School NewsSep 9, 2021

updated Sep 10, 2021

Collective Effervescence on a Good, Good Day

Head of School Julia Heaton shares thoughts for the year ahead, and the joy of beginning again

Remarks by Head of School Julia Heaton at the start of the School's 124th academic year, September 9, 2021

This is a good, good day. That was the song playing as you were walking in – “Good, Good Day.”

I look out at all of you, students, colleagues, new students, seniors, and I am so happy to be here in this moment. More than 18 months after COVID barged into our lives, after remote school, hybrid school, Zoom school, you name it… we get to be here, on campus, in person, in one room, face to face (mostly), together.

In the words of artist and writer, Morgan Harper Nichols:

A new page is turning.
Hope is slowly rising.
Through all that is unknown,
the joy of beginning again,
is here.

How beautiful it is that… what you are learning in the present moment…is preparing you for meaningful things that will come to life, beautifully and purposefully in their time.

Whether this is your first year at Miss Hall’s or your 31st year, we are all starting anew today. This is the first day of the 124th year of Miss Hall’s School. This moment has never come before and will never come again. And, we get to be a part of it. “The joy of beginning again is here.”

As we turn the new page of our school’s history, there is so much to look forward to. Already, the campus feels alive and reinvigorated by traditions and community events — Orientation, Blue Gold contests, dorm parties, picnics, barbeques, and bonfires. Next week, new students will sign the Book of the School, and a few weeks after that, Seniors will receive their school rings and ribbons. These moments of celebration and togetherness are what we call the “joyful and connected” Miss Hall’s experience.

Already, the campus feels alive and reinvigorated by traditions and community events. These moments of celebration and togetherness are what we call the joyful and connected Miss Hall’s experience.

Head of School

There is a sociological term for this — collective effervescence. Adam Grant writes: “It’s the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. Collective effervescence is the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service, or teammates on a soccer field. And, during this pandemic, it’s been largely absent from our lives.”

When I look back at the last 18 months of pandemic, I think of the things I love to do that were absent — travel, eating in restaurants, going to the movies, seeing live music. I missed handshakes, hugs, a knowing look across a crowded room. But, most of all, I missed this — being in community. My energy source is people — and at Miss Hall’s, I usually find great energy from the people here — students and colleagues, families and alums. Last year, without my daily dose of people and collective effervescence, I experienced feelings that I rarely feel at MHS — fatigue, burnout, loneliness. Perhaps some of you, wherever you were, felt these, too.

As I reflected on how I wanted to begin anew this year, what I wanted to let go of, and what I would want to do more of, my list was pretty simple: less time on screens, more time in person; fewer logistics, more relationships; less chat, more conversation and dialogue; less fear, more joy.

In any school, in any school year, there are always going to be mixed emotions — my excitement and joy in one minute, could be met by someone else’s sadness or hesitation. We each enter with our unique hopes and expectations, a sense of possibility for what the new year might bring, and that can feel different to each of us, and it can change by the moment. In speaking to many of you this past week, I know that COVID is still very much on our minds, and the worries — for ourselves, our loved ones, our world — are still here, too. In the past few weeks, we have seen an earthquake and devastation in Haiti, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, wildfires and floods due to climate change, and a battle over women’s reproductive rights and choice in this country, to name only a few. All of this is backdrop or top of mind as we begin the new year together.

And, even with this, hope is rising.

Yesterday, a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee came down in Virginia, a symbol of the truth of past history, and a commitment to change the way we honor that history. This gives me hope.

I see colleagues who have once again created a new schedule, new courses, new programs to serve our students, to inspire them, and encourage them to find their passions. And, I feel hope rising.

I see you, 176 students who are ready to contribute boldly and creatively to the common good.

I see a community ready to begin anew together, determined to make relationships a priority, no matter what unknowns lie ahead this year. Being a community isn’t automatic. It takes effort and purpose, and practice. We have not been all together before, so we are going to have to practice, remember the ways we used to gather together, and try out some new ways, too. Together, we get to shape each moment of this year to suit this special collection of people. We get to form our community as we want it to be, for us, by us.

Opening Assembly 2021-22

 

The first day is often a time for advice, and this year, I will share advice that students gave each other earlier this week on how to make the most of the MHS experience this year:

  • Tide PODS will stain your clothes
  • Use the Library
  • Ask for directions
  • Don’t stay up all night
  • Take advantage of free blocks
  • Check your email, like, a lot
  • Take lots of walks and explore the trails
  • Put water in your ramen, please!
  • Prioritize your mental health — the most important thing
  • Don’t be hard on yourself
  • Don’t be afraid to sit alone
  • Don’t be afraid to sit with new people
  • Take opportunities to share your culture with others
  • Be willing to listen and learn from each other
  • Making friends is a process — be patient with yourself
  • Teachers are on your side — they are there for you — ask them for help
  • Don’t fight with your roommate — at the end of the day you need to go home to them
  • Don’t dwell on past mistakes
  • Put yourself out there — even if it’s scary
  • Miss Hall’s is going to be what you make it

And, my favorite: Cherish your time at the School — it goes by so fast

Morgan Harper Nichols writes:

One day in the future, you will be so grateful that you chose to make the most of moments like this. You will be so glad that you chose to be rooted and grounded in the present moment, even before you knew what was going to happen. Not because you had everything figured out, but because you knew without a doubt that there was grace to come alive and thrive here, no matter the wild of your unknowns.

Here is a to a new year, full of unknowns and possibility.

It is a good day to begin.