Both Socrates and Samuel Williston would have been proud of our students’ rhetorical prowess on full display last week when we hosted Easthampton High School’s “We The People” team for a showcase event. Both schools were practicing for the state competition in Boston later this month. This Constitutional debate program, now in its 13th year at Williston under the tutelage of Mr. Peter Gunn, asks students to prepare questions on vexing Constitutional issues. Our four-person teams acquitted themselves admirably before a panel that included State Representative John Scibak, State Senator Michael Knapik, and City Councilors Joy Winnie and Andrea Burns.
So what makes a group of young people do more than is required, sacrificing long hours to research, rehearsing, and performance? If what I witnessed does not fall under the heading of “pursuing a passion for learning” then I’m not sure any activity would meet that standard. Our students’ collaborative venture hones those very skills that will prepare them for life after Williston. I witnessed creative and critical thinking going hand in glove with strong communication—an impressive arsenal of skills to be sure.
Last week’s visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle (aside from providing relief from the 22 inches of snow that greeted me on my return to Easthampton) gave me the opportunity to meet with folks from a broad spectrum of The Williston Northampton School’s alumni ranks. I met exuberant young alumni just beginning to establish themselves in fascinating careers. I met retired alumni who shared reflections of Williston Academy and Northampton School for Girls, united in their appreciation for the teachers and mentors who helped shape their lives. And I met with alumni more than willing to share their expertise in medicine or technology with our current students, a reconnecting with their alma mater that has tremendous potential to impact the lives of our young people. It was invigorating and heartening to meet those who belong to our West Coast family. Many thanks to all for your gracious hospitality and eagerness to share your stories of our school.
Just as many people view the first week of January as a chance to initiate New Year’s resolutions, for Williston students the turn of the calendar year also marks an important transition. Seniors, a number of whom have solidified future college plans, begin the march towards graduation, one that may seem distant from their present vantage but nonetheless comes strikingly quickly—a changing of seasons as rapid as the New England transition from winter to spring. Juniors, on the other hand, begin the college search journey (with a program hosted by our College Counseling Office in February that features deans of admissions from Middlebury College, Washington & Jefferson, and the University of Vermont), and our tenth and ninth graders continue to discover subjects and areas of passion, and to build upon them. In other words, life at Williston goes on, following a timeless pattern.
As I reflect on my year, I am reminded of a quote from Thoreau in which he cautions that education often makes a “straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” Williston students have always exalted in the freedom of individual expression and eschewed conformity, so we have plenty to look forward to for 2011 as we witness our students etching their own indelible paths.