Our values in action

By
Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
November 5, 2020
Principal Bill Rawson

Recently, an alumnus asked me to share what is most meaningful about serving as Exeter’s principal. For me, it starts with the students. Spending time with them, supporting their experience here, means everything to me.

That is especially true now, as we have all worked together this fall to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students on campus are committed to being here and working hard to follow our health and safety protocols. It is wonderful to have them back. I also enjoy connecting with the Exonians who continue with distance learning at home. We have built the schedule this term to provide them with greater opportunities to connect synchronously with their peers and faculty and truly feel part of campus life.

All of this is possible in large part due to Exeter’s faculty and staff, who continue to work extremely hard — many have been required largely to reinvent their jobs — to ensure the Exeter experience continues to be rigorous, supportive and safe. I am thankful for their dedication to the Academy, to one another, and to our students.

This sense of shared responsibility draws from Exeter’s founding principle: that “the time of youth is the important period, on the improvement or neglect of which depend the most weighty consequences, to individuals themselves and the community.” It is the singular reason our school exists today, and guides all that we do together.

Last year, I joined a small group of trustees and faculty in the sizable task of creating a succinct, modern expression of the Academy’s mission. We spent an entire year producing a single sentence, and it was well worth the effort. Our revised mission — each word derived from Exeter’s Deed of Gift — is to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives. Its power lies in its brevity: We now have a phrase that can live easily at the forefront of our minds as we go about our daily business of teaching and learning.

The new mission is supported by five statements that reflect our core values and draw more heavily from the language in the Deed of Gift.

I write this column as the national election draws near. This is a challenging time, and we will support our students in every way possible as they navigate the divisive political discourse here in the United States. Across the globe, we are facing social, economic and environmental challenges that require us to act with compassion, courage and conviction. Our mission and our values matter more now than ever as we prepare our students to become global citizens and meet the issues before them with determination and innovative thinking.

We strive to create a community where we can seek out perspectives different from our own, be challenged in our beliefs, and learn from each other. This requires that we act and engage with empathy. Empathy does not require agreement, but it does require that we try to understand the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others, and be willing to learn from others. We will continue to reinforce the type of Harkness pedagogy and civil discourse that provides the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as a community.

As we navigate the challenges before us, we also must make time to celebrate a milestone in our school’s history that was as transformative in nature as the decision to adopt Harkness as our method of instruction. Fifty years ago, the Exeter Trustees approved coeducation, and 39 brave female day students enrolled that September. The journey since then has been one of profound discovery and growth for the school.

Our theme for this special anniversary year is “Her Voice at the Table: 50 Years of Coeducation at Exeter.” We promise a robust celebration of “her voice” in all aspects of Academy life; we will acknowledge that it was not always easy, and for some, it was painful. We will recognize that part of our story as we celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our alumnae, as students here at Exeter and in the world beyond. I hope that you will join the conversation.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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