When I last wrote for the LINK, the school year was still young and the hallways suffused with homecoming chatter. In conversations with students, parents and our Upper School administrative team, I found myself parsing the significance of the “public ask” to the dance, the aesthetically perilous precedents for bonfire entertainment and the inaugural ninth grade homecoming dinner.
As confident as I am about the good sense of our students and the philosophical strength of my leadership team, I confess to having felt no small degree of anxiety about these events. It’s my inner Clarissa Dalloway, I think, striving always to be the perfect hostess. Whereas Clarissa’s Edwardian signifiers of successful entertaining ran to “beautiful silver . . . brass fire-irons . . . new chair-covers, and the curtains of yellow chintz,” mine tend more toward the metaphysical: a commitment to inclusivity, to shared school spirit, to everyone finding her place—literally and figuratively—at the table.
All told, the week unfurled beautifully. The bonfire was witty and goofy in all the right ways, the ninth grade dinner well and warmly attended, and the dance, with its complement of casino and midway games, a success. Deans Jim Mahoney and Ben Temple did yeoman’s work to muster and motivate the students in their classes to new levels of positive participation, bringing steady hands and clear vision to an intricate series of events.
Along the way, we fielded plenty of feedback from parents and colleagues alike. Homecoming, after all, is one of those conventional, American rites of passage that elicit equal parts excitement and aspersion from those who have lived through them, and everyone has suggestions about how the festivities should transpire. Looking ahead, we’ll use this feedback to continue refining the events of the week, moving beyond (but not leaving behind) a mere capstone dance and towards a more ecumenical celebration of our Upper School community.
Inasmuch as we can continue to interrogate and refine our traditions in the spirit of equity and inclusivity, however, we will never perfect that work. Our division is comprised of 526 students, each with a story and animating force all her own. No single Upper School event can be all things to every student, satisfying her unique need for friendship, companionship and community. Instead, if we can help students recognize and evaluate the master narrative of high school— that framework of sociocultural expectations that define what high school “should” look like—then we equip them with the critical tools and habits of mind to interact with our community and the world beyond on their terms, not someone else’s.
Our most important work, then, lies not in programming, but in preparing: endowing our students with the power and agency to navigate a complex, unpredictable and sometimes disappointing constellation of dances, classes, competitions, applications and interviews with confidence and pride. Whether planned or unplanned, the events in their lives beyond Blake will rarely meet every intellectual or emotional need. In the meantime, we offer a safe space in which they can learn to negotiate with aplomb that much larger, much longer dance—one that will never require an invitation, a dinner or a date.