(note: Stephanie’s original speech has been edited for space considerations.)
At the end of June in 2017, Mark and I were with Jonas in his studio in Brooklyn Heights. Mark and I had spent several of the previous days here on campus as I had my final interviews for this position. While we treasure our time with the boys, I was nervous and distracted. I knew that the Board was meeting to make their decision. Had I been articulate enough? Did they feel that connection, the fit, which I felt? I was confident in my abilities, but the head of school search process is a fickle one. I knew that it could go either way.
Then the phone rang, and it was Lynn Kehoe. Oddly ill prepared, I found that my phone was nearly dead; a 1% battery does not calm one’s nerves when the call you have answered is either one of “You got the job” or “We really enjoyed getting to know you but we’re going in a different direction.” I shuffled around the apartment to find an outlet and sat on the floor with my back to the wall. What happened next is the fun part, and it is this camaraderie and energy that I often think about when there is a challenge in my day.
Lynn said hello and asked me to wait while she conferenced in Allison Porter. They were calling to offer me the headship at Stoneleigh-Burnham School and let me know that the board was waiting in the wings to hear my response. This communal call is not common practice for most boards, but their warm and enthusiastic energy was just right from a school where the culture and care of others and the spirit of unity is so strong.
My charge from the Board was and is clear: steward the mission of the school in the daily lives and activities of the many diverse people in our campus community and shepherd that mission forward into the future.
Fortunately, our mission is easy to focus on. In my mind, it has three key components that we strive for with our students. We want each girl
- To discover her best self
- To graduate with the confidence to think independently and act ethically
- To be secure in the knowledge that her voice will be heard
At Convocation in September, I told the assembled group that the mission was our guiding star. It is both inspirational and practical, and we all need to uphold it in all that we do at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Today, I am more than ever committed to this mission, and I see us working to measure up to it every day.
How have I seen students discovering their best selves, and how are they doing the work of this discovery every day?
- I saw it yesterday in the performing arts program in this room. The atmosphere was electric and the performances stunning.
- I saw it this week when a number of sophomores who are taking Rhetoric this fall started to have impromptu speeches in the evenings. These pop-ups are amazing!
- I saw it in my own advising group when there has been a challenge that one of the group has faced. I have let them talk things through and the advice that they have given each other could not have been better. They support and push each other, knowing that this is how you take care of each other.
- I saw it after our club fair as students talked animatedly about signing up for too many clubs and then worked through which ones they would commit to. Conversation around which club would be fun, which one would stretch them, where would they make a difference? Such thoughtful consideration was compelling to see.
- I saw it on the soccer field when there were injuries and one young player moved quickly beyond her own fear and talked her best friend through a very scary moment when she was in tremendous pain.
- I saw it when a student panel spanning our grades spoke eloquently and passionately, and very individually, about the strengths of their school to a group of seasoned admissions consultants who were visiting campus. The consultants were mightily impressed.
Where have I seen our students growing in the area of thinking independently and acting ethically?
- I have seen it when I drive by the weekly Vigil for Racial Justice on the town common in Greenfield and see the group buoyed in number by Stoneleigh-Burnham School students.
- I see it when I look around the Dining Hall at formal dinner and see that there is no “uniform.” The girls each have their own style, and one girl told me that they also branch out and borrow from others to try on other styles. All of them are appropriate and wonderful.
- I have seen it when several students are willing to express differing points of view in their interpretations of a story in English class, expressing their positions assertively yet respectfully.
- I have seen it in the wide range of aesthetic identities displayed in our student artwork, on the dance floor, or in Rock Band.
- I have seen it when a student has a hard and purposeful conversation with a peer about a time when words have injured.
What does it mean to be secure in the knowledge that one’s voice will be heard?
For me this means something very, very powerful, more than just being willing to speak up in class or in House Meeting.
There is a clear authenticity to our students, and they are confident without being egotistical.
They have the courage to express their convictions, especially when it is not easy to do so.
They have an awareness of themselves that allows them to speak on behalf of others.
Through their growing sense of advocacy they gain the power to shape their own futures and perhaps ours as well. They inspire me.
Today, in a national and cultural climate that can be very divisive, it is even more important that we help our students become ethical and moral citizens, ready to contribute to the world in thoughtful and compelling ways.
I say to the adults that serve the students of SBS, believe in the beautiful power of your impact.
I say to the students of SBS, believe in the beautiful power of your own agency and your own future.
I say to the community, every aspect of it, thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve you through our shared mission.
Let’s go. Let’s go and do the good hard work that needs to be done. In this, we will ensure that our community continues its proud traditions and continues to transform the lives of young women.