Thursday, September 8, 2022, 1:00 PM
It’s Lower School recess and a four-year-old is sitting on a bench and looking sad. “How are you doing?” I ask him. His eyes immediately well up. “What’s the matter?”
“I had a boo-boo before,” he tells me.
“I’m so sorry. I’m Russell. What’s your name?”
“Jack,” he replies. (Author’s Note: I’ve changed the student’s name).
“It’s nice to meet you, Jack. What’s your last name?”
Jack pauses for a moment and his eyes grow big. “I don’t know!” he answers. “I have so many names!”
I ask Jack if he has any siblings. He does and tells me their names. And he tells me that they, like he, go to GDS. Armed with this new information, I ask him, “Is your name Jack Jones?”
“That’s it! That’s my name!” Jack is delighted.
Wednesday, September 15, 2022, 8:00 AM
Alecia, a GDS 5th grader, walks into school and hands a piece of paper to Debby Previna, Middle School Principal. “This is a song that I wrote,” Alecia says. “I wanted you to have it.”
Debby takes the paper and later that morning in her office, unfolds it.
Every time I walk into school all I see is your warm embrace.
Makes me feel like I have something to say,
Makes me feel like I have a purpose in your heart.
And I just wanna say makes me feel like I’m on Cloud 9.
Seeing me in your bright eyes can’t believe that I’m on Cloud 9,
Can’t believe that I’m on Cloud 9,
Can’t believe I’m on Cloud 9,
Do Do Do Do Doooo
Do Do Do
Wednesday, September 15, 2022, 3 p.m.
Christopher Hopson, a GDS alum from the Class of 2015, reached out last week to let me know that he was in town and asked if we could get together. We take an hour-long walk near campus during which Christopher catches me up on his life. In a few weeks, he will be heading overseas, back to Oxford where he is midway through a master’s degree in Political Theory. Christopher double majored in philosophy and African-American Studies at Harvard and is passionate about what conditions are necessary for a multi-racial democracy to thrive. “This year I’ll also be studying Foucault, Derrida, and a few other philosophers. I feel like it’s important for me to have comfort with those different idioms even if it’s not where I’ll ultimately focus.”
I ask Christopher to reflect on his time at GDS, now that he’s seven years removed from his time as a Hopper. “Well, first of all, college was easier,” he tells me. “I was incredibly well prepared. I had everything I needed to thrive. Part of what I can see in hindsight is that GDS was a place where it was cool to be excited by ideas. To be surrounded by classmates and teachers who loved learning, that’s a pretty amazing place to be.”
“I guess the other big takeaway is that because I was so used to talking to my GDS teachers, I did the same thing when I got to college. I’ve met with Cornel West and Henry Louis-Gates and Danielle Allen to talk about what we’re learning and to ask questions. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do that without GDS. I’m going to be a research assistant for Danielle Allen this year which is amazing. And now I have all of these great people to talk to as I think about pursuing my PhD.”
As GDS begins its 77th year, I see the arc of our mission traveling through these three stories: from the PK student who is so overwhelmed on the second day of school that he doesn’t know his own name, to the 5th grader who feels so seen by her teachers that she writes a song about them, to the GDS alum who is making his way in the world with confidence and power.
Of course, the line between these stories is not a straight one. Part of growing up means encountering challenges and setbacks, and navigating moments of feeling unseen or misunderstood. And yet at GDS, our True North resides in the first line of our mission statement, which calls us to “honor the integrity and worth of each individual in a diverse school community.” When our integrity and worth are honored, we have the opportunity to thrive.
As we start a new school year, my deepest hope is that each of our students feels the warm embrace of their teachers like Alecia sings. That they grow curious and confident like Christopher, ready to make their mark on the world. And that they discover something about themselves like Jack. May we all embrace the joy and possibilities of a new school year.