Headmaster Dennis Manning put a bookend on the Year of Courage with two reflective chapels for Middle and Upper School students, calling the school year “the greatest team effort I've known and witnessed in my lifetime."
He hearkened back to March 12, 2020--15 months ago--when he made announcements at the four lunch gatherings in the refectory that school would be closed the next day. At that point, he noted, he didn't realize the shift that was ahead: Students and teachers would be spending hours in front of computer screens, and everyone would be diving into the new medium, Zoom, one that “now feels like old hat."
He recalled, as well, the vow of the summer months, “a school year in person, no matter what." During grueling weeks of work over those hot months, as Covid cases regionally and nationally rode a roller coaster, everyone involved in school life -- trustees, administrators, faculty, and staff--was committed to the effort. “We did not want to look back and say, 'Why didn't we try this?' or 'Why didn't we muster every resource?' To the credit of our Board of Trustees, we mustered every resource for the year."
He thanked the students for their compliance with the Covid-19 regulations, and for their participation in the school's surveillance testing program, an initiative that set Norfolk Academy apart from most schools in the nation, public or private. The testing program offered ongoing information about the health of the community, and the combination of testing and safety protocols provided confidence about coming to school. Students who were not able to come to school stayed connected via the distance learning program.
“You are witness to a moment in history and participants in it," Mr. Manning told the students. “We are all different from how we would have been. We've been strengthened and changed in ways we won't understand for some time."
With that, he turned to the future, asking students to consider what post-pandemic life will look like for them and how the school year ahead could look closer to a return to normalcy. He quoted from an article by one of his favorite columnists, David Brooks of the New York Times, who recently wrote a piece entitled “The Great Unmasking," about the power of stopping to assess the current cultural moment. Brooks wrote, “All around I see people determined to undo what Covid tried to do to us. Covid isolated us, but I see people thinking about how they can replace social distance with social closeness and social courage."
Mr. Manning encouraged students to spend time pursuing friendship and reaching out to others. Finally, he noted that the wisdom shared by Lower School Director Michelle Alexander during that division's final chapel is the perfect advice for students of all ages: “Have fun this summer!"