The following are my opening remarks to our faculty and staff on August 28, 2017; perhaps they will serve as a common foundation for all members of the Canterbury family as we approach the year ahead:
Welcome to a new school year! Whether this is your first or 21st year at Canterbury, 2017-18 is a new year for all of us. It’s good to be here, in this space, together.
Thank you for joining me this evening to pause for a few moments and frame the year ahead. This summer was one of heavy and unsettling news, most recently in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, and I found my determination to stay up to date on world events wavering at best. However, I trust you agree that we begin this year feeling hopeful – for the connections, opportunities, and community moments that lie ahead. Hopeful even while the world around us swirls, jolts, disappoints . . . and then surprises and offers hope once again. I say this as a reminder of my appreciation for this community and these colleagues as well as my respect for the role we play in helping our students - and one another - process, discuss, debate, respond to, and manage the sobering events that surface daily. On this hilltop, we teach the importance of empathy, inclusion, and seeing the world through multiple lenses . . . we expect the same of others . . . and we cry foul when we intersect with - or observe in the news - those whose thinking is extreme, inflexible, biased or hateful. It is a lot to try to make sense of. And so I am also grateful for our shared commitment to take care of this community and for a job that inspires hope every day; there is nothing quite like the wonderful messiness of adolescence to keep us grounded and hopeful.
This time last year, I asked us to be present and proactive, to embrace the power of norming, and to lean in to the school year. The next layer asks that we be mindful of the fact that Canterbury is at the center of multiple paths that bring students and colleagues here -- multiple paths, multiple points of view, one community. It will come as no surprise that an anecdote follows to shed light on this next layer --
Just over one year ago, I was sitting in the Steele Hall conference room and caught a glimpse of a woman walking slowly down the hall, past the admission office, and into the Head’s office. Moments later, Jane was within my sightline, giving me that - “you need to step out of your meeting” look.
Zonni Hume Edmondson, daughter of our School’s founder and first headmaster, Nelson Hume, had dropped by to deliver a note as a welcome of sorts. Of course Zonni told Jane that she did not want to interrupt my meeting, but there was no chance that I would hesitate to seize the opportunity to meet Zonni in person and talk with her.
After a brief introduction and a few pleasantries, Zonni mentioned that she had a concern to share. She went on to describe what it had been like to grow up on this campus and to tell me a bit about her family and her father’s vision and decision to build a school for the children of Catholic families who wanted to attend Ivy League colleges. And then came the concern: Zonni noted that, while she was certain I was well qualified and well prepared for the position, she wondered how her father would feel knowing that I was a non-Catholic Head of School.
Realizing that being defensive never leads us to clarity, understanding or respect, I paused and said something like this: “Of course you feel that way, Zonni. Of course. Why don’t you tell me a little more about what is making you feel unsettled, and hopefully I can help.” From there, we talked about my upbringing as a minister’s kid, the role of faith in my life, my growing understanding for, and appreciation of, Canterbury’s history and mission, and why I believed the School’s Catholic heritage and focus on values, service & spirituality across all faiths played an invaluable and differentiating role in our School’s past, present and future.
I don’t know how successful I was reassuring Zonni that day, but when she passed away earlier this summer, I walked back through the conversation and re-read the note she brought which has hung on my office bulletin board ever since. I remain hopeful that she left my office feeling even a little less concerned than when she arrived, but all I know for certain is that Zonni would have felt worse had I suggested that her concerns were irrational or irrelevant.
And so this evening, I ask that we again approach the school year present & proactive as well as with a new shared goal: to make time every day, even briefly, to imagine how one of our alumni, students, colleagues, or parents sees this school community through their lens --
- the third former away from home for the first time . . .
- the postgraduate committed to taking a chance on independent school while his friends transition to college . . .
- the teacher new to the classroom and all of its delightful challenges . . .
- the colleague juggling so much – at work and at home . . .
- the international student, for whom everything feels new . . .
- the sixth former already feeling a bit sad that the year ahead will be her last on our hilltop . . .
- the friend who has worked here long enough to wonder how to make each year feel like a new, positive challenge . . .
- the prospective family, who sees every interaction as a critical first impression . . .
- or the faculty child, for whom this campus is home, school, work, family and community . . . .
- And countless other points of view, of course. To give this shared goal more than just lip service, please indulge me for a few seconds to look beyond your own lens. Choose anyone who is a part of the Canterbury community and try to imagine how they are feeling about, and seeing, our School at this very moment.
Thank you. If we can make this exercise a habit, we are likely to do an even better job modeling empathy, learning & appreciating the paths that brought each of us here, and rebuilding community every September. It is not only our collective responsibility to take care of our students but also to ensure that the extended Canterbury family feels connected and understood. The school and community that helped raise Zonni have grown and changed in countless ways, but I believe the same heart and soul - the spirit - of Canterbury is now entering its 102nd year, and I am confident we will sustain and carry it forward together.
Thank you for your herculean efforts to get us ready for the year ahead and for all that follows; here we go!
Rachel E. Stone
Head of School