The following letter is adapted from remarks to students in grades JK-12 that Head of School Jay Rainey recorded for our virtual all-school assembly at MICDS on April 19.
Hello, MICDS Students, Faculty, and Staff!
I am sharing this message with you from my office because, as you know, we are still not able to gather together in the MAC or in Ron Holtman Stadium to be with each other in person. Nevertheless, it is such a joy to know that I am speaking to all of our students this morning—from the four of you in junior kindergarten who are still four years old to the three of you in the senior class who have already turned 19, and everyone in between.
What a wide-ranging and promising group of young people you are, in so very many ways. It is my great privilege to lead this wonderful school that you attend and to support the work of your teachers and coaches, as well as our support staff and administrators, who have risen to the challenges of this extraordinary school year in ways that continue to humble and inspire our community.
I often have conversations with other heads of schools in St. Louis and around the country, and we all agree that we would never have predicted back in the early part of 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic would have lasted as long as it has—or challenged the work of our schools in the ways that it has.
Did you know that Thursday of this week will be the 500th day since the very first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed? Recently, I listened to one of our youngest students count all the way up to 27, and that was impressive, but 500 is an even bigger number than that. I am proud of all of you for your perseverance.
It is not easy, by the way, to speak to students in so many different grade levels all at once. So if you older students will excuse me, I am going to tell the occasional corny joke just to keep the younger students from falling asleep while I talk. Here’s the first one:
Why couldn’t the pony sing very well? Because she was a little horse! 🙄
What I want to talk to you about today—for just a few minutes—is friendship. I have been thinking a lot lately about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our friendships.
In the early 1990s, a British evolutionary psychologist named Robin Dunbar was investigating social relationships between chimpanzees when he decided to study human beings as well. He discovered that the typical person has about 150 friends—about 150 people with whom they can maintain a meaningful social relationship. Of those 150 friends, according to Dunbar’s research, approximately 5 are the most important to that person and another 10 are also very important. Dunbar says that we spend about two-thirds of our available social time with these top 15 most important people in our lives, and the remaining third with our other 135 friends.
That’s a whole lot of data and information about friendships, by the way, so I think it’s about time for another corny joke. What kind of shoes do frogs love? Open-toad! 🙄 🙄
So, one way to think about our friendships is that each of us has about 15 “A-list” friends and about 135 “B-list” friends. In my own life, I have found that I am very intentional about staying connected to my “A-list” friends. We send each other text messages and emails. We call and FaceTime each other. We schedule meals together. We even take vacations together. My connections to my “B-list” friends, on the other hand, tend to be more accidental, but they are very meaningful when they occur. My “B-list” friends, after all, are still my friends, and it’s always good to see them and catch up with them when our paths happen to cross.
The pandemic, of course, has disrupted our usual ways of sustaining relationships with our friends. We have generally been isolated in our homes, or in our small “COVID pods,” throughout most of this experience, which has had two effects. We have spent much more time with our “A-list” friends than we normally would, and we have spent much less time with our “B-list” friends. In some cases, relationships with our “A-list” friends and family have become strained through overexposure. It is easy to grow tired of each other after so much togetherness. At the same time, we have been largely separated from our “B-list” friends and family members through the pandemic because our paths have not crossed as they ordinarily would.
Speaking of family members, what did the baby corn say to the mama corn? “Where’s pop-corn?” That was, quite literally, a corny joke. 🌽 🙄 🙄 🙄
So there are two thoughts that I would like to leave you with today. The first is this: if you find that you have grown tired of your “A-list” friends, think about ways to refresh those relationships. For chimpanzees and human beings alike, our most intimate friendships are essential to our happiness. If someone dear to you has disappointed you, I would encourage you to forgive them. It is quite possible, after all, that you have disappointed some of your best friends, and they have forgiven you. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova once said, “You do not know what you have been forgiven.” It is one of the wisest observations I have ever heard.
The second thought I would leave you with is this: find ways to reconnect with your “B-list” friends. Most of you are now coming back to MICDS every day, and you have opportunities to see people whom you may not have seen for over a year. Give them a big smile behind your face mask, and maybe an enthusiastic wave or an air hug to let them know that you’re smiling. Ask them how they have been. Find ways to connect. It will be good for them, but it will be good for you as well. Friendship is one of the happiest gifts we are given, and, as my aunt in Virginia often says, “If you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend.” This is also one of the wisest observations I have ever heard.
Before I let you go, I want to be sure to wish a happy birthday to four MICDS students today: senior Ben Weiss, eighth grader Louis Wuestenberg, and seventh grade twins Lewis and Madeline Adkins. Happy birthday! I hope that you all have an absolutely wonderful day.
And speaking of twins, on what day of the week do twins like to be born? Twos-day! 🙄 🙄 🙄 🙄
Take care of yourselves, take care of your friends, and take time to nurture the love in your lives. I wish you a happy spring season and a very strong finish to the school year. I will look forward to seeing you again soon.
Head of School