A community of trust
Jim Neill speaks to students

Landon's opening day Convocation ceremony featured speeches from Head of School Jim Neill and Student Council President George Roggie '21 that focused on the year ahead. Here are lightly edited transcripts of those remarks.

George Roggie, Student Council President

It’s so good to be back. This amphitheater is such a special place. It’s an incredible privilege that we get to start every year here. Not every school has a facility like this where we can all be together, third graders, seniors, faculty.

I’d first like one of the seniors, Cullen Brown, to stand up.   

Cullen has been at Landon since third grade. He is committed to play lacrosse at Ohio State, but more importantly, Cullen is a senior prefect, an excellent student, and one of the most well-liked and respected people at this school. If you ever get the chance to converse with Cullen, ask him a question, or just introduce yourself, take it. That’s what we do here at Landon – no person is too important to interact with anyone else.   

I’d now like Alex Boerstling to stand up.   

Alex is in fourth grade. He’s been at Landon for, oh, 15 minutes or so. He’s new here, so he probably doesn’t know his teacher’s name, he certainly doesn’t know his classmates’ names…but that shouldn’t make him any less in the eyes of the student body than someone like Cullen. If you ever get the chance to converse with Alex, ask him a question, or just introduce yourself, do it. That’s what we do here – when someone needs help, or experience, or friendship, we take the time to support them. And we do that in the classroom, and on stage, and on the athletic fields. For example:

For several years here, I ran cross country. I was not good. I was extremely not good at cross country. When I crossed the finish line, the rest of the team was on the bus. The post-race snacks…consumed. The fans…gone home. My parent, sometimes…gone home. I was a bad runner, and really, I’m using the term “runner” a little loosely.  

But under the leadership of Mr. Hunt in the Middle School and Mr. DiChiara in the Upper School, my teammates were always supportive of my efforts, despite the fact that I brought the team average down like five minutes every race. That’s what we do here at Landon: we support each other when we finish first, and we support each other when we finish not first. 

And that’s something I’ve always appreciated about Landon. We have this community of trust that makes it ok to try something new. I knew I wasn’t going to be good at cross country, (though perhaps I didn’t know QUITE how not well I would be) but I also knew that the Landon community was a safe place to try and fail at something. That’s not the case everywhere. That’s something that makes Landon special.

Here’s another example. Freshman year, one of my first assignments as a writer for the Landon News was a story about a number of faculty members who had run marathons over the summer. I worked on that story for weeks, interviewing teachers and students, reading articles about all the different marathons people had run. Unfortunately, I had made on glaring error. Somehow, I ended up writing that a teacher in the Lower School had played volleyball at the University of Virginia, when in fact she had played basketball at Bucknell. I have no idea how I made that mistake, but there are still a few people who never let me hear the end of it.  

But the newspaper editor that year, Jake Davidson, never gave me grief about it. He and the rest of the staff understood that people, especially freshmen, make mistakes, and sometimes really big mistakes, like mistaking a large state school in Virginia for a small private school in Pennsylvania.  

The point I’m trying to make is this: Whether you are in 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th grade, doesn’t matter, get involved, try something new. Don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t be afraid to lose. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

To quote the song “Time,” by Pink Floyd, “one day you’ll find that ten years have gotten behind you, and no one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.” Well, consider this your starting gun. Try a new sport. Join the yearbook. Join debate club. Try the Jazz Band, especially if you’re a drummer, because as a member of the Jazz Band myself, I can tell you, the Jazz Band really needs a drummer. There are so many things to do here. That’s part of what makes Landon a place like no other.

That is what senior leadership has chosen for this year’s motto: Like No Other. Here, you can you take a history class from an NFL Pro Bowler who might even be a better teacher than he was a football player. (Mr. Johnson) Here, take English classes from the bassist in one of the most influential DC rock bands of all time (Ms. Coletta). Here you can you get homework help from an internationally recognized student chemist (Kien Phuong) or play jazz with any number of award-winning musicians. Landon is so strong in so many areas. Get an elite education. Play in an internationally recognized handbells group.  Play lacrosse. Play baseball. Play squash. Meet people in other divisions or try a new club. Or do all of it!

That is what makes Landon, and will hopefully make this year, Like No Other.  

Jim Neill, Head of School

Good morning and welcome to the 2021-22 school year, our 93rd here at Landon.  I hope all of you had rejuvenating and happy summers.  Someone asked me if we were going to make a rain plan for today and I said, no we aren’t.  We are going to have nice weather.  And I was right and so begins a great year. 

I see this tradition of gathering together in this amphitheater as a wonderful way to launch the year.  For those who are new to Landon, I say a hearty welcome; to the rest of you I say welcome back.

It is so, so great to be here in person – so great to see everyone together – so great to begin anew.  It is fitting that our school year comes on the heels of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana – a day that celebrates a new year in the Jewish faith calendar – a day of shouting and blasting of horns.  We all can share in that celebratory spirit today.  For there is so much right now that we have to be grateful for, to be excited about. 

Whether you are a 10th year senior or a 3rd grader, you are beginning an experience that is new.  Let’s take a minute to recognize our different grades and our new and returning faculty. 

To start, will all of our Lower Schoolers stand?  The 3rd-5th Grades – classes of 2031, 2030, 2029.  We are glad to have you here at Landon.  These are important foundational years in your lives.  Learn and live out the Lower School motto – Do your best; be honest; help the other fellow – and things will go your way.   You may be seated.

Will all of our Middle Schoolers stand?  Grade 6, Form I, and Form II.  The Classes of 2028, 2027, and 2026.  Middle School is an important time of transition towards young adulthood when you start to face important questions about the persons you want to become.  Be good to one another, rely on your teachers, and abide by the character pledge as you ready yourselves for the Upper School. You may be seated.

Will all of our Upper Schoolers stand?  These are our Forms III, IV, V, and VI.  The Classes of 2025, 2024, 2023, and 2022.  High School is a defining and crucial time.  The challenges you face will expand as will the opportunities. Make the most of your opportunities; treat your failures as opportunities to learn.  Engage fully in all the school has to offer, in what your teachers and coaches put before you, live our core values.  The time to graduate and move to college will come all too soon and you will look back on these years with fondness.  So don’t be in a hurry; seize each day. 

And finally seniors please remain standing – the rest of you may be seated.  The members of the class of 2022.  We look forward to you leading us this year, to setting the tone, as you experience this special time of transition towards college and beyond.  Here’s to a great year.  Make it like no other.

I want to thank all the faculty and staff for the work you will do this year, in service to the Landon mission and in support of all of our boys, for giving of yourselves so that they can grow into the persons we know they are capable of becoming.

This summer I was looking on the shelf for a book to read, and my eye caught a novel I had read many years ago and liked a lot – it’s called Cold Mountain by the writer Charles Frazier, and it’s about an injured man’s effort to flee the fighting of the Civil War and his journey to find his way home.  The novel is sometimes described as a modern version of Homer’s Odyssey.  It’s not necessarily an uplifting novel – though it has its moments of profound human connection – but it is a powerful and poignant work.  Anyway, near the beginning, the main character, named Inman, is stuck recuperating from a terrible injury in a gruesome war hospital and he has fallen into a bleak and cynical world view.  As the author says: “He had seen the metal face of the age and had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled.”  A terribly sad and dispiriting state of mind, and perhaps one he doesn’t fully abide by the end. 

I know this is not a necessarily uplifting line for an opening of school talk but bear with me.  For while the line struck me for its dismal sentiment, it also, and more importantly, struck me because of how discordant and totally counter I found it to be to the year I knew waited ahead.

For while we too find ourselves amidst an age of stunning challenges of all sorts, and while we too found ourselves on a complex journey last year, striving for clarity in an uncertain world, looking to safeguard things we valued most, and while that journey was replete with challenges, some of which remain today – the truth is, we persevered and together we found our way to this new day, We found our way to this cusp of a new tomorrow where the things we count important – things like community and friendship and character and growth and opportunity – are alive and well and present and vibrant parts of what this moment and this School is all about. 

So unlike the character Inman, whose arduous experience broke him in so many ways, I believe we come to today ready to begin anew.  We come to today with hope – a hope born of our all being here, together, in community, ready for this new beginning.  Let me say this loud and clear: this year is not last year.  Today brings us a fresh start – a chance to re-invent ourselves and live fully into the aspirations this institution has for all of us.  A fresh start marked by the good challenges inherent in a Landon experience, by meaningful change and growth, and by a turning back towards those high expectations we treasure in the Landon experience.  So in the spirit of the recent Labor Day holiday, let’s get to work – let’s get on board with all of these things and drive ourselves and one another towards achieving our intellectual and personal potential.

Also in this moment of hope, let’s remind and recommit ourselves to the principles of honesty and respect, of civility and teamwork, of perseverance and courage and kindness – principles Landon Bears are always called on to embrace.  Let’s recommit ourselves to being better than the ways of our popular culture and instead step above it, lead, and hold ourselves and one another to higher standards of ethical character.  Let us remind ourselves in this moment of how much we have in common –of what we owe to one another and can learn from one another – and of the distinct privilege we all have to be Landon Bears.  As I have said before and will say again, with this privilege comes great responsibility to do something good with that privilege by living our lives fully and in ways that better the world around us.

The truth is all of this is a choice.  We can choose the path we want to be on.  We have the agency to determine how we want to come out of last year – we can choose to believe in and support one another and bring to life the values of this place.  We can create this better tomorrow and animate the foundational hope on which this place runs – namely the hope that you young men might become, in part because of this experience, persons who, to use the language in our new portrait of a graduate, act ethically, respect others, live responsibly, serve selflessly, think deeply, communicate clearly, and embrace challenge.

So here’s my question for each and all of you.  What are you personally going to do to make all of this happen?  What are you going to do to work towards these ambitions?  What are you going to do to make this year of hope bear out?  What will you do to hold yourself and others accountable to the standards of honor, character, civility, and hard work that this school calls on you to embrace?  You can’t sit by.  You have to make it happen.  What are you going to do? 

Important questions that are worth thinking about as we begin again.  And as you think about them, know that there is incredible stuff on the horizon for us and our school.  So let’s reanimate the spirit of this place, reconnect with friends new and old in ways that are enduring and supportive, challenge ourselves to be active and engaged thinkers whose perspectives and actions are informed by values like respect, responsibility, and compassion. And even if it takes us a little more time this year to get back on the track, let’s do that too.  All of this is in our hands.  Let’s make it happen.  Let’s get to it and make this a year like not other.

Here’s to a great first day, month, year.  Go Bears!

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