Today marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day—V-E Day—that heralded the beginning of the end of World War II and, as described by historian Rick Atkinson in a recent Wall Street Journal essay, “a Pax Americana of peace, prosperity and fitfully ascendant democratic values.” How “sobering,” laments Atkinson, “is the suspicion that the postwar world that began on V-E Day is sputtering to an end. The current pandemic has exposed grave shortcomings in American leadership and expertise. All the more reason, then, to draw strength from that day 75 years ago.”
Atkinson reminds us at the conclusion of his essay that Winston Churchill—who less than one year later and fewer than 100 miles west of St. Louis would exhort “workmen from all countries” to build a “temple of peace”—similarly exhorted Great Britain after V-E Day to be “unflinching, unswerving, indomitable, till the whole task is done and the whole world safe and clean.”
Crises beget opportunities for progress. In an opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks made the case for mobilizing the “vast army of young people ready and yearning to serve their country,” noting that “there is a wealth of work for them to do: contact tracing, sanitizing public places, bringing food to the hungry, supporting the elderly, taking temperatures at public gathering spots, supporting local government agencies, tutoring elementary school students so they can make up for lost time.”
Brooks argues for government investments in service year fellowships, a concept that enjoys significant bipartisan support; and while such a laudable initiative may well be an outgrowth of the novel coronavirus pandemic, nothing prevents us in the meanwhile from engaging in service work in smaller-scale and more immediate ways.
I am inspired by the work of our own MICDS students: Norah Wright ’25, who sewed 66 sterilizable and reusable masks for Missouri Baptist Medical Center; Skye Patton ’23, whose shirt-printing initiative GOOD supports Project C.U.R.E. among other philanthropies; Emma Scally ’22, who has launched an MICDS chapter of Period in support of women around the world; and Harper Graves ’22 and Lucas McCarty ’21, who have supported Beasley students through distance learning engagements.
I am also inspired by MICDS faculty members Brian Purlee and Pat Woessner who have given tirelessly of their time in recent weeks as they have 3D-printed ventilator splitters and personal protective equipment for local healthcare providers. Our Science Department, too, has donated gloves and other equipment in the same spirit. And let’s not forget the many MICDS families who since spring break have been donating their school lunches to needy individuals and families in the St. Louis area.
Erin Hamill, our Director of Global Learning & Upper School Community Service, encourages MICDS families who are interested in service opportunities to consult the COVID-19 page of the United Way’s website. The United Way also suggests several at-home service projects, as does Youth Service America. The MICDS Upper School Community Service Committee recommends a few ideas for helping others as well.
As often as we conceive of service work as “the kindness of strangers”—per the phrase made famous by former St. Louis resident Tennessee Williams in A Streetcar Named Desire—we should find opportunities to serve our loved ones as well. “It could be as small as doing something nice for someone in your family,” a Lower School parent suggested to me recently. I wonder whether this coming Sunday might be ripe for such little acts of love…
“Humanity,” wrote Adam Smith in 1759, “consists merely in the exquisite fellow-feeling which the spectator entertains with the sentiments of the persons principally concerned, so as to grieve for their sufferings, to resent their injuries, and to rejoice at their good fortune. The most humane actions require no self-denial, no self-command, no great exertion of the sense of propriety. They consist only in doing what this exquisite sympathy would of its own accord prompt us to do.”
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish each of you “exquisite sympathy” for others—for loved ones and strangers alike—to sustain you in warmth and in joy through this challenging time. Happy Mother’s Day weekend to you all.
Head of School