Upper School Student Orientation

Good morning.  It is wonderful to see all of you. 

For those of you who are avid bikers like Mr. Ort or Dr. Lutz, hikers like Ms. Kurisko, runners like Ms. Schiesswohl, or climbers like Mr. Martin, you will have found yourself at some point going uphill.  Your approach may be like mine: you see the hill, and you size it up.  You decide it will take a certain amount of energy, and you steel yourself for the effort it will take to get to the top.  Then you put yourself into the work, stride by stride or step by step or pedal by pedal.  You glance up from time to time at the crest—be it the mountain ridge or hilltop—and you work on, knowing what it will take and willing to push that much.  Sometimes, however, you get to that line, your moment of triumph, but you see that the hill continues up from there, just at a different angle from before, an angle that hid the true heights you would have to reach before you could say you had finished.  This moment of unfulfilled achievement is called a false summit.  It can leave us a little deflated before we again move on.

There are many false summits, not only in the physical world of exercise and high adventure, but also in the world of life, school, and work.  You freshmen may have experienced the false summit of 8th grade graduation only to realize that much work remains ahead.  Others of us may have just celebrated making a team or being cast in a show only to find that an entire season still lies ahead.  Those of you who won championships as underclassmen now see more days of work in a new season.  You seniors may be thinking that once you climb the mountain of getting accepted to your early decision college, life is all a gentle downhill from there. It even happens in small moments, like when your inner clock tells you your 45-minute class is over, but then your teacher keeps teaching, and you realize it’s a long block class.

So here we are.  We thought in June that with all the vaccines and medical advances available to us, we were going to skip ahead to normal life.  That was a false summit; there is still more to do.  However, at the same we can find comfort in this truth:  the true summit is there waiting for us.  Once we get over that first ridgeline and see where we are going, we can enjoy the fact that we have come so far and have climbed so high already.  We have climbed past arrows in the hallway floors, Plexiglas lunches and bathroom emails, classes in the PACC lobby and café and Pavilion, and we know, in this case, that we all will get there together.  We will encourage each other.  We will pick each other up.  We will wait and rest a bit and let others catch up, and we all will arrive at the top. 

Like many teachers here, I’ve been on my share of adventure trips with students.  There are moments on a mountain when I have been halfway up the side with a group of students, and we will periodically stop, rest, and look over at the next mountain.  By direct and level reckoning across the valley, with a little practice, we can see where we are relative to the height of the other mountain; we can estimate how high we have climbed on our own mountain and how far we have yet to go.  This method applied elsewhere allows us to avoid the false summits of life.  Ironically, by turning our gaze a little farther away, by gaining a little perspective, we can avoid small disappointments and can focus on a bigger picture.  It’s a little counterintuitive, but by looking across at you, I can tell where I am.  This year, then, let’s see each other. Let’s see ourselves in each other.

Do me a favor.  Look across the gym at someone.  Pick someone on your level, maybe someone you don’t know.  Let’s decide to get to know that person, introduce ourselves, and find out more about them. We may find someone there who helps us understand ourselves better. We may find someone who is a lot like us.  We may find a friend.   It may even be that one day you can be just the person they need when they just want to quit, or they will be just the person you need on a day when you really need someone to help you keep moving.  If we can do that, maybe we will get rid of these false summits and recognize them for what they really are—opportunities for a brand-new view of the world.

Let’s start with today, and let’s make this a great year.

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