As we approach the opening night of The Laramie Project, it is well that we remember a foundational value at Williston: Respect. That value was apparent at a recent assembly, when student actors showed this testimonial video. The video, which highlighted the impact that The Laramie Project has had on their world views, is one example of the best that a Williston education has to offer. How wonderful that students, including some previously unfamiliar with the stage, should choose to work on such a powerful and moving play.
I am constantly reminded that Williston is a respectful community, where individuals are valued and supported for who they are; it’s a “community of ‘we’” as I like to quote a student as saying.
As I read with sadness the uncivil discourse affecting an Ivy League college in New Hampshire (over issues of inclusivity and fundamental principles of respect and integrity), it is my fervent hope that Williston students will be leaders in their future communities, helping us advance towards the betterment of all.
Boarding schools share many rites of passage, but certainly one which we most anticipate has to do with coming back together as a community after long breaks. As always at Williston, we begin the first day with assembly, and while it was a pleasure to offer welcoming remarks, I did so knowing that the young children of Newtown, CT were also reconvening in their new Sandy Hook elementary school location.
Because that tragedy happened after Williston students had returned home for the holidays, I wanted to offer reassurance about safety measures that we have taken during the past two years (recalling an all-school drill we had in the fall term), remind our community of the support services at our ready disposal (counselors, mentors, advisors), and reiterate to our students that their safety is our highest priority.
As I watched students wind a familiar path from our chapel to their classes, I was reminded that the young people at Williston, learning and living together, have much to look forward to in 2013 and their journeys beyond. May their clear-eyed optimism of youth never be clouded by the inhuman actions of a few.
A dream come true. That’s what Maddie Blaise said when she attended the 15th annual Writers Workshop (which she and close friend, Elinor Lipman, founded as Williston parents when their own children attended Williston). The dream was none other than award-winning, first-time novelist, Jennifer duBois ’02 sharing her work and thoughts as this season’s first visiting author.
DuBois’ novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, has made quite a splash in the literary world, earning her recognition as one of the top five authors to watch under the age of 35.
She fielded many questions from the eager audience at her alma mater—including one from me. I asked her how she would have written this work in the pre-Internet era. She had explained that her research included leaning from the photos of random vacationers to Russia, courtesy of Flickr. (See the Williston Northampton Flickr site here.)
What a treat to see a Williston grad achieve such success and remember her teachers and school so fondly.
Williston is a “singing school,” as Ben Demerath, our music director always tells us. And surely, our boys and girls singing groups, the Caterwaulers and the Widdigers, produce memorable moments each year. But even Mr. Demerath was surprised by what happened at Sunday’s first Upper School assembly.
Gathering in Stephens Chapel following orientation activities, the classes of 2013 through 2016, were arrayed in their class colors. As part of Associate Head of School Jeff Ketcham’s annual talk about the year to come, the words to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” were displayed on screen and the song was played over the sound system. All of a sudden, the entire assembled student body started spontaneously singing along to the anthem.
I have seen more opening days of school than I care to admit to, and the combination of activities that Williston students enjoy in the days leading up to first classes reveals the dedication of all who work here. Not many schools, I suspect, have teachers who are willing to spend two (sleepless?) nights in cabins with ninth graders the weekend before classes; and the time and care with which the deans and dorm parents transition students into Williston regarding community expectations—with an emphasis on integrity—speaks loudly about the relevance of our mission.
So here we go with our 172nd school opening, and I look forward to every moment of the good to come.
Hanging in the main room at YMCA Camp Belknap on Lake Winnepausake are all sorts of banners, from colleges, universities, and boarding and private schools. Williston’s banner has a spot in the pantheon in New Hampshire, hung many years ago by an unknown hand, I gather. The banner reveals a long connection between the two places—a connection that continues to this day.
Photo courtesy of Roger Maroni ’77
Roger Maroni ’77, who maintains an affiliation with Belknap, passed this photo along. I had a chance to see the banner for myself when picking up our son Robby, who enjoyed a week of camp at Belknap. As a a sixth grade student, Robby got to experience the kind of connections that our students make in their own formative years to Williston.
As we gather together as a faculty to prepare for the school’s 172nd year, I think of the human connections that endure well beyond the passage of a single season. This coming year will be filled with all sorts of accomplishments, disappointments, acts of selflessness, and acts of kindness. Above all, students and faculty alike will form connections to Williston. This is a transformative place—one which confers meaning and influence well beyond the Homestead’s gates.