Advice from Helen: Three Things for a Successful School Year

By Helen Matthews, World Languages Chair

Below are highlights from the Convocation remarks of Dr. Helen Matthews, Head of Solebury School’s World Languages Department. On September 5th, Solebury School welcomed more than 70 new students to our corner of Phillips Mill and School Lane during Convocation. 

Greetings to everyone -- returning students, faculty and staff, but most especially to all of the new Solebury students we have joining us today. The first day of school is A LOT, and the first day at a new school is A WHOLE LOT. You’re living it right now, I don’t have to tell you. 

I want to give you some advice that I always want to give to new students on the first day but don’t usually. It’s weird to just walk up to people and start giving them advice, right? Today, they gave me a microphone, so here are the three things I want you to do while you’re here for high school:

#1: DO NEW STUFF. Giving you the opportunity to try new things is what Solebury does best. We are all here to help you find some joy, wherever that joy might strike. Trying new things can be scary, but everyone is here for you. Never played field hockey? Here’s your stick. Never made ceramics? Sign right up. Terrible at it? That’s cool! You are here to try, explore, to do, and yes, to fail, and that’s all part of it. You will regret it if you box yourself in. 

While you’re here, don’t just decide who you are based on what you’re good at -- you’re allowed to do and enjoy what the world has to offer. It’s all here for you, and you should be here for it. If you don’t stay open, you might miss out on some little whiff of excitement that could lead you to something bigger, a career path or lifelong hobby, or even just some minor fleeting moment of enjoyment. Don’t stay on the sidelines, or only safely nestled at the corner of what you know you enjoy and what you know you can do -- jump into something new, find out whether you like it, and be okay with not being great at it, because we’re all excited just to share the experience with you.

#2: ASK FOR HELP. Ask whenever and wherever you need it. There’s a magical moment of the day called “Conference,” when your teachers are in their classrooms waiting to see you. Go see them! Come see me! 

You don’t need to have a question or a problem -- you’re allowed to walk in and just say, “I liked that thing we read” or “Wow, that homework was weird” or “I had a rough day today.” Next thing you know, you’re engaged in a conversation and you feel a little bit more comfortable with the stuff you’re doing in class and you’ve established a rapport with your teacher. Asking for help doesn’t just have to do with classes or conference period, of course. Reach out to your classmates, to your teachers, to the Counselor Julie, to all of the friendly faces you see around. Everyone here wants to see you happy and thriving. We’ve only just met you, but we’re all here for you and we all care about you-- that’s why we’re here. Which leads me to my third and final piece of advice:

#3: BE KIND TO EACH OTHER. When I went to high school, people were not generally nice to each other. Any kind of difference was “weird” and there was lots of gossip and some bullying and just general hateful and insecure behavior. When I first came to teach at Solebury School, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I remember this gathering where someone stood up and just belted their off-key heart out on a slow song, just giving it to the world. I started to get nervous, like “oh no, someone is going to laugh and this poor person will feel awful for sharing a piece of their heart.” And when the song ended, the audience just burst into the most warm and celebratory applause I’ve ever heard -- it wasn’t about the skill, it was about recognizing the courage. 

We have the power of that moment every day, and we are all at our best when we remember that and choose to act out of love and support instead of out of insecurity. Be here for each other. Celebrate each other, especially when you see somebody going out on a limb and most especially when you see somebody sharing a piece of their heart, whatever that looks like. That is the stuff of life that needs to be held up, and you have the opportunity to do that every day. 

So there you have it: Do new stuff. Ask for help. Be kind to each other. It can be that simple, but it takes each and every one of you. Let’s start today.