It's a new school year unlike any other in the history of Western Reserve Academy. The very first day of classes saw the rare event of a solar eclipse. The doors of Seymour Hall closed for renovation and our temporary classroom space, now dubbed the Learning Community, opened for the year. With one week behind us, students are settling into the course load of a brand new curriculum and adjusting to a slightly longer trek to and from the academic buildings.
It's shaping up to be a year to remember, and it began on Sunday, Aug. 20, with our annual Convocation.
Inside the Chapel, the Classes of 2018–2021 gathered with WRA faculty and staff, to hear from Head of School Christopher D. Burner '80, Student Body President George Wiggam '18 and Student Body Vice President Francisco Blanco '18.
Wiggam and Blanco took to the stage to welcome all students — new and returning — and offer sage advice to each class.
"As an incoming student, I was excited about Reserve because I felt that the school would allow me to embolden my interests academically and socially," said Blanco. "Reserve was going to show those around me who I truly was. As the year went along, I realized I loved Reserve not because it showed me who I was but because it gave me a glimpse into the future of the person I could be."
They encouraged the freshmen to establish a strong work ethic and advised them to not be afraid to take initiative. To sophomores, they advised them to prepare to work hard, to create good habits and to extend a welcoming hand to the freshman class. Juniors, they said, have an important and arduous year ahead of them but they also encouraged the class to make memories and have fun. As new upperclassmen, the junior class members are now leaders of the school, and Wiggam advised them to set a good example for their underclassmen.
They then turned to their own Class of 2018.
"Seniors, we made it!" said Blanco. "In moments like these, I've found myself without any advice to give, so I will echo the words of Frank Sinatra. And now the end is near, we as a class shall face the final curtain. We have regrets, but then again, too few to mention. We have loved, we have laughed, we have cried, we have had our fill and our share of losing, but seniors, I ask this of you for this year — that in whatever we do, in whatever we say at the end of the day we can stand tall and let the record show, that we did it our way."
Following Blanco and Wiggam, Burner took to the stage to address the school. In his talk, he challenged the notion that the school exists in a bubble, with its occupants unaware of the world outside of Hudson. With the diversity of cultures, backgrounds and perspectives that Reserve offers, this is not the case, said Burner. As a community, we learn and draw from each other. It is a practice built into the school's foundational values of excellence, integrity and compassion and respects the school's tradition of living with these principles.
"Recent events in Charlottesville and ongoing considerations about race and differences in America are unsettled and contentious," said Burner. "On this campus, we demonstrate understanding with each other with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, cultures and races. We learn from each other and graduate prepared to encounter and help solve these issues. Let me be clear, as we consider these issues, there is no place at Western Reserve Academy for intolerance and bigotry, which is unfortunately on display at these events. This is an educational opportunity and moment for all in this community to affirm our commitment to tolerance and learn from these events."
These are critical, formative years for young minds, said Burner, and he encouraged students to consider who and what sort of person they wish to be, and to practice self-awareness in this time in their life.
"Here you are, you are at Reserve," said Burner. "Clearly, you have succeeded. So, why ask hard questions? Why increase self-awareness and seek to improve? And yet, I would suggest that failure to do so leads to complacency. Self-awareness is particularly important now because you are at an age when you are still developing. I would add an additional level to your experience and education at Reserve this year. You may be learning a language, researching, studying science — in whatever course or task in which you are involved, you're also learning about yourself. We begin the school year and as you consider all of these tasks you have ahead of you, I encourage you to look at these two areas: First, look beyond this campus. Stay involved and prepared to move beyond Reserve with an understanding of the world around you. Second, ask yourself hard questions. Consider how you respond to the events around you and develop your self-awareness."
Per tradition, Burner concluded the event by welcoming the new members of the community, and the announcement of each name was met with applause.