Talk about having an engaged Board of Trustees. If work and knowledge are twin pillars of strong boards of trustees, then Williston’s Board showed their mettle this past weekend over long and productive days of work. I have been around a number of boards in my time, but the energy and interest shown by our group was exemplary.
One highlight was certainly “Windows into Williston” and the Board’s exchange with a student panel which focused on the strategic issues exercise of “stop, start, and continue.” Members listened and asked questions as a cross section of students offered their insights about Williston today. As always, Williston students displayed the Purpose, Passion, and Integrity that define our school as they spoke about ways of further strengthening our deep sense of community, developing more Williston Scholars offerings, and increasing opportunities for day students to interact with boarding students.
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.
The return to Williston from Thanksgiving break is generally accompanied by the excitement and energy of the beginning of a new term, but this year, we confronted the loss of a devoted friend with the news of Al Lavalle’s passing. True to his legacy (and a sign of the times) the outpouring on social media sites was immediate, passionate, and memorable. I notified the community via email, but Mr. Mark Conroy’s moving tribute at our all-school assembly on Wednesday best captured the moment.
As Mark said: “With no disrespect for teaching faculty, students learned as much from Al during his tenure in the ‘cage’ as in any classroom.” Mr. Conroy then read from the 2007 yearbook dedication which honored Al for his service, friendship, and mentoring—all done from the unusual classroom space of the lower level of the athletic center and the equipment cage. It just goes to show you, the purpose of boarding schools, and their unique and irreplaceable value, is what happens outside of the classroom walls.
While Williston resumes our normal schedule and students returned last night from an extended long weekend, our thoughts are with those who were not so fortunate. As with other natural disasters with widespread tentacles, six degrees of separation invariably means that the extended Williston family has been directly and profoundly affected.
We have students living in the tri-state zone of destruction, a faculty member whose relatives suffered an unimaginable loss, a colleague whose Easthampton home sustained a direct hit from a tree—these are some of the stories affecting Williston. The minor disruptions we tolerated are nothing compared to what some have had to endure.
Williston is “back to normal” today, and our community is thankful for being spared human and property loss, but ever mindful of those who continue to suffer from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath.
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.