The Awakening

Published 10:39 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

When classes ended on December 19th and the NSA campus fell silent, a certain feeling of melancholy seemed to linger with me. It had nothing to do with facing a 10-hour trek over the Appalachian Mountains to visit my family in Kentucky. Nor the fact that two golden retrievers and a new 7-week old Boston Terrier puppy would discover the lack of rest stops on I-64. No, my melancholy came from a sense of a seasonal finale in seeing our seniors making their final appearances on a host of stages at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

In a consequential independent school experience, where we watch and relish our students growing from diapers to gowns, we need moments like these to remind ourselves that time does not stand still. These experiences of watching our seniors exulting in their accomplishments in finding the right college is all well and good – but I like to remind them, find enjoyment in what you are doing and living today.

I liken it to a bit of C.S. Lewis’ theology, “The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

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As is the human condition, we need daily reminders to help us remain aware and awake in these times of the hyper-electronic, over-stimulated sensory incursions of today. One reminder found me at the first of three performances of our holiday concerts. Only weeks before I had poked my head in on a band class, and found our band teacher, Carrie Swatsworth-Estes, in the midst of binding together the various parts of a performance they were preparing. I found the process fascinating in how the work was broken down and then built up. The polished collective talent that appeared in the final production found me awake and relishing in the labor and talent at NSA.

As an independent school educator, I value the totality of a thoroughly engaging program. We do not look at the Arts and Athletics as extra-curricular – they are, for us, integral parts of our curriculum. As a Pre- School to Grade 12 School, we have a remarkable opportunity to fashion a cohesive school curriculum that builds on basic independent school tenets – Academics, Athletics and Arts.

Years ago a friend of mine, Robert, graduated from an independent school. He was a three-sport athlete, a member of the school choir, and brilliant in the classroom. It took him only three years to secure a degree in chemical engineering and companies lined up to hire him. We lost touch. Years later, I found myself in my parents’ basement trying to fix a furnace, when a bearded fellow appeared and called my name. Thinking he was the furnace fellow whom I had called to help, it struck me – how did he know my name? It was Robert, and it had been 10 years since we had seen each other.

It turned out that Robert was a master finish-carpenter, who happened to be passing through my neck of the woods. I remember the lunch we shared and his story – his journey, his awakening. For Robert, his vocation did not lie with chemical engineering. He talked passionately about carpentry, and being uniquely equipped with all that he had been exposed to in his education. His outlook took me by surprise – I began to shed the misguided notion that going to an independent school was simply about college preparation. For Robert, our school had given him choices. He was exposed to a wide variety of possibilities – no door would remain shut. And so Robert liked to work with his hands, and those hands now shape a life of personal fulfillment….”the real labor is to remember.”

Robert taught me that an independent school experience was a broad stage of classrooms, playing fields and theater. It was the staging, the preparation for a lifetime. So, as I watch our seniors playing in their final games, and relishing their final performances, and walking through our doors for the last time as students, I will turn a little melancholic, but bask in the awakening that is Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s aspiration.