Making the Most of the Moment
It may be unexpected to reference a blog post titled “Are You Living Your Eulogy or Resume” when beginning a reflection about the opening of a school year, a time when a teacher’s thoughts typically turn to considering possibilities and aspirations for his students. Yet, I would suggest that this is precisely the time of year to think about the mark we are going to make as teachers (and parents) and for us to encourage our students to think about the mark they want to make as individuals, as members of a class and as members of a community like Fenn. It is in these opening days and weeks when the possibility of growth and improvement are most alive and we are most receptive to it.
In her blog, author Arianna Huffington begins by revisiting the recent tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard, recounting how President Obama, when speaking at a memorial service for those who died, referenced the victims as warm, loving, generous individuals defined by their acts of kindness rather than by their professional roles and responsibilities. Huffington then transitions from this tragic example to ask a larger question of her audience, “Have you noticed that when people die, their eulogies celebrate life very differently from the way we define success in our everyday existence?” Huffington concludes the piece by citing several examples of how other individuals were remembered after their deaths not primarily for their professional achievements but “by being fully present in [their lives] and in the lives of those [they] love[d].”
Huffington’s blog struck me as significant in the school context as we (educators and parents) are often, necessarily so, focused on helping our students and our sons prepare themselves for future success in the next grade, the next division, or, a bit later, the excellent public and independent secondary school these boys will attend after Fenn. At each of these points, we seem to tend toward the assumption that each boy will remain ascendant. In such a context, it can be easy for both adult and child to focus on product, on fostering quantifiably strong performances on the SSAT’s, earning high marks in academic classes, excelling on the athletic fields and securing leadership positions. These are all admirable and worthy goals, of course, yet they must be accomplished within the broader context of the impacts each boy will have on those around him through his thoughtfulness, kindness and empathy. To ensure such an environment, then, we must be intentional about providing each boy with frequent opportunity and time to reflect in large and small ways upon his commitment to the communities in which he lives.
Fortunately, opportunities for this type of reflection occur in small and significant ways at Fenn. Anyone who has attended an all school meeting, for example, is familiar with Mr. Ward’s invitation at the outset of each meeting for community members to share a topic worthy of reflection. Boys who have attended our lower school will fondly recall their community service trips with Mrs. Smith, Mr. Smith, Mr. Potsaid and other Fenn faculty and how serving others resulted in personal growth. Athletes participating in our interscholastic program look forward to meeting with teammates before each game at the Albright Circle on Reynolds Field to reflect upon their goals as a team. Similarly, eighth and ninth grade students each Thursday morning pay back kindnesses they received years before as new boys when they participate in Fenn’s Big Brother program for students new to our fourth and fifth grades.
Most obvious and powerful of these opportunities for reflection is the Senior Reflection each ninth grade student is expected to deliver before the entire community at the beginning of an All School Meeting. Described by seniors as the most nerve-wracking yet affirming three to five minutes of their lives, the Senior Reflection offers an honest and meaningful opportunity for each boy to eulogize in a fashion his time at Fenn as well as those peers, teachers and family members who helped and shaped him as he grew into the eloquent, confident young man before us. Amazingly, in the three years of the senior reflection, no senior has failed to present his reflection nor has he failed to offer observations which have not moved his audience.
In closing, I will encourage all of us—parents, teachers, and students—to keep hold of the possibilities we hold for our sons and our students at the beginning of a school year and to remind these boys to be receptive to each other and to the opportunities inherent in each moment throughout the year. While the resumes Fenn boys build in our classrooms, arts studios, stages and playing fields will certainly be a large part of what delivers them to their future destinations, the moments when they are fully living in the moment with each other will help these boys grow into responsible, compassionate, and generous young men as well as strengthen the Fenn community for the next generation of Fenn boys.
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