Common Fire Morning After Assessment by Head of School Bob Henderson
A very thoughtful and engaged parent stopped by my office to ask me a question a few days before Common Fire (the all-school service day that occurred on April 14). After dealing with the primary topic on her mind, conversation turned to Common Fire. She opined, entirely respectfully, that an all-school service day seemed anachronistic in an era when service was already so deeply ingrained in the ethos of the school and the students. I could not disagree entirely. Moreover, I rather nervously anticipated the big event with all its risks and complications; we planned to launch several hundred people out to over 65 sites all around Greater Boston for an entire school day. The last time we staged a Common Fire day was 11 years ago, when the world was a bit less complicated and the service ethic was somewhat less central to our community. Indeed, part of the purpose of Common Fire in 2004 had been specifically to enhance our service awareness and commitment. In the end, however, Common Fire 2015 far exceeded my modest expectations and represented an apt and powerful beginning to the celebration of the school’s sesquicentennial.
The origins of Common Fire 2015 were quite different from the original. This time, our intent was to recognize and pay homage to the element of the school mission that has been most consistent and enduring through the history of the school. This is the notion that Nobles is committed to preparing its students for a life of service to others. While this has been interpreted in various ways in different generations, over the last two decades this has been primarily understood to mean that Nobles students should look for ways to help build and give back to their various communities, both while students here and throughout their lives. The phrase that has been most memorable and meaningful in the current Nobles mission statement is that Nobles is dedicated to inspiring leadership for the public good. It is my strong belief that in addition to asking students to live this mission, the institution should have its own commitments and model the mission as well. It was from this impulse that the Achieve program was developed, that the Upward Bound program has been sustained, and that a new Common Fire was engendered.
The key figure in Common Fire has been Sandi MacQuinn, who developed the concept and provided the organization and elbow grease, in both 2004 and 2015, to bring it to reality. Sandi, working closely with Linda Hurley, started the effort a year in advance, reaching out to work sites, developing committees and planning logistics. Linda was there every step of the way, and she represents to students especially the inspirational giving spirit of the service program at Nobles. As the last year advanced, many volunteers from among the faculty, parents and graduates emerged to help ensure the success of the enterprise. In the end, Common Fire 2015 was a triumph of both community spirit and entrepreneurial collaboration.
It is rare and powerful that a directed, highly scheduled and demanding community such as Nobles can take an entire day out of the normal routine and dedicate the time to a higher cause. It is even more significant that the reviews about that endeavor have been so overwhelmingly positive. Our students worked hard and passionately and made life a little easier and more hopeful for a lot of people. They learned lessons about themselves and their potential that will be lasting. They lived the mission of the school and experienced that those ideals are not idly aspirational. We affirmed, as we enter the celebration of our 150th year, that Noble and Greenough School is truly dedicated to inspiring leadership for the public good.
On behalf of the faculty and students of the school, I want to express gratitude for the help and support we received from so many members of our extended community, both in the year of planning and in the execution of Common Fire. I do not know that we will do this again anytime soon, but I do know that this was the most ideal and memorable way we could have kicked off the sesquicentennial of our community.