The Bright Side of Pride

October 20, 2021

Message from the headmaster



It’s Spirit Week at St. Johnsbury Academy, and as we all load up on school spirit in the form of dress-up days, decorated doors, our annual pep rally and parade, and the culminating rivalry football game, I’ve been thinking a lot about school pride and also the concept of pride in general.


Pride is often said to be the darkest of the seven deadly sins—the root of all calamities. Myths from every culture warn against pride. There’s Icarus falling as his wax wings melt in the sun; Narcissus toppling into his mirror-pool; Gilgamesh’s macho chest-beating; the Abenaki trickster Raccoon challenging a waterfall to a roaring match, and on and on. It was of course pride, in the Judeo-Christian origin story, that led Adam and Eve to disregard God’s clear instructions about eating from the tree of knowledge. Why shouldn’t we know all there is to know? We’re the only two people in the universe—we’re a pretty big deal.


So the dark side of pride is well established.


But there is also a case to be made for pride as a virtue—it strengthens our resolve when we fear losing it; it connects us to others when we share it, it reflects love of our families and friends; and it properly follows accomplishment.


It is fitting that in the third week of October, before the equinox, when the leaves are still hanging on but closer to giving up, and we’re getting up in the dark, that we should do some spirit-lifting things. It’s the week leading up to our Homecoming weekend, which this year features not only a big football game but also two field hockey games and two soccer games. It’s a week where the need for brightness and cheer to balance the prospect of winter is fueled by a certain kind of pride: pride in St. Johnsbury Academy.


Perhaps in the past this pride has been partly attributable to a dangerous certainty about our victory—I learned today that the Saturday night Homecoming dance was once called the “Victory Dance,” which is surely inviting disaster. But for the most part this week is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of what makes us proud to be part of our school and our community. We’ve been talking a lot about that pride this week, as we practice our cheers and intricate clapping routines.


For my part, I am proud of the extraordinary way that our faculty, staff, students and families have faced down a pandemic together for over 18 months and are somehow still cheering and clapping. I’m proud of the way colleagues have supported each other as we have all rotated through ups and downs that feel more extreme than ever. I’m proud of our students stepping up and leading and challenging themselves to meet our expectations for them. I’m proud of the value we place on kindness and belonging which helps students feel confident enough to try things and grow. When we tell every student to “leave this place better than you found it,” what we’re saying is: you matter here. Your contribution, whatever it is, will count.


The alumni who will be here this weekend will see Academy students who remind them of themselves when they were here; which will, I hope, be a source of pride.


What makes this rallying and generative pride—or for that matter, the pride and solidarity we feel in expressing our identities—different from deadly sin pride? Pride in itself, it turns out, isn’t the problem. It is pride that is unalloyed with humility that really gets us in trouble. We can’t forget how fortunate we are—that so many of the things that we are proud of do not come from one source but are a product of our common life and common effort. We are proud because we are together. And while we are, in my humble opinion, a pretty big deal—not taking all we have for granted is how we can be most proud.


Dr. Sharon L. Howell



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