'You have earned your places': Assembly ushers in new year

A procession of flags and the introduction of new faculty round out a steamy opening to the school year.

Sarah Pruitt '95
September 8, 2023

Amid a September heat wave, Exeter students and faculty gathered on Friday morning to celebrate the opening of the Academy’s 243rd academic year.

“Wherever you have come from, and whatever your prior experiences might have been, you have demonstrated abilities and qualities that will enable you to contribute and thrive here,” Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 told the assembled students in his formal opening remarks. “You have earned your places at Phillips Exeter Academy.”

Watch a full recording of Opening Assembly

Before Rawson’s speech, students gave a rousing ovation to Exeter’s current faculty members as they filed into the hall. Next came a procession of students bearing flags from the 39 nations represented among Exeter’s student body, as well as the Cherokee Nation, Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Osage and United Sioux Tribes. Each placed their flag at the back of the stage, where Rawson and Dean of Faculty Eimer Page sat alongside some of Exeter’s longest-serving instructors and this year’s new faculty members, whom Page introduced during the ceremony.

The annual meeting returned to the Assembly Hall for the first time since 2019, with students and faculty packing the historic space and spilling out into the hallways. In attempts to mitigate the effects of heat and humidity, the shades were drawn, water was provided in multiple locations and students and faculty received cardstock programs that doubled as personal fans. Members of Exeter’s emeriti faculty, who typically join the group onstage during opening assemblies, watched remotely from the Hahn Room in the Thompson Field House.

In welcoming both new and returning students, Rawson challenged them to take full advantage of the opportunities that await them this year, whether in academics, athletics, the arts or community service. “You will have to make choices, but the opportunities are there for you, and your engagement will be an important part of your life at Exeter,” he said.

Part of that engagement, Rawson stressed, would be asking and answering tough questions like: “What do you want to study? How do you want to contribute to the life of our school?  What kind of presence do you want to have in your dorms, classrooms, teams, clubs, and other student activities? What kind of student leaders do you want to be?  What kind of person do you want to be?”

“Your answers will shape your learning and growth and determine the impact that you will have on our school during your time here,” Rawson said.

Later in his remarks, Rawson returned to the theme of Exeter’s diverse community, which he called a “defining strength” of the school. “To realize fully the opportunities through Harkness to learn with and from each other, we must commit fully to diversity of thought and free expression,” he stressed. “Robust debate and free intellectual inquiry are fundamental to our educational method and mission, just as free expression is a pillar of a healthy democracy.”

“I can’t wait to see all that you will do and accomplish,” Rawson concluded. “I will be there along the way, with your teachers, advisers and other mentors, applauding from the audience, cheering from the sidelines, and supporting you in other ways as best I can.”