In the blink of an eye, my first year as Canterbury’s Head of School is sprinting to a close. Graduation, underform exams, year-end faculty meetings, goodbyes to departing colleagues, alumni weekend. How was it?, you ask. I have floundered all year to come up with a pithy answer to that question, but I will land on: extraordinary. Of course, “extraordinary” includes highs and lows, new and unexpected challenges, relationships to build, a culture and history to understand, and a fresh start every day. It is impossible to illustrate my gratitude for the Canterbury family - on our hilltop and beyond - and the Stone family’s gratitude for this opportunity and a new place to call home. As you can imagine, the class of 2017 made all the difference. So, as one more shout-out to them, I thought I would share my graduation remarks from May 26th:
“Good morning, and welcome to Canterbury’s 100th Graduation Exercises. It is wonderful to have so many members of the extended Canterbury family with us today: our faculty & staff; parents, grandparents, relatives & friends; Mr. Steers, Mr. Steele, Fr. Mark and Mr. Mandler; Mr. & Mrs. Sheehy; and especially, the class of 2017 and your 52 diehards.
When I arrived on campus last summer, I received notes from two members of your sixth form class. The first was an impassioned and creative plea asking that I begin my tenure as Head of School with an immediate relaxation of the dress code. Despite the well-crafted argument, I suggested to Chris Liu that I should probably see a full year on campus before deciding if jackets and ties still had a place at Canterbury. (They do.) The second was a request from Tito Jimenez to meet on campus and begin to map out plans for an extraordinary sixth form year. He and I connected later in the summer to begin what has grown into a year-long, invaluable conversation.
I suppose both anecdotes are reflective of your class. Even when I have attempted to raise tough teenage issues, you always seem to push the conversation to dress code or food. The number of times I have been asked about the snack bar, leggings, coffee, blazers or bacon would probably surprise most adults. At the same time, you have been determined to make this year notable, memorable, different. You have asked that the Class of 2017 be one of tradition, and you have seized opportunities to make your mark. From cereal nights, to senior seminars, to a sixth form rock, your class has established new routines by leaning in and setting norms that make this faculty very proud. And, you have been there for one another as fellow Saints. I will never forget the gritty and spirited victory of our championship field hockey team last fall. The way you - all of you - have competed for, and stood up for, one another is both remarkable and unique.
Which leads me to gratitude. Thank you. I’m sure it was not easy having a new Head of School as seniors and adjusting to different approaches and expectations. But you did not show it. Rather, you have been welcoming, patient, forgiving, largely open-minded, and ever-willing to engage in conversations. Those of you who met with me over dinner throughout the year made an enormous difference in how quickly I understood our School...its culture and patterns...what mattered to all of you...and how I could be accessible, approachable and better understood. I truly cannot thank the class of 2017 deeply enough for making my first year on our hilltop an amazing year.
I will follow gratitude with honesty. I suppose it’s time for me to acknowledge a few mistakes I’ve made along the way this year. For example: for the first weeks of school, I wanted to call Tommy Mason - Bobby - and Emily Keating - Kelly; I don’t know why, and I hope I never did, but if either wrong name slipped out, I apologize!
I arrived at the Color Run last fall ready to participate, thinking that lots of faculty would be running that day. They were not. I don’t know if Mr. Mulhern actually was planning to run or simply joined in to make me feel better, but I’m grateful either way.
I did not know that Skip Day was a thing or that switching Prom to Tuesday would create some unrest - but it worked out well, didn’t it?! I was unclear last fall if Mr. Kiefer was being serious or sarcastic (I’m pretty sure I’ve got that down now), and I worried about calling Mary Katherine - Mary, MK, Mary Kate - so I finally just asked. When I posed the question to my sons, Cullen & Kip, about first-year mistakes, they wanted to go on record that, along with Luke and Marcus, they believe one Head’s holiday was clearly not enough.
And, there are things I simply don’t understand...like why we still call the NAF, the NAF. Why there is a group of sixth form girls who have had meetings in the Steele Hall bathrooms all year. Or why the combination of yogurt, chocolate chips and peanut butter from our salad bar is just so darn delicious. I assume this list will continue to grow and change over the years, but suffice it to say, this profession is never boring and ever challenging.
Why highlight a few of my first year mis-steps? Because next year, you will all be new somewhere. You will make mistakes. You will call someone the wrong name and then wonder if they noticed. You will probably have moments where you feel alone, or on the outside, or maybe even not up for the challenge. That’s all part of being new.
And so...there are days when you simply have to show up. Be present so that you can figure it out. Ask questions - I have asked more than my fair share this year - and don’t be afraid that you might feel or seem vulnerable. That’s part of life, my friends, and being able to show that you need help is most certainly a strength in the long run. Eventually you will build your network, create your place, and not feel so new any more. If you are half as patient with yourselves next year as you have been with me this year, you are going to crush it.
First, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the two members of your graduating class who have been appointed to become members of the United States Military Academy Class of 2021 - Anna Orlando and Luke Haug. Please stand. You both have been recognized for your commitment to academic and athletic excellence and your proven ability as leaders. Congratulations and Godspeed.
Second, as you know, Mr. Kiefer is heading west this summer to be near children and grandchildren, and I know he has been one of your favorite teachers these past four years. Before he departs our hilltop, however, he has earned an honorary Canterbury diploma for his 30 years of service to our school. Mr. Kiefer.
Third, let’s take a moment to congratulate four of our five retiring colleagues: Sandy Behan, Kathy Bolster, and Guy & Viv Simonelli.
Finally, before I introduce our third retiring faculty member and Canterbury’s Senior Master, Mr. JP Mandler, to present this morning’s awards, I have the pleasure of introducing a faculty award named in honor and celebration of JP. The first recipient will be announced in June and on graduation day moving forward. The award reads: The J.P. Mandler Teaching Award - Presented each year to that faculty member who reflects the fundamental commitment to excellence in classroom teaching.
JP, I can’t think of a better way to recognize your 46 years of service to our school. The plaque will be on display this afternoon at lunch. Thank you, and congratulations.
And now, on to our graduating class and the awarding of prizes.”
Here’s to Year Two! May the summer months be a source of rejuvenation, joy, and time with family & friends.
Rachel E. Stone
Head of School