Q and A in the Admission Process by Head of School Bob Henderson
Most parents recall visiting the school for events during the admission process. I have the responsibility of hosting several admissions forums, including evening receptions and sessions during the open houses. These gatherings seem to be generally well received. Yet there is a more personal side to this for me. I honestly end up doing some of my best thinking in that environment.
There is a fair amount of writing associated with my job, and I spend hours sitting in front of my computer composing letters, articles and remarks. Sometimes, probably in a manner similar to many students when given an essay assignment, I just stare at the screen without a sense of how or where to begin. Inspiration isn’t always immediate. But there is something about a question-and-answer session with people new to this school that does inspire me. I have no choice but to respond swiftly and directly, and from that spontaneity significant insight, passion and honesty often emerge unadorned.
Much of what I am asked is predictable. Almost invariably, folks want to hear me elaborate on the advisor system, describe the benefits of the afternoon program and discuss the means we employ to support new students. Someone inevitably presses me on what it is that distinguishes Nobles among independent schools in the area (to which I generally frame an answer around the importance of assembly in establishing our unique community, the critical nature of faculty mentorship and relationships in developing our rigorous academic experience, and the unique power of our EXCEL program and opportunities).
There is usually someone who hopes to stump me by asking what I most frustrated by at Nobles (to which I usually respond by discussing the mass of abandoned property in and around the lost and found). College counseling comes up frequently, as do workload and stress, hiring and evaluation of teachers, and the relationship between the middle and upper schools. The best question I have been asked, however, arrived at an evening reception over a decade ago. A prospective parent inquired, “What are the four things you hope all students will have when they graduate from Noble and Greenough School?” My response was so clear that night that I actually went back to my office and wrote down what I said so I could remember and repeat it in the future.
The room was quiet and I just started to talk, and what I really believed about Nobles came spilling forth. First, I said, I hoped our graduates would develop a sense of who they are as people. This means a sense of their gifts, potential and liabilities. Confidence in and a perspective on self as one emerges from adolescence are great gifts that I hope the school can bestow. This knowledge emerges from a highly challenging environment that allows students space to take risks and to succeed, and also sometimes to struggle or come up short, but always with support and guidance in the process.
Second, I asserted that a Nobles graduate should develop an understanding of what it means to be a person of character and integrity. I hope they will understand what these words mean, why they are of critical importance, how they manifest themselves, and how they are challenged in life. I further hope that students will grow to perceive the intrinsic relationship between character and integrity and leadership.
Third, I intoned that I hope all Nobles graduates will develop a deep appreciation for and gratitude toward the people who helped them to accomplish the first two things. This includes parents, teachers, coaches, advisors, friends and others along the way. I hope that all our students cross the finish line with a sense of their debt to others and a determination to provide the same support to others in their own lives.
Finally, I said that I want students to live the mission of the school; no matter what they choose to do professionally, I hope they will seek to inspire leadership for the public good.
This year’s Distinguished Graduate, Mike Vance ’77, in a recent assembly dramatically reinforced this when he challenged the students of the school by saying, “I know you will do well when you leave Nobles, but will you do good? I hope you will make it your purpose in life to do good.” In a quick phrase, Mike summed up my intent as an educator. Next time I am asked this question in any forum, this will be my more simple response.
-Bob Henderson, Head of School