Exeter lives within each of us

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
August 1, 2021
Principal Bill Rawson

Quite a few years ago, returning to the Exeter Inn from an alumni volunteer dinner with the senior class in Love Gym, I found myself walking alone a few paces ahead of an older couple. I stopped to introduce myself, and to my utter astonishment, Mickey O’Connell ’46 said, “I remember you. You played lacrosse!”

Mickey had watched me play in the Exeter-Andover game my senior year, his 25th reunion year, more than a quarter century before this chance encounter. But Mickey was an All-American at Williams College and had a deep passion for the game, so he remembered. Thus began a wonderful friendship that continued until Mickey died a few years ago. He and I sought out each other every year at that dinner and stayed in touch when Mickey was no longer well enough to make the trip from his home in Ohio.

I tell seniors every year at graduation that they have only just begun the process of forming lifelong connections with fellow Exonians, not only in their class but across generations. They are surprised when I tell them of the close friendships I have forged over the years with classmates whom I did not know while I was a student. I tell them also of how deeply enriched I have felt by the friendships I have developed with Exonians both many years older and many years younger than me. I tell them my experiences are not unique, and that they can look forward to similar experiences in their professional and personal lives.

At a recent outdoor assembly, we gave all students a T-shirt that has their class year on the front and the Lion Rampant on the back superimposed on an image of the world. The image is accompanied by the following words: “Exeter lives within each of us and forms around us, no matter the distance between us.”

That expression is particularly apt during this difficult pandemic year, when students have spent portions of the school year learning remotely, and have only recently been able to resume such activities as interscholastic athletics and theatrical and musical performances before live audiences, with various COVID protocols and restrictions in place. The expression will remain true after the pandemic is over.

Exonians are bound together by our school’s mission to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives. We are bound together by our commitment to non sibi, inscribed on the school seal. We are bound together by our experiences at Exeter, experiences that in some ways might be quite similar and in other ways very different. Experiences that challenged us, were uplifting, were sometimes very difficult, and in all cases were transformative.

As you read through these pages [of the spring 2021 Exeter Bulletin], I hope you will feel inspired by the many dimensions of the Exeter community, of which you all are an important part. I hope you will feel inspired to visit campus when pandemic conditions permit, to renew old friendships with classmates, and to forge entirely new connections with fellow Exonians across generations.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.