A Letter from the Headmaster
The Rev. Dr. D. Stuart Dunnan
Lent 4, 2020
I want to thank you all for your understanding and generous support as we respond as a school and as a community to the developing novel coronavirus pandemic.
I gather from Mr. Batson and my faculty colleagues that our online learning curriculum is off and running, and I can see their visible relief and renewed sense of purpose now that they are teaching again and reconnecting with their students.
Personally, I miss our students, as times like these mean that my days are filled with conversations and correspondence with adults, and I have lost my usual opportunities over the course of the day and during the week to interact with teenagers: chapel and meals and games and chats in my office, the occasional movie night or off-campus outing, and milk and cookies with my advisees on Monday nights after study hall. I miss their enthusiasm and lively sense of humor, their resilience and optimism, and their honesty and vulnerability, which is in truth the great gift of boarding school to those of us who have chosen this life and profession, especially at Saint James.
This is particularly true in the spring when the flowers are beginning to bloom in our gardens and on our trees, when the grass is green again, and usually our boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams, and girls’ and boys’ tennis teams, and softball and baseball teams are back outside again – playing in the open for all of us to watch and cheer for them, as we visit with each other on the sidelines as the parents and teachers who rejoice in their victories and console them when they lose. And it will come as no surprise to any of you that I really miss the choir and our moving and beautiful liturgies in the Chapel, especially with Holy Week approaching and Easter, all of which will now be quietly and very privately celebrated this year without acolytes and servers and readers and ushers, but only the safely dispersed and greatly diminished remnant of the faithful still living on campus.
Surely, the one gift of this strange new experience for all of us is that we have been forced to keep a severe and solemn Lent, deprived of all the gifts we take so much for granted, the many and extraordinary blessings that we enjoy at Saint James: the beauty of our campus, the joy of our gatherings and fellowship, the privilege of teaching and learning in the same room together as a class, or coaching and improving on the same field as a team, on the same stage as the cast in a play, as artists in the art room, or just “hanging out” as friends in the dorm. I feel particularly for our sixth formers, who have loved their time here and are a particularly loyal and cheerful class. I so very much hope that they can return and that we can save their last marking period together; we shall see…
But the truth may be that the lessons we are learning now are good for us, and here let me offer just a few: we should be more mindful of our blessings as we are enjoying them; we are not in control of our lives as much as we assume and want to believe; death is nearer to us than we like to imagine; and fear can overwhelm us – if we fail to believe. I always tell our students that the gifts of faith are gratitude and perspective, generosity and courage.
So, this is what I offer you in this time of Lent, of fasting and penitence, of prayer and self-reflection: the promise of Easter to come.
The Rev. Dr. D. Stuart Dunnan