A culture of gratitude

Bill Rawson '71; P'08
January 24, 2024

Exeter was founded as a free school in 1781, at a time when there was no system of free public schools. Today, Exeter is a private school with a public purpose — expressed in our mission statement — to “unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives.” 

We enroll students of promising academic ability and strong character from a wide range of backgrounds, identities and experiences, and we admit them without regard to their family’s ability to pay tuition. We strive to create a strong sense of belonging in every student, and to instill in each student a belief that their time here matters. We tell them they are not special merely because they are here, but that because they are here, they have the opportunity to accomplish special things together.

We urge our students to focus on learning and growth, rather than a narrow definition of success, and to embrace fully the opportunities to learn with and from students whose backgrounds and experiences differ from their own. This requires that we learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that we expect — indeed welcome — a diversity of viewpoints on nearly every subject worth exploring in our Harkness classrooms. 

We also seek to create a culture of gratitude. We understand that an Exeter education is an extraordinary gift, and attending Exeter is a great privilege. With that privilege comes opportunity, and with opportunity comes responsibility. In accordance with our core value of non sibi, we seek to graduate students “whose ambitions and actions are inspired by their interest in others and the world around them.” 

I too am privileged to be a part of this community, and to be able to observe firsthand the joy our students have in their learning, witness how they care for each other, and see all the special things they accomplish together and the fun they have doing it. It also is deeply meaningful to see all that our teachers and all other adults in our school do to make these student experiences possible, and to hear parents express time and again their deep gratitude for the growth they see in their children during their time here.

I have said before that human connection is at the foundation of all that we do and all that we can hope to accomplish of significance in our lives. A few weeks ago, I wrote to our school community that we must work every day to create a world where the dignity and equal worth of every human life is understood and respected by all.

We do this work, like everything we do at Exeter, with a deep sense of purpose. We see the fulfillment of that purpose in how our students contribute to the life of the school while they are here, as well as in how they contribute to the greater good, and lead their own purposeful lives, after they leave.

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