It’s hard to say exactly what is the presiding spirit of the first week of school. The renewed friendships after a summer apart, broadcast by the yells and squeals of seeing each other again? Trepidation – articulated or not, depending on whether the new student is in Grade 12 or Grade 1? Energy and activity, as the campus is transformed in a blink from its sleepy summer hiatus to its full-on academic, artistic, athletic and social ruck? Whatever it is, the quality that pervades everyone’s perception is that the spirit is overflowing. Everywhere. Impossible to contain. Order and structure form a barely discernible skeleton under a body that ripples and bustles with muscle, energy and noise. Exactly as it should be in a school.
Certainly the first Senior Chapel this morning was overflowing. It is the one Chapel of the year which all the Senior students attend; for the remainder of the year one grade sits out each time. Part of my welcome this morning was a reference to a retreat we had at the school in August for Management Team (compulsory) and staff (voluntary, although about 30 of them chose to attend), where we did a “book study” of a book my Princeton professor Kwame Appiah, Cosmopolitanism. The subtitle of the book is Ethics in a World of Strangers, which is a little more illuminating. The point of referring to this exercise with the students in Chapel (and of spending a couple of days in the summer discussing the book) is that in our growingly cramped world where others – sometimes very different and strange others – inevitably encroach on our lives, it is important to create opportunities and attitudes that allow people to build, freely and respectfully, a world that they must share. This thought is just a morsel of the larger and more sophisticated discussions that this book includes. The drift of it, though, and the drift of the conversations at our staff retreat, was that in a school like ours, which tries authentically to prepare students to be leaders (that is: confident, thoughtful, principled, charitable members of the world they will shape), we have to create a space where such conversations can happen. The Chapel is such a space.