It is a Powerful Fact

September 8, 2020

Message from the headmaster



Tuesday morning we celebrated the first official day of our 2020-2021 school year at St. Johnsbury Academy — it is the Academy’s 178th — a year, it is safe to say, like no other the school has seen before. The energy on campus was happy and excited as thermometers beeped, and all of us were obviously smiling under our masks. As students gathered in their advisory groups both in person and online, faculty and staff advisors read announcements and played a short audio message from me in lieu of morning chapel. In my message, I invited all to consider our collective good fortune in being part of this unique community, and reminded them that each and every one, in their own way and without a doubt, belongs here. It is a powerful fact. 


What has brought us together from across the region, the country, and the world is not only luck — though we enjoy much of that — but intention and care. We know how fortunate we are to have been able to bring international students here despite the COVID-19 pandemic — how brave they and their families have been, how patient they have been about quarantining and being safe with us, and how much they bring to our community, without which it would be diminished — we would be diminished. Of course, one thing that also becomes clear as we get to know one another is that each member of the community brings a whole world with them, no matter where they are from — even if it’s just across the street.


During last week’s orientations we greeted students in over a dozen different small cohorts and gatherings for the sake of safe distance. Part of our message to students was that this year, we need more than ever to be good people — to be patient, to be respectful, to be kind to one another and to seek to understand each other’s stories. Our strong, diverse community is a tremendous gift if we are willing and able to activate its power. If we open up the space in our days to have careful and fair conversations about the complex, contradictory larger world in which we abide, then we are making room for the kind of fruitful uncertainty that is at the root of education. Everything we’re learning here proliferates if we make that room and cultivate that opening of minds. Our study of history and literature, of sciences and arts, of language and culture, of civic life and social science, our service in the community, our learning of trades and skills — all of these are made richer if we allow them to witness our differences and diversity.


We have room here at St. Johnsbury Academy for conversation and dialogue. We have room here for confusion, discomfort, and uncertainty as we learn from each other. But we are starting the year being clear that there are things we have no room for. We have no room for hate. We have no room for meanness and smallness. We have no room for bigotry, divisiveness, or violence.


Our school needs to be a place where everyone can feel that they belong and that they have a voice; where they not only have a seat at the table, or a place in the conversation, but that they can choose the topics, and lead the discussion. We learn from each other, and find meaning in our common experience. We heal divisions, we learn together and are safe together, even when that is difficult. We are patient, we are kind, and we care about each other.


In this year of all years, we need to make sure these things are true — starting today.


Dr. Sharon L. Howell



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