By Dr. Benjamin Labaree, Head of the Upper School
Even ten months later, the September 2015 opening of the new athletic fields stands out as one of the most memorable moments of the past year. On a beautiful day, Acting Headmaster Dave Baad ’83 and Lower School Chaplain Heather Patton-Graham dedicated the fields, and the games began. From the first contests featuring our soccer and football teams to the first home track meet in nearly fifty years, the renovated facilities won high praise and allowed us to hold practices and host events on days when weather would have intervened in the past. Of course, it was fitting that the first goal and first touchdown in those inaugural games were scored by St. Albans seniors.
Within just the first weeks of the school year, the boys heard two excellent talks. The first was from South African William Verwoerd who spoke in the Cathedral to a combined St. Albans-NCS audience about his family’s involvement in the establishment of apartheid. More specifically, Mr. Verwoerd shared his personal struggle to confront that past and the challenges of coming to love those you have been raised to think are your enemy. Later in September, former Head of Upper School Rev. Daniel Heischman returned to the Close for the Headmaster’s Lecture Series and gave a talk titled “The Courage of Our Mistakes,” in which he encouraged students and faculty to make “our mistakes work for us” and to “go back to them, dust them off—perhaps even make friends with them.” Reverend Heischman suggested that “we tend to learn more from those mistakes than any other aspect of our life.” These two talks—and many others like them in chapel and assemblies in the following months—were powerful reminders that St. Albans remains a community where we are routinely challenged to think about how to lead a good life.
The balance of the first semester featured a number of highlights including championship seasons in soccer and cross-country. The soccer team had a banner season under first-year head coach Brian Schultz as they won the IAC and DCSAA championships. The cross-country team won an unprecedented seventh consecutive IAC title with five runners in the top eight in the varsity race. The coordinate drama program production of P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith was a big hit as was another remarkable Independent Schools Choral Festival, which featured moving tributes to Mr. Benjamin Hutto. When Paul Herman announced his retirement to the Upper School during lunch at the end of November, the boys offered a heartfelt standing ovation and stood in a long line to shake his hand and look him in the eye as they filed out of the Cafritz Refectory.
Vance Wilson returned to his post in early January, and the second semester teemed with evidence that the boys were fully engaged in all aspects of school life. The winter featured a hockey season described as “the greatest ever” by one of the captains, thanks in part to wins over Gonzaga and DeMatha and a return to the IAC tournament. Coach Dan Ryan was named the Coach of the Year by the Mid Atlantic Prep Hockey League, and four players were awarded all-IAC honors. Our swimmers set nine new school records—eclipsing even the five broken the year before—including a new best time in the 100-yard freestyle breaking a record that dated back to 1975. In the spring, the varsity baseball team ended the year with a spectacular home victory against Maret to win the DCSAA championship, and the varsity tennis team had an undefeated IAC record, winning that title for the sixth straight year. St. Albans also captured the IAC banner in track and field after a meet which we thought we had lost to Prep by one point. Over the course of the following weekend, however, officials discovered a scoring error in the pole vault event, which resulted in a two-point swing to give St. Albans an outright victory by a score of 152-150. Trapier Theater was home to the winter musical Merrily We Roll Along and the spring Dance Gala while another superb Spring Festival of One Acts—written and directed by students—closed out the productions for the year. The Spring Art Show filled part of Marriott Hall with works ranging from videography to stunning works hung from large walls of Sam’s Bar.
In other arenas as well, students and faculty worked toward the shared goals of our school philosophy: promotion of vigorous inquiry, critical thinking, and spirited discourse. I saw all this in play as I visited classes including French IV, English II and Studio Art. At the final Upper School assembly, we heard from the fifteen seniors who worked one-on-one with faculty in second semester Independent Study Projects on topics ranging from Wagnerian opera to Russian literature. We have begun a multi-year curriculum review process devoted to a close look at the entire scope and sequence of courses from C Form through Form VI. Discussions within and across departments and the two divisions have and will feature attention to ensuring that St. Albans graduates leave the Close with the best possible education. While this review is bound to result in some change, it is equally certain that the faculty will remain committed to the ethos of an institution whose core values remain constant.
Some of the most important work we did with this year was with the National Cathedral School for Girls. Form IV advisory groups met with NCS grade 10 advisory groups on several occasions this past winter to discuss a range of issues related to social media, we planned parts of the April Diversity Forum together, and 9th and 11th grade boys and girls had ice cream socials. This past winter, St. Albans hosted a college admissions process event featuring students and parents from St. Albans, NCS, and Maret that featured discussions about mock college application files. On the night before the Diversity Forum, seniors from St. Albans and NCS gathered for a forum focused on issues of consent and the changing landscape of state laws and college and university policies and procedures. In early June, a number of Form V boys came back to school for a day of leadership training activities with a group of eleventh-grade girls from NCS. In the coming year, we will continue to look for opportunities to bring students from the two schools together beyond the existing and extensive coordinate program in academics, athletics, and the arts.
One day this past spring, a scene that played out in Upper School Administrative Assistant Susie Spaulding’s office reminded me of the unexpected joy one finds in working with boys. A Form III student had wandered in to confess that he had misplaced his blazer, and he asked if he could borrow one from the coat tree near Susie’s desk that tends to be a resting place for lost items of clothing. Susie said “sure” while reminding the boy to return it at the end of the day. As he tried one on for fit, something felt familiar. While rummaging through one of the pockets, he pulled out a couple of pens while declaring, “Hey, these are my pens.” Finally, full realization swept over the lad, and he announced with a smile: “I can’t believe it. This is my blazer!”
Whatever the coming year holds in store, we can be certain that the boys will provide plenty of opportunities for shared discovery.