The processional was led by Mace Bearer, Senior Class President Maple L. ’23. Flutists Coco Y. ’25 and Nini Y. ’25 opened the ceremony with a duet of Telemann’s “Spirituoso” from Canonic Sonata No. 2.
Associate Head of School Meredith Legg, PhD, welcomed the Emma Willard School community to the new school year, sharing words of wisdom for facing the possibilities of a new year. “We begin this school year as we do so many, aware of the realities and concerns of our world, and yet holding onto our unshakable sense of optimism and hope,” she began.
Dr. Legg went on to share wisdom from one of her summer reads, World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. One excerpt in particular stood out as a lesson for seeking to find wonder this school year: “It is this way with wonder: it takes a bit of patience, and it takes putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It requires that we be curious enough to forgo our small distractions in order to find the world.” She encouraged the Emma community to practice the patience and curiosity needed in order to find moments of wonder throughout the year.
Head of School Jenny Rao then spoke to the community about some important lessons gleaned from one of the excursions in her family’s summer adventure to the Galapagos Islands.
On one of our many excursions we observed beautiful red crabs crawling on the black lava terrain. Their sideway scuttle and use of their front claws as they bring food to their mouths can be mesmerizing to observe. But what most caught my attention were crabs that had a blueish tint to their shell and were hiding under rocks in shallow water. These crabs had recently shed their hard shells and were in a 48-hour process of getting a new, larger shell that would need to become hard before they were safe to move about again. During this 2-day period, crabs are vulnerable. Their soft shells do not protect them from strong waves, sand and predators. They must seek a safe place to allow their shells to harden and take on the world again. This time of vulnerability is vital to their growth. Not changing shells would leave them cramped in a shell that is no longer right for them.
You too will grow out of your shell this year. The ideas you wrestle with, the new skills you build and friendships you form will expand your mind, heart, and life. You will find greater confidence, deeper conviction, and the courage to be kind, collaborative, and honest. But this stronger you will not happen overnight and there will be times when you feel you are getting weaker and shakier instead of wiser and more resilient.
What is more, I predict you are experiencing those uncomfortable feelings right now, especially if you are new to Emma Willard. While you are taking this courageous step to begin in a new school, and for many of you in a new country, you are also anxious about creating a new community for yourself. And even for those of you who are returning to Emma Willard, you too feel nervous about the unknown of new classes, teachers, and challenges of the year ahead.
If in fact you are experiencing some inner doubt right now, take a journey with me for a moment and imagine yourself as the soft shelled crab under a rock in the Galapagos Islands. Take a moment to recognize that the reason you feel vulnerable is because you are no longer protected by your regular surroundings, whether it be your old school, home country or childhood friends. And while being in a place of comfort feels good, if you stay there all the time you won’t grow, so your feeling like a vulnerable crab indicates that you are in an important period of growth. Like all good crabs, you need to use your instincts during this vulnerable time, and find a protective rock and shallow water.
Here are a few suggestions of how you can practice things that support, nourish, and encourage you in times of vulnerability:
Ask for help often. Call or text people who know you well and let them know how you are feeling, they are going to remind you of all that is good and true about you and you should borrow their confidence in you while you regain your confidence in yourself
Drink a smoothie in the morning (my favorite is almond milk, banana and peanut butter!)
Check your internal dialogue and interrupt it every time it is criticizing you rather than encouraging you (and here is what you tell yourself “I’m just a soft shell crab right now who is growing and I will rock a red hard shell again soon!”)
Eat cookies and cream ice-cream at 5:00 p.m.
Double-down on your exercise, reading, journaling, or whatever brings you peace
Slip on your most comfortable pajamas at night, put on your favorite tunes, and sing along.
Remember to do things that nourish you throughout the year when you hit significant periods of growth. Don’t go around pretending you have a hardshell when you don’t. If you provide yourself with the right support during this time, you will be ready to take on the world once again with a new and improved hard shell.
Not only do I want you to recognize that vulnerability is a sign of growth; it is also a necessary ingredient for growth. In other words, without discomfort there is no growth. It is our job at Emma to provide the right amount of challenge for you so that you are always inching closer to shedding an old shell and growing into a new one.
At Emma we care an enormous amount about creating a sense of community for everyone and we often describe a strong community as one that creates a sense of belonging. I believe we are right in wanting to create close bonds amongst all of us at Emma to build a sense of belonging, however, we can sometimes mistake belonging as a synonym for comfort. Our thinking can go something like this: if someone feels comfortable they feel they belong, and if someone feels uncomfortable they don’t feel they belong. I want to challenge this idea.
Discomfort is a necessary part of learning, and if your experience here is entirely comfortable we have not served you well—you are likely not learning. Instead, when we speak about belonging, I believe we are talking about a community that is safe. A community where everyone feels that they can experience learning in a safe environment where their very personhood will not be jeopardy.
A crab can be uncomfortable and safe at the same time, their shell is soft and vulnerable but they have the shelter of a rock and shallow water. Similarly, you can feel lost in class but find support in utilizing your teacher’s office hours; you can feel uncomfortable with an idea that opposes your own belief but find comfort in being able to talk about it openly with a teacher, friend, or advisor you trust; speak with a Proctor, Wellie, or PLT, or join a club or affinity group that is right for you.
We all hold responsibility in making our community strong and supportive. Even when we are feeling anxious or weary ourselves, sometimes the best thing we can do is reach out to help someone else. It shows us we have value and are able to provide support. It reminds us of the ways we've already grown before and will continue to throughout our time at Emma and our entire lives!
So this is a call to all of the big crabs (returning students): Be the rock and shelter for “soft shell” crabs who have just arrived and make sure they have someone to guide them and lean on as they grow their first hard shell at Emma Willard.
Here’s to a wonderful year of growing bigger shells and supporting each other when we are in a softshell period!
Following Ms. Rao’s remarks, Dr. Legg introduced new EMployees to the community. Each stood and waved to the crowd, who applauded the new community members and their stories. The newly-formed 2022-2023 Emma community joined together in the alma mater, the first opportunity to learn these soon-to-be-familiar words for many.
In closing the convocation ceremony, Dean of Students Shelley Maher offered a poem as has become her custom. This year’s selection was “The Road Ghazal” by Sheniz Janmohamed:
Pack light, walk tall. You’ll need courage to take this road.
The maple bows to you, scattering her leaves upon this road.
A flap of cardinal feathers, the night-dipped wing of a raven!
Turn your head, there’s more to see than the end of this road.
Have you dropped enough crumbs to trace your heart back home?
Home is in every step you take, home is every rock on this road.
When you arrive, reach into your pocket and pull out that rock.
Leave it behind-someone else will find home on this road.
After the ceremony, students and teachers headed into the long-awaited first day of classes, looking forward to a year filled with wonder and growing into new shells.