The 40 or so students who came by the house for a study break prior to the final assessment period the Saturday before Thanksgiving were just another reminder to me of why being Williston’s Head of School is such a rewarding vocation.
At the end of a long week, and with the holiday just around the corner, students found time to drop in for some hot cider and to relax in front of the fireplace. If one didn’t know better, our house had the atmosphere of a ski lodge in that groups of friends found themselves gathered under one roof at the end of an invigorating day, sharing stories and laughs. Besides the games of foosball and Sorry, I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I had with two of our postgraduate students, young men who have clearly embraced–and been embraced by–Williston in the relatively brief time frame of the first trimester.
We adults sometimes forget the hothouse of teenage years where weeks take on the significance of years, and it is reassuring to hear directly from our students how connected they feel to their teachers, coaches, and advisers in these ever formative moments.
We can all think of times when artistic expression—from song to dance—moves audiences to tears in celebration of lives lost or cut short. And in some cases, the performer’s courage is as much on display as the evocative power of their performance.
Williston’s dance concert last Friday and Saturday evenings created such a climate, as the final dance was a dedication to the memory of a father, who passed away last summer from cancer, by his daughter whose love of dance he had supported and given life to. When the piece ended, the subdued applause, as compared to the usual raucous shouts and cheers that greet our dancers, conveyed the emotion of the moment.
Led by Laurel Raffetto, our dance company once again displayed the incredible talent that has come to distinguish this fine program. And Williston’s location in the artistically rich five college Pioneer valley proved of great benefit to our dancers, as we welcomed Smith-trained guest choreographer/ Michelle Marroquin. I, like so many others, am so impressed by the dedication and commitment of our dancers and support crew—they pulled together despite the disruption of the power outage and gave us a night to remember.
Towering above Williston students (especially those starry eyed 7th graders), John Bul Dau, at 6′ 8″ tall, recounted his journey as a former “lost boy” of Sudan and his current foundation work to bring health, education, and modern agricultural practices to his native village. The Williston Northampton community welcomed Mr. Dau as the second of our annual Sarah Wattles Perry ’77 Speakers, in which the entire school comes together to hear from an author whose book we have read.
Not lost on anyone in the audience, however, was that Mr. Dau’s account of his childhood village, prior to the desecration of civil war, was of another century: theirs was an existence largely untouched by the modern world. And as we had just recovered from a week-long power outage, it gave pause as we heard from someone for whom electricity, running water, and school were never part of his childhood experience.
His harrowing tale of survival, recounted in his memoir God Grew Tired of Us, is one that Mr. Dau shares with audiences around the country, and he told me that he especially liked the intimate exchanges he had in the many classrooms he visited during his full day with us. Telling students that “struggle and success” are two sides of the same coin, Mr. Dau’s soft-spoken presence captivated all; in fact, throughout the day clusters of students sought him out lunch, dinner, and in between his many appointments.
A humanitarian who believes in the power of an individual’s message to pass from person to person–as he calls it a “living story”–Mr. Dau no doubt inspired our already globally minded students to reach even farther. He enjoined everyone to “give back to their community” when they achieve success as adults, no matter what form that success takes. Mr. Dau’s message seems particularly well-suited to Williston students as they embrace lives of purpose, passion, and integrity.
The recent—and in the long memories of veteran Williston people, unprecedented— early snow storm and resulting power outage has left us with many memories, stories, and reflections. In a real world test of our emergency planning, we overcame the substantial logistical hurdle of finding warm housing for 265 boarding students in a 24-hour period.
To recount the time line: Williston lost all power at about 8:00 pm on Saturday evening and by Sunday night, only a few dozen students had to spend a second night in cold dormitories, warmed by the upbeat and caring oversight of their dormitory parents.