From the Desk of Jay Rainey – October 16, 2020

What does it mean to be happy at MICDS? According to Lucas McCarty ’21, “happiness at MICDS means being part of a large, diverse community, filled to the brim with kind students and amazing faculty. I have always felt included here and encouraged to express my ideas. The support of MICDS’ amazing faculty plays a large role in my happiness at this school. I have had numerous mentors who have gone the extra mile and worked with me outside of class, just to help me with projects that don’t apply to their classes at all. They do this because they genuinely care about my learning.”

During these last two days, the MICDS Board of Visitors has convened to discuss the concept of happiness and its applicability to our mission and aspirations as a school community. In advance of those conversations, several Upper School students offered their perspectives on happiness for the Board of Visitors’ consideration. A common “secret to happiness” that they expressed was a sense of connection to other people. “Every time I step on campus, I’m reminded of the person I’ve become due to my relationships with peers and teachers,” wrote Skye Patton ’23. “I know that whatever challenges that I face after graduation, I will be able to handle due to the happiness and confidence this school has allowed me to gain.”

Trevon Bobo ’21 offered a similar perspective. “I think the actions of staying connected with my friends and participating in athletics both help me take care of myself and share my passion with others. I am happiest at school when I am able to sit around with my friends and just enjoy the moments and memories that we make together.” Ittmum Zahir ’22 wrote, “Rather than just viewing faculty as faculty and students as students, I view MICDS and its community as a close family. Whether I feel anxious, stressed, upset, happy, excited, or exhausted, one major thing that has contributed to my happiness at MICDS is the strong relationships I have made.”

“Habits of happiness” matter, too. Humor serves particularly well for Sam Lustgarten ’22. “The best way, in my opinion, to care of yourself and relax is to take anything that is stressing you out or making you sad and find the comedy or downright ridiculousness of your situation. Sometimes the hardest things a person goes through are the most hysterical, and realizing this can change your perspective and make you that much more optimistic.”

Zoe Zlatic ’24 identifies focus (“it allows me to excel more on assignments and assessments, therefore making me happier”), time management (“I strive to be productive because I know that if I get my work done I can do other things I love”), coachability (“asking for help allows me to take care of myself by learning what I was doing wrong”), and organization (“I feel much better when I plan, prioritize my work, and keep my workspace tidy”) as keys to her happiness. Kaylen Taylor ’22, for her part, finds her center through music. “It can shape my entire day,” she says, “and it is one of the most vital parts of how I take care of myself. I love to start my mornings with All Star by Smash Mouth, Upside Down by Jack Johnson, and Lovely Day by Bill Withers. I have never gotten tired of them.”

The range of learning and growth experiences available to MICDS students are also conducive to happiness. “There are so many special opportunities here that are not offered at every other school,” notes Peyton LaMartina ’22, “and taking advantage of the unique classes, clubs, and extracurricular activities makes you feel more connected to the school and happier as a result—like part of the family. And of course there is the ice cream machine!!” (Note to self: never, ever get rid of the ice cream machine.)

Cal Barton ’21 remembers the first time that his grandmother saw MICDS. “Not long after pulling into A Lot and pointing out some things, she said, ‘I would have loved to go to a school like this.’ She didn’t say this in a finger-wagging, check-your-privilege way. In fact, I’m not really sure she said this directly to me. She was just thinking out loud. ‘I would have loved to go to a school like this.’ I think about this quote a lot because it pushes me to get the most out of my MICDS experience. I have been granted a wonderful opportunity. It would be a shame to let it go to waste. I think being happy at MICDS, for me, has to do with this recognition. I’ve been spoiled, and being self-aware in this regard has led me to believe that the only appropriate way to live life at MICDS is to be playful, work hard, and enjoy every bit of it.”

Another influential grandparent shared with me this week an email he received recently from his own grandson, a 2020 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 five years then got his Ph.D. 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 (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-19. Also, thank you again for the printer! I used it to print out my absentee ballot! Are you guys voting in-person or by mail this year?”

Honoring his grandparents with a letter, “handling the stress well,” working hard, finding math “super interesting” and Chinese “super fun,” “enjoying the books we are reading,” surfing to stay active during the pandemic, voting—these are all manifestations of happiness. With his grandfather’s permission, I shared this graduate’s email yesterday with our faculty and staff. “While he explicitly acknowledges his teachers’ investments in him (‘MICDS prepared me very well’), I would argue that the implicit acknowledgments of those investments”—the “manifestations of happiness” with which this paragraph begins—“are even more persuasive of your positive influence. They are strengths that you helped him build and that will serve him well throughout his lifetime.”

I am so very fortunate to work at so happy a school with people so committed to surfacing the promise of the students they serve, and students so committed to realizing that promise. Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you a wonderful weekend with your loved ones.

Jay Rainey
Head of School

This week’s edition of “How to Prepare for the Election Without Thinking About the Election”: Call an old friend with whom you have lost touch, or FaceTime them if you want to show off your chops with the latest technology from 2010. Tell them how much the memory of them has meant to your life despite the years that have passed.

This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: It’s getting chilly outside! In honor of our increasingly autumn environs, East October by John Moreland is my pick for this week (Apple Music / Spotify).