It is August as I draft this letter, a time of year when our thoughts turn naturally to the school year ahead, even as we continue to process and contend with the unprecedented combination of challenges we have confronted as a school community during the past five months: a global pandemic, the closure of school in March and the transition to distance learning, the economic impacts of covid-19, and the national reckoning with racism that will impact our country, our city, and our school for many years to come.
It is customary for the headmaster to thank the community in this annual summer letter. But this year no words I can summon feel adequate to express my gratitude to the many individuals—alumni, students, parents, board members, faculty and staff; the members of our community who have been willing to share their deeply personal experiences and hard truths at our series of Town Halls focused on the African American experience at St. Albans; and the dedicated members of our school reopening task forces—who have given so much of their time, energy, and resources to supporting the school during such an immensely complicated era in the life of our community.
I looked back at the letter I wrote at this time last year, in which I observed that “my first year at St. Albans came with challenges. As a new headmaster, I was tested in ways I could never have imagined.” In truth, what was hard to imagine a year ago was all that would transpire in the next twelve months: not just the Washington Nationals’ first World Series Championship, but the formidable challenges of the past spring and summer and the way our lives would be transformed by these events. At every turn, I have been humbled by the heart, humanity, resilience, and adaptive capacities of this truly remarkable community. I know it has not been easy. But I believe in the soul of this school. And I believe we will emerge from this crucible an even stronger institution: a resilient community of faith committed to continual self-examination and always aspiring to become the fullest and best version of itself.
Throughout all of the challenges, there has been the hope that we can reclaim some part of the on-campus St. Albans experience for the coming school year: to reconnect personally with our boys and to restore the traditions, rituals, and routines through which we deliver our mission and prepare our students for lives of meaning, purpose, and service to causes greater than themselves.
What it means to educate young men in the midst of such challenging conditions is the great question we are compelled to answer as we begin the new school year.
I happened to be reading an essay in The Atlantic a few weeks ago, written by a parent reflecting on how difficult the past few months have been and how, for much of the spring, he was consumed by the feeling that covid-19 had irretrievably taken something from his children’s education and experience. But over the summer, his perspective has shifted in ways that have helped him—and all of us—think differently and more hopefully about the events of the past months and the still uncertain road we face as we begin a new school year.
“The time since school was cancelled—since life was cancelled—has given [my children] an education they couldn’t have gotten any other way,” the author concludes. They have learned “to appreciate friends,” “to live in a world you could never have imagined the week before,” “that everything can change in an instant,” “that the world is fragile,” “that in spite of that fragility, life goes on,” “that more than one crisis can happen at a time,” “that the world can be a dangerous, unfair place,” “that many of us want it to be better ... even when the world feels like it’s spiraling out of control,” that what feels like the end of the world can also be a new “beginning.”
It is hard to imagine a school whose mission is more congenial to these sentiments than St. Albans. The idea that education extends beyond the classroom—that every moment shapes our vision, values, and character—has always been at the heart of the St. Albans experience. So even as we look forward expectantly to the time when our lives and routines will be restored, I take solace in knowing that our physical separation from one another and the sacred spaces of our school has not extinguished opportunities for our boys to learn and grow in meaningful ways that will forever shape their future lives.
Last year in this summer message, I said that I hoped “I grew as a leader through the challenges we faced and helped the school I have come to love grow as a community by the way we addressed them.” That remains my hope and prayer as we enter a year of continued uncertainty but also extraordinary opportunity. My heartfelt gratitude for all that you mean to the school and to me personally—and for your continued faith in the promise of our mission and the extraordinary young men we are privileged to teach.