This week I met with a candidate for an open teaching position, and, as is typical of our interview process, I was her final stop. “Is there anything else that I can tell you about MICDS before you go?” I asked, knowing that by this point most of her questions would already have been answered. “Actually, yes,” she said. “What do your alumni say about their experience here? What do they take with them when they graduate?” These were exceptional and discerning questions and, with Reunion Weekend immediately behind us and Commencement immediately ahead, they were timely ones as well.
I qualified my response by noting that I am now concluding only my third year at MICDS, and that, because of pandemic-related restrictions, I have not had as many conversations and interactions with alumni as I otherwise would have. Nevertheless, I am already hearing frequent refrains.
Our college-age graduates almost invariably refer to the strength of their academic preparation—their ability to think critically and clearly, to write well, to manage their time and workload, and to communicate effectively with their professors. I was delighted to be copied recently on a thank-you note to one of our teachers from the parent of a recent graduate. Initially unsure of her placement in one of her fall-semester classes, she found that she excelled, and in the spring she enrolled in a related course in which she was one of very few freshmen. “She was the only student to score a 100% on the first exam,” her mother shared with us proudly, “and she set the curve on the second. She was just invited to be part of the honors program and is also going to study in Europe this summer.”
Our alumni who are busy extending their education or otherwise establishing themselves after college often refer to the close-knit community of MICDS friends and mentors with whom they work and socialize, and from whom they often seek guidance, as they continue into adulthood. If preparedness is what I hear about most from our undergraduate alumni, connectedness is what I hear about most from this postgraduate group.
As for those Country Day School, Mary Institute, and MICDS alumni who are further along in their lives, gratitude for their experience here is the dominant theme. They talk about teachers, coaches, advisors, and administrators who shaped them. They talk about lifelong friendships with classmates. Memories of opening nights on the stage and championship victories feature prominently in their conversations with me, of course, but as often as not, they recall the smaller moments that contributed to their growth, the lessons that will linger with them as long as they live. One alumnus who has enjoyed a happy and successful life for several decades in another city—indeed, who has not lived in St. Louis since he left for college—kept pointing to the ground as we spoke at a Reunion Weekend reception. “This was the place,” he said. “What I learned here was the foundation for everything that followed.”
So many phenomena of contemporary existence militate against taking the long view. Our schedules are tighter, our attention spans are shorter, our patience is thinner, our moments of reflection are fewer, our distractions are countless. The expectation of immediacy—of an answer to a question, a response to a text, the delivery of a package, the confirmation of a transaction, the preparation of a meal—is ubiquitous. We demand instantaneity and convenience. Slower, more gradual phenomena increasingly challenge us, yet human growth and development through childhood and adolescence and into the years thereafter are nothing if not gradual, and at MICDS this growth is our work. The progression from school to college to early adulthood to middle age to retirement—the journey that our students and alumni travel—is a process of steady, incremental graduation. Yes, there are ceremonies and diplomas, but far more numerous than these are the smaller moments and lessons along the way.
Earlier in the school year, I selected Lay Your Body Down by the Fratellis, a Scottish band, for the Refrains for Rams playlist, and I am reminded of that song’s lyrics now: “Take the long road when in doubt. / Take the long road and you’ll find your way out.” We take the long road at MICDS. We are in a hurried world, but we will not be of a hurried world.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My best wishes to you for a very happy graduation weekend, whatever your life is graduating you from, and toward.
Head of School
This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Astral Projection by Yumi Zouma (Apple Music / Spotify)