An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Felicia Wilks, Upper School director

Excerpted from Felicia Wilks’s speech to Upper School students at assembly during the first week of school.  

To learn about Lakeside [this summer], I read surveys, handbooks, plans, and meeting notes. I also met with faculty and staff, and some of the alums who worked on campus this summer.

Three areas emerged for me, as I reflected on what I learned about the Upper School. These areas represent both core values and opportunities. Values as students and adults on campus define them and opportunities for all of us to contribute to making the best of our time here together.

The first set of values is related to truth, honesty, and authenticity. Everyone – students and adults –  talked about the value of being oneself. That when each of us shares our unique gifts, our entire community benefits. Central to any excellent education is seeking after truth – about oneself and the world. The opportunities I see in this area are substantive: If we can commit to being a community of people who each bring a full self to school and are met with respect and curiosity, our community will be rich indeed. Seeking to understand what gifts others bring to the table, especially when those gifts are different from our own, is a key competency. In my own experience, the truth is often somewhere between my position and the position of another. If I can manage to stay open to the learning, I often gain a whole new way of seeing things.

To be clear, this does not mean that all ideas are debatable. To make our school truly safe for diverse ways of being, there can be no acceptance of discrimination. That is a principle we are all bound to uphold. The adults at any school are only privy to a fraction of the interactions that occur each day between students. For this reason, students must have the courage and discipline to live by the school’s community expectations, especially when there aren’t teachers and staff members in earshot. Finding the strength to do what is right is not easy, but it is worth it. There will be ample opportunities to practice this – and I encourage you to find support when you need it and to lend support when you can.  Authenticity and truth are worth striving for personally and fighting for in a community.

Another theme that emerged in my quest to learn about Lakeside is the importance of community. Students and adults talked about the incredible ways the Lakeside community looks out for its members. I have been fortunate to experience this myself this summer in the form of faculty, staff, students, parents, and guardians going out of their way to welcome me and my family to Seattle and to Lakeside. For that I am grateful.

I also learned that not everyone feels embraced by our community, that there are students who sometimes feel on the outs. The big opportunity here can be stated simply: look out for each other. To look out for each other, you must begin by looking around for opportunities to connect with people you don’t usually connect with. The new student center is awesome, and is a great place to make some new connections. Ms. Zinda worked all summer to actualize the ideas students gave her for the space. Take the opportunity to interact with someone you haven’t talked to outside of class or battle someone you just met in a game of Connect 4.  

It is easiest to be a part of a community when it is fun, but we all know, there will be times when we aren’t having so much fun. I am asking you to commit to staying in community – especially when the going gets tough. Don’t give up on each other. Remember that community depends on all of us. Each of us has the right and responsibility to contribute to a strong community. This does not just apply to faculty and staff and returning students. This call to co-create community also applies to new students, and to 9th graders: You don't earn the right to contribute to the community here by moving up in age or grade – you each have the power to make a positive impact today.

For my part, I will work to build an even stronger line of communication between students and the Upper School administration. I will listen to you to learn how you as students see and experience things. When we are making big decisions in the Upper School, I will seek your input. Stop by my office or stop me when you see me on campus to offer your ideas. Knowing students and what school is like from the student vantage point is key to my ability to do my job well.

The last idea I will touch on is about a balance between hard work and rest. One thing I heard loud and clear is that students and adults at Lakeside work incredibly hard. The work is challenging, but valuable and students love learning as much as faculty and staff love working with students. From both students and adults I heard again and again that Lakeside can be a stressful, busy place. I look forward to working with Dag and other student leaders to come up with fun ideas to counter stress. Committing to healthy habits like getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and eating well are hard for me to maintain when I’m busy. But if I am not taking care of those basic needs, I can’t do my best work. The research shows this is true for all of us. Be excellent in what you do, but also be excellent in how you take care of yourself.

I once heard a speaker say most people have a better sense of their phone’s battery life than of their own need to “recharge”. Stay aware of yourself – don’t give up self-care and self-awareness in the pursuit of anything. Find ways to achieve your goals while staying healthy. Faculty, staff, and the administration are giving a lot of thought to creating balance on campus, so please share your ideas and experiences with your teachers, advisors, me, and others on campus.

Seeking to build a community where authenticity, truth, kindness, and balance are central to the experience takes buy-in from everyone and a willingness to work hard together. As we work in earnest toward these goals, we will need to be patient with each other and ourselves when we stumble. But if we try together, we can move toward actualizing all the shimmering potential I see on this campus.

Thank you, everyone and have a great year!