The grand event of the “Year of Friendship” Day 1 unfolded in a new space—the sparkling new multi-purpose room at the front of the Lower School expansion—but the rituals were tried and true.
First graders, the Class of 2030, were officially welcomed into the Bulldog Family with two important traditional gestures: patting the (large, soft, and well-stuffed) bulldog and extending a hand to Headmaster Dennis Manning for that first official handshake at Norfolk Academy.
The handshake is part of the school’s vernacular, a way of saying ‘hello’ that becomes not only well-practiced but instinctive. Up and down the halls, the handshake is part of the good morning greeting throughout the year, as teachers welcome students at classroom doors. The firm grip, the eye contact, the smile that starts a conversation—all of these make up the gesture that helps build relationships at the school over a student’s journey.
“I love the handshake. To have that immediate connection that says, ‘You count to me!’ There’s just no better way to say it,” said Lower School Director Patty McLaughlin.
For new first graders, it is no doubt a lot to muster on the first day of school, so there was abundant cheer and support along the way. Students lined up by class, all full of pent-up enthusiasm after hearing their names called in a delighted fashion by Mrs. McLaughlin; before reaching the bulldog, they stopped for a few words with Director of Admissions Jay Lasley, who crouched on his knees to get to eye-to-eye with them.
After that prep work, they proceeded to the bulldog, who was confidently perched on a table, and patted the dog’s head. They then extended their hands for that first official handshake with Mr. Manning, who shared a few words of headmasterly encouragement. Each one had his or her moment to feel like a little celebrity, as the cameras of family and friends flashed.
As the first graders waited in line for their turns, many attired in the school colors of orange and blue, Mrs. McLaughlin chatted about new backpacks and even poked gentle fun at the ritual ahead. “What if you shook the bulldog’s hand and patted Mr. Manning’s head?” Mrs. McLaughlin speculated. “I don’t think he would mind!”