September Bench Talk: Welcome Message to Students

In his welcome message to students at the first virtual All-School Meeting of the year on Friday, September 11, MBS Head of School Peter Caldwell spoke about the importance of coming together as a community. Here is a transcript of the speech:

Welcome - it is great to have so many of you on campus together. Your excitement for the upcoming year is palpable. I can feel your readiness for the year ahead even through the masks, the plexiglass, and the zoom lens.  On that note,  I would also like to specifically welcome those who are watching from home.

What I want to say right upfront is that physical distancing does not mean we have to be emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically separated.  I know you know this.  Already I have seen many of you honoring our pandemic protocol even as you express your joy in seeing each other. 

As we dive into our academic studies, we are going to keep a close and careful eye on our work as a community.  What I mean by this is collectively we will ensure the health, wellness, and safety of each other. 

Adults in the community have done this before in earlier national and global emergencies.  For the MBS students who were not born yet, let me describe to you how our country briefly came together after the horrifying attacks on the World Trade Centers 19 years ago today.  

Our initial national response was powerfully united when--within hours of the second tower falling-- 500, 000 people were stranded in lower Manhattan.  After the towers came down, all bridges and tunnels from New York City were closed.  What were these 500, 000 people going to do?  

The United States coast guard put out a call on their Marine VHF radio, asking for any available boats to assist with the evacuation of these people. Astonishingly, within the hour, more than 150 vessels, many owned by private citizens,  raced to the scene to help.  

I want to point out that the 600 people who were racing to the scene had no idea whether or not more attacks would happen.  They were knowingly risking their lives to save others.  On September 11, 2001, the evacuation of 500,000 people was more than the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.     

Think about that.

During these days in September 2001, patriotism surged.  For a while people became more patient with each other.  Sadly, however, racial profiling also surged, and some people became suspicious of their fellow citizens based on how they looked. 

While the country seemed to come together, we also became more partisan.

There are some similarities to the situation that we find ourselves in today. We are faced with an enemy that has attacked and killed in far greater numbers than those who lost their lives in 9/11. And this enemy is invisible and without a specific target, which means our rescue of each other cannot be as dramatic as it was on September 11, 2001.  Our rescue comes not in the form of risking our lives.  It comes in the form of making sacrifices, but this is equally heroic.

We have done this before. And we can do it again.  

During World War II, for instance, Americans were asked to make sacrifices for the larger good. This meant rationing supplies. Mrs. Caldwell’s mother and my father are part of a generation that lived through and made sacrifices for the good of the nation during the Great Depression and later during World War II. All Americans contributed to the war effort by making sacrifices and rationing supplies, and this awareness and work for the greater good became the norm, and for Mrs. Caldwell’s mother and for my father, who are still alive, this is still their norm.  No matter how much luxury they could have,  they are frugal.  They are careful not to be wasteful, and they are always concerned for the greater community. That is why their generation is called the Greatest Generation.  

Recently Mrs. Caldwell’s mother reflected on her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Schwarmly, who coached the children how to make sacrifices by picking up her single raisin which was accompanied by a half pint of milk.  With a great flourish of her arm, Mrs. Schwarmly swooped the raisin to her lips and bit it in half, saving the other half for a later time!  What a wonderful lesson for her students on not taking more than you need!

Similarly, my father recently reflected on lunch that was served at Putney School during World War II. It was called the “Putney Special,” and it was a piece of toast with peanut butter, topped with stewed tomatoes. It was nutritious and inexpensive and when made with good ingredients like locally grown tomatoes, quite tasty! These sacrifices affected how Mrs. Caldwell’s and my parents led their lives.  To their dying days, they have remained concerned for the greater community. 

These examples - of coming together as a community and making sacrifices for the greater good serve as wonderful examples of how we should approach the year - we can do this.

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Now I would like to spend just a moment on our emotional health. At MBS, we have always prided ourselves on our strong sense of community - from supporting each other by attending plays and performances to cheering on our sports teams. We welcome new students into the community and make sure that every member of the community feels safe and comfortable.

But this summer our sense of our community was challenged, and now more than ever we need to redouble our efforts on equity and inclusion.  Over the summer our community engaged in DEI conversations and Ethical Leadership training between students and faculty members and among faculty members with each other. More recently, just a few weeks ago Mrs. Karosen and Mrs. Muttick worked with student leaders on campus: team captains and members of the SGA. Additionally, looking ahead, in the classroom, we will be implementing Cultural Competency and leadership training.

Let me say very clearly: this work with equity and inclusion starts with you students. There is no place for mean-spirited behavior - either in person or on social media. Let me say very clearly that anyone who chooses to post mean comments about members of this community on social media has no place here. You are not welcome, and you will be asked to leave. 

Our senior class has already made a clear statement that this type of behavior is unacceptable, and I know that I can count on them to both enforce and model decency and empathy.

So - We must protect each other by following the protocols that we have established to ensure our health and safety, and let’s commit to making the sacrifices that are necessary for us to remain in school.

We also must support each other emotionally. We all know how to do that. That is why you are here - at MBS. 

You are incredibly fortunate that your parents have sent you here to engage positively in this community and to be taught by an incredible faculty and staff - we are very happy to see you all.

Let’s focus on why we are here and have a fantastic year!    


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