Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

May 2016

Nobles Parents' Newsletter May 2016

"Finish Well" by Head of School Bob Henderson

It is now almost a Nobles cliché that one of my favorite admonitions to the school from the assembly stage is to “finish well.” I emphasize this point because I think it is most frequently in the late stages of a game that exhaustion sets it, exhilaration at the prospect of completion clouds judgment, and short cuts to the victory lap look tempting. Each spring I write a letter in April to the members of Class I. While I imagine some of them read it carefully and take it seriously, I have been at this business long enough to know that many, if not most, of them only give it a quick glance and move on to more immediate concerns. In that letter, I use the analogy of rock climbers who suggest that the final ten feet of a climb are the most dangerous, when success is drawing near. In Greek mythology and drama, this is the moment of tragic hubris and error. I am, however, an optimist by nature, albeit one with a strong inclination to pragmatism. The true peril lies in not openly acknowledging the unique psychological challenges of the final weeks of a school year; we need to do all we can to help our students, and indeed the faculty, to navigate these days with both focus and joy, and to conclude with a balanced and appropriate sense of a job well done.

Perhaps some of my attention to this issue stems from my own experiences as I completed high school. I still harbor regrets that the final weeks of my time as a student at Nobles were spent trying to get as far away from Nobles as I could get as often as I could do so. At the time, my rationalization was that I was sick of school and SO ready to move on. In hindsight, I well recognize that I was in significant measure trying to process my own powerful, bittersweet emotions about incipient separation; my solution was to insulate myself by pulling away early. In fact, as I look back at my adolescence, I can think of several junctures when that was my preferred mode of coping.

Over a decade ago, there was a lively discussion at a faculty meeting late in the school year about some of the challenges inherent to navigating the month of May. This conversation was not just pertaining to the difficulties experienced by students; many teachers expressed that it was hard to let go of students, or to be disappointed by them, especially seniors, with whom they had experienced such salutary relationships. The concomitant topic was how the faculty could model the behavior we hoped to see from students as we approached graduation. I recall distinctly the comment of legendary Nobles photography teacher Joe Swayze (since retired) who said, “Closure is an act of will. You can’t just let it happen to you. You have to work at it every day.” I also remember a powerful observation from English teacher Vicky Seelen, who said, “The best way to deal with closure is with gratitude,” by which she meant that being consciously thankful is, in fact, the most beneficial manner by which to stay on course and bring about a positive outcome.

I have boiled those bits of sage advice down to the simpler phrase, “finish well.” Regardless of whether there have been points of frustration, and in spite of the over-brimming emotional complexity and occasional narcissism that overwhelms us as we traverse the last weeks of school, it is more critical than ever to keep one’s eyes on the prize, to be mindful of and grateful to those at home and in school whose support and guidance carried us to this point, and to remember always that this is a community, and not just an individual, experience. I hope parents will do all they can as well to encourage and help their children to finish well, especially in this school year when we have all learned a bit more deeply about what really matters in life and how fleeting our time on this planet can be. 

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