President's Message

NEWS: Kevin Rea appointed Vice President of the Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools.

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 and discover what makes Wyoming Seminary such a memorable place for families and their children.

READ THE PRESIDENT'S BLOG:

October 15, 2017: Family Time

FAMILY TIME

I recently enjoyed a fascinating photographic exhibition called “Weeknight Dinners” in which the photographer Lois Bielefeld undertook a project to capture images of American families across the United States in Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Alabama, engaging in their daily weekday ritual of dinner time, a ritual of “daily normalcy.” In reviewing the 78 portraits, I appreciated catching glimpses into different families’ lives where the focus is the evening meal. The impressive range included families picnicking indoors on a blanket in front of a television, a traditional scene of a large family in a Norman Rockwell-like tableau, prepared meals and meals where individuals ate as couples and several people who ate alone. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently produced a study demonstrating that, in later years, adults in the United States are far more likely to eat by themselves than when they were either children or when they were raising their own children. Another interesting aspect of the photos lies in how they invariably show that, when it comes to the typical evening meal, the busy workday crowds into the food and the spaces of the evening meal.

As someone who grew up with a strong family tradition of regular sit-down dinners, I was thrilled to discover that there exists a strong ritual of “family dinners” at Sem, which encourages a family atmosphere in our Upper School boarding community. Every Monday and Thursday for the great majority of the academic year, students and faculty gather to share conversation, to learn and to grow together. After viewing Lois Bielefeld’s exhibit, I started to wonder what an exhibit intended to capture the spirit of our weekly family dinners would look like. Our “Sem Family Dinners” would show a full Walter Dining Room with faculty, families and students from around northeast Pennsylvania, the United States and the world “breaking bread,” laughing, inquiring, relaxing and supporting one another. There would need to be photos too which capture how our ritual begins, with a prayer from Rev. Charles Carrick bringing us all to focus on one another and our special time together. I often arrive breathless from other commitments of the busy workday to find a still center in the goodness of these words. One of Rev. Carrick’s recent very moving addresses went as follows:

“Spirit of Learning and Love, be with us in the days and weeks ahead. At times we feel weighed down by the tasks set before us. We struggle with papers and tests and presentations. Help us, we pray, to find joy in our tasks, that we might delight in learning about our world and about ourselves. Give us the strength and the courage to push ourselves beyond our zones of comfort, that we might confront, ponder and respond to challenging ideas. Gracious One, may our time together at table be one of blessing and encouragement as we continue to strive to be the scholars you desire us to be. Amen.”

After dinner, our Director of Residential Life, Allie Maxwell, and our Director of Student Life, Harry Shafer, speak to us about exciting upcoming activities or meetings open to our boarders. Usually a group of students leads the entire boarding community in the singing of “Happy Birthday” to everyone whose birthday falls in that given week! We are then dismissed to resume our busy lives.

I am very grateful that my family and I are part of a community that prioritizes weekday family dining despite the encroachment of various competing activities. It fortifies our boarding community, lending warmth, spirit and lift to our weekly striving to honor the true, the beautiful and the good in our learning and our lives.

August 15, 2017: An Attitude of Gratitude

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

For those of you who have a penchant for a) anything psychological and b) humor, does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Seriously though…I recently read an interesting article on the work two prominent psychologists have conducted on gratitude. Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michel E. McCullough of the University of Miami have done a great deal of research on what happens to the human mind, body and psyche when individuals practice and remember the importance of gratitude in their lives.

In one study, they asked participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group focused on things for which they were grateful which had occurred that week. The other group wrote about all the daily irritations they experienced or about things that upset them. A third group wrote about events with absolutely no focus on those events as positive or negative. After ten weeks, the psychologists found that those subjects who focused on and wrote about gratitude were more optimistic. They felt better about their lives. Interestingly, they also had exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those people who focused their minds on what aggravated them.

Another prominent researcher is Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and with whom our very own English teacher Erin Griffin has been working this year as part of her professional development. In his research, he tested the effect which various positive psychology exercises had on 411 people. He compared each of these with a control group. Both wrote about early memories. Their week’s assignment was to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone whom they had never properly thanked for his or her kindness. Dr. Seligman found that the impact of doing this was tremendous, that subjects experienced huge increases in “happiness scores” which lasted up to a month in many cases. While such studies cannot prove cause and effect, they do establish a very strong correlation between gratitude and well-being.

This spring our Upper School students and faculty engaged in their own exercise in expressing gratitude to each other. Members of the community voluntarily wrote brief and deeply meaningful messages to each other with words of encouragement, kindness and support on colorful sticky labels that adorned the entrance to Sprague Hall in a rainbow of gratitude.

Additionally, this year I have personally enjoyed touring around the country to Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Hartford and Boston meeting dozens of alumni. Those gatherings were great fun!

Thank you to those of you who were able to make it to our gatherings all over the country. Your love of Seminary, your fond memories and the gratitude you expressed towards your former teachers sustained me in my travels and added tremendously to my understanding of the richness of Sem’s incredible history in the Wyoming Valley and beyond. Welcoming so many of you on the hugely successful Alumni day (thank you Julie Strzeletz ’81, John Shafer ’71 and the entire advancement team!) for your reunions also emphasized for me how vibrant and strong our alumni network remains.

The Latin roots of gratitude spring from the word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is good to know that science supports what I have enjoyed experiencing on campus and in my travels this year: acknowledging the warmth and vitality of the Wyoming Seminary community connects us all to each other, to something larger than our individual selves, to something approaching the truth, beauty and goodness of the world we inhabit and the lives we lead. That is our highest power as a community. For that I remain truly grateful.


April 26, 2017: Outer Space

What lessons planets and their trajectories can teach us

I want to start by sharing with you my personal passion for space, the planets - the vast beyond just outside this precious atmosphere we all share together.

Curiosity recently led me to learn about Jupiter, asteroids and comets. One of the privileges of being a father is sharing my enthusiasms with my children and vice versa. Two days ago my soon-to-be six-year-old daughter Imogen walked into the house after school. I had read an email from her teachers that morning noting that Immy would be about to pursue the study of space and that there would be a “space play” (pictured above). I was intrigued about which part my daughter got so I gently inquired, “Immy, what planet did you get?”

Her response: “Well dad, I got the GAASSSY planet…the GASSY planet!” This was delivered with a mischievous smirk! Excellent, I thought. Who knew that flatulence could be a way in to future scientific insight! This, I thought, was a victory for overworked primary school teachers everywhere.

In reading more with my daughter, we learned that the two biggest sources of gravity in our solar system are Jupiter and the sun. The more we read, the more we became intrigued by asteroids and comets! Asteroids (unlike our planets) travel in hugely irregular and elliptical, long and very thin orbits (like stones from a slingshot) from the Ortt cloud (the outer skin to our solar system) into our region of space.

When asteroids or comets reach Jupiter’s immense gravity the big planet typically either sucks in asteroids or flings them out into orbits where they pose little danger to earth. Should asteroids make it past Jupiter, they go onward and into the warm gravity of the sun. The gravity of the brightest, most attractive object draws them in.

Intriguingly these asteroids are not guaranteed to hit the sun. A property called angular momentum (a measure of how much something is rotating around a central point and one of the fundamental properties of physics) usually means that most asteroids do not head on a trajectory straight for the sun. For something to fall straight into the sun it has to lose all of its angular momentum somehow.

While this is rare, it does occur that a number of asteroids lose enough angular momentum to get close to the sun and they vaporize.

Unlike asteroids, comets give off enormous plumes of gas when they get close to the sun. There is a satellite called the SOHO satellite, which has detected more than 1100 comets known as “sun grazers.” They glow brightly as they move towards either disintegration or (if they survive the close call) the slingshot ride back out to the outer solar system until their next long, unpredictable and elliptical orbit brings them back - if they return at all. Some asteroids return in 50 years. Some might take 500 or a million years. Some do not return at all.

I have been thinking that being an Upper School student, and a teenager, is kind of like being that asteroid or that comet. Each of you is delightfully unique. You are ALL on long, unpredictable and beautifully elliptical orbits streaking through the heavens, susceptible to different sources of gravity.

A couple of days ago while walking my children to school I noticed they sped ahead of me to get to their friends who were playing tag or “NOT IT” in the middle of Sprague Avenue. For them the gravity that drew them onward, away from me, was their group of friends, their peers. The same I know is true for all of you.

Your peers (of varying degrees of intimacy) are the sun to your individual comet. Friendship draws you into groups either planned or improvised. Friendship gives you light. It gives you warmth in a world of crazy schedules, immense workloads, vigilant parents, teachers and other adults like me with “expectations.” Friendships, rightly, sustain you. They sustain all of us.

As nothing is more paradoxical than life, friendships can also provide challenges as they give you light and warmth. How, you may ask? Here’s an example of challenging gravity - do I go to that party with my friends? Do I drink with my friends? Do I avoid a friend who does not appear to be able to “go with the flow” through space and time and do what everyone else thinks is a good idea even though it puts people at risk?

Sometimes the intense heat of peer pressure has the potential, while making you feel warm, fuzzy and brilliant, to compel you to do something risky. Sometimes, under the guise of friendship, “friends” do not make good choices either for themselves or for you.

This is the part of my conceit where comets (or all of you glorious teenagers) either sustain their angular momentum or are drawn into a loss of angular momentum towards potential disintegration, or at the very least a wobbly orbit.

All of this begs the question of what does it mean to be true to yourself, to think before you act and to be a true friend.

Being true to yourself means you have the singular courage to listen to your inner voice when placed in a challenging situation. You possess your own mass, your own strength. Being true to yourself means you persist and persevere in appreciating the beauty of your own long, unpredictable and singular orbit and that you do everything in your power to preserve that precious orbit. We adults appreciate your singularity and we want it to shine. Being true to yourself and others also means you acknowledge when you feel out of your depth, which is a sign of strength.

When you do feel out of your depth, I encourage you to reach out to the team of adults in our family who have chosen to dedicate their professional lives to protecting and guiding you. I would like to thank this dedicated team of faculty, staff and counselors who, on an ongoing and unselfish basis, act “in loco parentis” or as parents in the dorms, the classrooms, hallways, stages and playing fields, vouching for your safety. Of particular note in the last couple of weeks are the efforts shown by Dean Jay Harvey, Mrs. Kersey, Mrs. Mozeleski, Mrs. Bartron, Mrs. Slaff, Rev. Carrick, Ms. Montrella, Ms. DePhillips, Ms. Maxwell, Mr. Chase, and Ms. Casterline. I am proud of their efforts to support you, and I thank them now for their service.

Being a true friend means you protect the vulnerable, you support and pull for one another. It means you give yourselves and each other, as I am now giving you, permission to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. It also means you do not project your feelings on to others when you feel bad or insecure.

Instead, here’s my challenge to you: when you are feeling tired or insecure or hurt, take responsibility for the only thing you can - your own feelings and your own actions. As we all know, in this vast universe actions have consequences and not acting, not protecting others, itself constitutes an action.

Real friends encourage others to journey across the sky while pursuing their quirky and individualistic orbits. Friends protect others, they tell it like it is, see the best in others and have the courage to tell friends sometimes what they do not want to hear. They gently redirect. They love.

We are all (including me) streaking towards the finish line of the 2016-2017 academic year in seven short weeks. We all need to help each other get there. We will all make mistakes and we will all hopefully grow through our mistakes and imperfections - together.

In addition to shaking the hands of you lovely seniors and postgraduate students as you obtain your diplomas next month, I am now really looking forward to that space play and hearing my daughter’s lines about that big “GASSY planet.” Her way of appreciating Jupiter truly involves owning and taking a deep pleasure, as only a six-year-old can do, in the imperfections of humanity.

Some 40-plus years older than she, I feel that in an interesting way, I am encouraging you all to do the same. Notice your mistakes and have them be the gravity that pulls you closer together into your groups. I can assure you that in this way you will learn more about yourselves and each other. Isn’t that ultimately why we are all here - to learn together, to grow together and to flourish together as a school? I know it’s one of the many and deep reasons why I enjoy being President of Sem.

I wish you all a deeply enriching final run to the end of the school year. Your finish line awaits, and I will be there, amongst the first to congratulate you when you streak across it.

February 9, 2017: International Identity

Translate this message into any language:

A Message of Support for our International Identity

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 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-1880s. 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, N.Y.

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.

January 12, 2017: Time for Adventure

TIME FOR ADVENTURE

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 quizzical expressions 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 the joy 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.



September 30, 2016: Installation Address

Presidential Installation Address: Welcome to Wyoming Seminary


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 and discover what makes Wyoming Seminary such a memorable place for families and their children.

Follow President Rea on Twitter and Instagram!