior Trip with us as an alumnus, and it’s great to have him in our midst again. Welcome back, Brendan!
Finally, Erin Thomassen is a recent graduate from Notre Dame University, where she studied Mechanical Engineering. Erin is teaching several sections of math and an elective in Arduino programming as well as giving us a really hefty jump start in the new Waring Industrial Park where I’ve seen her working with her classes and using that 21st century space in a way that makes it clear that she is very comfortable in there! She has also already proven herself to be a much better dancer than Jeff Levering as evidenced by the first-ever ‘encore’ chants at the Camping Trip Coffee House after she led their tutorial in an “under the sea” dance number. Welcome, Erin.
Two new members of the faculty who were not able to be here are Tiffany Soucy, who graduated from Gordon with a degree in Theater Arts, loves carpentry and set design, and will be working with Elizabeth in our Theater productions and Core Theater. And Kirsten Trumbull, who is a part-time ESL and support specialist who will be working with some of our students outside of class in a one-on-one setting.
Thank you for your warm welcome to each of these new faculty members – I hope that you have the chance to get to know them as the year goes on.
Now, I will make my final introduction, by asking Joanne Avalon, Chair of the Board, lawyer, writer, educator, a great cook, and parent of two alumni, Isaac and Adrienne, to take the podium. Thank you, and welcome JoAnne.
Joanne Avallon, Chair, Board of Trustees
Good Morning and, to our new families, welcome to Convocation. I am Joanne Avallon and have the honor of being the Chair of the Board of Trustees.
In preparation for this speech, I decided to abide by a Waring tradition and ask the students to tell me what the Board and the Chair do.
One student told me that both of his parents are on Boards, but he had no clue what Boards do.
Another said the Board should make the faculty assign less homework.
One faculty member suggested the Board should curb Tim’s proclivity for practical jokes.
One new student, Evis, told me I should just tell her what’s going on.
I suspect some students had read the School’s bylaws because they summarized the Board’s job perfectly: the Board takes care of the assets of the school and hires the Head.
Many of these same students added that, since we take care of the money, we should make Waring affordable and also recruit a more diverse group of students. Small requests, right?
That’s what I get for asking.
When our students opined on what the Chair does, I got my two favorite responses:
One student asked, do I get to tell Tim what to do, and;
Asher and an anonymous pink sharpie writer simply said, “Joanne is the Boss."
I loved this response because when I was in high school, my favorite expression to just about every conflict was, “You’re not the boss of me!”
It’s a great expression isn’t it? And I hope that all Waring students can say it with gusto: You’re Not The Boss of Me.
Of course, the flip side of that is the realization that YOU are the boss of you, that you own your experience at Waring. Let me say that again: You, students, have control over your education and you decide what you can get out of it. How do you know if you’re truly owning your education? Here’s what I’ve found: if you’re bored, you’re not owning your experience. Boredom is a sign that you have not brought your whole self to Waring. I admit it’s a risky thing, to bring all of who you are to a place and commit to it. You really can’t be bored when your whole self is engaged and immersed in learning.
What do I have to own as Chair of the Board? The Bylaws just say that I preside over meetings and get to vote on everything, but that’s not really what it’s about. I own embracing and expanding Waring’s culture, to cherish what is here and to ask how can we sustain it and make it better. So that means, I own working with and supporting Tim in his vision of the school. In very rare circumstances, I might just tell him what to do, but, mostly, I follow his lead.
I own the launching of a Capital Campaign this year, which means owning three more things:
First, I own the job of increasing our endowment so, as so many students asked, we can have an economically and culturally diverse student body from which we can all learn and benefit.
Second, faculty, I own a full and complete compensation study and the creation of the Faculty Support Task Force which will tell us how to best serve you, who make Waring such a special place.
Third, I own trying, finally, to raise the necessary funds to make mission-driven improvements to our facilities.
I hope, in the coming year, this community will step up and own the long-term sustainability of Waring, both as a physical place and as a wonderful educational idea. I certainly can’t do this alone and my whole self is out there, committed to this vision.
Lastly, Evis, I own coming back to All-School Meeting to tell you all what is going on at Waring.
Thank You. Here’s Joshua.
Joshua Scott-Fishburn, Waring Teacher
After all is said and done, it may be the case that we can only speak for two things in life: that for which we are grateful, and our grief as we recognize what we’ve lost.
Recently a friend of mine asked me to sum up the sabbatical I enjoyed in a single word. ‘Beauty,’ I replied, without hesitation. My readiness was a result of great help – I have had outstanding teachers. My wife, whose commitment to her own art challenges me to be faithful to mine. Each of my children, who say sharp and true words and slurp up beauty like water drinks up whatever the sky has on offer. The neighbors with whom I write on Friday nights, who challenge me to share, and share alike, real trials and tribulations of writing as a daily practice. Friends with whom I backpacked in the wilderness of the Whites whose sensibilities are so refined a spruce grove can give them direction and the sound of a falling brook can change their mind about what a given day requires. And, and, and: so many more. Words, books, English language salvaged and made into marvelous poems and prose by amazing writers I’d never read before. All the while the world all around: through the change of winter into spring and into spring then summer.
Sabbatical time was, in many ways, a homecoming to this beauty.
“Abundance, not scarcity” a friend told me at the outset of the time, referring to how to think while on sabbatical. Time, in which beauty is hidden, and revealed. Beauty: even a minute display of which becomes a center of gravity for everything else around. Abundance, not scarcity: Beauty and its infinite origins and unknown boundaries, so much like its analogue, time.
Beauty has its contrasts. Ignorance of how to support immigrants in my community during the first intimations of increased deportation raids, the horrible truth that I had never taken the time to know them in the first place, and the slow realization that I was not, in fact, creating a beloved community but instead living evidence of segregation. The savage anger screamed by men in a moving car who look like me, their voices hurled like stones at a sober-voiced woman leading a crowd on the steps of Lynn City Hall, singing, “Won’t you come and go with me to that land where I’m bound…There’ll be justice in that land…There’ll be no race hatred in that land…”
It was amid the discovery of so many contrasting elements that I discovered, deep within myself, more of my position relative to what is beautiful. I wrote the following poem in response to one such discovery:
The size of the truck, something about driving,
and this woman who is my wife
turns away from the cast iron skillet
where chicken thighs brown and smoke
pulls through the ventilating fan to tell me
I would never say that to a man, to remind me
She is my equal in all things. Maybe our experience
is different but ability is even different than that
and don't I dare try to refute it. It's true.
15 minutes later she backs the Ram 1500
into the afternoon dark as night with wind
tearing at the pavement with rain lining down
and drives beyond Providence. She
loads it up and tarps it down, bed filled
fast to beat the hail, pees in the Rhode Island woods
and drives home in thunder and lightening and time
to console both crying children
and nurse the youngest down to sleep.
Standing still by the kitchen sink, under doctor's orders not to
lift anything heavier than a jug of milk,
I catch the drift of my prejudice
if not the extent, the corners of my assumptions lifted.
In this case, as in all others, facing the unknown
requires enough intelligence to not assume
I know what I do not know:
to work and think like she does,
ceaselessly by flashes of light
in the dark no matter the distance or the task.
I hesitate, now, to say ‘beauty.’ I do not doubt the authenticity of the word or my own
conviction that it is, in fact, the word I choose for months of inspiration away from workaday rigor and a plenitude of commitments. Rather, I hesitate to say ‘beauty’ because I am aware, in my deepest, most conscious self, that I have so often let it pass unobserved, that I often do not recognize when I am in its presence, that I have lost far, far, more opportunities to witness beauty in my days than those I am conscious of, or grateful for. Of beauty I am, in plain terms, unworthy.
And yet, it persists.
I have just given you a fair amount of what is, for me, personal information. In the end, I cannot, nor do I want to, tell you what to do with this information. I am grateful for the beauty I have known these past months. And I am in the process of grieving that which I have lost. I know and trust that I, alone, am not the only one here to tell this tale. Isn’t this the story of all our lives, when we stop to feel and think about the beauty we have known? There is, in this moment, that for which we are grateful. Also, there are the losses we should grieve.
Chris Horan, Waring Parent
Today I get to talk about my favorite topic – my wife.
Not only did she give me Arianne, a current 9th grader, and Tristan, a recent graduate – as if that wasn’t enough – She discovered something that changed our lives – Waring!
"Discovered" is actually being kind. It was more like "stalked" Waring. After reading the mission statement – she was hooked. She promptly scheduled an appointment with the then Admissions Director, Dorothy, in the fall of 2006. They had a long 2-hour discussion about applications and intimate details about the school. My wife liked what she heard and pressed for an interview. Dorothy said – "of course. I assume your son will be entering 6th grade next year?" My wife replied – "Oh no, he’s only in 1st grade."
From one parent to many new parents under the same tent today, a warm welcome.
Your children are in a wonderful place.
I love Waring because the Head of School asked me to speak today, but never asked for a copy of my speech – now that’s trust – by the way, not one of your best decisions Tim.
If I can offer any advice to our newest community members, it is this:
Don’t look for quick and easy answers at Waring – in doing so, you will forfeit the gifts of tolerance, reflection, and community.
Waring’s core values so wonderfully weaved in its mission statement are fixed marks. If you have not read them, I strongly suggest you do. Or ask my wife – she has them memorized.
Here are some highlights:
Intellectual tolerance, social unity, teaching and learning through relationships, emphasis on community, risk taking, life long learning – helping kids find their VOICE!
These are unwavering, steadfast pillars of a Waring education.
But how this remarkable faculty tucks these treasures into young hearts and minds is another matter. They do it by building community through relationships and reflection!
You don’t have to look to far to illustrate this point. You see that small shed behind us. That use to be a dilapidated, failing building. Thanks to an end – term project headed by Joshua, it is now a revitalized, reflective space. Before it was inhabited by mice and cobwebs – now it is ready for Mice and Men. While the students renovated, they read the poem Digging by Seamus Heaney – one of my favorites! (Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests – I’ll dig with it.) And dig they did! They learned the history of the old Waring estate. They learned real practical work and how to find beauty, creativity and meaning in it.
My son is typically a pretty balanced lad. But under Elizabeth’s watch during the Sweeney Todd production, he became a psychopathic, disturbed, throat-slicing barber. I don’t know what methods you use in that theater, Elizabeth, but I had to sleep with one eye open for weeks after that show. My daughter, as Jack in Into the Woods, stole from a giant, instigated chaos in the town and owned a cow called Milky White. They both were guided and encouraged to transform into something far beyond themselves – to find their character and to reflect on how it relates to the human condition.
The faculty at the Waring encourages students to take risks – to use critical thinking skills, to engaged in a robust conversation that is relational.
My son did not want to do debate in 9th grade. He did not like the work, and he certainly did not like doing the work on weekends. Tim Averill encouraged and guided him. He struggled, but continued for the next 4 years.
Senior year, he and his partner finished in the top 15% in the national high school debate tournament in Alabama. He learned critical thinking skills that will serve him well forever. I must add here – unsolicited – the debate program led by Tim is one of the crown jewels at Waring and should be a priority.
At Waring, my kids have sung in Soirées, Cabarets, Coffee Houses, concerts and in three man folk bands.
They have played soccer, lacrosse, basketball, even bocce. They’ve been in musicals, plays, art classes – they have been to France and back and then back again, hosted French students, and danced, conversed, sang and laughed in French.
And while participating in all of these diverse and challenging activities, my kids discovered two things:
One: Exhaustion! Two: THEIR LIGHT – or as Waring likes to call it – THEIR VOICE.
Put another way, they found what was already in them – once the reflective light of an engaged and passionate community shown on their faces.
Tristan just finished his first few weeks at Boston College. Anxious to know how he was doing, I called him. His first words were: "Waring prepared me well, Dad…"
“Waring prepared me well” – I'll never forget that VOICE. Embrace Waring…In time and in reflection, it will prepare your children well!
Richard Stuart, Waring Senior (’18)
Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.”
I've never felt super comfortable doing group projects. Oftentimes, if you’re in a group with your friends, it can be easy to spend the whole time goofing around and end up rushing at the last minute. In a worst-case scenario, one member could even end up doing all the work for the whole group!
So that’s why, at the end of the Modern Europe Humanities course two years ago, when the time for the final project rolled around, I wanted to play it safe.
As in, I was joking when I suggested to my friends that we dig a World War I trench. But that didn’t matter once the seed had been planted. The idea was an instant hit, and my seven or so partners were so swept up in creative excitement that I didn’t want to say out loud that I was having my doubts about its actual feasibility.
So as my friends went up and presented the idea, promising that they would find a non-intrusive spot on campus to dig a four foot deep, fifteen foot long hole while each having individual trench facts to research, I quietly let Josh Webb know that I would be making a documentary about French collaborationist Philippe Pétain on my own and would not be working with the “trench group."
Now think back for a sec – what did Helen Keller say again?
In any case, it was still winter then, and the ground was tough. But armed with shovels, a pick, and authentic WWI gas masks, the trench boys plowed ahead, spending every free minute of the day digging. They made such fast progress (and were having such a blast) that I started helping dig too. The day before the project was due, whole classes would come out to witness the spectacle, and people would ask to take turns digging.
And before I knew it, the trench was done. Everything about it was a smashing success. It even had wooden floorboards and an aged deck of cards – painstakingly researched historical accuracy! My documentary was finished too, but it was a puny accomplishment compared to the herculean effort my buddies had exerted on the trench.
Alone, I did so little. Together, they did so much. Mhm. That’s right.
I felt bad for having so little faith in the power of teamwork. But that’s where the Waring educational model proved me wrong. At no other school I’ve been to were there opportunities to translate vision into reality like that, by investing yourself wholly in your learning experience.
The Waring community is always willing to hear to your voice. When you let yourself open up to them, you can accomplish more than you ever imagined you could.
Julia Natale, Waring Senior ('18)
I have been playing the flute for nine years now, yet I still find the task of performing to be daunting. In one of last years soirées, I decided to play a duet with another flute player. I was beyond nervous. My knees shook, my palms were sweaty, and my words moved quickly. As all of the performers stood backstage, I turned to a now Waring Alumni, Tristan Horan. For those of you who never knew Tristan, he was a star on stage, and exuded confidence. I turned to him, and anxiously said “Tristan how do you deal with this stage fright?” He looked at me, grinned, and said to remember three things. He said “Julia, first of all, breathe. At the end of this, you will be fine, and you will be proud of what you have played. Secondly, remember why you are playing tonight: because you have practiced so hard, and played this piece over and over again. Remember that you love the flute, and you love playing it. And thirdly, remember your audience. You are playing in front of your friends and family who love you. Julia, you could botch this performance, and they will still think it’s the best thing you’ve ever played.”
So I encourage you, Waring students to remember these three things when Waring seems impossible, when you find yourself running around campus more than walking, when short February days seem like years, and #5 on your problem set will just “never” be right.
Remember to breathe. Your first late night will not be your last, and you will have great days here, and also some not so great ones. But, remember to stop and breathe sometimes. Take time to appreciate what calms you down, whether that's playing the piano in the Grande Salle, doing cartwheels on the quad, or spending hours on a photo in the dark room. I have heard students say “I only have three years left of Waring,” or something along these lines, but Senior year will creep up on you, and suddenly you’re crying and singing Sylvie with 28 of your best friends on your last camping trip. So whether you’re a new or returning student, take the time to breathe.
And when breathing doesn’t help, remember why you are doing what you're doing. Remind yourself of why you are at Waring, and the spark that sent you here. As any returning student can attest to, there will be moments at Waring that you will never forget, those moments of pure joy or confusion that you’ve looked back at and said “That’s such a Waring thing to happen.” like when the whole school breaks out into dance during All-School Meeting, or you shovel snow on campus with the Varsity Basketball teams while wearing flats, and cannot stop laughing as parents drive by and beep. Remind yourself of the love you have for Waring, and for the people you have met because you are here. When you struggle, remember your successes, and when you succeed, remember the work you have put in to succeed.
And lastly, remember your audience. You are learning with people who love you, and will not judge you when you fail. Our community has created an environment where mistakes truly do help you learn. There will be times where je suis née turns into je suis nu, or you are truly unskilled at a sport. Remember that everyone at Waring struggles with something, whether it is an academic struggle or not. And even if your fear is stage fright like mine, I encourage you, returning or new students, to play your piece. I promise we will listen.
Joy Cheng, Waring Senior (’18)
When I first came to Waring, I thought eggs were meat.
When I first came to Waring, I thought graffiti were meatballs because the word sounds like spaghetti.
When I first came to Waring, the only French I knew was “bonjer” (I misspelled it because I have a terrible pronunciation.)
If you are looking for someone who has the best Waring stories, or the most authentic voice, then I might not be the best choice because this is only my second (and final) year here. But this means I, as a senior, might as well be new and still trying to figure out this school as are many of you here today.
Joining a grade in the middle of my high school career could be difficult under any circumstances. Coming from an all-girl boarding school in North Carolina, I have to admit that I had some hard times last year: when I heard strange names like “the Polygon” and “the Quad”, when a boy came to talk to me, and especially when I, a girl who had lived the past 15 years of my life in the south, experienced how the freezing air here can blow me away in winter, and fall, and spring.
On my first day of pre-season, I was scared and nervous. Where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to do? My classmates already knew each other very well. Should I go talk to them? Would that seem dumb? During the time when I was still trying to figure out an answer for these questions, Tim Bakland asked us to walk around a burnt field and pray. No one said a word, everyone followed the direction, I followed them. I guess that was when I understood the phrase “culture shock.”
Last year during convocation, I put on the tag “the new student,” so I found excuses for myself not being good friends with anyone – it’s ok, I was new and people didn’t know me yet. I will be good friends with everyone soon, I thought. After a couple of months, I realized the situation did not change. I could not excuse myself for being a new student any more. I was the one who kept this barrier between other people and myself.
I did not know how to open myself to others. Would they find the topic I am trying to bring up boring? Would they feel like I am stupid and weird to think a certain way? These were the questions I asked myself before I would start a conversation, and of course, this is a terrible way to think because it made me remain silent. For example, no one discovered my secret love for hip-hop music, not until the Junior Trip. I remember clearly that in a calculus class last year, I told Eli that I used one of Kendrick Lamar’s lyric “I got power, poison, pain, and Joy inside my DNA” as an instagram caption. He laughed, and said “I did not know you that you were a joker.”
Besides that, I never told people that I am a 7-year tennis player, a video game lover, and decent back masseuse. No one knows that I started living by myself when I was 11 but still don’t know how to cook.
And I am sure that I have struggled academically like many here. Studying Homer’s epic poems, working on the electricity and kinetic energy problem sets, not to mention trying to learn a third language in my second language, I spent nearly every period of my Focus Flex last year in a teacher’s office.
But with the efforts I made, with the support I received from teachers every time I carefully tried to express my own thoughts in class, I slowly built up my confidence. I began to sit with my classmates during lunch, learning how to talk to people comfortably, and amazingly, I found out that these American teenagers, who I thought were so different and remote from me, are actually just like me.
Most importantly, I had the feeling that me, my culture, and the way I am learning about this American culture was respected here at Waring. My ignorance of eggs being meat, graffiti being meatballs and bad French pronunciation did not define me, but my smile, my works, and the progress I make every day are how people truly see me here.
So what I want to say is just be yourself and work hard. The community here will embrace whoever you are and shape you to be a better person. So do not be afraid to show yourself to other people, because everyone will treat you with the same passion and love, and this is what I love about Waring.
Timothy Bakland, Head of School
New and returning students, faculty, trustees, alumni, parents and friends,
Bonjour à tous et toutes,
Our convocation ceremony calls us together to reaffirm our values and mission in a new year and to welcome, formally, our 35 new students through our inscription and bell ringing ceremony.
This year, our new students and families hail from a wider array of geography than I recall ever being represented in our midst. We welcome students this year from Beverly, MA, Newburyport, MA; Sikkim, India; Amesbury, MA and more Amesbury, MA; Eagle River, AK; Winchester, MA; GuangZhou, China; South Hampton, NH; Lynn, MA; Boxford, MA; Hangzhou, China; and Lawrence, MA – just to cite a few on the list.
In a small school, with such a strong culture, the welcome we give our new community members involves the entire community. And the welcoming process goes far beyond any one event, such as today’s Convocation – just consider the fact that in these past two years, there have been 85 newcomer students who now comprise over half of our school. Our welcome must run in all directions, then, and it must be continual – a work in progress – a complex conversation between all of us. And we must have ears and eyes and hearts wide open. I am extremely grateful to our faculty who, in Waring style, are nimble in their teaching, who courageously let go of the many control knobs one finds in more typical classroom settings, adapting pedagogy, often on the fly, as Waring grows through change. I am grateful for parents, new and returning, who push us to be better even while they run into the “that’s just how it’s done here at Waring” or “Just trust us” responses to their honest questions. (I confess to having used these lines myself.)
But it is really to you, students – new and returning – to whom this welcoming process, this Convocation and calling together, most intimately belongs; and I would like to give you a couple of recent examples from our faculty voices as we continue welcoming each other into this new year.
Students: it may surprise you to know that we Waring teachers do a lot of talking about...teaching! (An odd concept, I know – teachers talking about teaching!) Seriously, though, I am met by surprise more often than you might think when I tell incredulous teachers and administrators in other schools of our conversations on teaching. That must be amazing!, they say. What’s that like?
One of our teachers, Kyra Morris, presented two guiding questions to the faculty this August, two questions that she is using to help frame her own teaching and learning this year. Kyra asks:
(First:) What opportunities am I creating for my students to bring themselves –their whole selves – to the work they do in my classroom? (and Second:) How do I encourage or create opportunities for students to be moved by what a peer has said, rather than simply doubling down on or defending their own positions?
These questions frame two important aspects of our lives here: the learner as individual, as “whole self,” and the learner in a community, and as part of a larger world.
As for Kyra’s first question: What opportunities am I creating for my students to bring themselves –their whole selves – to the work they do in my classroom? One hears the personal journeys – those “whole selves” – reflected in the student speeches we just heard. Richard Stuart has grown to work better with others, to work in teams – and has given us all a great lesson in experiential learning. Flutist, Julia Natale is empowered to take risks by reminding herself of the strength of support in her peers. And Joy Cheng tells us about her journey gaining confidence to be herself at Waring, even of the struggle to learn a third language in a second language. Board Chair Joanne Avallon, “My Boss,” talks about personal ownership in embracing and expanding Waring’s culture. Joshua asks us to contemplate our personal journeys – filled both with beauty and grieving.
Kyra’s second question, How do I encourage or create opportunities for students to be moved by what a peer has said, rather than simply doubling down on or defending their own positions?, asks us to listen, to trust, to work in a community and in the larger world, even, in some cases, to give up control. This question helps us frame the way we interact, challenging us to really hear another’s thoughts, to consider their meaning, even to be moved by our peers. This interaction is all around us. It is in classrooms and carpools, on the quad at lunch, in All-School Meeting, Focus Flex, athletics events, in the bus rides to away games. We on the faculty confront these questions of healthy interaction and good listening just as often as you do, students. Not only do we discuss a lot as a faculty, but we discuss how we discuss – right down to the norms of how we listen to each other in a faculty meeting.
We are at our strongest, new students, when our interactions are defined not by rules, but by a culture of dialogue and personal ownership of our own learning. At the best times, a teacher can walk into a class, ask a good, provocative question, and then have the courage to back out of the way and let the class take shape. Even better of course, are those times when it is not the teacher who begins a class.
Kyra’s questions lead us closer toward that good life of learning and being, making and doing, in and outside of Waring. This good life, new students, is seen and described beautifully in the biographies all around us – and I’d like to conclude with the words of Jim Watras, who recently submitted his “bio” for the faculty page on our website. Says Jim:
"I have been at Waring since 1980. I thought I would be here briefly and part time, as a way to earn some money while in graduate school. I fully intended to return to my old job with the Beverly Public Schools. But, as often happens in life when you think you know where you are headed, Waring arrested me. It was then about 45 students and 5 teachers, a small, caring, interdisciplinary, learning community, committed to the liberal arts; committed to experiencing the "world as our classroom;" committed to offering teachers a major role in shaping the school; and committed to seeing both children and adults as full human beings.
This was the kind of place I wanted. And, when Waring said they wanted me, in 1982 I became a full-time member. Although I have taken 3 full-year sabbaticals since then, traveling the world, I have never left.
I teach children at all levels, the past years in the Humanities and Writing departments, as well as with the Waring summer camp. I have taught in all areas of the Waring program. I have also been a coach and administrator. I have brought Waring students to Africa, Europe, Asia, Mexico and Canada, as well as to all corners of the U.S. (including Dorchester, Roxbury, Alabama and Alaska). Teaching for me is part of what it means to live.
Learning is the same. I have made many mistakes, and am trying hard to atone for them, to learn from them. I continue to learn from colleagues, students, as well as from the world around me. Many of my closest friends and greatest inspirations are from the Waring community, past and present. I am fortunate now to be colleagues with many former students, as well as to be teaching the children of former students. This past summer I was also lucky enough to supervise my oldest grandson in our summer camp.
One of my roles right now is to coordinate the Endterm program, which to me comes the closest to that earlier Waring, a small, mixed-aged group of students and adults who live and learn together, using the wider world as our resource and our audience. One of my current goals is to help Waring expand the voices in our community and also to reach out more to the world around us, recognizing what we have to offer, how we need to act, and what more we have to learn."
Hear, hear. To the 2017-2018 year, to our new and returning students, to all of us: may we recognize what we have to offer, how we need to act, and what more we have to learn.
Jeff Levering, Dean of Students
Faculty, families and students,
Our seniors were each asked to write a speech imparting some words of wisdom to the new students. You heard a few of those pieces a few minutes ago, and I thought I would follow their lead. So, new students, here are a few (hopefully wise) words as to what I believe we provide for the members of the Waring community:
You will be shown how to have a conversation without raising your hand. You will know how to listen deeply, be mindful of when another person is about to speak, and how to invite everyone’s participation into a discussion.
You will have the opportunity to discover your own style and way of leading. From the Green Couch room to Camping Trip to Tutorial to the classroom, you have the opportunity to be a leader everyday on this campus.
You will learn how to take personal responsibility and ownership over your own learning. You will learn what academic and organizational strategies work best to support your own learning.
You will use self-knowledge to advocate for what you need. You will know when to seek a teacher for help, or when you need to take a break and just relax.
You will be entrusted with the freedom to make the choices that are best for you. During Focus Flex, lunch, or time to explore Montreal or Angers, we trust that you will make thoughtful decision during these less-structured times.
You will be asked to turn off your cell phones so you can be aware of and interact with the world around you. You will be asked to be present and relational in your classes, in the hallway, on buses, and during all Waring activities and events.
You will be called to exercise your unique voices, spoken, written, artistic, critical, and musical. You will be called to exercise these voices in your Writing and Science classes, in the Chorus and the Atelier, and everywhere you go both on and off campus.
You will be allowed to make “mistakes” and you have permission to take academic risks. You have permission to try new things and not be perfect or the best at them.
You will be invited to partake fully in the life of the school and to take full advantage of what Waring has to offer. You are invited to play sports, dance, draw, debate, sing, act, problem solve and to create your own activities.
You will be empowered to shape and maintain our school culture. Everyday, your decisions inform and form what the Waring experience looks and feels like for all of us.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you will do all of these things in a safe, supportive and respectful environment. Everyone under this tent – faculty, your fellow students, and parents – are here to support you so please do not ever hesitate to ask for help.
My hope is that all of these Waring experiences help cultivate habits and a way of being in the world that enables each of you to work for both the individual and common good. Waring has a school Ethic, which is located on the back of today’s program. An Ethic has a very different sensibility than a more traditional Honor Code. An Ethic is a habitual way of being in the world, an internalized guiding philosophy that is acted upon not because of fear of punishment, but because it is what is believed to be good and true.
With these words and ideals in mind, the presenters will now introduce the new students. Each new student will sign their name in the inscription book. Following the inscriptions, a bell will sound once in recognition of each new student’s place in the Waring community. I ask that you please hold your applause until after the ringing of the bell.
Let us welcome our new students…