Standing Still

December 22, 2020

Message from the headmaster



As new Vermonters, my family and I have remarked on the very shortness of the days as winter has deepened. So, the arrival of the Winter Solstice has been particularly welcome—if only because it symbolizes the change in direction toward spring.


The word solstice derives from the Latin sol for “sun” and stitium for “standing still” or “stopping.”


The St. Johnsbury Academy community can be proud of not stopping for the duration of the first semester, and to have kept bringing students to campus as the days grew shorter and shorter. It is impossible to name all of the people whose hard work contributed to this accomplishment, because it was, honestly, an effort that involved every single employee, student, parent, and community member. Alumni contributed generously to our Assistance Fund; parents worked with us to keep students focused online, and kindly to cheer us on; and students kept their masks on and stayed apart enough to limit “close contacts,” even though it is the inherent instinct of the human teenager to be in close contact: to drape themselves extravagantly over each other, to tackle and jab, hug and huddle.


The people who work here at the Academy saw a job to be done and went about doing it with very little hullabaloo. Custodial and maintenance teams readied the campus for our new standards and then kept them up; administrators calculated and recalculated, planned and replanned; and classroom teachers either contorted their schedules to work with students across the world in our Virtual Academy (most starting to teach at 5:00 a.m.) or worked through their own fears or doubts for the sake of their students—and in the end, for all of our sakes, as we are all in this for the joy it brings us.


None of this involved standing still or stopping—for some, work here continued straight through from March to last Friday—all while the atmosphere of every day contained concern about the next. The hope we’re feeling now for the New Year is well-founded, but we may never have needed more to spend a little while standing still.


My hope for everyone this season is that we take the Winter Solstice to heart, and practice whatever version of standing still we love best. For many that will consist of continuing to help others—like our outdoor educator, Jesse Holden, who hiked up and down Mt. Pisgah eight times last Saturday to benefit Umbrella. For some, it will be skiing or skating, reading by the fire, being with family without distraction, making food or sewing or watching movies, or infinite combinations of these and more.


We will be spinning again soon enough. For now, please enjoy the good work you’ve done, and be sure to fully inhabit this still moment—it is our simplest gift.


Dr. Sharon L. Howell



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