The Principles that Bind our Learning Community Together

Friday, September 3, 2021

Excerpt as taken from a talk by Andrew Menke, Head of School at the Middle School and Upper School Assemblies this week. 


 

Andrew Menke on Opening Day
Andrew Menke with a Lower School student on Opening Day

We gather this morning after a time of isolation and dislocation in the shared purpose of our vision— to inspire lives of meaning and purpose, our mission—a world class, liberals arts education that stimulates intellect, ignites passion and shapes character, and our core values—curiosity, responsibility, integrity, caring, and this year's school theme - excellence. 

You are likely aware that this year we begin our 5th decade of education here at Waterford as we celebrate 40 year of excellence in the liberal arts. I begin with vision, mission, and values because they are the principles that bind our learning community together.

Community comes from the Latin com-mun-i-tas or “community,” “public spirit,” and from com-munis or “common”. Communities have values, beliefs, norms, customs, traditions and rituals in common.

Communities have intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and goals which all impact their (our!) degree of cohesiveness. 

One of my heroes who sadly passed away this summer is Dick Lamm, former governor of Colorado. Governor Lamm was an amazing leader and believed deeply in the power of our democracy and how vital engaged citizenship—a central tenet of the liberal arts is to a functioning democracy. 

Lamm said that, "we create the future—community is not something that we inherit, it is something we create. Successful communities don’t just happen. They are built by dedication and hard work." As it is here, at Waterford each of you contribute, galvanized by our vision, mission, and core values to a strong, vibrant learning community!  

So how will you lead each day in the classroom and around campus? What does your commitment look like to the common good? Hard work, engaged participation, optimism, support of your classmates, appreciation for teachers, grace, patience, and resilience are all part of strong communities.

A community of excellence needs great leaders AND citizens. Yes, we need leaders who confidently and courageously lead, and we need “quality” citizens bound together by our liberal arts ideals. Yes, we need you to lead from the front—to speak up in class, to volunteer when possible, to be vocal. And, for those less extroverted, we need you to model intellectual curiosity, drive and grit—this leadership-by-example that provides strength, vibrancy, and inspiration, each day.

A community of excellence must both generate, and limit tolerance—this paradox is one the very complex issues of our time, and is critical to our foundational liberal arts philosophy—the balance of intellectual, social, political, and emotional freedoms.  How do we provide space for the many voices, backgrounds, experience and beliefs in our community and be clear about the threshold, the bounds, the limits of what is acceptable? Once again, vision, mission and values provide the guideposts for curriculum, in and out of the classroom, our behaviors and the many vibrant, challenging and multi-faceted conversations as we build our community this year and beyond. 

A community of excellence must have more in common than not. Our shared purpose—the liberal arts—the broad, generalized education of reading, writing and thinking...nurturing a love of life-long learning...that deep, unsatiated, intrinsic curiosity that helps each of you to be prepared to excel and contribute to your college communities and well beyond. We will remind you often of what excellence means in the context of the liberal arts, as it will serve as a touchstone for each of you as you grow intellectually, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. This liberal arts mindset and practice knits us together in powerful ways!

And perhaps most importantly—communities are reciprocal. Along with almost limitless opportunity comes immense responsibility. What you give is what you get. There is a symbiotic relationship in communities between the individual and the collective. Your success is dependent on everyone in this room, and many who are not. 

“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  Each class, team, music ensemble is dependent on each member! Know that we are stronger in the presence of others, so take seriously the responsibility to contribute to the greater good in all that you do here! 

Excellence in community is at once subtle and explicit. It is in the small, almost imperceptible contributions you make each day—homework done, and done well, class participation and dress expectations followed, and in the very overt—leading a class- discussion, volunteering for community service, speaking up and out against mistreatment of any in our community. And, so much more... 

So as we begin the school year, I ask you to think about the immense privilege and profound responsibility to participate in, and contribute to, the building of an excellent learning community here at Waterford!

We must all do our part.

It is up to you… it is up to us.

Thank you for all that you will do to build a strong community here at Waterford.

I wish you a wonderful year full of growth and contribution.