Peter Bartlett, Director of Student Life

I

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grew up in a boarding school where the lasting effect of what was done “after academics” was significant, and more often than not provided the defining experience(s) for the alumni who attended. Consciously, and unconsciously, I have tried to take a little bit of what I learned at that school and sprinkle it into the places where I have worked since, in some places more liberally than others. This has been easiest at Webb where so many of the structures and commitments are so soundly in place, and have been since the school’s founding, to simply and intentionally help students “grow up.” We have an enormous luxury, and ultimately a responsibility in independent schools, to shape the world in which we live and work, to emphasize the things that we think are important, and to uphold the values that we feel are going to allow our students to develop the kind of moral compass and social conscience that will guide them in a world that gets more complex by the nanosecond.

One can hear through the totality of the voices in the article Webb “After Academics” that the schools’ commitment to developing the whole child is broad and deep. Webb students not only have the advantage of facilities on par with some of the best schools in the country, they also have a faculty that teach them, coach them, parent them, advise them, support them, recreate with them—you name it—but most importantly model for them the kinds of passion, energy and dedication to which we hope they will aspire. This is a gift—I am reminded regularly of a sentiment my father wrote into a graduation speech he delivered decades ago, but that I still find so relevant today:

“I hope we have instilled in you a love of knowledge, but, more importantly, a knowledge of love.”

A concept so pure and simple—these are the words of a man who understood the value of what we can create in these schools, and that all of the knowledge in the world is useless to you if you don’t learn to recognize love and passion in others, or love something enough to apply your own knowledge or skills in ways that are meaningful and useful to others—that is why it matters that we stretch our students in ways that don’t just challenge them to be their best, but also to help others be their best, in all that they do. It is important for students to grasp that this is a community where their contributions, however great or small, whether on the field, the stage or in the classroom, matter, and by virtue of that fact, that they matter. Educational theorist Nel Nodding’s argument that we not only teach students how to care for others, but have them learn and know that they are cared for is a subtle, but strong reminder of our responsibility to educate people, and not just students as they navigate the complexities of adolescence.

We are fortunate at Webb to work with people, young and older, whose talents know few, if any bounds—it would be such a mistake to try to force these talents and amazing graces into one mold or another, rather we see it as our responsibility to point them to the light, using Plato’s analogy. Our students are so capable, in so many ways, that to have them come and leave as a “type,” or with a single stamp of approval would be a travesty. These exposures to the light, the prism of a broad range of experiences, any one of which might be life-defining, but that in their totality shape a being ready to make a difference in the world, are what serve to make schools like ours different, and worthy. And yet, as I often remind our students, while it might seem an expectation that they will be better for having been here, I also offer that if this place is not better, even in the slightest or most unusual way, for having had them here, then we have missed an opportunity. In this lies the magic.