An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Betty Benson, Upper School assistant director

For the past few years, we have intentionally begun the first day of school with this gathering to stress the importance of learning and living in community and to highlight the role we each play in shaping and contributing to it. So I thought I’d start by sharing a story about what the Lakeside community means to me.

Six years ago, I moved across the country, leaving behind everyone I knew and loved to embark on this new journey of joining the Lakeside community. Six years ago I came as a stranger — I put on the armor that would protect me in this new environment as I learned about the people of this community. A natural introvert, I wanted to be a passive observer. But, as members of the community reached out and took an interest in me, it gave way to more of a desire to contribute to my interactions, maybe share a bit more of myself — I was still a stranger so this more active approach came with all of the risks that accompany vulnerability. But I was across the country and by myself, so I decided it was more important to engage the strangers of my new community in a more authentic and less guarded way.

While this came with many ups and downs (misunderstandings and miscommunications), it also gave rise to a deep appreciation and regard for the messy process of making connections and building relationships — the grace given and received as bonds were forged, the lessons learned, and the choices reflecting those experiences made along the way. I was changing and so were the people around me. I had come a stranger but what I found was a family. A family that I had a hand in shaping and contributing to, a family to whom I felt a sense of responsibility, a family that had expectations for my behavior, most importantly a family who had carried me through the tough transition of starting a new chapter in a new place. Now, I am no longer a stranger, and as part of this Lakeside family, I remember my own journey with the kind of gratitude and thankfulness that spurs action. Thus, I strive to foster the environment, create the experiences, and contribute to the interactions that could lead the stranger in you all to find your family here, too.

Every family, every community (and every individual, for that matter) goes through changes and is tested. I believe that these trials and experiences give us an opportunity to more deeply and truly know our mettle as individuals and together as a community. The challenges we are facing today — a global pandemic that has claimed many lives, racial injustice and violence, continued unrest and protests in the name of justice and equality, the turbulence of a divided political climate amidst an upcoming presidential election — provide the space for us to reflect upon our mission and values, evaluate our practices, and make changes that will cause us to grow more fully into the community envisioned in our mission. We are committed to sustaining a school in which individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences instruct one another in the meaning and value of community and in the joy and importance of lifelong learning.

So as we start the 2020-2021 school year amidst the challenges of our time, I encourage you to build up your armor to face these challenges. Fortify it with knowledge and truth — holding both together with the understanding that knowledge is a complement to the truth of lived experiences. Fortify it with empathy and compassion enabling you to see yourself in your colleague, classmate, teammate, and every person in the community across the difference of human experience. Fortify it with courage to take the risks needed to make genuine connections and with the grace necessary to navigate the inherent bumps and missteps along the way. Above all, strengthen your armor with love and responsibility — understanding that each of us is on an individual journey and making the effort to meet people where they are, for the purpose of walking together while our paths cross.

Consider this your call to action no matter where you are in your Upper School journey — faculty and staff, new or seasoned, 9th graders and new students embarking on a new journey, 10th graders employing lessons learned to shape who you want to be and how you want to show up, 11th graders stepping into leadership as upperclass students, 12th graders reflecting on your journey and the legacy you wish to leave behind. We all have a part to play in helping this community face our current challenges and emerge even stronger with deeper connections and a greater appreciation for the fabric that knits us together. It is my sincere hope that, for the year, we can all make a commitment to putting on that whole armor (knowledge, truth, empathy, compassion, courage, grace, love, and responsibility) each day and showing up, be it virtually or in person, for ourselves and for one another — because we will always be better when we recognize that we are in this together and we allow that togetherness to guide our steps. With that I welcome you to the 2020-2021 school year.