Convocation Address by Elizabeth D’Amour

Greetings and Welcome

Welcome to my colleagues on the Board of Trustees with a special mention to Chuck Taulk, our former President of the Board, To Headmaster Hill (FYI:   Headmaster Hill is my first hire in my new role as President of the Board of Trustees…and hopefully my LAST hire!  I think we could all agree that I’m batting 1,000 in the hiring department.)

Elizabeth D'Amour © Matthew Cavanaugh

Welcome to the esteemed and beloved faculty sitting here behind me, welcome to our hardworking staff… and welcome to all the friends of The Williston Northampton School who have gathered here on this beautiful evening. And of course, welcome to my dear husband, Charlie.

We all have our sleeves rolled up and our game faces on.  We are poised and ready to begin The Williston Northampton School’s 172nd year of educating students.

Yes!  Welcome, students! Look around. This gathering, this Convocation is just a sampling of all the folks who will be a part of your Williston life for the next year and beyond.   Some folks will touch your life from behind the scenes and others will be in your face!  You have heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?”  WE are your village…  But more about the Village in page two…Rest easy, page two is the final page.

You may be wondering how a middle-aged, white haired, nurse found her way to the podium as the Convocation speaker.  I’m not an alumna of the school. My father was not a WNS graduate.  I haven’t donated $5 million to Williston. I am not the founder of a great company like Apple.  I never even joined the Peace Corps.  I think the real reason I was invited to address you this evening is because I love The Williston Northampton School.  Let me tell you just a few of the reason why I love this school.

Firstly, I love the school for what it has done for my children. It all started in 1994 when my eldest daughter, Emily, entered WNS as a 7th grader at age 11.  She was disinterested and disengaged at our public middle school at home.  We planned to have Emily attend the middle school at Williston and then we would bring her back home to matriculate at our excellent public high school.  That was the plan…and the start of the Williston love story, for my husband and me, for Emily and her three younger siblings who each attended Williston for six years.

The stellar education our children received under the tutelage of this bright and dedicated faculty was as good as it gets. But we all know that academics are just a part of a school like Williston.  Myriad opportunities were for the taking. Our children dabbled in the arts, played music, secured roles in plays, held class office. They played sports they never would have played if not at Williston and some captained teams.  Some of my children’s closest friends, to this day, are their Williston friends.

No, everything was not perfect.  Trips to the Deans office and calls home, though not frequent, did happen.  Dean’s list was not a given and the Cum Laude Society passed on two of our kids. Dress code violations were the bane of one son’s existence and his mother’s wrath. However, even the less than perfect times provided valuable lessons.  It was the teacher, advisor, or coach who held our kid’s feet to the fire, handed out the appropriate disciplinary measure and helped our child reflect on his/her behavior and move on.  Despite some speed bumps at Williston, all four kids went on to college and graduated. They have jobs, health insurance, and not one is living in our basement! Most importantly, at Williston our children were given the tools and the encouragement to continue to hone a life of passion, purpose and integrity.

Secondly, while my kids were at Williston, I wore many hats. I decorated the StuBop for the 8th grade dance, solicited gifts for the great auction!  I did phonathons and participated in Diversity Days. I was a perpetual Team Parent and served on numerous committees for this and that.  I was president of the Parents Association.  If you ask my kids,  I spent WAY too much time on campus.  But I got to know many of the good folk who make this place tick.  Witnessing the dedication, passion and caring of the faculty, staff, fellow parents and students made me want to keep coming back and giving back.   Some of my closest friendships hail from this campus. I have a deep respect and appreciation for the many people who do good work at Williston.

Lastly,  In 2003, I was invited to be a member of the Board of Trustees.  I agreed to stay on the Board until 2011, the spring my youngest son, Christian, would graduate from WNS.  Well… here I am, taking on the President of the Board position and now looking at 2013 and beyond! Why?  Since the arrival of Headmaster Hill three years ago, and the team of administrators, faculty and staff he has cobbled together, I see a new vision for our school. Headmaster Hill and his team make me proud to be a trustee of The Williston Northampton School. I envision a Williston with a promising future, full of academic excellence, holistic education, global exposure, diverse culture and that same, warm, nurturing environment Williston embodies

OK…I promised to return to the idea of the village and raising a child when we got to page two and here we are!

I want to offer two pieces of advice, one about connections and the other about responsibility.

Connections:  Get to know the people in your village: the faculty, dining staff, grounds keepers. Befriend the headmaster and his wife and kids.  Know the deans, administrative staff, health services folks, admission staff, college counseling friends and yes, even trustees!  Engage with these good folks whenever possible. Frequent office hours. Learn names. Thank them. Tell them your name. Share your concerns.

Life is about making human connections.  Connected people live longer, healthier, happier lives…this is scientifically documented!  Connections may help you get into college or find a job. Now is the time to work at making connections. Practice makes perfect.

When I walk on campus I try to look each student passing by in the eyes.  Most often I’m not noticed. Hey, if you are engaged in deep or entertaining conversation with a fellow student, I get that. The next most common reaction is a quick, diverted glance to the ground.  The least common reaction is a hesitant and furtive return gaze.  I respond with “HI!” which usually gets me a “Hi” in return and if I’m lucky, a smile!  You made my day.  You have made an impression on me and you are being a good ambassador for the school!   See how easy it is? Trustees are on campus at least 3 times a year for Board meetings. October, January and May, we’ve got one coming up. Look for our small blue name tags or maybe a briefcase. Go ahead, engage us. Make our day. And don’t forget, trustees set tuition!

Finally, responsibility. By now, you should have an appreciation for your village or school, or at least an appreciation for all those folks at WNS who are here for you.  But never forget, you also have responsibilities as a member of this village, this community. Responsibility to the adults in your village, your peers and most importantly to yourself.  You are responsible for your actions and reactions.  If you are confused, worried, frustrated, sad, whatever… there are people to help, just for the asking.  Find those people that are your go-to people.  Identify them before you need them.

Before you choose a course of action, assess all possible consequences and outcomes.  Be sure you are willing to accept the consequences or outcomes of your actions.  If you are on the fence about the accepting part, then maybe reconsider you plan.  Try to make those assessments well before you are knee deep in the situation that is calling for your response.  It is much tougher to make good decisions when pressured, tired, or compromised.  Respect yourself.  Care for your peers and love your school.

So! Have a great year.  Make it the best year of your life. This is NOT a dress rehearsal.  I believe in you. I wish you much happiness and I am honored to welcome you to this new year at The Williston Northampton School.

God bless.


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