Everyone headed out on their Long Fall trips this morning, after a full day of getting ready yesterday. It’s lovely here in Vermont and the weather looks good all week. Some groups are hiking the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, some are paddling down the Connecticut River, some are rafting on the Deerfield River, and many are in the Green Mountains. We don’t let students take phones with them, so you can’t expect immediate reports, but the adults have phones in case of emergency, and I hope they will take some good pictures.
On Sunday evening, after the returning students arrived, we gathered adults and students for Convocation, and I want to share with you some of what that was about. As usual, student leaders read Putney’s Fundamental Beliefs, and new faculty and staff were introduced. Then I issued some challenges to the students as a group, and as individuals, followed by some not very subtle advice:
This is the first sentence of our Mission statement: Putney School stands for a way of life. What does this mean? You all chose this place, so you each have your own ideas about what it means.
But, I think that there are also some things we can all agree on. One is that we all came here, adults and students, because we care about more than just ourselves, we want to be part of a community we can contribute our work and our ideas and our ideals to.
I also think that– whatever our politics – we all realize that we have to do better than the example that American society is setting us right now. If we all simply agree to tell the truth, not to use social media for destructive reasons, and to treat everyone with respect – just those three things – then we are taking a radical stance against the status quo in the United States.
Your decision – not to just go to school, but to live in a place where we strive together to make and run a just and honest community, that decision sets you apart from many other teenagers. But it doesn’t mean you are all the same – you are pretty different from each other, in all sorts of ways. And that’s a good thing.
Some of you have lived lives of great privilege, and some of you have not. Some of you – whatever your privilege, have had fairly smooth sailing in your lives so far, and some of you have had very difficult things happen to you. Some of you are a bit spoiled at home, and some have maybe got less attention than you need. Whatever the case, you are in a place where you can try out who you are and who you want to be.
You have great freedom to be yourselves here – and that ‘self’, however you define it, must always include who you are in relation to others. Even if you tried to behave like an island, you could not avoid have an impact on those around you. You are a giver or a taker, a complainer or a fixer, a motivator or a drag. You get to decide.
Most of you probably lie awake some nights wondering what you are really made of – whether in a time of crisis you would be the one to step forward, or if you would step back. It is normal to wonder, and I think most thoughtful people never grow out of it.
All of you are hoping to graduate from Putney stronger and more resilient than you arrived, and you don’t have to be a hero to do that. You do have to ‘treasure the hard stretching of yourselves’ – don’t try to stay comfortable always, think of a bit of nervousness as an indication that you are stretching. You may suddenly see a moment when someone needs to step up, and be surprised to find yourself stepping up, being that person, the kind of person that steps up.
For those of you who are just joining us here at Putney, I have 6 pieces of advice:
Sleep – 8 hours a night, minimum
Wash your sheets at least every couple of weeks
Don’t always wait for people to reach out to you – be the reacher-outer sometimes
Block out your homework time so you have guilt-free free time to do what you want –
And perhaps most important, realize that you do have a lot of free time and you can do anything you want with it –almost anything. You don’t need to wait to see what someone else has organized, or wait for an adult to tell you what to do. You can paint, ride your bike to Saxton’s River, put together a new band, read a book, walk in the woods, swim in the puddle, figure out how we are going to make the recycling work better….. or whatever. Try hard to stay off your phones and computers in your free time, and if you find you can’t, think hard about that, and what you might do to regain control of your mind.
For all of you, remember – I say this to you every year – that at the end of the day, as your head hits the pillow, you should know that you gave more than you took that day. Or at least five days out of seven. If each one of you does that, we will find ourselves proving that we can create and run an increasingly just, kind and civil society up here on this hill, and that we can have a lot of fun at the same time.
Here’s to a great year,
Emily H. Jones
Head of School