Head of School’s Academic Award Ceremony Speech

Academic Awards Ceremony
Williston Northampton School
May 28, 2016

Head of School Robert W. Hill III

Good afternoon and a special welcome to parents, families, guests, and to all of our students gathered to celebrate the academic accomplishments that are at the heart of all we do. Since Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor, popularized the idea of having a “growth mindset” educators have grabbed onto Dweck’s paradigm. Hard work, persistence, resilience, determination—these are all necessary elements of the life-long pursuit of learning. But don’t be fooled into thinking that they alone will brand you as having a “growth mindset” because in the final analysis, what you accomplish, how you behave, how you treat others, in other words—YOUR DEEDS—will determine whether or not you are a successful lifelong student in pursuit of the ‘growth mindset’ ideal.

Buzzwords, especially those in education, can become overused at best and self-deceiving at worst. The more you claim, for instance, that you have a “growth mindset,” the less you have it. But one of the best aspects of a Williston education is that you are always challenged by your teachers to explain,

demonstrate, prove, and defend your answers. You might find that we hold you to a high standard of intellectual and moral rigor, but if you are not the ones to achieve these ideals, then who? For seniors, about to head off to college campuses around the country, the imperative has never been greater. I might argue, but for another day, that the challenges that you will face on college campuses are of a magnitude that we’ve not seen since the tumult of the Vietnam era.

But here we are this afternoon, nearing the close of Williston’s historic 175th anniversary year—and we have been watching and celebrating student accomplishments in earnest for the past two weeks. The Williston Scholars presentations, like Maggie White’s research on national parks, revealed how you kids are as expert in your knowledge as any college student; we applauded crazy individual and team athletic accomplishments just yesterday, and I have to wonder if we will ever have kids play on not one but two championship teams in one year, like Delaney and Morgan did as varsity field hockey players who also competed on the first ever championship softball team this spring. We have recently witnessed our instrumental and choral music performers as well as been treated to the work of our visual artists, dancers, and actors— and the level of talent we saw was nothing short of astonishing—some of you may have wondered, as I did, while Verdi performed in “In the Heights,” if we were watching the next Lin Manuel [Man-Well] Miranda.

Before we recognize all of the incredible academic accomplishments of our students, however, I want to acknowledge our teachers who have worked so tirelessly to help each student achieve personal bests.

Please join me in a deserved round of applause

Williston’s teachers will go to any length to advise, mentor, listen, and support their students—I know this because I live with one.

As I emcee today’s ceremony, I ask that you pay attention to the citations that are read and attached to names from Williston’s past. All of you students are part of our 175 years of history, and our traditions matter. It’s wise to remember, that what we celebrate today connects us to Williston’s past.

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