2018 Opening Convocation Message

August 31, 2018


I am so excited to welcome our new and returning students to a new school year.  Seniors, this is your first of many “lasts” that will be part of your memories.  Juniors, you’ve passed the mid-point!  Sophomores, you survived your first year and can now assume the role of wise advice-givers to newcomers. Freshwomen and all newcomers to Madeira:  Welcome to a wonderful community, where you will thrive in every way possible, become your true self, and get ready to join a community of young women who change the world. 

I hope all of you had a wonderful summer. I certainly enjoyed mine.  I got a chance to go home to Ecuador and spend time with my family, including my two grandsons.  The older of the two starts ninth grade next week!  I also was able to meet with 25 classmates and catch up with them after several years of not seeing them.  My most exciting story, though, was after I returned from Quito.  I went out to Colorado to visit some alumnae and attend an event.  On my last day in Aspen, I was having lunch out on the terrace with an alumna, Eleanore De Sole, and Mrs. Peterson.  As we were talking, I saw some movement in the bushes right in front of me, and out popped a large, brown bear.  While I’m terrified of anything that’s a creepy-crawly, I think furry animals are rather cool, so I had no problem getting closer to him so Mrs. Peterson could take a good picture.  Success!  I have several pictures.  I came back to campus full of myself, ready to show off my trophy photo to my colleagues at our regular Monday meeting, and what do you know, as I was basking in pride at my fearless leadership, Mr. Withers upended me by showing HIS weekend picture of himself and President Obama on a golf course.  I was devastated that he stole my thunder, and so spectacularly!   So much for my battered ego, and on to some exciting things happening at Madeira.

First things first:  what’s new at Madeira this year?  You guessed it, a renovated South Dorm, to which those of you who were assigned there will have just moved in.  There will be some glitches as the building adapts to a new life, some of the technology might not be up and running yet, and there are still some bits and pieces that need to be completed.  You will soon notice the cool interiors, no clanging steam pipes and radiators, a new common room with comfty furniture….and, old windows that you’re not allowed to open.  Sorry about that, girls—they will be replaced next summer.  I wrote this before the power outage!  To all our students and adults, and especially to the DOS team and the Maynard crew of dorm faculty and students, a huge THANK YOU for the way in which you’ve honored Lucy Madeira’s FUNCTION IN DISASTER AND FINISH IN STYLE. 

On an upbeat note, did all of you notice Maynard Quad??? Isn’t it spectacular?  Gone are the boxwoods where old French fries and other “scentful” food garbage used to tempt my dog Napoleon.  You now have a terrace café, wide porches, a fire pit, and a truly beautiful architectural symmetry in the way spaces fit together, arches frame the square, and wide walkways invite you into the dorms.  This space is all for your enjoyment and relaxation, for socializing with friends or for taking a little time just to sit out and breathe in.   Also in the new space department, the Health Center now has The Shell, where anyone can go and take time out from the maddening crowds, have some quiet moments to reflect, and get a chance to recharge for another class or activity.   We have an expanded Makerspace and fab lab in the art center, and a newly furnished and equipped collaborative space in Schoolhouse I.  Last, but not least, is a refurbished space in the CA, where the choir room has been transformed into a dance/multipurpose area.  Explore all these spaces, make them yours, and care for them well so that they are neat and clean.

We also have made some changes to residential life:  juniors and seniors, you now have additional weeknight privileges, and senior boarders, you have car on campus privileges.  We have made changes to study hall, some adjustments to the attendance policy, and instituted some new cell phone rules.  Make sure you learn all about them by reading your handbooks.  All these changes are the result of feedback we have received from students, research on what other schools do, and some of the things we observe as adults working with four different classes of young women.  Many of them are directly resulting from the senior exit interviews we conduct at the end of each school year.  So, my advice to all students is to participate actively in student life, take advantage of a robust student government with great leadership, and, underclasswomen, treat the seniors well so they’ll make recommendations before they leave that will improve your lives!

These are the physical and structural frameworks that are in place for the new school year.  But what about the actual contents within these frameworks,  the true core of the year?  What will be important to think about?  It occurs to me that, in addition to our school values, this is a time to focus on responsible citizenship.  I’ll start reminding you of our school values, and how they link into responsible citizenship.  

Awareness of self and others allows you to think of the community you belong to, the individuals that are part of it, and provides a context for how you can best interact with people who might resemble, or be totally different from, you.  In the context of responsible citizenship, it is important that you be aware that people have different beliefs and ideologies, and that those differences don’t make them any better or any worse than you are. 

Compassion allows you to have empathy, to put yourself in another’s shoes, to care about others and to refrain from being hurtful. It allows you to understand what shapes other’s beliefs and to refrain from judgment; to commiserate in bad times and join in celebrating in good times.

Creativity makes for fun, for solving puzzles and problems, for stretching your brain, for thinking out of the box and coming up with something totally new. 

Intellectual curiosity is what makes you a lifelong learner.  Just recently Mr. Sharp shared a wonderful quote with me:  a learned person is prepared for a world that no longer is; a lifelong learner is prepared for the world that can be.  Keep questioning, looking for new answers to old problems, and for new conundrums to challenge you.  Celebrate expanding your mind, for learning should be truly joyous and is always rewarding.

Integrity is at the core of what makes great leaders. Honesty is a universal value, and keeping it as a beacon to guide your actions can avoid you many pitfalls on your journey through life.  As Lucy Madeira always said, if you lie, you will have to remember whom you shared each of your lies with—and whom you told the truth to. A lack of integrity causes you lose people’s trust and confidence.  Lies and dishonest actions always come back to haunt you, whether because you believe in having a clear conscience or because society will hold you accountable.  Responsible citizenship means you hold yourself and others to the highest levels of integrity in all aspects of life.  This does not necessarily mean that everyone will meet that lofty goal, after all we’re only humans, and therefore not perfect; it’s wise to set the bar high and aim for excellence in this core value.

Last, but not least, resilience means you allow yourself to make mistakes and take them as opportunities for learning because you have the ability to pick yourself up after a fall and keep on going.  As a responsible citizen, you will be able to celebrate successes, and you should be able to take failures and disappointments in stride.  Life happens, and it is up to each one of you as individuals to harness your strength and address anything that may come your way.  You cannot allow a small or big obstacle, disruption, or mishap to stop you in your tracks and give up.  Take any difficult situation as an opportunity to learn and to keep yourself going strong. 

If you hold yourselves to our core values, you have every reason to hold your head high with pride.  Nobody expects you to be perfect, but I urge you to live your life within a framework of values.  You will make a far better citizen of your community, your state, your country and of the world if you let all of these guide you. To summarize, I strongly advise you to follow your best instincts, live by our values, and be your best selves.   People who have strong core values, that are honest, and that are compassionate will overcome obstacles, battle hatred, and come ahead as exemplary, responsible citizens. 

In closing, I want to honor Senator John McCain, who passed away last week, 9 years to the day after Senator Ted Kennedy passed away from the same kind of brain tumor.  In fact, this is an opportunity to honor both men.  Their names are inscribed in people’s memories as icons of their respective political parties, McCain a Republican, and Kennedy a Democrat.  They are both referred to as Lions of the Senate.  Neither man was perfect, --in fact, I understand they barely made it through high school and college-- but both shared a love of country and a profound sense of living for duty to country.  They were able to work across the aisles, fight for what they believed was the right thing to do, and develop a collegiality that led to a deep friendship, each one respecting the other and continuously disagreeing with each other.  Both will have a special place of honor on our country’s history as responsible, upstanding, citizens.  My wish, my dream, is that in the not too distant future, someone will be talking about the Lionesses of the Senate, and that those women will be Madeira girls.  My dream is that they will be able to work across the political aisle, that they will be paragons of character and integrity, and that they will continue to be role models for all girls and women, not only for us at Madeira. 

And so I come to the end of my celebration of the new school year 2018-2019.  May all of you love learning.  May you deepen your existing friendships and start new ones.  May you thrive in the classroom, in the fields, on stage and in your internships.  Lastly, hold your heads high as Madeira women who will change the world.