A community that defines you and that you help define

This is an edited version of remarks given by Headmaster Jim Neill during Convocation, the opening program on opening day for all students, faculty, and staff.

Good morning all and welcome to the 2019-20 school year here at Landon, the start of our 91st year.  For those who are new to Landon, I extend a hearty welcome.  To the rest of you I say welcome back.

Our tradition of gathering together in this amphitheater is a wonderful way to launch the year, and I am excited to see all of you so gathered.  For one of the defining aspects of the Landon experience is the idea of community – the idea that we seek to know and care for one another.  All of you, whether you are new or returning, occupy a new space in the story of the school.  Whether you are a 10th year senior or a new 3rd grader, you are beginning an experience that is new to you…

…Allow me to share just a few reflections about the year ahead.  At an administrative retreat this past June we took some time to engage in conversation about important school topics like Landon’s values, mission, and institutional goals.  They were for me very inspiring discussions and afterward I found myself thinking about the why of Landon.  That is, about why this place exists and why we at Landon choose to be here and do what we do.  And as I thought about those questions, my answers to them came pretty quickly.  I shared those answers with the full faculty last week, and I thought it might be good this morning to share them as well. 

To put it simply, I think this place exists because we believe in you boys – because we believe in the vast human potential that is inside of each of you -- in your capacity to do and to be good.  I think Landon exists because we believe it is a moral imperative to help you become the very best version of yourselves you can be and because we believe that you need and deserve to be in a place where adults care about you, and because our world needs boys who have been afforded such an opportunity.  I think Landon exists because we believe in the timeless importance of things like honesty and respect, like perseverance and effort, like ideas and conversation, like community and relationship, like courage and leadership, like caring and selflessness.  This place exists because we believe these values are crucial to you developing into good men, and because we believe an all-boys setting is uniquely effective for delivering on such a purpose. 

This is to me the why of this place, and I thought it might be a good idea to frame the year with these reflections.  They offer important context to today, to this week, and to the joys and challenges that lie ahead in the months to come. 

Certainly it is a blessing for each of you boys to be in a place that has such a reason for being -- to be in a place where there is a communal commitment to each of you and to your development as thinkers, as artists, as athletes, as leaders, as teammates, as citizens, and as people.  It is also a blessing for the adults gathered here to be part of a place defined by and focused on such important work and by such a hopeful vision for the future. 

So we are fortunate to be here together.  That last word – together – is a key one.  For it occurs to me that all of us are dependent on one another in this work – faculty and boys and staff and parents – all of us are collectively engaged in this work of helping you boys develop into, as our mission states, “responsible and caring men whose actions are guided by the principles of perseverance, teamwork, honor and fair play.”  We are here in community and relationship for you.  And the truth is, we need each other in this work.  All of us are dependent on one another for our achievements.  All of us are here today – whether students or teachers or administrators – because someone else has helped us out along the way.  We have succeeded and will continue to succeed because others cared and helped us out, whether we deserve that help or not.  That person could be a parent or a teacher or a coach or a mentor or a sibling or a friend or a teammate or a neighbor or even, in some cases, people we don’t know and will never even meet.  It is humbling to realize this.

But is also good.  I heard a wonderful talk the other day about the connection between humility and gratitude in which the speaker noted that we can take different approaches to this humbling realization of our dependence on others.  We can respond to it by feeling unworthy or somehow out of place or defensive; we can even deny or dismiss it.  Or we can take a different approach – a better approach – and just be thankful, realizing that we are fortunate to be supported by the people around us.  We can be grateful.  And we can show that gratitude not just by saying thank you when the chance presents itself, but also by making the most of our opportunities, by striving to enhance our communities, and by helping and supporting others whenever we can.

So with all of these ruminations in mind, allow me to close with a couple simple thoughts.  Recognize you are part of a community – a community that defines you and that you help to define.  Recognize that the success of this place called Landon, with its high-minded purpose and reason for being, is dependent on the effort of every person here.  Help to build up this place and everyone who is a part of it through what you say and do.  Help to advance the mission of this place through how you approach your work and everyone you meet.   Act with humility by showing gratitude for those around you; and show gratitude by living with honesty and integrity, with decency and kindness, with respect and civility.  This is how you Honor the Den and how you build up the Den.  It represents an overall approach to life that may be out of step with our self-absorbed greater world right now, but it is an approach through which you young men of Landon can grow into the strong and ethical leaders our world so desperately needs.

And, with that, let us begin.  Here’s to an excellent year ahead.