Opening Convocation Message 2017

September 1, 2017


The weather has changed this week, which makes it easier to envision the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The cool, crisp morning air, and the later dawn both announce that break is indeed over and that Madeira's quiet serenity of mid-August is about to end with the joyous voices of 324 girls coming together to begin a new school year. Welcome to all of you, returning and new students. We have been anticipating this day and planning for it, and I'm delighted to see it has finally come. For many, the end of summer means getting back into a routine, bringing order to life, and starting anew with a clean slate. For teachers and staff, it means we are back to what makes our jobs worthwhile: working with and for our students.

Over the long break, you have hopefully kept up with your summer reading, any assignments that you had pending, and today you are fully prepared to continue on this voyage of learning. However, I know some of you left things to the last minute and are probably hard pressed to find the time to cram in those last ten chapters of a book that only has twelve and are still finding your way around bags and boxes to try to clear space in your room for new work; or better yet, you strategically did only what you needed to have ready for first day of Mod 1 and left everything for later. Regardless, I know you will eventually get it all together. From my perspective (and I'll admit my guilt: I was always the last-minute student and to this day still write many of my speeches the night before I deliver them) it makes for a more interesting world when we have a mix of everything thrown together: working and learning styles, personalities, traditions, creeds and beliefs, colors and nationalities. We thrive and can be so much more creative when different people and ideas surround us.

A year ago at this time, we were coming out of a jubilant summer, celebrating our victorious Olympic gymnasts and successes in other sports; the country was in high spirits. We then lived through a tumultuous election that caused strife not only in our small community of adolescents and adults, but in the country as a whole and even transcended boundaries to have an impact on most of the world.

As September of 2017 rolls in, we are coming out of the tragedies of Charlottesville and Harvey, while Irma, another hurricane, is hovering over the Caribbean and threatening our coasts. It is not easy to find uplifting messages when there is so much suffering and there are so many questions about what we stand for as a country. My optimistic nature makes me focus on the fact that through a natural catastrophe, which impacted an entire city's population regardless of who each individual is, looks like, where they come from, or their political beliefs, the better side of humanity always triumphs. Amidst the devastation of the unprecedented flooding in Houston, neighbors are helping neighbors in the fight for survival. The caring demonstrated towards the victims by county and state officials, by volunteer helpers, and by a country standing by ready to provide all kinds of humanitarian aid, underlines the fact that we are all human beings and have more in common than any differences that may separate us.

Which brings me to Charlottesville. This is not about politics or the issue of statues and monuments. This is about universal core values, about core tenets of civilization, and of the lessons learned from World War II and the Holocaust. Your great grandfathers fought to defend the world from the horrors of bigotry and of tyrants who believed in the supremacy of one group of people over the rest of the world. It is truly a tragedy that so many years later, symbols of that tyranny are resurfacing among fringe elements of our society.

What lessons can we at Madeira learn from this? How can you, as young women who will change the world, make a positive difference in our community, and in a global society that, like it or not, is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent?

Core values are what hold communities together and bring out the best in us. At Madeira, we stand for respect for self and others, for compassion, for caring and being empathetic, and for the curiosity that leads us to learn from one another and appreciate both our sameness and our differences. These represent the fabric of our community and will hold us together as long as we adhere to them. We are a sisterhood, and we have the responsibility to stand for what is right, not only for ourselves as individuals, but especially for the rights of others. We need to stand together and truly strengthen those bonds of sisterhood, protect and defend each other, and especially, demonstrate that WE CARE.

At Madeira, we hold dear to the notions of respect for others, of compassion and kindness; we know that as a community we flourish because we are so diverse, and though I know we can always do better, we strive to be inclusive and to understand and respect everyone's viewpoints. We don't accept or promote bigotry, racism, Nazism or any action or words that intentionally demean any person, race, religion, identity, or political persuasion. At Madeira, we are all about Swing sisters and ring sisters, red and white teams that compete in fun with each other, and lifetime friendships that transcend all differences. And we need to make sure that we stick to our core values to make us stronger in our sisterhood and better human beings.

As we begin this new school year, I also want to highlight a few of the exciting new adventures awaiting you. You may not be aware that as seniors get ready to leave, we seek their feedback about their experience. And, believe it or not, we do listen. So, when the class of 2017 told us we had too many rules by making several changes to allow you to have more say, especially in aspects of residential life. Your student government will be calling on you to help them as they lead us through this year, which is a year to build a truly joyous and fun-filled community. Adults will be taking on different responsibilities to allow them to participate in and sponsor more activities around campus, and student leaders will take on more visible and active roles in residential and community life. Weekend activities have also been restructured, but to make them really work for you, they will require your help, your participation, and your constant feedback.

After the success of our maker space and Fab Lab last year, we have added more offerings in robotics, and through the initiative of Maria Lyons, one of your classmates, we will have our first competitive robotics team at Madeira this year. Do stay tuned for the details on how to participate. Last, but definitely not least, and, most exciting, we are expecting to be able to renovate at least one of the Maynard dorms this coming summer, thanks to the generosity of alumnae donors.

A speech from your head of school would not be complete without my offering advice for the year. Remember you are all here to learn, to think, to question, and to formulate your own ideas. Take full advantage of the privilege of an education, as not everyone has it. Keep balance in your lives. Work hard, but give yourselves time to play and have fun along the way. Take time to laugh-it's the best antidote to stress. Look after yourselves and treat yourself with kindness: eat balanced meals; sleep at least seven hours a day, exercise. Use your devices sparingly and make sure you give yourself time to connect face to face with people. Don't always take things at face value, and don't be afraid of dissenting when you don't agree with someone else; however, do so respectfully. Some special advice for all the seniors: enjoy every day and every moment. This is your last year, so savor our Madeira traditions, keep them alive, be courageous and realistic, and above all, make wise choices. To all of you: have a wonderful year, full of learning and joy, and most of all, show you care by sticking to our community values.

 Go forth, Madeira girls. This year is for you to shape and make into a great year.