Expressions of optimism and generosity
In 1723, Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor William Dummer, declared November 28 a day of Thanksgiving for the colony. While the fall holiday tradition preceded William Dummer’s decree, and Abraham Lincoln’s setting of a date—the last Thursday in November—came 140 years later, it is noteworthy that the founder of our school is recognized for this document 300 years ago next week.
As is the case with much of this continent’s history, the story of Thanksgiving is a complicated one. The story of Pilgrims and Wampanoags sharing a fall feast together 402 years ago is a hopeful and attractive one, but it is challenged by the version that includes the decimation of Native American tribes and culture in that era and in the centuries that followed. Understanding and considering the historical complexity of situations is important in this instance and others that emerge in our lives. That offered, I want to focus on the concept of giving thanks that is at the core of this holiday, and how that is expressed and experienced here at The Governor’s Academy.
The end of the fall in New England brings colors on the trees, followed by raking them from the grass. The smell of cut grass of the late summer is replaced by that of a damp earthiness in November. For me, the season is full of refreshed memories and encouragement to move from what is accomplished or noticed to a sense of gratitude for others. It includes, too, a willingness to engage in or acknowledge the reward of delayed gratitude. On campus, it means we welcome the Special Olympics to our campus. We reap the benefit of all of the work our student leaders have put into making the day seamless, and we smile and hug, and cheer as those athletes compete. It means that we think about Veterans Day through the lens of those who have served, and we say thank you. It means that we close the fall season on fields, courses, courts, and stages with moments shared among a team, cast, or troupe who have committed time, effort, and emotion to each other for the past 90 days. It means that we show appreciation for all in our facilities department who mow the grass, rake the leaves, and make our independent school campus beautiful every day. It means that we close an academic quarter, where all of the time spent with peers in class and on homework, tests, quizzes, labs, presentations, and debates results in a single symbol on a transcript.
The fall is busy. New students arrive trying to find their way in a new school, and seniors are immersed in their pursuit of their next one. As we prepare to leave campus for ten days, one outside of our school may think that we are giving thanks for a rest! Yet, here on campus, this closure of one season and the start to the next, both in terms of the temperature and teams, tends to include reflecting back as much as it does looking forward. Students arrived with goals, athletes, and performers with ambitions, first years and seniors with a blend of anxiety and purpose, and all of us with a sense of what our independent school community means as a second family. In this world that seems to demand instant recognition for what one does, we planned and prepared for a hoped-for outcome or a meaningful experience for another in our care. In a time where individualism is glorified, we committed to a team and a community. We worked for and with each other and discussed and debated positions with care and civility. Students sacrificed time on a screen or with friends to be better in all facets of school life. Faculty sacrificed time with family to help other parents’ children improve in skills that matter. Each thanks the other for the gift of time.
As we prepare to spend time with family and friends away from campus, in many ways similar to what Massachusetts residents were encouraged to do 300 years ago, we also look forward to coming back together for our next days together in Byfield. I trust that students will tell stories of Govs while on break in ways similar to the stories of the summer, they told friends here in September. They will reflect the joy of what has happened and excitement for what is yet to come. In those expressions of shared experiences is optimism and generosity. I give thanks for that at Govs.
Author: Mike Kinnealey, Assistant Head of School