One Culture, One Community

September 11, 2016 — At Sunday’s opening All-School Assembly, Head of School Craig Gemmell asked one question: “What makes a great school?”

“It’s not the admit rate. It’s not the SAT scores. It’s not the beauty of the facilities,” he said. “The best schools have one culture and that is a culture shaped by common values around which every single person revolves, day and night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is the ideal.“

Not two cultures, an adult culture and a student culture, but rather one culture shaped by community values only, he continued. A student culture that exists independent of the teacher culture is not a healthy culture.

“Can it be that we all revolve around the same values, all day, and all night, 24 hours, seven days a week?” he asked. “I would argue yes.”

“How do we do that? How are we one culture all the time, revolving around the same values?”

He turned to prolific writer and intellectual C.S. Lewis who said: Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

“If you wonder where to begin thinking about the complexity of culture and your place in your new community, let integrity be your guide,” Gemmell encouraged.

“Those little actions we do when no one is looking. Those marks of integrity matter. They matter in ways you can never, ever predict,” he said. “You are at a wonderful school. You have a responsibility to take advantage of your good fortune.”

“Let this school be a bit of an impediment for you. Let this school make you think who you are and how you need to act, not just for yourself, but for your family, for your friends, for the people in the community, for those you don’t know in the broader world. That’s your real work this year,” Gemmell told students.

Then he asked, “Why bother?”

He alluded to the chaos theory and the butterfly effect, explaining that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly can ultimately cause a typhoon half way around the world and added this as an example of why we should bother..

He then concluded by making a plug for a few little things, flappings of the wings of butterflies, asking students to focus on some principles rather than worry about the rules right now:

Commit to being present, because if you really are here, you are going to get what you need; your teachers will make sure of that.

Respect your classmates. Respect your teacher. Your teacher has at heart your best interests. Get help when you need it. Perhaps even more importantly, I want you to offer others help when they need it, not because you should ever expect anything to ever come back to you.

Engage with every single person you meet in a way that is polite, if not meaningful.

Work not for personal glory but on behalf of others around you, on your team, on the stage, in the dormitory … act to build a positive culture.

Use the opportunity you have with a diverse group of kids to really get to know them and even in the dark of night remember what C.S. Lewis said … do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Lastly, he appealed to the students to spend less time engaged with their devices and more time engaged with each other and just being present. And, he charged the senior prefects to help make this a reality.
As Gemmell concluded his remarks on this day, September 11, he asked students if they knew for whom Palazzo Field was named: Tommy Palazzo ’75, who died in the World Trade Center; and Fry Field is named for Peter Fry ’83, who suffered the same fate, he shared.

“Why am I bringing this up? It’s not just an abstract concept that exists in the broader world. This is us. This is our world. So, circle back. You can train your brain to be better. It’s going to help you in your life. It’s going to help your school and I would argue because of the butterfly effect it’s going to help the world. Let’s take a quiet moment and reflect on the victims of 911, the broader suffering in the world, and how to be a solution.”

“Let’s pursue integrity … wake up to all the ways you can engage in this community, our school will be better, our world will be better. Let’s have a joyous, meaningful year of growth together.“