Message from the President
Welcome to Wyoming Seminary where we believe deeply in the beauty of passionate individuality. In his recent book “Excellent Sheep” William Deresiewicz observed that many contemporary schools funnel students into pre-ordained identities. At Sem we encourage students to seek their authentic voice, to be, as one of our parents described it, “comfortable in their own skin.”
We proudly encourage students to seek out and embrace what makes them unique. Perhaps this results from our confident history as one of America’s oldest continuously coeducational boarding schools, founded in 1844 at a time when schools with high moral aspirations were called “seminaries.” Or it could result from our location, nestled in northeast Pennsylvania’s beautiful Wyoming valley, known as “the valley with a heart,” where a safe, family oriented environment supports self-discovery. Wyoming Seminary’s picturesque setting includes buildings on the National Register of Historic places as well as a state of the art 600-seat Kirby Center for the Creative Arts, which recently hosted the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winning oratorio, “Anthracite Fields.” Our students thrive in the small city environments of Kingston and Wilkes-Barre only two hours from New York City and Philadelphia.
At Sem we appreciate the beauty of compelling individuals with original ideas. Our outstanding faculty delivers a stimulating lineup of classes, including an impressive array of creative electives that support independent thought. Here you will find that one of the lead actors in the school musical is also President of the “Nerdvana” club and that one of our top, nationally ranked wrestlers also has expressed a passionate interest in pottery.
After graduation Sem graduates span the globe. Our international alumni base includes courageous, independent thinkers: a former U.S. Poet Laureate, professionals who have worked in both the Reagan and Clinton White Houses, and American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, creator of the theory of multiple intelligences.
With three children in Sem’s Lower School, I appreciate the beauty of this school as a parent as well as a teacher and administrator. I encourage you to visit us (www.wyomingseminary.org) and discover what makes Wyoming Seminary such a memorable place for families and their children.
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In light of recent news about travel restrictions across our borders, I wanted to assure you that Wyoming Seminary will continue to open its doors to and welcome students and families from all corners of the globe, as we have done for over a century.
The stories of our earliest international students illustrate an important part of our mission. We welcomed our first international student, Dr. Soh Jaipil, the first Korean to become a naturalized United States citizen, in the mid 1880's. He attended Harry Hillman Academy, one of the merged institutions that later became part of Wyoming Seminary and attended Lafayette College, later practicing medicine in the Philadelphia area. He subsequently returned to Korea after many decades where he published a newspaper that he named the Independent News, and was a noted champion for Korea's independence.
In 1909 Kris Kristensen of Denmark entered Wyoming Seminary. Directed to Sem by a Methodist pastor, he worked his way through our Upper School and then attended Wesleyan University, to become a respected New York businessman and longtime mayor of Yonkers, NY.
Wyoming Seminary's mission has celebrated diversity since our founding in 1844. At its core resides the concept that respect for divergent perspectives of culture, nationality, identity, language, class, religion and race, to name just a few, makes us all stronger. We believe in a values-based approach to education, one that cherishes a global perspective. We believe that having students from different backgrounds and nationalities provides a profound benefit to our community.
As the most culturally diverse institution of learning in northeast Pennsylvania, we will continue to provide a safe home to all our international students. It is one of the deepest ways we give shape - and definition - to the spirit of the true, the beautiful and the good in the world.
It came around two-thirds of the way through the winter holiday break from one of my children.
“Daddy, what day is it?”
Delivered with a quizzical expression and a gently interrogative tone, this simple question jolted our entire family briefly out of its holiday revelry. After remembering exactly what day it was (and acknowledging that we all still had a few more days of break!) I returned to the joys of unstructured family time.
For a couple of days afterwards however, amidst the hustle and bustle of presents and visits with friends and families, I kept going back to this innocent question. It betrayed a reveling in the moment, a freedom from structured routine and “activity.” In reflecting on how my children had been spending their time during the winter 2016 holiday break, I noticed that the majority of it included playing outdoors in nature, either in or near a wilderness. Activities included walking on a frozen lake, strolling on paths through deep woods, cutting ice and carving pieces into small ice art works, throwing sticks into water and across ice, making a makeshift ice rink, staring up into the sky and generally improvising outside.
Never one to shy from seeking academic verification of my instincts, I decided to see if there were any studies that supported a link between outdoor play and positive mental health and well-being in children. A study by the American Medical Association in 2005 concluded: “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.” Evidence also exists that wilderness play can reduce hyperactivity, that it has a soothing effect on children.
Skills learned in the great outdoors also translate to the kinds of skills our universities believe our graduates should possess. In a recent article, former Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims shared the “Eight skills everyone should have by 18.” Her thoughts make for interesting reading; she suggests an 18-year-old must be able to do the following: take risks; cope with ups and downs; handle interpersonal problems; contribute to the running of a household; manage workloads and deadlines and find his or her way around.
What I remembered on my winter break (while simultaneously losing track of what day it was) is that children benefit tremendously from outdoor play. Nature, the great leveler, invites exploration. The wilderness is one of the best teachers out there. Free outdoor exploration supports positive social and emotional development. It strengthens character and develops skills needed for a whole range of situations. On my recent trip to Germany with two Sem Upper School students, I enjoyed seeing them engage in physical skill building, outdoor pursuits like sailing small boats and community service. I watched their confidence improve and their resilience strengthen precisely because they were working outdoors in international teams.
We are blessed in northeast Pennsylvania to be surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes, trails and other areas of outstanding natural beauty. Our area is as much a part of our institutional heritage as other traditions we also cherish. Here at Sem, as we reflect this year upon our mission to inculcate an appreciation of the True, the Beautiful and the Good, I have learned how partnering with nature has improved my abilities as a teacher and a father.
Perhaps the secret is to seek out a little bit of wilderness in our everyday lives. In doing so we encounter mystery. In forgetting what day it was outside, my children discovered a deeper side of themselves.
Kevin Rea, Kingston, is the President of Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School. You may contact him at email@example.com.
Editor: if you have any questions about this guest opinion, please contact Mr. Rea at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 570-270-2150.
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