We have sent our students home for the summer, and while we are all thrilled about the summer break, the quiet campus is difficult to get used to at the moment! We will have a reunion weekend next week that welcomes alumni back to campus, summer programs, and there is still work being done on the hilltop, but for now, the stillness is both relaxing and creating pangs of nostalgia.
Well, seniors and post-graduates, maybe it was all a dream, an all too brief, lovely dream. Sometimes that is what it feels like when you sit on South Lawn, waiting to graduate, and all of the frustrations, rules, academic and athletic challenges fade away as you realize that, as Thomas Wolfe famously remarked in Look Homeward, Angel, “You can’t go home again.” Of course that isn’t true, and your families are all here to say going home is a possibility that will last a lifetime….within reason. And there will be numerous reunion opportunities and friendship get togethers for Vermont Academy that can fill your calendars. The desire to go back is what has been compelling writers and musicians to create and compose for centuries, as we seem always occupied in the practice of nostalgia. Mark Twain once stated “I can call it all back and make it as real as ever and as blessed.” The thing is, we often do not know what something is until we are past it, until it is so very far in the past that we cannot retrieve it. And we are human, so we do not realize significance as it is happening; we cannot live in a state of constant gratitude and Buddhist-like awareness of the moment.
Our school motto is "Be True to Your Best Self." This came about as a result of graduate Clara Converse of the Class of 1879. Clara went on to Smith College and then returned to teach at Vermont Academy from 1884-1889. She was one of Florence Sabin’s teachers, and of course, you all must know that Florence Sabin, graduate of 1888, went on to be the first woman professor at Johns Hopkins University and the founder of the Colorado healthcare system. Her statue resides in the Capitol, and our highest alumni award bears her name. Clara, Florence’s teacher, left Vermont Academy to be the head of the Soshin School for Girls in Yokohama, Japan, and that school is essentially a sister school that has the same motto we do! Clara founded the school in a time of stirring controversy, and she passed away and was buried in Japan, just before the advent of WWII. She was alone, courageous, and caring for young girls, hoping to give them all that education had to offer and trying to navigate the perilous political waters around her as an American woman and missionary in a time of glaring hostility.
In E.E. Cummings’ poem “in Just-,” the poet talks about spring in all of its “mud-luscious” and
“puddle-wonderful” qualities. Nowhere do we know these puddles, muddy paths, and roads
as well as in Vermont! Navigating through the mud becomes a personalized art for the daring
driver, and most people say “pick a rut and drive through it, holding the wheel in a loose grip
and just keep going. Do not stop at all costs!” If you choose to drive around the ruts rather than into them, you are in lots of sway where you, cradle-like, might just have some significant back and forth but otherwise could shift right off the road. It is not like ice at all in mud time. Mud is its own thing!
“Vermont Academy is the best place on earth in a snowstorm,” wrote alumnus and parent, Francis Willett ’86. When Long Walk shows off its trees with billows of snow on the boughs, and you can hear the sound of the crunch of boots on snow, and feel a crisp tightening at the nose, we all are so grateful. The ’77 Snow Park takes on great importance in the winter as the center of campus freeski and snowboard activity. Last year, a senior walked proudly down Long Walk toward me on his way back to Jones dorm, and he said he was snowboarding for the first time on our hill, and he never felt as confident in his life! These are the joyful statements I love to hear from alumni and students.
Take a few minutes to watch this captivating interview with Jennifer Zaccara on Moments With Melinda, a program on CCTV Center for Media & Democracy. Learn a few life lessons from Jennifer and how she reinforces that students need to steer their own ship. During this interview, Jennifer elaborates on why Vermont Academy is such a special place.
What a busy and exciting week! I have heard from so many that this feels like a fantastic start to our year and that it is the best start in the memories of many long-standing faculty members. Why is that true? We have a vibrant and energized student body taught by a combination of returning and new faculty who are ready to embrace multifaceted ways of serving students. One of the best parts about working at a boarding school is that one learns that teaching moments can appear anywhere and anytime. We are all on the lookout for them because in addition to academics, we are in the business of teaching life skills and life lessons.
Vermont Academy history includes lots of stories of outdoor experiences. We have the tradition of the Long Trail hike before school starts and many other opportunities each weekend, on Mountain Day, and for class trips in which part of our curriculum is really all about learning in and being challenged by our natural surroundings.
Every week brings the summer heat and lots of stressful news in the outside world, but here at Vermont Academy, we are eagerly focused on the return of the faculty and students. There was a great line in the movie You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks sends a now-ancient AOL message in a chat room to Meg Ryan: “Don’t you just love [Saxtons River] in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I will send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils…”
Summer is in full swing on our hilltop. We kicked off this season by hosting over one hundred Vermont Academy alumni for our first reunion in two and a half years. It was wonderful and inspirational to hear their stories and see their joy in reuniting with their fellow classmates. Although change is inevitable in education, alumni of all ages are connected by our Core Beliefs.
All faculty and staff remain in the glow of our spring experience at Vermont Academy. We are still talking about so many of the special moments as well as the closing traditions here! VA traditions instill a marvelous consistency of experience that is one of our trademarks.
Good morning! Welcome families, graduates, faculty, and my esteemed colleagues on the podium including our board head, Mr. Chris Cota, Assistant Head, Brian Gilloran, and Dean of Academics, Lorna Schilling.
For many of you, seniors, the world must look like a set of binaries – opposing sides, opposing views. You might wonder why all of the adults are setting up camps, not talking to each other, and not working on conflict negotiation. The truth is that there are many people who do try to connect, to do the hard work of serving aims that are collective rather than individual, and that represent the kinds of discussions that went into the founding of America. I have recently wondered, could we make an American Constitution at the moment we are in? What do you think? That is a rhetorical question – no need to respond!
I am writing on a sunny but cold day after the wonderful Winter Performing Arts Concert. It was a coming together of our community this week when we all celebrated our talented performing artists, beginning with a one-hour performance by our acting classes and continuing to the spectacular event with Chamber, Jazz, and Vocal Ensembles and a performance by our Dance Team. As faculty member Maryann McArdle commented after the performance, “It was astonishing!”
Today I spoke with someone who was developing project-based work in artificial intelligence (AI) projects, pre-college experiences in AI, and AI careers and ventures. The company teaches people to harness technology for social good. Projects are technology-based, but they serve the public in some way. The representative attended Stanford, well known for its forward-thinking programs in technology and for its design thinking. Sometimes when you hear about these things, it feels like someone is speaking a different language. What does the future look like?
As I write this note, many of our students are making their way home for the holidays, and those who are still on campus are enjoying a Kwanzaa lunch today. Shep is festive with the new tastes and smells from new foods and there is a buzz of discovery in the excited conversations. I am so thankful for our community, and for the ways in which our faculty and staff are all standing ready as mentors and guides to our wonderful students.
Imagine that you are fourteen years old. You are at a family gathering with your grandparents. A discussion of the world’s problems starts and your grandparents wave it off. “The problems are so big compared to what we experienced,” they say. “They won’t be solved in our lifetime, so what’s the point of talking about them?” How would that feel?
I recently received a note from Reg Blauvelt ’61. He shared a photo of his meeting with Frank Siller, the brother of one of the firefighters who died helping others when the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001. Frank’s brother Stephen was on his way home from work when he heard what was happening, and, because of the blocked off roads he took his heavy gear and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel for two miles until he reached the South Tower.
Welcome to the 2021-22 Vermont Academy Convocation -- a traditional gathering for our school and a formal opening to the school year. In this meeting, you will hear about some of the achievements of your peers, there will be some prizes awarded, and new members of our community will sign the honor code, joining with the rest of the community members who signed when they also came here to our hilltop school.
Good afternoon! I am so excited to launch this first all school meeting with a few words of greeting. I am Dr. Jennifer Zaccara, 18th head of Vermont Academy, founded in 1876. We are actually around the corner from celebrating our 150th anniversary – in 2026. This year, you will contribute to our story – your story of learning and growing will become a part of the fabric of this special place.