"Have fun, have faith, have patience, and try your best," advised senior Lucy Shao, this year's Student Council president, in her address to an all-school audience gathered for Tuesday's Opening Day convocation in the Olcott Center.
The convocation, which kicked off the first day of classes for the 2018–19 school year, served as a culmination of all Opening Days activities on the Island, including preseason sports practices, faculty days, student leadership training, student orientation, registration, and move-in.
Senior 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.
Lucy provided guidance for students in each class year. She challenged freshmen to make friends with students who are different from themselves — Loomis students come from all over the world and have many different backgrounds — as a way to find their niche in a new environment. Sophomores should strive to keep the "spark of spontaneous exploration alive," she said, and take action to initiate changes they would like to see. For juniors, she acknowledged that the year brings additional work and anxiety, but she suggested that those are a "constant of life" and encouraged juniors to find moments of joy as a way to counter stress. And to her fellow seniors, Lucy suggested approaching the college application process with excitement about the many opportunities they will have when they graduate and making the most of their last year on the Island.
Jacqueline Cleary, one of the Student Council vice presidents, started her address by admitting that even though Loomis Chaffee is her home as the daughter of faculty members, the first day of school each year is "filled with unknowns" that have always made her a little nervous — and today was no different.
In preparing for her convocation address, Jaqueline said she'd hoped to come up with advice that students hadn't heard before — beyond the guidance commonly offered by upperclassmen and alumni. As she reflected upon her past three years in search of inspiration, however, her experiences seemed to "prove those pieces of advice as right," Jacqueline said. The truisms: for freshmen — try new things; for sophomores — push yourself; for juniors — have fun; and for seniors — make this the best year ever.
Sheila welcomed all new and returning students who, as a group of approximately 700 students, come from 33 U.S. states and 45 countries and represent an "amazing cross-section of this world." Regardless of the many ways students individually identify themselves, Sheila said, she hopes they all embrace the opportunities at Loomis and cherish their time on the Island.
"We know you have hopes and dreams for your success," Sheila said to the students. She shared examples of mental fortitude exhibited in both animal and human behaviors that helped species and groups of individuals to succeed.
In the animal kingdom, Sheila offered, sparrows and starlings were introduced to North America in the 1800s along with several other bird species found on the British Isles. While many of the other species failed to thrive, the adaptive nature of sparrows and starlings — both are described as flexible, inventive, scrappy, and tolerant of novelty — led to their thriving success and proliferation.
In an example of human mental fortitude, Sheila pointed to this summer's heroic survival and rescue of 12 boys and their young adult coach — the Wild Boars soccer team — after being trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand for nearly three weeks. She commended the boys and their coach for supporting each other and having the courage to remain calm during a 10-day wait in treacherous conditions to be discovered, and an additional 10-day rescue mission before they were all safe. The international team of rescue experts "demonstrated grace, selflessness, and group problem-solving," proof of the powerful success that can be achieved when people work together, Sheila said.
As another example of human endurance and fortitude, Sheila mentioned the late U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a military officer and Vietnam War hero who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war under terrible conditions. She suggested students read his final message to the people of the United States, written shortly before his death on August 25, and she read two excerpts from the document. Senator McCain wrote that individual lives are enhanced by serving causes larger than themselves, and he encouraged U.S. citizens to remember that as a group of 325 million people with individual opinions, we have more in common with each other than in disagreement.
This year's school theme, recommended by the Student Council, is Mental Well-Being. Touching on this theme, Sheila encouraged students to model the behaviors of the sparrows, starlings, Wild Boars, and Senator McCain — be flexible, be open to making connections with others, build mental fortitude, be in touch with your own well-being, ask for help when you need it, and remember your values.
In his remarks, Webb extolled the virtues that Loomis Chaffee values as a community, including civility, patience, kindness, and honesty. Webb urged students and faculty to embrace these virtues so that the school community can "fulfill the mandate of the school's mission" of inspiring in students a commitment to the best self and the common good, and have a great year.