Head of School Jay Rainey delivered the following address to MICDS Middle and Upper School Open House attendees on Saturday, October 9, in Brauer Auditorium.
Good morning to all of you, and thank you for being with us today. My name is Jay Rainey, and this is my third year as Head of School at MICDS. Just as most of you are considering joining our community and becoming new MICDS families, so does my own family continue to feel “new” here, even after having completed two full school years and beginning a third. We continue to discover learning experiences and programs and traditions and wonderful people here almost every day—and we continue to feel extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a vibrant school community.
I love that we are meeting this morning in Brauer Auditorium because, like Eliot Chapel in our Middle School, it is a space that is, at once, both expansive and intimate—a space that can seat our entire Upper School student body and faculty and yet still feel warm and airy and approachable, just as Eliot Chapel in the Middle School is capacious and reverent but also welcoming. In this way, these spaces in which we congregate are emblematic of the MICDS experience as a whole. They are places where we “scope in” and gather with friends, and they are also places where we “scope out” and take stock of the great privilege of being part of something bigger than our individual selves.
In the same way that Eliot Chapel and Brauer Auditorium are both expansive and intimate, the experiences of our Middle and Upper School students at MICDS in general are both expansive and intimate. Our Middle School students are able to take advantage of our spacious 100-acre grounds and wide-ranging academic and athletic facilities, and yet they very much inhabit their own environment on the south end of our campus and interact within the beautiful buildings and spaces where they come together and learn each day—where each student builds relationships not only with peers, but with numerous teachers and staff who are both experts in their fields and advocates for students throughout their early adolescence.
Our Upper School is also both expansive and intimate as well—large enough to offer a wide range of curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular learning opportunities, but also small enough to thrive as a close-knit community. Our facilities range from the elevating humanities classrooms in Olson Hall, with their beautiful and inspiring vistas of west campus, to our STEM classrooms and laboratories in this building that are as thoroughly appointed with advanced equipment and technologies as you will find on many college campuses.
Adjacent to these extraordinary academic facilities, however, are intimate gathering spaces such as the patio behind Olson Hall—behind my office, in fact—where students and teachers frequently meet and spend time with one another, as well as the hearth room, study commons, and patio just steps away from where you are sitting now, each of which is designed to foster community and connectedness. Even this auditorium, which accommodates 800 people, is used routinely for small-group meetings.
In short, what I hope that you will remember from my remarks to you this morning is that MICDS is a school both large and small. We draw students from over 70 ZIP codes in our region, yet we are committed to knowing and caring for one another as next-door neighbors do. We are ethnically, racially, and culturally expansive and continually diversifying; we enroll students from a variety of religious backgrounds; we serve young men and young women alike; and yet we are an intimate community, nurturing authentic friendships and understanding each other not in terms of impersonal demographic categories, but in terms of each individual’s full humanity and unique personality and promise. Our students know one another here, and they are known.
At MICDS, we are invested in the long term. We work with students as young as 4 and, by the spring, as old as 19, and we are dedicated to providing them with opportunities broad and deep alike—both expansive and intimate. The horizon and the journey toward it are ever in view.
The 20th-century Harvard behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner once made an observation about the work of schools that has both humbled and inspired me throughout my career. “Education,” he said, “is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”
What survives for our graduates are habits of mind and habits of heart cultivated in an inspiring and enriching educational and communal environment. I like to refer to MICDS as an exceptionally happy school, and I intentionally frame my leadership efforts in terms of increasing our capacity for happiness. I do not use the word “happy” to mean merely “contented” or “satisfied.” This is only fleeting happiness. Durable happiness means something more like “sure.” Durably happy people are sure of themselves—sure of mind, sure of heart, sure of vision. Durable happiness is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten, and we are in the business of cultivating durable happiness at MICDS.
Last year, a member of our community shared with me an email that he had received from his grandson, a recent MICDS graduate. “Dear Gogo and Granddad,” it begins. (Gogo, I learned, is called “Gogo” because she is “always on the go.”) “I just thought I’d give you a quick update of what I’ve been up to recently. School has been super busy because we have all of our midterms this week, but I have been handling the stress well. I got a 95% on my chemistry midterm and overall I have 3.75 gpa, but I am trying really hard right now to get that up to a 3.83 and hopefully even higher. My most interesting class is definitely math because we are starting to work in 3 and 4 dimensions which I find super interesting. Chinese is also a super fun course because of how knowledgeable my professor is. He lectured at Harvard for 5 years then got his PhD in Chinese linguistics at Stanford, and this is his first year here. English is also fun because I am enjoying the books we are reading (I just finished Candide by Voltaire), but MICDS prepared me very well so it is not really that difficult. Outside of school, I have been surfing with my roommate a lot. The beach we go to is about 30 minutes away and is super fun. It is a great way to get out of the house during COVID.”*
The letter continues in this same happy spirit. I know that, according to The LEGO Movie, “everything is awesome,” but according to this recent MICDS graduate, everything is “super.” This is happiness of the durable kind.
Honoring his grandparents with a letter, “handling the stress well,” working hard, engaging in his coursework, enjoying the books he is reading, surfing to stay active during the pandemic—these are all manifestations of happiness, and they are all fruits of an education both expansive and intimate, both broad and personalized.
I should note, by the way, that this young man was not the top-ranked student in his class at MICDS or someone whom I have otherwise hand-picked to present to you. It was only a happy accident that he wrote to his grandparents last year, and that his grandparents forwarded his letter to me with deserved pride. He is, in so many ways, just a typical graduate of our school—and yet how atypical and extraordinary a young man he is, how open to his opportunities, and how proud I am to know him and to see him achieving his promise as a person.
So what do I hope that you will take away from my remarks to you this morning? Only this simple equation: expansive opportunities plus an intimate community equals happiness. We are in the STEM building this morning after all, so I thought it would be fitting to conclude with a little math—and this is the fundamental arithmetic that guides our work at MICDS. Expansive opportunities plus an intimate community equals happiness.
Thank you again for being with us. I hope that you have a fantastic day on our campus.
Head of School
*If these words to Gogo and Granddad sound familiar to you, you likely recall them from one of my earlier letters to MICDS families. I could not resist quoting them again!
This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: The Best Part by Eric Hutchinson. The song is a love letter to an expected child. “So now we do the waiting. / I guess you’re waitin’ too. / I count down to the moment when we’re finally meeting you.” The horizon and the journey toward it are ever in view. (Apple Music / Spotify)