Thoughts on Caring and Reliance on First Friday
Below is an excerpt from Head of School, Andrew Menke's address to all faculty, staff and students of Waterford School on the First Friday of the year.
Welcome to the 2020-21 school year and our First Friday celebration. I wish we could all be out here on the Quad this morning together, but I think I speak for my colleagues when I say how absolutely delighted we are to have you all back to School—whether here on campus or learning from home. I hope your first several days have been joyful as you return to this beautiful campus and to the teachers you appreciate, the subjects you love, and the friendships you cherish.
On this first Friday, I want to spend just a few minutes thinking with you about this year’s school theme - caring. Each year we choose a theme that animates our work, and I cannot think of a more fitting theme this year than caring. Caring is one of our five core values and is defined this way: “We learn best in a caring environment, where respect and inclusion make possible the deepest forms of intellectual, emotional, and character growth.”
Last Sunday I sent a poem by Wendell Berry to faculty and staff called "What We Need Is Here".
While our learning environment looks a bit different this year, we do indeed have all that we need—right here at Waterford because we have each other—all of us together, during this unusual time, with big hearts, displaying courage and kindness, grace and humility, practicing self-awareness and a generosity of spirit, in all ways, and with every member of our community.
Caring means that we lead with empathy and compassion. We seek to understand both the intention and impact of our actions—on peers, on teachers, on our families—all of us working to achieve individual and communal goals. One will not happen in the absence of the other.
Wendell Berry’s poem speaks to reliance. “Abandon as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith...” Berry points to reliance as a certain act of faith, where we abandon ourselves to what needs to be done and in that abandonment, we are able to do what we might not be able to do were we more self-conscious.
As it has always been, our reliance must be on each other and our collective support of the deep and profound care we must take to fully actualize the immense opportunity of this liberal arts education. Our reliance is in the ideal we speak to in our vision—to pursue a life of meaning and purpose, in a more just society—only achieved when we care enough to nourish the life of the mind, in leaning into our own personal growth as ready contributors to the world around us. This is our elevated purpose and the responsibility we share that accompanies the privilege of learning together in this amazing place!
So, as we look to the year ahead, with all its distinctiveness of hybrid learning, owl cameras, distance, and masks... if you take care of yourselves and take care of others... And invest your whole heart and have room in that big heart for others… If you care enough to fully and to passionately engage in the breadth of the opportunities afforded to you in this extraordinary learning community, you will, without question be prepared for what’s next. But more importantly and more meaningfully, you will enjoy endless paths of growth and contribution and ultimately transformation that will change you forever.
Thank you for your care of Waterford.
As is tradition, we will now have a member of each class ring the Waterford Bell symbolizing the impact each of us will have on the community that will reverberate over the course of the year. Have a great year!