What Our Many Stories Teach
Message from the headmaster
This week, as we prepare to meet prospective students and their families at our Open House (Thursday 11/3, 6:30pm), we have been thinking about the value of stories. I asked folks in chapel: What do the most powerful chapel talks have in common? What do we pretty much always want to hear when another person speaks? Much as I love it, it’s not poetry–I’m making my peace with that. It’s not announcements, or lectures, or abstract arguments–even when these are about things we care about, like kindness and community.
What we want to hear are stories. We want to hear one another’s stories. Whenever anyone steps up to the podium, we are hoping that they tell us a story about something that matters to them. Hearing someone’s story can permanently adjust what you think about the world.
I learn from our students every day. We learn from each other. We learn when during a conversation about freedom of the press, a student from China reminds us that “free press” is not something she can rely on at home. We learn when an African American student reminds us that in his experience, just driving to school can feel dangerous. We learn when one of our students from Ukraine shares, as one did last week, the story of her family suddenly becoming refugees from a brutal war. We learn when a student shares her experience being Jewish with her peers, as one of our sophomores did just this morning.
We talk about our pluralist community and how special it is. But we can only truly understand who we are by hearing as many of our stories as we can. If we don’t know those stories and hear them, we might as well be alone with our one story, alone with our one version of how the world works. If we do know these stories, not only will our worlds be larger and richer, but we’ll remember how completely human we all are, even if our lives appear wildly different on the surface.
I hope prospective families will recognize how precious it is to have students here in St. Johnsbury from every part of the world, bringing with them every kind of experience imaginable. And even if you live up the street, we know you also have a story that can teach us lessons we can’t learn any other way. Knowing the many stories of our community is part of the education that is possible here, so we want to hear them all.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell