An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Bernie Noe, head of school

Noe spoke to students, faculty, and staff at convocation – the official start of the 2018-2019 school year. This is an excerpt of his remarks.

I think that a lot of our lives at Lakeside, and how we feel about the school year in general, is shaped by the many interactions we have every day with teachers, friends, and classmates. If most of those interactions are positive, we feel good about our life at school; and, if not, we do not feel so great. Not every day is going to be rainbows and unicorns – that is life. There are ups and downs, and difficult periods, but it is realistic to expect that we will always be respected and supported by others in the school. So how do we all make sure that, at Lakeside, everyone feels respected and supported?

First, we all have to take responsibility for others at school. We could all go through our day just taking care of our own needs, studying, going to our club meetings and sports, and not really caring that much what happens to others. But if a lot of us do this we will not be a good school for any of us.

Take a minute to think about the people in your life – at school and elsewhere – who have gone out of their way to take care of you and support you. Now make a commitment to be that person for others this year at school. There will never be a perfect time to take responsibility for others; you will always have to do so at the price of your own convenience and time. But make the time, especially when you are really busy – which you will all be in another couple of weeks – and put up with the inconvenience. Because I assure you, there will never be the convenient time you might be waiting for.

Telling you to respect everyone else at school might seem like stating the obvious. Of course, everyone should be respectful! But let me clarify what I mean by respect. To be respectful you must first notice those around you, acknowledge their presence, look at them when they are speaking and listen carefully when they are talking to you, not be distracted by something else. I love you all but I am telling you: Some of you are in danger of losing the gift, or talent, of noticing others!

Once you have mastered noticing others, be sure to give them your full attention, even if it is only for a few minutes. One of the great Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius, noted in his “Meditations” how he had audiences with hundreds of people a week yet made it a practice to give each his full attention, even if it was only for a few minutes. He knew that everyone needs to know you are listening carefully and trying to understand them, even if you have very little time. Others will understand you are busy. But if you are distracted when you interact with them they will find it disrespectful, and not feel heard. So do not be one of those individuals who, when speaking with someone, look around to see who else is in the room, or someone who interrupts another person to check a text or take a phone call. All of that is disrespectful.

And base your respect for others in the belief that all people are inherently worthy of and deserve your respect – even those who hold views with which you very much disagree. Listen carefully to that liberal or conservative whose views drive you crazy, as that is respect in action.

Finally, it will be challenging to be a respectful and supportive person if we do not spend some time developing our sense of empathy for others, our capacity to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. If you cannot feel some of what another person in your life is feeling it will be challenging to truly understand them.

I have observed over the years that a sense of empathy comes more naturally to some than to others. I have known many students who always, as a matter of course, go out of their way to try and understand the reality of another and quite a few others who more typically see things from their own perspective. The good news for the latter group is that empathy, like all good qualities, can be learned through practice. So if we a have a tendency toward self-centeredness, we need to fight that tendency. As you get older, live more, and experience the ups and downs of life, you can also grow in empathy as long as you make it a point to learn from your experiences and use them to relate to others.

I know everyone here agrees: it matters that Lakeside be a school that supports and respects every student and adult. And we can only be that school if all of us take responsibility for making it so. This year commit to taking responsibility, being respectful, and growing in empathy. Together, let’s make this school am amazing community for everyone in this room.

Have a great year everyone!