Changing while staying the same

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
April 25, 2024
Principal Bill Rawson

I have said many times that Exeter has never stayed strong by staying the same. 

Last month I attended a student panel at Experience Exeter, our revisit program for newly accepted students, and was struck by how much actually does stay the same. As I listened to current students describe their Exeter experiences, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to my own. They expressed it differently — I’m certain I never praised my faculty adviser as being “super chill” — but the students today value the same things many of us valued most during our time here. Close friendships. A strong feeling of belonging and community. A sense of purpose and meaning in contributing to the life of the school. A strong belief in the benefit of learning with and from diverse peers through Harkness. And certainly, joy and satisfaction in aiming high in academics, athletics, the arts, cocurricular programs, community service and  everything else that our students do. 

Our mission as a school has never changed — we seek to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives. Each phrase can be traced to our Deed of Gift, written in 1781. We are steadfast in our belief that knowledge and goodness together lay the surest foundation for usefulness to humankind. We are unwavering in our commitment to academic excellence, and to rigorous inquiry and thoughtful discourse in pursuit of complex truths. That commitment remains core to our identity as a school and central to our Harkness pedagogy. It informs how our students learn and grow outside as well as inside the classroom.

Our commitment to youth from every quarter is now more fully realized by the adoption of our need-blind admissions policy. Our commitment to socioeconomic diversity has always been a defining strength of our school; the diversity of backgrounds, identities, talents and experiences that results shapes the student experience across all fields of endeavor and is inseparable from our vision for what it means to be an excellent school.

The Latin phrase non sibi, inscribed on our school seal in 1784, reflects the conviction of our Founders, to which we hold true today, that an Exeter education should be used for the benefit of others as well as for oneself. We continue to believe that “youth is the important period” to instill in our students the values and personal qualities that will propel their learning and growth and provide the foundation for their service to the greater good.

In the pages that follow, you will find ample evidence of our enduring mission and values in the joy our students have in their learning and growth and in the many examples of how our alumni are leading purposeful lives.

Yes, Exeter constantly changes. We are a stronger school because of our evolving academic and cocurricular programs, our extraordinarily talented students and our deeply committed teachers. Yet, at its core, Exeter is built on the mission and values that have guided us for 243 years. I hope you take pride, as I do, in the many ways that the our school continues to change and grow — and remains the same. 

Editor's note: This column first appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of The Exeter Bulletin