Letter From Mr. Dressel

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
-Mary Oliver

Dear Members of the Class of 2016,

The words above from award-winning American poet Mary Oliver have served as a particular guidepost for me this year.  Students and educators alike need to add a bit of renewed inspiration and energy every year to make certain that our passion matches the possibilities that await us in school – and in life.

Graduations are traditional moments when graduates can expect (and perhaps dread) advice from their elders.  The words above from the poet follow that structure, and I suggest that her advice can be embraced.  Mary Oliver’s world view is that nature and the ordinary in life provide pathways to profundity, meaning and inspiration.  Implied in her words is her recognition of our tendency to overcomplicate life and to miss the blessings in the everyday.

So I urge you to keep it simple as you move to the next stage of your lives and your education.  Holding fast to those seven unadorned words can work wonders for you.

Pay attention.
Mary Oliver’s words carry much different significance and intent than an identical admonition from a teacher.  Consciously open your senses to the world in which you wake each day, and each day will bring blessing, consolation and opportunity to you.

Be astonished.
Resist the temptation to become jaded, guarded, and – even worse- cynical.  Find joy in the routine, the familiar, the ordinary, the unassuming.  Every day will bring much to savor if we are prepared to be amazed.

Tell about it.
Share your blessings so others can be blessed.  Embrace the world with gratitude and share that gratitude with others.   Don’t be shy about sharing your joy of living with family, friends, and strangers alike.

Keeping things simple can make an amazing positive difference in your life.  Hall of Fame Yankee catcher and accidental philosopher Yogi Berra died early in your eighth grade year.  He was not eloquent in the manner of Mary Oliver, but his nuggets of wisdom echo some of her own.  As Yogi reminded us: You can observe a lot by just watching.

With great affection and appreciation,

Leo P. Dressel
Head of School

Group

All Saints’ Class of 2016

The Interior Life

There were many intriguing and intellectually challenging presentations at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).  Design thinking was the centerpiece theme of the gathering, an idea that stretched my perspective in exciting ways.  However, the session about which I have reflected the most since the conference is the conversation conducted by a panel of four current and past university presidents and facilitated by John Chubb, President of NAIS.  The expectation for every student in our school- and in almost every independent school- is that every one of our graduates will continue his or her formal education long after leaving us.  Although our oldest students are in eighth grade, we think of ourselves as a college prep school.  The structure of the conversation among university presidents focused on what pre-secondary independent schools ought to be doing to make their graduates as ready as possible for university life.

While we are a college prep school, we also claim in our mission statement that we are a life prep school (“… preparing students to lead fruitful lives”).  I was reminded of that when one of the panelists mentioned changes she has noticed in today’s collegians from those who have gone before.  While she certainly urged all of us to continue to help students develop language and quantitative skills (imperiled skills at that), she also lamented the fact that today’s college students have an inadequately developed sense of interiority (her word).  There is no doubt in my mind that external stimuli have overwhelmed the interior life for many of us- to our detriment as the panelist pointed out.  She further noted how many students on her campus are plagued by anxiety and depression.   While I have no clinical standing to make such a connection, I have wondered whether a healthy interiority might make us less susceptible to those maladies.

Student Chapel Presentation

One of the All Saints’ eighth grade students was the guest preacher in chapel on March 10, 2015.

On a brighter note I am consoled that at All Saints’ we consciously and intentionally make the effort to develop the interior life of our students in age-appropriate ways.  Chapel is an obvious means for promoting such development.  When all of us on occasion are asked by the celebrant to be still and reflect quietly, the result is extremely powerful.  The student presentations at chapel provide other invitations for us to be reflective – exquisitely demonstrated by our eighth grade preacher at this morning’s chapel.  We are committed to our weekly chapel services because they are uniquely powerful moments of community and contemplation, wonderful examples of educating our students head to soul.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo

One of One, Not One of 50+

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Eighth Grade Lunch with Mr. Taylor’s Advisory

At the beginning of each school year I enjoy hosting lunches for each of our eighth grade advisory groups so that I can connect with our oldest students in a smaller group setting as they embark on their last year in our school.  At these lunches I ask each group if anyone has any questions or suggestions for me.  At today’s lunch one student asked me how long I have taught.  There were looks of disbelief around the table when I mentioned that my first teaching job started in the fall of 1971.  The looks were understandable since that year is three lifetimes ago for our eighth graders.

Coincidentally, I had recently counted how many school years I have enjoyed as student, teacher, or administrator.  It’s well past 50 years and could be even higher were I to count some years when I had oversight responsibilities for a group of Jesuit high schools in a particular region.  I did not do this tally in order to pat myself on the back for my durability and staying power but rather to savor the gratitude I still felt as I began this year at All Saints’.  I am graced to have spent so many years in environments I love and that I find deeply enriching and engaging.

That in turn led me to reflect on something from that first teaching assignment, which took place at a Jesuit high school in Kansas City.  One of my colleagues there was a jovial Jesuit priest who at that point had been teaching Latin at the school for several decades.  Whenever anyone remarked about something that happened at school on a given day, the priest would chuckle and utter the following: “It happens every year!”  I found myself annoyed by that response, and I finally figured out the reason.  The priest, who clearly had admirable qualities of persistence and commitment, apparently did not embrace the newness- in fact the uniqueness- of every year.  From his perspective he had replicated the same year dozens of time, and in that approach is something unsettling and unsatisfactory.

So ultimately it matters less that this is my fiftieth+ school year than that 2014-15 is the one and only year that each of us at All Saints’ have been gifted.  If I do not embrace this year as precious and unique, I shortchange my eighth grade lunch companions and everyone else at our school.  If “it happens every year” is my default response, then I shall have ignored the special possibilities that this year offers.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo