Year in Review

Letter from the Headmaster

– Vance Wilson, Headmaster

I begin this final year thanking people who still welcome me every day and support me.
Dear Friends:

When my family arrived at St. Albans in the summer of 1999, the school head’s house was being renovated. We moved into an apartment in the College of Preachers. If you remember the Harry Potter-like stairwells and portraits and arches in the 1928 building, you won’t be surprised that nearly every day for six weeks I somehow forgot to duck and would bang my head against one of many low-hanging lintel beams. Bruising the gray cells every day I don’t recommend. Recuperating in a chair, however, forced to be still and not to go into the office, ice bag atop the noggin, Tylenol in hand, but thankfully still able to read, I picked up a copy of Canon Martin’s Letters from the Headmaster’s Study.  I chose the essay in which he describes overtraining his dog to the point that his parents took the dog away from him.

I confess to having been given multiple copies of Canon Martin’s famous book when I arrived. I confess to having grown tired of receiving copies. I confess to fearing that I couldn’t live up to his or any of my predecessors’ legacies. Each school head shows up at a new school with an array of talents but not necessarily in the same distribution that his predecessors had. As well as Canon Martin could write, however, and as well as English teacher Ferdinand Ruge could edit, I believed I could play in that arena without too many thumbs downs from the spectators. So I swallowed my fear and read his book, and read Mark Mullin’s Education in the 21st Century, and I began.

I remember this beginning now, as I begin my final year in the very same arena. While much has changed, I feel the same emotion as I did when I wrote my first letter to our constituents from that apartment in the College of Preachers. It was a simple thank you note. Thank you for choosing me. Thank you for the opportunity. I worry that if I say today that I am still grateful, that I still delight in the opportunity, and that I still simply want to say thank you, some will think me a gratuitous suck up. Sometimes we are suspicious of this gratitude business.

I don’t posit that the last eighteen years have been whatever cliché you prefer—a walk in the park, a bed of roses, or whatever. While St. Albans at its best acts like a healthy parish, it remains a demanding community enrolling highly ambitious boys with great expectations of themselves and of their school head. Behind those boys live highly productive, accomplished parents and alumni who cherish their time here and feel that certain principles and rituals should never change. Also, there are twenty-four board members who choose to evaluate the school head at some length every year. So there, skeptics of gratitude—this ain’t an easy job, and I admit it.

But that confession doesn’t change my sense of thankfulness. This year, and in fact every year since I began, it heals the headaches. Last winter I was traveling among magnificent alumni events out West, delighted to see so many people I now know well, but feeling tired. The short story is that I returned to Washington, visited a cardiologist, had an operation, and in the next six weeks while I recovered two people took on what I normally do. David Baad ’83 was the acting school head; Maria Donoghue Velleca, as board chair, worked very hard and supported the school, David, and me in sustaining ways. I mention only these two people, but I could make long lists of others who helped me this spring. Others have stood by me throughout my tenure. I began my time here by thanking people who welcomed me to this community. I begin this final year thanking people who still welcome me every day and support me in easy and hard decisions, all of which are intended, whatever the outcome, to benefit the boys of this school and St. Albans as an institution.

This past year has been a good, productive year, as the reports in this Bulletin and online attest. Our finances are as strong as they have ever been, and the STRIVE Campaign is eighty-three percent completed. The campus has never looked more beautiful, nor been busier. In the three pursuits we most concentrate on—academic, athletics, and the arts—the boy impress us with their accomplishments but even more so with their spirit. We work to sustain this community which worships together and every day sits down to break bread together. All of us, in so many ways, must remember to give thanks, to the spirit which drives us, to each other, and for those who have come before and those who will follow.
Yours sincerely,
Vance Wilson

Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.