The St. Paul's School we can be and become
Welcome to a new year! Here on the grounds, as a beautiful New Hampshire summer matures into fall, we can start wishing each other “Happy New Year” as we (thankfully!) begin to close out planning and anticipate the arrival of this year’s school. Every August, two powerful positives present themselves anew: the first, that every year is different, in that there are new waves of 14, 15, and 16-year-olds – first-time callers to the unique experience of becoming adults – to generate the wonderful intensity that is high school, and the second, that every fall brings the opportunity to restart, refresh, and renew our community and commitments. Perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. As a parent, as an educator, and as a human, I’m increasingly aware of the power of time and change in our lives – and, as well, the benefits of learning to embrace change and the positives it can bring if we do so.
While this new year is my seventeenth as a head of school, it is my first as Rector. I’ve reflected over the past year on the added responsibilities that come with this title. In a boarding school, and particularly in a fully residential community like ours, the “village raises the children” in ways that are powerful for all students, faculty, and staff. As I’ve spent this summer listening, absorbing, reading, and learning – with big thanks to my colleagues who have been most generous with their time! – I have a strong appreciation for a school that attends to academic, social, emotional, physical, and “living in community” needs AND asks each student and each community member to sit together in prayer, reflection, and meditation to transcend our day-to-days, consider our personal relationship with the higher, guiding power, and align ourselves with values, purpose, and meaning beyond the grades or the “to-do” list. Life as the Rector allows and demands a different kind of leadership, and I am so happy to be in a school that has for its entire existence prioritized spiritual life as critical to the formation of good people and leaders.
While the School’s enduring relationship with the Episcopal Church has provided a powerful base, our commitment to equity and inclusivity extends the invitation to the questions of transcendence, meaning, and purpose to all of us in our variety of faiths and beliefs. This invitation is critical for young people living in our 2020 world. As Dr. Lisa Miller at Columbia University’s Teachers College writes in The Spiritual Child:
Living a spiritually guided life means that everything takes on more meaning, a higher purpose. For instance, playing baseball or working for academic achievement becomes more about the thrill of playing or striving for knowledge, rather than playing to be a big shot or collecting A’s. A strong and supported spiritual life simply pushes the teen to greater perseverance, determination, and focus from within. Ideas of compassion and unconditional love help us cultivate commitment, push us to forgive, and encourage us to create meaningful relationships, rather than focusing on hollow ideals of popularity and coolness. Because everything takes on greater significance, for teens, there is more reason to persevere. Because everything is endowed with spiritual presence, there is reason to feel valuable, optimistic, and hopeful, to work for the long term, whether or not in the short term we win.
Feeling valuable, optimistic, and hopeful – maybe not every moment of every day, as everyone who has grown through adolescence’s stormy moments can attest – has everything to do with our taking the time, together, to do the good work of cultivating our whole selves. With all of the classes, games, performances, clubs, activities, and everything else we will take on as a school this year, we will also get to spend that important time together, in Chapel and elsewhere, working on being good people of worthy purpose first. As I open this year as Rector, this element of the work in this terrific school is very exciting.
So, Happy New Year! I grow daily in my respect and affection for our community and look forward to the St. Paul’s School we can be and become.
With best regards,
 Miller, Lisa, PhD., The Spiritual Child: The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), p. 231-232.