Stories and updates from around campus

Convocation Marks the Start of Williston’s 177th Year

On a cool evening on September 15, students, faculty, and guests gathered on the quad to formally kick off Williston’s 177th year.

Keynote speaker Dr. Beverly Tatum, a former trustee and parent of Williston graduates from the classes of 2000 and 2004, initiated a conversation about the uncomfortable history of race in this country that she argued must be faced and fixed. The author of the much-studied and recently rereleased book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race,” Dr. Tatum also has led Spelman College, a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta, and Mount Holyoke College. The text of her speech is here. Continue reading

Speaker Encourages Faculty to Consider Students’ Stories

Dena Simmons

Dena Simmons had some hard-earned advice for teachers: consider the backstory of each student in your class. From her childhood in the Bronx, NY, to boarding school in Connecticut, to a successful career in higher education, Simmons, who leads the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, brought her personal narrative to a recent faculty meeting. She shared difficult boarding school memories: a teacher publicly correcting her diction; walking into a dorm room and seeing the resident guarding valuables in Simmons’ presence; and being asked, “Where are you from? No, where are you from from?” She said she didn’t fit in at school but eventually absorbed the cultural rules.

“I learned to erase myself to survive,” said Simmons, who is biracial. “There is damage done when people cannot be who they are.”

Simmons encouraged teachers to cultivate their own emotional intelligence, which is defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings, to discriminate among those feelings, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. Simmons said that using emotional intelligence within the framework of being culturally responsive, or taking the time to learn about a student’s unique cultural background and experiences, help classroom leaders take into account that students start with baggage that may not be obvious or visible. This also gives teachers insights into the array of positive attributes that students may be shielding from view.

“It’s important to bring the world into our classroom, because what matters most is to support the rich strengths of our students,” she said. “We want our students to thrive, because we want to prevent Charlottesville, Missouri, Charleston.”

See Dena Simmons’ TED talk here.

Convocation Speaker Beverly Tatum Examines Race and Education

Tatum 1200px
Submitted photo

Williston Northampton School is proud to welcome Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum—a researcher and author on race relations and a leader in higher education—to campus this fall for the school’s 177th Convocation. Tatum, a former Williston trustee and a parent of members of the classes of 2000 and 2004, will address the school community during an event on the Quadrangle on the evening of September 15. Class dinners follow the event.

A 2013 recipient of the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award, Tatum served as president of Spelman College from 2002 to 2015. Her tenure as president was marked by a period of great innovation and growth. Overall, scholarship support for Spelman students tripled during her tenure, and opportunities for faculty research and development expanded significantly. In 2008, the school established the Gordon-Zeto Fund for International Initiatives with a gift of $17 million, creating more opportunities for faculty and student travel and increased funding for international students. Continue reading

Williston Graduates 124 Members of the Class of 2017

Senior class president Natalie Aquadro prepares to lead her class beneath the tent for Commencement.

On a cool gray Sunday, as the rain held off, 124 students graduated from the Williston Northampton School during its 176th Commencement exercises. Graduates, their classmates, faculty, families, trustees, and special guests gathered on May 28, 2017, under a white tent on the Quad to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2017. (See the video here.) (See photos here.)

Head of School Robert W. Hill III presided over the event by comparing graduating high school to a much-watched YouTube video of a sea lion pulling a toddler into the sea (the toddler, and her dad, who rescued her, were fine). (Read his amusing—and poignant—remarks here.) Mr. Hill also introduced his mentor from his Middlebury College days, keynote speaker John McCardell Jr., the vice-chancellor of The University of the South and president emeritus of Middlebury College. Continue reading

Origin Story: Commencement Traditions

In the next few days seniors and underclassmen alike will gather for annual ceremonies in which people march around in strange clothes, ring bells, and so on.  Some of what we do is easily explained.  We process to Highland bagpipes because back in the 1950s, Headmaster Phillips Stevens liked pipe bands.  Some is less obvious, but believe it or not, there is meaning to all of this. 

There are two main events: Baccalaureate and Commencement.  Baccalaureate – the name has nothing to do with the Roman god Bacchus; rather it is from the same root as the word “bachelor,” from medieval times when young men, on the evening before they became knights, kept an all-night prayer vigil in church.  So the Baccalaureate service, while not especially religious here at secular Williston, is a serious event concerning our seniors’ transition to adulthood.  I’ve been asked why graduation, the final moment of the school year, is called “Commencement.”  There was a popular cliché in the seventies that actually applies here.  Seniors: Sunday will be the first day of the rest of your lives. Continue reading

Stories and updates from around campus