Living from the Inside Out: Convocation 2019

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. 

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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. 

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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.

 

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Join Us in Our Summer Reading

I read Lisa Damour’s first book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (Ballantine Books, 2016) on the beach during my summer vacation. I recall nudging Read and saying, “Ah, that explains what was happening!” in reference to raising our two daughters, now young adults. I had moments of feeling I had done so many things right as a parent of teenage girls and a professional educator — and moments when I wished I’d had Lisa on speed dial!

You will too, after you read her most recent book, our 2019 faculty/parent summer reading selection: Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls (Ballantine Books, 2019). We are all acutely aware of the well-documented spike in stress and anxiety among all teenagers, and there have been many excellent articles defining the problem. Sadly, for the first time, teens feel more stressed than their parents do, according to a recent report from the American Psychological Association. And we also know that while both boys and girls are under pressure, girls face unique stress at greater rates than their male peers.

Foxcroft is well positioned as a girls’ boarding school, with an educational mission of supporting the development of each students’ skills, confidence, and courage to share her voice with the world, to take on the conversation about how we can help our students deal with the challenges they face, some of which are age-old and some of which stem from technology and a new college admission landscape. That’s why we hope you’ll join us in reading Damour’s book this summer and discussing it throughout the coming year.

Damour, a private clinical psychologist and the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, is a Senior Advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She has devoted her career to helping girls and their parents thrive through understanding healthy adolescent girls’ development and by providing sound, practical, actionable advice for responding to challenges, whether understanding the difference between stress and anxiety, or providing suggestions for how parents and teachers can respond to inevitable meltdowns. As she writes, “We love our girls, and we hate to see them suffer, and there is a great deal that we can do to help them feel happier, healthier, and more relaxed in the face of challenges we know will come their way.”

Our own Courtney Ulmer, Assistant Head of School for Academics, and Emily Johns, Assistant Head of School for Student Life, took an online course taught by Damour this spring through One Schoolhouse. Throughout the year, they will be sharing parent education and strategies for challenging and supporting our students based on what they learned. You may want to listen to a National Coalition of Girls’ Schools podcast with Damour. For another interesting podcast on college students and anxiety, check out NPR’s Fresh Air episode, “The Mental Health ‘Epidemic’ On College Campuses.”

Sunrise Service Reflections: May 2019

Each year on the first and last day of classes, the Foxcroft community comes together to reflect and to hear from our student leaders. It is a very special tradition. Here are my remarks from our May 23 Sunrise Service:

This Christmas, Mrs. Moan [Assistant Director of College Counseling Laura Moan] gave me one of those daily quotation calendars called “Wild Words from Wild Women.” She said it seemed appropriate given our theme this year was “trailblazers.” So this morning, it seems appropriate to share a quotation from that calendar:

“You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again!”
— Bonnie Prudden

It turns out that Bonnie Prudden (1914 – 2011) was an American physical fitness pioneer, an expert rock climber, and a mountaineer. Her report to President Eisenhower on the unfitness of American children inspired the creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and she wrote books on exercise, produced exercise albums, and had a syndicated television show. Prudden also designed some of the first fitness fashions and developed numerous home exercise equipment.

Given that it’s the time of year when we may have enjoyed a bit too many s’mores last night or other treats while cramming for exams or at parties, this quotation seems a great reminder that summer is a time to take care of ourselves, to reestablish good habits of exercise, and to renew.

Given that this is also the last day of the school year, (or if you’re a senior, the last day as a student at Foxcroft), this quotation is a great reminder not to live wishing what could have been or what you might have done differently. Don’t mistake me; if you’ve wronged someone, it is never too late to make amends. Rather, Prudden’s statement is a call to go forward with all of your experiences — those you treasure, those you wish hadn’t happened, those you wish you had had — knowing that they are a part of you and inform your future; that they help you forge new paths — hopefully better paths.

I can’t wait to see what trails you will blaze over the summer or in college next year. Know you carry Foxcroft with you everywhere you go and that you will always be a part of us.

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The Importance of Women and Sports

This past Saturday was a historic day for Foxcroft when we held our ribbon-cutting for our new turf fields. By saying it was historic, I do not mean that this day will go down in Foxcroft’s history as a turning point in our athletic program even though, certainly, our beautiful fields will help strengthen four of our interscholastic sports: field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and softball, and will allow us to offer a new sport, track and field.

I mean that athletics has been a part of Foxcroft’s history from the School’s inception. Long before science confirmed the positive correlation between physical fitness and learning, our founder Miss Charlotte Haxall Noland knew the benefits of exercise and competitive sports. The motto she selected, Mens sana in corpore sano, meaning a healthy mind in a healthy body, reflects her belief. During a time when most girls did not play competitive sports, Miss Charlotte formed the Fox/Hound teams and held an annual basketball tournament. Well Miss Charlotte understood that being part of a team would teach character, determination, and sportsmanship as well as be a fun tradition for her students.

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Today, The Girls and Sports Impact Report, surveying more than 10,000 girls across the country, shows that sports have a positive effect on young girls and their perceptions of themselves. Girls who play sports seem to have stronger friendships with other girls. They are 10 percent more likely to say they trust other girls and 7 percent more likely to get along well with other girls. Katy Kay and Claire Shipman, co-authors of The Confidence Code, write that for girls, sports can be a major confidence builder, something that women need at all stages of their career. “Playing competitive sports embodies the experience not just of winning, but the experience of losing. The losing is almost as critical,” says Kay. “When you’re playing sports and you do badly, you have no choice but to pick yourself up and carry on. That process really builds confidence. It’s an incredibly useful proving ground for business and leadership.”

Indeed, women who have been athletes in high school generally earn more when they enter the workforce, according to research by Betsey Stevenson, former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. Athletics may foster the development of attributes that “include the ability to communicate, the ability to work well with others, competitiveness, assertiveness, and discipline.”

An EY/espnW global study of senior women executives shows that sport is a positive determinant of leadership and achievement. The survey linked women in senior management positions to experience in sport, finding that 94% of women in the C-suite play a sport and 80% of Fortune 500 female executives played a sport in their earlier years.

Ellen Kullman, Former Chair and CEO of DuPont said, “What I think team sports do is teach you how to be a team with a very diverse group of people….Team sports really teach you how to collaborate across a broad spectrum of personalities or individual talents, and learn how to get the most out of what you have.” We certainly know this is true at Foxcroft.

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We aspire to utilize these fields not only to benefit our own students’ experiences and to help them develop skills, confidence, and courage, but also to enhance the lives and opportunities of athletes in our region, particularly young girls, through making our facilities available to our community. It gave us great pleasure to welcome to campus the Hill School field hockey tournament, which included about 90 girls from five middle schools, when heavy rains made Hill’s fields unplayable a few days after these fields were completed.

Finally, I believe that these fields will be history-making because our students themselves will make history. They are young women who dare and do, and they are part of a larger Foxcroft network of women who for over a century have been trailblazers in what they accomplish in their professions, in their communities and around the world, and through their leadership. We know that their playing team sports sets them up for greater success. Now we have the facility that will allow our students to play their best game on the field and in their futures.

Sources:

Girls & Sports: A Girl’s Index Impact Report, Ruling Our Experiences, 2018.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The confidence code: the science and art of self-assurance — what women should know, HarperBusiness, 2014.

Where will you find your next leader?: EY and espnW explore how sport advances women at every level, EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW, 2015.

Betsey Stevenson, Beyond the classroom: using Title IX to measure the return to high school sports, NBER Working Paper 15728, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010.

 

A lifetime of friendships, global connections, and other thoughts…

When Carol Huo ’10 arrived at Foxcroft, Grace Zhang ’08 was her Old Girl, and a deep friendship formed between these two young women, who had journeyed far from their home in China to go to high school in Middleburg. This March, they reunited at our Foxcroft reception in Shanghai. Grace, now an architect, even made the trip from another city to see her Foxcroft friend Carol, who was visiting Shanghai from her home in New York City, where she works in HR for an international company.

Joining them on her semester “abroad” in her hometown of Shanghai was a young alumna, Chloe Xu ’17, who was Student Head of School my third year at Foxcroft and who currently attends NYU’s Stern School of Business. The three of them had much to talk about, comparing stories of Foxcroft and of college.

(In Shanghai: Seated front from left to right: Carol Huo ’10, Grace Zhang ’08 and Chloe Xu ’17)

I love seeing the instant connection that happens every time Foxcroft alumnae come together. It happened in Seoul when Foxcroft alumnae from the ’90s met alumnae from the ’10s at the dinner we hosted. Past parent Jean Kim met current parents Joong Ahn and Kyoung Kim and shared how helpful her daughter’s advisor, Gary Cox, had been to Hannah Kim ’16 as she applied to art programs. Older alumnae couldn’t believe how much more “cosmopolitan” and global Foxcroft had become as Semin ’21 explained fun weekend activities and the International Student Ambassador program.

(In Seoul: from left to right: Jean Kim, Read McGehee, Michelle Lee ’11, Yeri Jeong ’02, Cathy McGehee, Semin ’21, Kyung-sook Bai ’03, Sydney Kim ’12, Rebecca Wise, Kyoung Kim, and Joong Ahn)

Our Foxcroft alumnae from Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing also loved meeting our current Foxcroft students in attendance at our events and peppered them with questions about life today on campus. (Read more about how Director of International Student Services Rebecca Wise and I walked in our students shoes on “It’s Academic.”)

Our current students and their parents also got to meet these incredible role models and to gain a view into what their daughter’s futures might hold. In Beijing, Jenny Guo, mother of Isabella Zhai ’16, helped explain to new Foxcroft parents how the college counseling process works, underlining how helpful Barbara Connor was to her daughter.

(A large group gathered in Beijing, including current students on the front row: Florence ’20, Maya ’20, Catherine ’22, Scarlett ’21, Finny ’23 and their parents. One little brother also had fun!).

These alumnae truly care about the School that played such a pivotal role in shaping their lives, both academically and professionally, and they care about the current and future students who call Foxcroft their home. When one of our freshman, Sabrina ’21 bravely helped translate my welcome remarks to the crowd, Chloe stepped in to help explain what an “Understanding Heart” means to her own experience at Foxcroft and how she learned valuable leadership skills. At the end of each event, everyone scanned QR codes on “WeChat” and made promises to stay in touch. We still have much work to do to find “lost” alumnae, whose contact information is out of date, but we have a start and a road map, and much enthusiasm to keep in touch. (If you want to follow Foxcroft on our newest social media account, WeChat, click here.)

We made our first trip to Asia in order to meet with alumnae and explore the possibility of forming an Asia Chapter of the Alumnae Association. We also went to meet our students’ parents, many of whom visit campus only at their daughter’s graduation. We shared the message that we want all members of our Foxcroft community to feel a part of the School. We left having been treated with such hospitality, having a greater understanding of how to communicate effectively across borders and cultures, and, most importantly, having witnessed in real time Foxcroft’s promise of a lifetime of friendships and global connections. I can’t wait to continue our international journey in the coming years!

What “College-Prep” Should Mean and Other Reflections on College Admission

When the college admission scandal (Operation Varsity Blues) broke in the newspapers, bringing criminal indictments against parents, counselors and coaches alleging fraud and bribery related to admission to selective universities, I was saddened but not totally surprised.

As the competition to get into all colleges has increased, anyone who works in high schools has seen the rise in stress and anxiety among our students and in what once was described as “helicopter parenting” but is now more aptly described as “snow plow” parenting. (Want to read more? Click here and here.)

According to Joyce Smith, CEO of the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), “This case also sheds light on what some have called the ‘commodification’ of higher education, where gaining admission to a selective institution becomes the goal itself, and prestige and status matter most of all — and where securing bragging rights becomes more important than finding the college or university that is the best fit for the student’s life and career plans.”

Of course, the colleges aren’t helping, and few pieces I’ve read about the scandal in major newspapers have pointed out the sinister role that the college rankings have played in this madness we’re witnessing, driving up applications and selectivity and ramping up parent and student fears.

In her new book, Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives, author Rachel Simmons calls the admission process, “The College Application Industrial Complex.” Many students are selecting classes or joining extra-curricular activities, not because they are truly interested in a subject but because it will look good to a college. Or they are taking on impossible commitments and responsibilities, which create schedules with no time for sleep much less time with friends and family, or heaven-forbid with unstructured time to, well, just sit and daydream. When their efforts don’t pay off, they feel they are failures. No wonder we’re seeing increased stress, anxiety and depression.

In the process, educators, I among them, have seen a general change in students attitudes towards school and learning. In his March16 column, Frank Bruni summarizes the problem aptly: “For these kids, education isn’t an opportunity to wring more meaning from life and make a more constructive impact on the world. It’s transactional. It’s a performance. If the right audience doesn’t clap, there was no point in even taking the stage.”

Perhaps even worse, the process today sends conflicting messages to young people about what values count. Bruni cites a draft of a new report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, which advocates changing the college admission process: The current system, “corrodes the development of core aspects of young people’s ethical character, often fueling their self-interest, compromising their integrity, and depleting their capacity to either know themselves deeply or to authentically articulate their identity.”

All of us, educators at the secondary and collegiate level, students and parents, need to reassess our goals and reset.

Thankfully, at Foxcroft, we are guided by our mission and values. Yes, Foxcroft is a college preparatory school. That preparation is about providing academic, organizational, and study skills, but also independent thinking, curiosity, effective communication, empathy and collaboration –all skills needed in order for a student to be successful in college-level classes. Ours is not a focus on preparation for college admission at a specific list of ranked colleges.

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That is not to say that we do not support our students through the admission process, nor that our students don’t gain admission to wonderful colleges that are a great fit for them. Foxcroft’s College Counselors provide a highly individualized process, which at its core helps students to know themselves, their interests, and their future learning goals and to identify the many colleges that would meet their individual and family needs. To read more about Barbara Conner’s “Five First-Choice Colleges Philosophy,” click here.

In addition, Foxcroft has joined the national discussion about how we might measure and report students’ learning and socio-emotional development through our membership in the Mastery Transcript Consortium, an organization of more than 200 public and independent schools, who are working with colleges to create a high school transcript that reflects the unique skills, strengths and interests of each learner. The vision of the organization is to “re-invent how students prepare for college, career and life.”

Indeed, our mission does not stop at preparation for academic success in college. Foxcroft helps every girl “explore her unique voice and develop the skills, confidence, and courage to share it with the world.” Our mission focuses on self-actualization and life-long learning, Further, our mission is grounded in our values: respect, integrity, kindness and service, values we practice in real time each day living and learning with girls from all over the nation and the world. Altogether, the Foxcroft experience prepares girls for healthy, happy and fulfilling lives, lives of purpose that make a difference to others. Our alumnae are examples of our mission realized.

More than 100 years ago, our founder Miss Charlotte wanted to create a school “where girls wanted to come and never wanted to leave,” a place where learning is joyful. She believed in “good hard work, and much fun.” Her vision for what school should be remains relevant today.

As I reminded our faculty after spring break, if we stick to our mission and values, Foxcroft can be a beacon for our students and their families as we try to make sense of this college craziness all around us.   

 

And a Little Child Will Lead Them: Lessons and Carols Reflections 2018

One of my family’s favorite traditions is to watch Christmas movies, especially “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Even though Eliza and Jane are grown women, the four of us still snuggle up on the sofa and watch this show every year. You gotta love Pigpen as the Innkeeper with his “dust” falling everywhere; or Snoopy’s imitation of the manger animals; Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree that blossoms into a giant, sparkling fir at the end; Lucy who casts herself as the “Christmas Queen;” and my favorite — Linus, using his trademark blanket as a headdress and playing the role of shepherd. It is his character who reads the Christmas story and it is Linus who reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the Peanuts version of the Christmas Pageant.

Foxcroft students present the annual Christmas Pageant in the Athletic/Student Center on the Foxcroft School campus on Sunday, December 2, 2018.

Foxcroft just had our own Pageant, and we, too, have our cast of characters and animals that bring the story of Christmas to life and which bring so much joy to members of the Middleburg community. I sat next to a woman who had been coming to the Pageant since she was a little girl, and she brought her niece this year to be part of the holiday spirit.

Whether you see the Pageant as part of your faith tradition or as a work of literature, I’d like us to pause and consider who these characters are who gather at the manger, and what theme we can take from this story to enlighten our lives this season and throughout the year to come.

First, there are Mary and Joseph. Sometimes I think we forget how scared Mary must have been. She’s a teenage mom who is engaged when she gets pregnant. What would her parents and her neighbors say? How alone must she feel? Then, there is Joseph, really a stepdad-to-be, with a woman who is pregnant with a baby that is not his. Mary is far along “with child,” and they are travelers, refugees compelled by powerful forces to journey from far away, and their method of transportation is a donkey, a humble and sometimes stubborn beast. They are from a good family “. . . the stump of Jessie,” but not wealthy enough to get a room in the inn.

Then, there are the Shepherds, among the lowest rung of society. They are common laborers, uneducated, poor, marginalized in their society. They stand side by side with the Magi, wise men, who are wealthy and educated and powerful.

And then there are the “Heavenly Hosts,” angels or spirits, heralds of “good news of great joy,” from those who have gone before us connecting the physical and the mystical.

All these figures come together in the tableaux at the manger. Why? To see a baby: for some a great leader who will change history, for others, a savior who will redeem the world. And he appears, not in a glittering court, decked in gold and silver, or as a fierce warrior ready for battle, but as a newborn in a humble manger. What is at the center of the pageant scene is a leader who comes in the most innocent and powerless, and vulnerable form, but also in the purest form of an infant, not corrupted by the world around him, a symbol of the essence of goodness. As the prophet says, “And a little child will lead them,” forever changing the definition of leadership and power. If you study Jesus’s leadership, it becomes about service and outreach, about healing and uniting, and about humility. “Power over” others becomes “power to” others.

Above the manger is the Star, a promise of light and of a new way where peace and love reign and where divisions among people cease: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” Surely the divisions of age, family background, circumstance, education, wealth, nationality, ethnicity, and power are all represented at the manger. I think there could be no better metaphor for us today in our own lives if we remember that everyone is included at the manger; everyone, no matter where they come from, is united around what is good and pure and peaceful.

Could we solve some of our most pressing problems — violence, abuse, harassment, hunger, poverty, the environment — and could we find healing in this broken world and in our own lives, no matter where we are on our own personal journeys, if we welcomed EVERYONE into our hearts?

As Linus says at the end of his scene, “And that’s what Christmas is all about.” And then the entire cast of the Peanuts pageant takes the little scrappy, needle-less Charlie Brown Christmas tree out into the cold night under the stars, and it blossoms into a full and shining evergreen, nourished by the love all around it.

My wish for us this holiday and throughout the year is that we may be nourished by the love that is within us and all around us, and watch it grow.


Another part of our tradition is for the Head of School and the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to serenade the seniors at our Holiday Banquet. Here’s what I sang to them!