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2017-18 Classes Begin With Opening Day Convocation

The Olcott Center hummed with excitement on Tuesday morning as the school's 690 students — new and returning — gathered along with faculty and staff for the Opening Day convocation, kicking off the 2017–18 school year.

Student Council officers, Head of School Sheila Culbert, and Associate Head of School Webb Trenchard welcomed the assembly and offered messages of inspiration and advice for the year ahead.

Senior Aaron "Deuce" Ford, the Student Council president, provided guidance for students in each class year. He encouraged freshmen to proceed with optimism and to contribute in class and in social activities. Sophomores are uniquely positioned to be creative and innovative this year, Deuce said, as they are no longer the newest class and do not yet shoulder all of the academic responsibilities of junior year. He challenged juniors to take a mature approach to finding the right balance between school work, activities, sports, and socializing. He quipped that he was able to find time in his busy junior schedule by "squeezing the complaining" out of it.

Deuce turned to his fellow seniors and rallied them to make the most of their final year of high school. Conviction and initiative are required, he said, for seniors to take control of shaping the best possible year for everyone at the school, and he encouraged all students to "widen your perspectives before narrowing your vision."

Senior Sarah Bennett, the Student Council girls vice president, focused her remarks on the personal journey each student takes as a member of the Loomis community. To illustrate her point, she shared how she got the nickname of "Sarb." As a freshman, she was one of two Sarahs on the volleyball team, so her teammates began calling her Sarb — a merging of her first and last names that she used as her social media moniker. The nickname stuck, and because she is called Sarb only at Loomis, it gives her a feeling of belonging, of being "at home," she said. She urged all the students, especially those new to the school, to discover who they are and find ways to make their home on the Island.

Sheila spoke about the sense of optimism, opportunity, and renewal that each new school year brings. She pointed to the diversity of the student body of 690 students representing 33 different U.S. states and 45 countries from around the world as well as the faculty's diversity of backgrounds and experience.

The faculty are "learned, credentialed, experienced ... and care deeply about education," Sheila said, and are therefore likely to answer a question with a question. The role of the faculty at Loomis is not simply to answer students' questions, but to encourage students to be skeptical, to question, to think critically, and to "embrace ambiguity" in their efforts to understand the world around them, Sheila said.

Sheila shared an additional charge for the faculty posed in 1914 by the school's first headmaster, Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, who said it is the school imperative to "make democracy safe for the world by training students who know what democracy means, and how to obey elected officials and themselves."

"Democracy and ambiguity — these two ideas are deeply connected," Sheila said. People crave certainty, she explained, and it is tempting to create "easy narratives," block out opposing views, and seek simple solutions to difficult questions. But a democracy depends on a multitude of perspectives and a willingness to compromise, she said. These attitudes of mind require an educational system that fosters critical thinking and allows people to embrace ambiguity. She encouraged students to become educated and engaged global citizens, to understand the distinction between the legality of freedom of expression and the acceptable limits of civil society, and to honor the Loomis Chaffee mission by striving to be their best selves and work for the common good.

In his remarks, Webb pointed out the seeming incongruence between calling the school "The Island" and saying we are an inclusive and globally-focused community. To assume that to be one, we cannot be the other is a false dichotomy, Webb said. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Similarly, Webb said it would be a false dichotomy to say a person cannot be an athlete AND a student or that one cannot strive to be one's best self AND foster the common good.