The start of a new year is a new page for us all, and it is normal to feel first day of school butterflies. On the occasion of Convocation, I want to share some stories and reflections from my summer as a way to invite you into our community and to think about the year ahead.
In July, our family vacationed on the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was a wonderful time to have both our daughters, Eliza and Jane, with us. These times are precious now that both are grown, employed, and have limited vacation days. I had to drive to Norfolk to pick Jane up from her flight from New York City. I woke up, poured some coffee, and eagerly jumped in my car for the hour drive from the beach. I parked, walked through the terminal to meet her as she came out of security, and yes, we had the big exciting reunion full of hugs and such. Before we went to the car, I stopped in the ladies room. When I passed the wall of mirrors, I realized I had been wearing my shirt inside out. My immediate response was to look around to see if anyone was staring at me. Right? How embarrassing. Then I chuckled to myself. No one at Foxcroft will believe this story because all summer long we’ve been talking about this year’s theme, which is Inside Out, and here I am with my shirt inside out.
Isn’t it most often our first reaction when we do something embarrassing or do something new to worry about what other people will think? We worry so much about appearances or about being made fun of that we don’t always feel free to be ourselves. Social media makes that pressure even more stressful because bystanders can capture our embarrassing moments and post them for the world to see. Now my embarrassing shirt moment is pretty benign compared to others I’ve had. And I promise you that because we not only go to school together but also live together, we will all have some embarrassing moments.
At Foxcroft, however, you are joining a community that does not laugh at people. We do not make fun of people in person, behind their backs, or on social media. Sure, we laugh with others and we laugh often, but this is a community of understanding hearts. And as such, we strive to show empathy and compassion. I promise you that you are going to do something embarrassing or you’re going to put yourself out there to try something new, like speaking at Morning Meeting, trying out for a team, or performing on stage. You are going to witness other people putting themselves out there, or doing something that might embarrass them. Encourage and support one another. Laugh with others, not at them. This way you can feel safe to live from the inside out, being your unique self.
Another story I want to share involves one of my favorite pastimes: my husband Read and I love to hike. So, we were making our way up to one of our favorite spots on Warm Springs Mountain in the Allegheny Mountains. The trail gains significant elevation and provides a strenuous workout. We got to the top; my heart was pumping hard, and I was simply drenched. Read turned to me at the overlook and said, “You are beautiful when you hike.” My first reaction was to say, “Oh my gosh, I look horrible. I’m all sweaty. I’m not wearing any makeup.” Isn’t this a stereotypical female response?
I hope our Inside Out theme inspires Foxcroft as a girls school to discuss what TRUE beauty is and to talk about inner beauty in a world where we are bombarded with media and marketing focused on makeup, hair, and image. Already one of the great aspects of going to a girls school is that there is less pressure to wear makeup or spend hours doing our hair. This year’s Helen Cudahy Niblack ’42 Arts Lecture Series Visiting Artist Kate T. Parker has published a photography collection of girls being their authentic selves. It’s called Strong is the New Pretty. I think she will inspire us to consider that being strong and beautiful on the inside is a far better use of our time than applying all that mascara. As Audrey Hepburn is attributed with saying, “Make-up can only make you look pretty on the outside, but it doesn’t help if you’re ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the make-up.” And as an aside, I hope you will settle for nothing less than a life’s partner who finds you beautiful for all the right reasons.
Now it wouldn’t be a McGehee summer without reading, lots of reading. And this leads me to my third story related to our theme Inside Out. One of the books I read was Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Overstory. I will not go into details about its complicated plot, but the unifying motif, or “character,” if you will, is trees. As I read this beautiful and provocative story, I learned a lot about trees and forest ecology. It got me to see the landscape around me on campus from a different lens and inspired me to learn more about trees.
When Miss Charlotte founded Foxcroft over a century ago and chose this location for its campus, she wanted learning at Foxcroft to be real, relevant, and fun. Like Miss Charlotte, your faculty and I believe that deep learning comes from doing and experiencing and from solving real problems, like those affecting our environment. True understanding does not come not from cramming for tests and exams and regurgitating rote facts (Yes, you do have to take tests and exams and you do have to memorize some things). True understanding is born from genuine curiosity, from internal motivation to really understand another person’s experience, or to apply a concept; from research and debate; from creativity, and not merely from a desire to “make a grade.” Please don’t mistake me: there is nothing wrong with wanting excellence, but don’t strive for an “A” without that “A” being based on deep knowledge. It is our greatest wish for you to bring a curious mind to the classroom, to share with us what you are genuinely interested in learning about, and for us to support you in your learning journey. So when we ask you about your goals for the year, don’t respond, “To make good grades.” Tell us something you really want to learn about, and we’ll help you.
Finally and most importantly, our theme of Inside Out directly ties to Foxcroft’s mission of helping each one of you explore your unique selves, your “individual voices,” and it ties to our Core Values of Respect, Integrity, Kindness, and Service. Throughout your time at Foxcroft you will be expected to live by these values and ideals in your actions and words. These are the values that bind us together now and in the future when you join our over 3,000 Foxcroft alumnae across the world. So, welcome to Foxcroft’s community. I wish you a great year of belonging, laughter, beauty, and wonder.