Convocation Remarks - September 2, 2021

Mr. Rowell, Mr. Matthews, members of the Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Parents, and students both new and returning; all who are here with us either in person or accessing these proceedings through the internet, I welcome you to this Convocation at the beginning of the Gill St. Bernard’s School 2021-2022 school year.  We are proud to welcome you back to this unique place where learning and relationships, values and scholarship, community and excellence meet. 

Welcome, especially to all of you who are new, and I include especially our Pre-K students watching from their classrooms. Here you will learn lessons about letters and colors and numbers, but more importantly, you will learn lessons about life—and I appreciate your having sat still this long, if indeed you have been able to.  I hope you have a wonderful day.

Claude Bernard, the 19th-century French biologist, once wrote that “The fixity of the internal environment is the precondition for free and independent life.” He was explaining a scientific phenomenon we now call homeostasis, but I think we can read in that sentence not only an explanation of life, but advice for living.  Translating a little differently, we can restate his assertion: that stability or constancy on the inside is necessary to live a free and independent life on the outside.  We need to be balanced within ourselves in order to balance life with others. 

Claude Bernard’s namesake, and our school’s namesake, Bernard of Clairvaux, understood the same. As a medieval monk, he also went to convocations, meetings where large groups of people are called together, and he also had his own investiture, putting on certain special clothes when he took on the robes and roles of a monk.  In his monasteries, he built strong walls on the outside as protection, but open courtyards on the inside so people could learn and grow and have conversations about important things—to gain stability and balance in themselves—before they faced the problems outside their walls.  Here at Gill St. Bernard’s, we also have internal spaces where we are free to discuss and debate, to learn and to grow, so that eventually--as these seniors wearing their special clothes today will do at another ceremony very like this one in June—eventually we will be able go out into the world, freely and independently. 

Therefore, today I would make this suggestion: as you walk between the open quads and courtyards on campus, in Chapin Hall or the Todd Quad or on this largest quad bounded by Founders, Cox, and the Athletic Center, think about how we here, through friendship and scholarship, argument and agreement, thinking and feeling, are free to work securely on the inside.  This is true especially today, when campus seems like a model of openness, tranquility and safety compared to the difficulties, barriers, and obstacles literally strewn in our paths this morning in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.  As the Upper School Director, I am grateful to be able to share this day with all of you, and--if I may speak personally for a moment--as the parent of a senior, I am also grateful to have shared our lives with all of you.

Thank you, and again, welcome to GSB.

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