Convocation is a moment for us to gather as a community at the start of the year, to welcome our new students, faculty, and staff, and to reaffirm the values we stand for and strive to live by. On September 15, Solebury School welcomed more than 90 new students to our corner of Phillips Mill and School Lane.
This year, Russ Carrick was chosen to be the faculty speaker. Mindful that the vast majority of his audience has not yet been at Solebury for a typical year, he shared some insights on how Solebury School works, what our values are, and what we expect of one another.
When I was new to Solebury, 14 years ago, I got used to hearing this common refrain around campus, “We don’t really have cliques at Solebury.” To this, I would always politely nod while thinking, that sounds really nice but come on. I’ve been teaching at a public school. I know teen behavior. I’ve been there myself. It’s a law of nature, cliques are a teen’s natural state.
With my skeptic’s hat on, I started my first year here and watched, looking for and expecting what I was certain would be the telltale signs and dominance rituals of teens-in-the-wild. Students dressing in signature ways to convey their tribe, students clustering in certain spaces while excluding others, and—that staple of all teen movies—students making other students feel bad for looking, acting, or otherwise being different.
But that was the fundamental flaw in my thinking. There is no “different” at Solebury, and it didn’t take me long to see this first-hand. Walking around campus, in the dorms, or in the dining hall I saw no tribal uniforms. I saw coat and tie sitting with nose ring, sitting with soccer uniform, sitting with girl dressed like a pirate. I saw no exclusive spaces. I saw magic in the quiet lounge—open to all, pick-up games of basketball by the crib—open to all, and Halloween fire pit sessions where people shared their real-life ghost stories—open to all.
Everywhere I went there was laughter. Laughter in the dining hall, laughter in front of the Crib, and most importantly of all, laughter in the classrooms. Are there exceptions to this rule? Sure, humans are still human. But that’s just it. At Solebury, stereotypical teen behavior is the exception. Trying to act like a hotshot, or trying to be exclusive at Solebury, that is aberrant behavior. Don’t believe me? Wait. Watch how someone at assembly, announcing about their new club, who is clearly nervous—and believe me we are all nervous making announcements at assembly—watch how they are met with applause every time. Watch what happens at Coffee House when someone gets up in front of an audience and tries to sing in public for the first time. It doesn't matter if they kill it or not. They will get cheered. Sometimes, the more nervous they are, and the more difficult it is for them, the louder the cheers will be.
They have let me—a short, shiny-headed, oddly-animated old guy—do a monologue in a school play and sing with the Rock Band. If this could happen for me at Solebury, imagine what could happen for you.
So everyone who’s new here, when we’re done come meet me in the circle and ring the gong. Ring the gong to declare you have arrived. Ring the gong to declare that you are one of us now. Ring the gong to declare that you are ready to make your mark, however you want to make that mark. Because I promise you one thing. At this place, you will be supported.
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