Politics Over Pumpkin Pie
By Craig Gemmell
Head of School
Thanksgiving is coming! Tuesday evening we had our Thanksgiving dinner: a priceless boarding school tradition. We ate heartily and wrote thank you cards between courses. What a sight to see my nine dinner companions hunched over and writing in earnest! Then as we began our dessert, Haitham, a student from Oman, some 7000 miles away from Wolfeboro, spoke to the packed Estabrook in the latest installment of “senior speaks.” With pride and gratitude, he talked about Oman’s king Qaboos bin Said al Said, who has transformed Oman over the past five decades into a place of peace and prosperity by endlessly acting with love. In the wildly diverse crowd with students from 27 countries, even the most fidgety students were rapt. Politics over pumpkin pie.
In the days since being back from a few weeks of travel around the country, I’ve had countless conversations about politics, received a host of texts and emails about politics, tossed and turned more about politics than I’ve ever done. And just yesterday, I received missives from afar about the effects of the election on the long equities market, the healthcare industry, and the future of the energy sector – all from people who operate in those worlds. I’ve been asked by people near and far a single question: How will we respond as a school to the state of our divided nation and world?
My answer is clear: Brewster will bear down. Our most important work as a school is to ensure that our students are all subject to an education in which they feel safe and do so in an environment shaped by clear and broadly-understood values upon which we all agree, and we are fortunate to have broad language as well as policies and rules in place to support those values. Moving forward, we will continue to vivify more fully the three pillars we’ve developed to strengthen our community: respect, responsibility, and investment.
Respect: First and foremost, we expect our students to respect and value the opportunity they have to receive a remarkable education, and with this opportunity comes a cost: we expect our students to be kind in word and deed, to respect each other, and to manifest that respect by engaging in dialogue and action that demonstrate that respect. To strengthen further our community as we move forward, it is our responsibility as an institution to continue with urgency to evolve our academic, residential, and co-curricular programs with a singular goal in mind: to instill ever more effectively in all members of our community the values needed to ensure that students become forces of positive engagement in their next academic communities and in the broader world they will enter and shape thereafter.
Responsibility: We expect our students to care for each other and for those who don’t have power and to develop both sympathy and empathy as consequences of that care. Our students are here through the arc of their adolescence: just look at our five-foot freshmen and towering seniors to get a sense of how they change! We are already intent on growing leaders in this hot house, and it is our responsibility to instill in our students an ever stronger sense of responsibility for that which is larger than the self.
Investment: In expecting our students to be respectful of and responsible for each other, we strive to create a powerful sense of interdependency that makes investment an inevitable expectation for and consequence of living in this community. We have also committed to extending the boundaries of our community beyond the footprint of the school. We do so as a means of teaching our students to act with increasing commitment to the broader world and helping Brewster be an agent of productive engagement as an institution that is a part of the broader world and not a grassy, green, isolated bubble of a school.
Our focusing on these three pillars enables us to emphasize to students the importance of understanding the differences among us, what they mean, and how they matter. What our pillars hold up, ultimately, is our commitment to working together – to collaboration, to listening to each other and learning from each other, and in so doing finding positive and effective solutions to the challenges before us.
Education at Brewster is, I believe, the way it should be. As always – and in good collaborative spirit – I invite your partnership and look forward to ongoing dialogue about how Brewster can best serve our students as they enter a world that so needs their talents and compassion.
Until the students return, I wish all a joyous Thanksgiving. We all do have so much for which to be thankful.