On Activism

 In Brewster News, Craig's Blog, Featured, Student Life

By Craig Gemmell, Head of School

Revisit days this past week and lots of exciting news. I’ve been smiling as a result. I’ve been smiling, too, because our current students have been looking up and out more – up to increasingly bright, blue skies. Out to a lake that is more watery and less icy by the day.

Students have also been looking up and out to the broader world more lately; I’m not sure why. I think a number of moments of violence and sadness in America and the broader world have functioned for them like a dip in a cold lake: they’re a bit more awake all of a sudden.

Regardless of the reasons, I’ve had a steady stream of students passing through. Sioni Ayubu  ’18 has come by to talk about how she could bring to Brewster her work with a United Nations commission charged with supporting women’s rights around the globe. Sophia Foye ’20 and Brayden Morris ’18 were just in yesterday, asking permission to organize today’s wearing of uniform tops as an expression of sympathy for a Saskatchewan town’s tragic loss earlier this week. Led by Mia Ventola ’19, another group is organizing a walkout next week to reflect on the Parkland shooting and the means by which our students can be a small part of the solution. Yet another group is interested in hanging awareness-raising art in Estabrook. I’m looking forward to who appears at my door next and why.

In all of these conversations, we’ve focused on the whys and hows of activism. How, I ask, can these moments be inclusive of all viewpoints and promote discourse and not factionalization? How can these help us to build community here? How can these help us to prepare our students to build community wherever they live for the rest of their lives?

And in all of these conversations, I’ve been utterly heartened to see that our students are not behaving like cliche’d millennials in that none of their engagement, their activism, is about them – for our conversations reflect not a shadow of solipsism. Just a desire to elevate awareness, build bridges, care for others, speak honestly, listen respectfully. Perhaps such thoughtful engagement emerges from the particular culture here – nurturing of individuals in context of well-understood community norms – respect, responsibility, and investment. Perhaps we are reaching our students; and perhaps such is why our students are reaching out to the broader world deftly.

Many believe me crazy to do the work I do given how complex the world as we know it is. I laugh inwardly when I hear such cracks because I and those with whom I work all seem to carry about a singular, implicit assumption that guides us: we work with the kids we do in the manner that we do because we believe deeply that our work can shape them so that they can serve a world that needs the best versions of our graduates – and I feel in my bones that we are so on the right path to this end.

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