From the Dean's Desk
Read the latest news and notes from Upper School Dean Tom Morris by clicking below.
By Upper School Dean Tom Morris
Good morning, and welcome to the opening of a new school year, the 175th for Wyoming Seminary.
First and foremost, I want to offer my sincere thanks to all who have made me and my family feel so welcome here. Whether offering childcare, helpful tips on what do to in the area, to helping us find plumbers and a tree service, the kindness and generosity extended by the entire Sem community has truly resonated with the Morris family. We could not be more grateful.
I also want to thank President Rea for inviting me to join this special school community, Ms. Streifer for helping me begin to understand the landscape here at Sem, and Mr. Harvey for his gracious, helpful, and generous welcome to the upper school. Thanks, too, to the Class Deans for their patience with my questions, and for their positive “can do” approach to all they do in service of the students here.
I have always enjoyed the opening of the year as school buildings are most alive when students are around. In their absence, school buildings feel dark, cold, almost sterile. In the past week, tt feels like the pace here at school here went from zero to one hundred miles an hour in an instant. One moment we were in relaxed “summer mode” and the next we are in full on “school mode” as the faculty charged through almost a week’s worth of meaningful professional development, our student leaders set the foundation for a productive year, our international students traveled from around the globe, and our athletes got down to business.
The shift into “school mode” is a reminder to me of what I call the “what’s next” trap. What is the “what’s next trap” you ask? It is a tendency to focus on what is coming next at the expense of valuing the current. The next test, the next year, the next scheduled meeting, etc. Seniors – how many of you have already fielded the dreaded “where are you going to college” question? Certainly a fair, reasonable question for people to ask which comes from a place of sincere interest about your future. But, asked repeatedly, questions like that can cause our focus to shift from valuing the future at the expense of the present, from that which is truly known to that which is unknown, and from that which we can control to that over which we have zero control.
So, knowing the “what’s next” trap exists, what do we do with the present? What does each day at Wyoming Seminary mean for you? It means embracing the moment and all of the possibilities that exist at this school. And, there is a lot going on in this school, all of it in service of learning. Learning in the classroom, the dorm, on the field, on stage. Learning in busy, crowded spaces, and learning in quiet, reflective moments.
In his wonderful Convocation Speech this year, Rhodes College professor Dr. Charles McKinney talks about students’ relationship with their learning. Not about achievement or the mechanics of learning. Not about the next paper, the next assessment, the next deadline. But rather, how students relate to, and connect with, the ideas they are exposed to in college.
That question has real merit for our conversation about the present at Sem. How are you going to think about your relationship with your learning here? Are you going to simply focus on preparation for the next step in your life, or as Dr. McKinney calls it “a transaction”? Tuition dollars for college preparation? A thing for a thing. Or, will it be something deeper? Will you move into the discomfort that comes with really meaningful learning, where you grapple with ideas that truly challenge your assumptions? Will you develop a passion for learning that will serve you over the coming decades of your life?
See that…I almost fell into the “What’s Next” trap. So, with the goal of making the most of the present, I want to leave you with some thoughts on how to best navigate the present this school year:
1. Be truthful in all you do. Remember that honesty starts with being honest with yourself.
2. Make your commitments. A good friend and retired Marine always notes “if you arrive on time, you are late. If you arrive ten minutes early, you are on time.
3. Be kind. Kindness is strength. Pay it forward. Tell your family you love them. Put the phone down and talk with people. Make and maintain good eye contact.
4. Don’t take shortcuts. Cutting corners as a habit is a slippery slope that can compromise personal ethics and work ethic. The long game is the right game.
5. Embrace difference. Talk to someone you don’t know. Begin to understand their humanity. See value in everyone around you.
6. Be joyful. Humans choose their reality and their attitudes. Choose positive ones. Take time to slow down, be good to yourself, and to appreciate the good around you.
7. Clean up after yourself. Leave every space, both emotional and physical, better than when you found it.
8. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Meaningful growth is the byproduct of discomfort. Master Yoda tells us “The greatest teacher failure is”.
9. Own your learning. You are surrounded by adults who have devoted their professional careers to working on your behalf. Yet, your learning is your responsibility. Hard work is character. Character matters. A lot.
10. Own your student culture. Make it what you want it to be. If you want others to support you, show up and support them.
I am thrilled to be a part of this special community, and I look forward to getting to know each of you as we navigate the coming school year.
Dean's message for Second Term
Here at school, we are well on our way toward finishing the first half of the year in fine form, and we are all looking forward to soon spending time with family and friends.
Independent schools are rife with traditions small and large that are vital to bringing members of the school community together, and in so doing, they reinforce the values of that school community. Sem is no different. Whether it be the Chapels at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the special family-style meals, post-season competitions, "crepe day" at lunch, or holiday performances, the True, the Beautiful, and the Good are never more evident than they are at this time of the year.
On behalf of the entire Upper School family, I wish you the very best this holiday season.
Dean of Upper School