SJA Letter to the Community
To the St. Johnsbury Academy Community,
This has been a tough year. Our nation has seen disease, violence, and unrest in more than normal quantity; some of it, such as the senseless and deadly violence against black citizens, has evoked the widespread public struggles of bygone decades in our history. As we work together to transition the duties of the Headmaster of St. Johnsbury Academy from Tom Lovett to Sharon Howell, we want to be clear that, as the Academy leadership, we view these events similarly: with sadness, shock, and even anger.
We celebrated our commencement differently due to COVID-19. We learned differently. We were not physically as close as we normally are, and we dearly missed our daily experiences of community. But our mission as a school has not changed. We seek to face the world and make it better even when, as now, the news is unusually bleak. Indeed, these are times when it is even more important to do what we do and to fulfill our mission of caring in equal measure about character, inquiry, and community. For almost two centuries, these values have helped us to guide students toward lives of purpose, significance, and service; and they give us hope today as we serve a new generation of students.
We teach character: that there are some absolute rights and wrongs in this world. We believe in the inherent dignity of each person and in the treatment of each person as a full, rich human being with unique potential. We show compassion to all, especially those who are suffering, who are marginalized and disadvantaged, or who are victims of injustice or prejudice. Our mission reflects the belief that one measure of a just society is how it treats the most vulnerable among us: that we should love those most who need it most. We do our best to assure that all members of our Academy community—who come from around the country, and from over 30 countries around the world, and bring with them diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and life experiences—know that they belong, that we cherish their individuality, and that we will protect them from discrimination. We take responsibility for our actions, individually and as an institution, and we seek to help our students both reject racism and ignorance and develop moral courage, resilience and integrity.
We believe in the value of truth and in our obligation to seek truth. We aim to lead students in inquiry and to teach them to use data and reason to evaluate the world around them. We believe that students who understand what has happened in the past, and how events affect real people, will be more likely to empathize with the victims of senseless violence and take positive steps to reduce the frequency of such events in the future. We believe, too, in hearing many points of view as we formulate our opinions and beliefs. Truly to seek understanding requires open hearts and open minds; and above all it requires us to listen to one another patiently and provide forums for rich and sometimes difficult discussion. We are convinced that, if done together in good faith, this seeking of the truth—this genuine effort toward understanding—will compel us to make important changes in how we go about our own work and in how we teach students both to heal divisions and to reach across lines of difference toward progress in their own lives and in the life of our society.
We also believe steadfastly in the larger community we share in the United States of America, a community with a complicated and far from perfect past, especially in matters of race, but which nevertheless remains, at its best, a crucial beacon of freedom for the world. While our country struggles to overcome the pernicious legacy of racism in the wake of unconscionable violent acts, and at the same time, manage a public health crisis, we believe it is part of our obligation as educators to use these current events, in all of their ethical and emotional complexity, to help students to recognize their own and others’ biases and prejudices, to think independently, and to understand history.
The Academy, as an important member of the Northeast Kingdom community, cannot bind up all our nation’s wounds. Rather, as people across America and the world look not only for antidotes to hate and fear but also for new hope in our future, we believe that St. Johnsbury Academy can and should offer ways for our community to be part of finding those antidotes and finding that hope.
We are, and will remain, deeply optimistic about the power of young people to create positive change in the world that they will shape.
The St. Johnsbury Academy Board of Trustees