Happy New Year!
We’re not getting ahead of ourselves here. For those in the academic world, the new year does not mean January 1 but the new school year. As Head of School Sheila Culbert says, it is a time of optimism, possibility, wonder, anticipation, and renewal.
Such is the case for the 735 Loomis Chaffee students gathered on Wednesday, September 6, for the opening assembly on the first day of the school year, the 110th such day in the school’s history. This is Sheila’s final year at Loomis, her 16th, yet “no matter how many times I have gone through this September ritual, the excitement remains,” she told the students, faculty, and staff at the convocation.
The excitement stems in part from knowing the script has not yet been written. Students are continuing to craft their own stories, and many possibilities remain.
The school’s first headmaster, Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, “was not interested in producing like-minded, cookie-cutter graduates,” Sheila told the students. “Nor are we.” Loomis Chaffee seeks to produce graduates who think for themselves, challenge conventional wisdom, make a difference in the world and are good citizens, she said.
“We are not here to tell you what to think,” Sheila said, “but rather how to think so that you can decide what you believe in and what your identity is.”
The Student Council president, senior Preston McNulty Socha, welcomed the student body to all the possibilities the new school year offers. Throughout much of his message, he used a river analogy.
“A river cuts through rock not by its power but by its persistence,” he said. “Persistence … that is what is key. Set your goals in the classroom, on the field, in the pool, on the rink, on the track, on the stage. Set them, make a plan, hold yourself accountable, and keep pushing.”
He also told the students, “You can be someone who has the great courage to trust your own voice. … Your voice may falter or crack, but what matters is you keep speaking, you keep asking, you keep pursuing, and like that river you keep persisting.”
Sheila urged the students to set goals, be proactive in their education, take advantage of the many resources the school offers. She also reminded them never to worry alone. “You can reach out for help and support at any moment, and someone will be there for you,” she said.
The mental health of young people has been much discussed in academia recently, and Sheila noted that the U.S. surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNESCO (the education branch of the United Nations) all have issued warnings in the past year about the mental health of young people. A common concern has been the connection between mental health and the digital world, especially cellphones, Sheila said.
To that end, Loomis has modified its cell phone policy, including collecting all phones at the start of each class and asking students and other community members not to use their phones in the dining hall at lunchtime or when traversing the campus. Just as she advised students to take an active role in their education, Sheila asked them to do the same in regard to their digital use, such as tracking screen time and turning off notifications, especially at night, when they need uninterrupted sleep.
Sheila closed with a reminder that Loomis Chaffee challenges students to reach new heights and dares them to try new things. It is that time of year, a time for New Year’s resolutions.
The convocation kicked off the first day of classes. New students arrived earlier in the week for registration and orientation programs. A full day of orientation activities on Tuesday included everything from connecting to the portal to locating various classrooms to learning the ins and outs of the dining hall (for instance, where the all-important omelet station is). There also was down time for games (giant Jenga, anyone?) and getting to know one another, as well as a barbeque dinner.