"Navigating Uncharted Waters" by Provost Bill Bussey
A couple of weeks ago, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence took his family to the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. The cast stayed onstage after taking their bows, and actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who starred as Vice President Aaron Burr, asked Mr. Pence as he was leaving to please stay and listen to the post-election concerns that the performers wished to share. According to the New York Times, Mr. Pence paused just outside the auditorium’s door and heard every word. At the core of Mr. Dixon’s message was the following: “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
Patrick Healy’s November 19 New York Times article focused on the reaction the Hamilton event created. Two opinions in particular made me sit up and take notice not by the stance taken but by the persons who made them. Musician and political activist Steve Van Zandt placed his political leanings aside and made it clear that “you don’t single out an audience member and then embarrass him from the stage. A terrible precedent to set.” Former John McCain strategist, Republican Steve Schmidt, supported the cast’s decision: “The address from the cast was respectful, but even if it wasn’t, they have a right to say it.” Neither Mr. Van Zandt nor Mr. Schmidt compromised their integrity to appease their fan base or colleagues. I suspect that the confusion and anxiety for many of us has less to do with our own line of thinking, but more with our now shattered perception of the compromised integrity of people we thought we knew. I’m betting a lot food was left on the plate this past Thanksgiving.
You didn’t have to be Nostradamus during the last six months to predict that we were all about to wade in uncharted waters. Yet, there was not enough room in my imagination to prepare me for the seemingly infinite number of mind-numbing tributaries of discourse.
How does a school navigate that? By sticking to the tried and true.
Starting last July and continuing every week thereafter, various members of the Nobles community have spent a great deal of time anticipating the challenges that this election, with all its toxic rhetoric, has dropped on our nation’s lap. Morning assemblies proved to be the perfect venue for this task. History chair Nahyon Lee and Politics and Ethics teacher Alex Gallagher spearheaded a series of assembly presentations, each ten minutes in length and led by students, that shared a balanced point of view of everything from health care to foreign policy. Politically conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby pulled no punches when he outlined the reasons why he wasn’t voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Historian David McCullough held students spellbound not only with his wisdom and storytelling abilities when discussing presidential elections past and present but also with his humility and dignity. Science teacher and Renaissance man Dominic Manzo revealed the mysteries of the Electoral College and the nefarious world of gerrymandering. Class I students Helena Jensen, Holly Lyne, and Sophia Millay, co-leaders of Students for Gender Awareness, along with other classmates, read passages from Jessica Bennett’s New York Times essay “Girls Can Be Anything, Just Not President.” Co-Deans of Diversity Initiatives Erica Pernell and Edgar DeLeon led a voluntary meeting to help students process the election’s outcome, while various classes and school organizations spent time discussing different perspectives on the State of the Union. And if you haven’t read the November newsletter piece entitled “Obligations of Citizenship” by Associate Director of Academic Support Sara Masucci and Upper School Head Michael Denning, please do so and gain an insight into how deep our commitment is to your children.
Head of School Bob Henderson spoke briefly but deliberately in the morning assembly on the day following the election and what he had to say says it all. He emphasized the importance of the democratic process and drove home the point that no matter how students and faculty may feel about the outcome, they should continue to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the community principles: honest respect for self and others. We will continue to do what we have always done in challenging times: be there for those that need assurance, stick to the schedule, follow our daily routines, and above all, respect each others’ feelings. We continue to do all that we can to ensure that your children feel safe and respected even when much of the world may seem to suggest otherwise. Above all, we want each child to be confident enough to embrace who they are and to never compromise their integrity and core values.