Letter: A Place of Reference
In The Light in the Heart, Roy T. Bennett wrote, “The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.” Each of us has memories of the School that are frozen in time, shaped by each of our experiences, and tempered by our lives since Graduation.
For some, today’s St. Paul’s is assimilated in small, often second-hand, fragments. For others, volunteering and attendance at alumni events affords a closer look. Anniversary Weekend is a special gathering of alumni from both ends of this spectrum, when we gather for several days of both ceremony and substance, nostalgia and immediacy. We celebrate traditions, enduring friendships, and a common bond that seems to transcend the ordinary. It is this common bond that I believe can and will be renewed and strengthened by adversity. St. Paul’s is at an inflection point, a long overdue uncovering of sexual abuse and profound breaches of trust. Our entire community is now confronting them. The stories, legal actions, and media coverage have been painful. But none of it need be divisive. In this, we have a clear choice - engagement, productive dialogue, and reconciliation.
These revelations bear witness to the transparency that was a hallmark of Mike Hirschfeld’s leadership. That leadership embodied the School’s core values, and I am confident that his legacy will manifest in a stronger, more trusting community. Much work has already begun – the Building Healthy Relationships and Alumni Doorways Committees, to name two – and there is much more to come. To quote an alumnus who served St. Paul’s in many capacities for two decades, “SPS is a student of itself.” This has never been more true than today.
We saw a glimmer of the future on June 3, when the 139 members of the Form of 2018 graduated under brilliant blue skies. These extraordinarily diverse, aware, and accomplished young people are taking the passions, intellectual curiosity, activism, and friendships they cultivated at St. Paul’s to 73 colleges and universities around the globe. As the newest members of an Alumni Association nearly 9,000 strong, they are not only the face of the School’s future, but our bridge to it. I see that future as the School Prayer in action in the world.
Throughout Anniversary Weekend, which included members of the Forms of 1943 through 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting many alumni and their families for the first time, while also renewing old acquaintances. Some events, including Chapel services, wreath laying, the Parade, and the Boat Races, remain fond and cherished traditions. Others, such as gatherings of the Gay/Straight Alliance and students and alumni of color, reflect the School’s evolution toward a more diverse and inclusive community. The Service of Remembrance on June 2 included the traditional rendition of “O Pray for the Peace,” but also a prayer “For Repentance,” written by the Reverends Alice Courtright, Valerie Minton Webster ’76, and Richard W. Belshaw ’75 to honor victims of abuse (see p. 36).
The Baccalaureate Service before Graduation featured Annie Lederer Duke ’83, daughter of Richard Lederer, a much beloved English teacher during my time at the School. Annie spoke about dealing with uncertainty and engaging life with an open mind. She reminded me of something else Roy T. Bennett said: “Be brave to stand for what you believe in even if you stand alone.” As members of the St. Paul’s School community, none of us need stand alone.
Looking ahead, please join us at the School this fall for “SPS in Action,” on Friday and Saturday, September 28-29, 2018. I look forward to hearing from all of you as we go forward together.
President of the Alumni Association