Convocation 2020: Honoring Our Story

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After several months apart, our school community began a new academic year on campus together. Convocation, our official ceremony to mark the start of the new year, looked different than in past years. Still, its focused words and atmosphere was heightened by the acknowledgment of our historic Bicentennial year ahead. Following a week of student arrivals and a weekend of orientation activities, students, faculty, and administrators gathered in small groups to watch the ceremony broadcast from McEvoy Theater. 

Reflecting on Our Story

Mr. Williams opened the ceremony with a time to reflect and pause. As our school begins its yearlong celebration of our 200-year history, it is crucial to mark the occasion not only for our alumni but also for our students who are witnessing the experience from campus. Williams acknowledged the juxtaposition of the feeling of our small community with the immense global network of alumni and the history of those who built the school to what it is today. “I want you to be proud of this milestone, our school, and feel the responsibility we have individually and collectively to steward this community forward in meaningful ways.”

Mr. Williams continued to speak about our community core values—respect and responsibility—and tying those values to the health and safety of oneself and one’s own community. Following the Cum Laude induction, shared later in this post, Williams returned to describe our school’s founding and a key figure—John Kelley Simpson—without whom our school would not exist. Our founding history is well cataloged within letters between Simpson and others, many of the original versions being rediscovered this summer in the Gordon-Nash Library.

He then shifted the ceremony to our student body co-presidents. Emma ’21 had the honor of opening remarks. As a three-year senior from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Emma took the time to express a recent experience with strangers at Toronto’s airport. Upon learning that Emma was a high school student, an older woman shared thoughts on her own experience as a high school student, remarking upon those days being some of the best of her life. Emma connected this to her own feelings about New Hampton School and how to get the most out of this unusual year, the last year of her class’s time. “My hopes for this year, despite the current situation, is that we all find a little bit of normality and happiness in this time of craziness. Let’s take advantage of the fact that we get to go to school, and we get to be back on the field and the ice. […] I do know that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than right here, right now, surrounded by the people on this campus, so let’s take advantage of that.”

Next in our ceremony was O’Connor Excellence in Teaching Prize winner Charlie Smith. Smith is a Visual Arts faculty member and had the honor of being the featured speaker.

Featured Convocation Speaker

Mr. Smith, who was honored with the O’Connor Excellence in Teaching Award last spring, shared stories from his past. From his days in New Orleans as a young teacher to an experience with a herd of cows in Scotland, Smith wove a tale to connect personal realizations and essential lessons in empathy, humility, perseverance, and open-mindedness. Students and community members alike listened as the story grew from the imagery of nature, home-schooling, and rural life grew to a picture of someone who has embraced lifelong learning in many forms. He acknowledges moments where his early formed and accepted view of society adjusted as each new place broadened his sense of truth, equality, and justice. 

In reflecting on his experiences with race, Smith also confronted his early perceptions on boarding school life and living with a Black roommate, playing on the varsity basketball team with Black student-athletes, and making sense of how he fit in, or rather did not fit in, as he listened to hip hop music and listened to their words. He boldly explained his lack of understanding of the Black experience, or the ‘severely sugar-coated’ version, and an ill-fated use of the n-word. As Smith explains his regret and apology to his friends in the story, they “explained the cultural usage, the uniqueness and singularity of the word, the dark history that is always associated with it, and the appropriation of the word by the Black community as a term of empowerment.”

Smith continues, “I heard the word differently when it was used in some of my favorite songs, but I never sang along to it when I heard it, even when I was alone. And I still don’t say that word, ever. It only took that one incident for my entire understanding to recalibrate. That conversation added momentous weight to my worldview. I acknowledge that there is an inherent issue with a white person speaking about the n-word, so I will simply quote my friend Billy when I say to the non-Black members of the audience, ‘you ain’t get to use that word.'”

As our country’s history continues to be reflected upon, and social and racial injustices remain rightfully in the spotlight, we hope our community members will recognize the need and requirement to practice empathy, humility, and perseverance.

Making the most of a legacy

Student Body Co-President Cam ’21 had the honor of speaking next. In his thoughtful passages, Cam reflected on our school’s theme and the importance of the class of 2021 being the 200th class at New Hampton School. “We carry a massive legacy. To the seniors: how we treat the school this year and how we act and react towards the guidelines put in place will shape New Hampton School for years to come. We should take pride in the fact that this will have an impact on what it looks like in the future.” Highlighting our school’s recent period of growth in technology and physicality, he also paused to think of the students who have walked many of the same paths and lived in these same places over the years. In speaking with a fellow Husky and faculty member, Connor Gorman, Cam gained insight on what it means to be part of this school community—resiliency, hard work, and celebrating group successes. Cam shared that we can use these same beliefs to make the school year great. “If we find joy in the uncertainty of every day, and we keep fighting even when things may not be going our way, we will see the fruits of our labor.”

Community Commitment

To close the ceremony, Mr. Williams tackled the difficult conversations around racial injustice, citing specific examples from the United States in particular. Our school’s commitment to antiracism is tied to many different pillars of a school’s mission. Respect and responsibility. Active global citizenship. And the need to create a safe space for our young community members, learn from the alumni experience before them, respect differences, and continuously and intentionally build towards a better outcome for all. “I want to make sure you are taking notice, which is our civic responsibility and a fundamental part of our mission. These issues must unite us, and they call on us to consider our attitudes, our behaviors, and our responsibility to others. […] I want New Hampton to be a community that leans into hard conversations, and I hope that each and every student finds their voice on the issues that matter to them.”

Cum Laude Society Induction

Convocation is a time where we acknowledge the Cum Laude Society. Erin Walsh ’01 spoke to the history of the society, which was founded in 1906. Setting the tone for academic excellence, the Cum Laude Society signifies the opportunity and drive to excel in our classrooms. Please join us in congratulating the four new inductees to the New Hampton School chapter. 

Gillian Bonin ’21

Xinran Li ’21 

Takamitsu Suzuki ’21

Emma Yao ’21

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