Privilege and Responsibility
By Nancy Hughes
One of the many things I appreciate about living on Brewster’s campus is its proximity to town. After two decades plus living in quasi-rural suburbia (yes, that’s a thing), I love being able to walk downtown with shopping bags in hand for a quick bit of marketing. Another thing I love about Wolfeboro is our handsome town hall, which was originally built with funds donated by the Academy’s very own John Brewster. This dignified brick edifice is a reminder to us all of John Brewster’s deep commitment to the town of Wolfeboro and his respect for civic life.
About a month ago as I strolled to the market, I stopped by the town hall to register to vote. I took my place in line, content to wait, but a woman popped around the corner and told me that if I were here to register to vote, I could do so on Election Day, and the very clear subtext was that she wanted me to do just that. So on Tuesday after classes, I headed down to Town Hall to register and vote. Upon entering the building, I was greeted by welcoming volunteers and a host of familiar, excited faces – those of parents, faculty, and students. Prior to moving to New Hampshire, Craig and I had spent years voting in a small, secluded senior center in the western part of Groton, Massachusetts. Of course, we would occasionally run into a colleague when voting, but never did I see a student. On Tuesday as I waited to register, I watched a faculty member as he shepherded a new student through the registration process. I have taken students to the hospital, to offsite SATs, and to buy new soccer cleats, but never have I seen such a fabulous in loco parentis moment – helping a student play a role in our democratic process! Then later on Tuesday afternoon, I saw a couple great shots on Instagram of faculty members with new BA voters, showing off their “I Voted” stickers. Upon reflection, I guess I should not have been so surprised, for last week, another faculty member sent out an impressive email to all students, emphasizing out-of-state students’ right to vote in Wolfeboro and spelling out just how to do so. Nevertheless, I was moved by what I saw. It was again a reminder of the extent to which Brewster’s faculty are invested in our students – teaching civic responsibility beyond the bound of the classroom. It was also – like the proximity between our campus and John Brewster’s town hall – a reminder of how critical educational institutions are to developing informed, responsible, and civic-minded individuals.
Wherever we fall on the political spectrum, Wednesday morning was the end of a polarizing presidential campaign and an uncertain future stretches before everyone. I woke a bit bleary-eyed from staying up so late and headed over to the dining hall for breakfast. I found myself sitting with two female students of color, one a Muslim student wearing a hijab. They were quiet, and I was still processing.
And, I guess, that’s what we all are doing – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We’re processing, reflecting, planning, and trying to imagine the future. This election season has rendered a divided nation more so; that reality is inescapable. The challenge for the country is to figure out how to come together in genuinely respectful and productive ways. In the face of this challenge, Craig and I are comforted by and hopeful about this nation’s future, in part, because of the work of independent schools in general and Brewster Academy in particular. Brewster fosters acceptance and builds community because our differences – those dimensions of each of us that could potentially divide us from others – are embraced for the enrichment and betterment of our community. It is a place both in theory and practice devoted to collaboration. To succeed in class, our students learn they have to listen to and work with others whose perspectives and talents are – by design – different from their own. Living and working in such an intentionally constructed diverse community, our students come to see the necessity of respect for individual and community harmony and growth. We are all privileged to have the opportunity live, learn, and work in such an environment. And with that privilege, of course, comes a responsibility. Perhaps more than anything else, this election reminds us of what we need to expect from our graduates – of how critical their role will be in helping to shape a more united country defined by difference, eager for collaboration, and cognizant of the powers of respectful listening and empathy.