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In the Name of Joy

The September 9 email from Bobby Asher, Director of Student Life and Wellness, had the subject line “Top Secret Mission” and began with the following text: “Pursuant to Order # FM09212022 The GDS Faculty/Staff is called to participate in the School’s first-ever cross-divisional Hopper FlashMob.” 

Ten years ago, GDS seniors Selin Odabas-Geldiay, Annie Ottati, and Chloe Rotenberg (Class of 2012) executed a memorable Senior Quest. The Senior Quest unfolds over four weeks each spring—seniors identify a topic that piques their curiosity and, working individually or in a group, explore, and create. Past Quests have included authoring a play or children’s story, backcountry camping, painting a mural, or building a guitar. 

For their Quest, Selin, Annie and Chloe choreographed a dance to Carly Rae-Jepsen’s pop hit, “Call Me Maybe,” which had just been released and was dominating the charts. The seniors led clandestine rehearsals with High School faculty, gathering before and after school, over lunch, and during free periods. While the High School faculty was abuzz with excitement, students remained oblivious. And then, during a morning assembly in the Forum amidst an update on school security, music began to play. In small groups around the Forum, faculty began to dance. And the students went wild.

Bobby’s vision was to recreate the 2012 flash mob as the centerpiece of our second annual All-School Assembly to be held on the LMS field. He sent out training videos featuring High School performing arts teacher Maria Watson, who broke down the moves into manageable steps. He organized rehearsals led by Maria and other members of our dance faculty. He sent (hilarious) videos of himself practicing the moves, only to be interrupted by his wife or his dog. Faculty quietly began to learn the choreography, preparing for the big day.

Every day educators ask students to take risks and try new things. One of our “A GDS Student Will…” capacities is to “take risks, fail, and learn from failure.” And yet this head of school found the prospect of learning a choreographed dance, one that would be performed in front of the entire student body, terrifying. At the first rehearsal, I attended (with just three other faculty members), I had to resist the urge to ask my colleagues to blindfold themselves. I woke up in the middle of the night more than once in the days leading up to the assembly wondering whether I would go through with it. 

The day of the assembly, I and dozens of other adult community members persevered and danced to “Call Me Maybe,” in the name of joy. 

At the start of each school year, I offer charges for our faculty—intentions that I hope will frame our collective approach to the work of the year. This year, my first charge was to “Cultivate Joy.” We know intuitively, and research has shown, that the past two years have been hard for humanity. As we emerge from a challenging period, the call to joy feels essential. And each day I see this call answered in our classrooms and hallways, on our fields and in the Forum, during assemblies and over lunch. There is an effervescent buzz around campus as students and adults alike delight in each other’s presence. We’re just happy to be together.

The Flash Mob was many things-—silly, dynamic, surprising, and more. Most of all, it was an expression of joy. Our students saw their teachers and other GDS adults taking a risk, trying something new, and having fun. There are so many characteristics that define our GDS culture. We are a place of curiosity and ambition. We are a place of advocacy and voice. We are a place of community and possibility. We aspire to be a place of belonging and justice. Underneath all of those characteristics, however, is the call to joy. Being with young people is a source of endless delight for educators, and the joy here is palpable. May our joy carry us through moments of challenge and difficulty, and inspire us to remain steadfast in imagining a better world.

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