One of the hard parts of my role is that I often find myself at funerals for people connected to this community, and as I sit to write this edition I have just returned from such an event. As you might expect, these forced moments of pausing and reflection offer great perspective about what matters most in life. In this case, it has also reminded me of our School’s layers of connection to the town of South Berwick. As I am continually embroiled in deadlines, tasks, softball practices, and dance lessons, it always shocks me how easily we can lose sight of what measures the quality of a life, which in my mind is about relationships. And while of course our primary relationships are those of family and friends, my subject today is more about my gratitude for this place we know as Berwick.
I am grateful for the relationships I have formed with the people of Berwick Academy over the past decade. I have come to know teachers who so routinely push past anything remotely looking like a 40-hour work week on behalf of the students here. I have come to know staff people who are seemingly more concerned about missing a colleague’s birthday celebration than taking care of their own needs. I have known trustees who have given incredible amounts of time, as well as financial support, with such explicit instruction that they not be recognized in any public way. And the students are of course what make us all come to work. Just yesterday I swung through the Fogg pit and spent 20 minutes talking to a junior about all of the angles of the upcoming NBA finals. I have recently watched teachers recognize the amazing achievements of our kids at various award ceremonies. I have heard students at our Cum Laude reception express their gratitude for the teachers that believed in them, or in some cases, have actually saved them.
Peter Salovey, President of Yale, offered a rather famous speech on gratitude in 2014. The entire text is worthy of quotation. But one passage speaks to me on a more personal level:
And yet, true happiness in life, and true health in society, may not be possible without the capacity to reject the myth of total self-reliance. The good life may be out of reach unless we are able to cultivate an openness to accepting help from others and expressing gratitude for that help.
Sometimes people assume that to be a head of school, one has to be an extrovert. It is certainly true that there are many opportunities for socializing and small talk along the way. And while my own self-assessment is probably one of mild introversion, I know for sure that I have a natural proclivity towards self-reliance. If you asked my parents what their primary goal was for their children, they would tell you independence. They were working to be sure that we, their children, would be able to make it on our own as soon as possible. There is so much good that comes from this, like work ethic, responsibility, and self-advocacy. But it may also be true that, at times, I have been guilty of believing in Salovey’s suggested myth “of total self-reliance.”
The point here is that Berwick Academy makes this impossible, because as a community of learners our lives and our successes are so interconnected. We are inspired, supported, and moved by others – by their selflessness. As a parent, I could not be more grateful that my children are part of this web of relational interconnectedness. It reminds them that they are truly a part of something bigger than themselves and their family. They are a part of a community that stands for something.
As we ultimately bring our 226th academic year to a close in the few days that remain, I am reminded of just how grateful I am for this place and its unique alchemy. In another moment of Salovey’s speech he says bluntly: “Gratitude forces us to reflect on the limits to our sense of agency.” As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to believe in his own agency, in his own ability to do certain things in a certain way, I am grateful that Berwick has forced me to reflect on the limits of that agency. I hope our 70 Berwick Academy alumni who graduated on June 10 felt the support of these relationships and know that they will be buoyed by them for so many years to come. As Mr. Ridgway once told me: “It’s payback time.”