Refreshed by a brisk September breeze after evening rain, the entire School community of more than a thousand strong gathered Friday morning on the still damp expanse of the Colross lawn to celebrate the start of a new school year. Convocation opened with a performance conducted by choral director Edgar Mariano. The Upper School Madrigals, Middle School Eighth Notes and Fourth Grade singers all participated in the program.
Religion and history teacher David Freedholm offered an invocation, asking the audience to "lift your hearts in wonder and gratitude for all whose journeys' have led you here today" and to find joy and common cause in both our differences and similarities: "Let us marvel at the diverse experiences and perspectives arrayed here before us but let us also see our unity measured in our common care for one another and for the community that is Princeton Day School." He concluded with an aspiration that each member of the Princeton Day School community "resolve to understand one another better, to have compassion for each person, and to continue to lift one another up when we fall, and to celebrate with one another when we grow and prosper."
This sense of place, of belonging, of community, reverberated with each of the Convocation speakers.
Head of School Paul J. Stellato welcomed everyone and began his remarks by observing how much the School community has already experienced in the first eight days of school: the Upper, Middle and Lower School divisions have gathered for assemblies, sports teams have competed in several games and matches, school work (and homework!) is well underway, and friendships new and old have flourished. "We have not wasted any time. We never do," Mr. Stellato declared. He also looked toward future gatherings of the entire school, noting that "a year from now, we will stand not on this soggy ground, but rather on the solid floor of the field house, the new home of Convocation and countless all-school gatherings." Mr. Stellato closed his remarks by linking the School's past and the future. "So we take a moment now to recall what has passed and anticipate what will come. We do so together, in this happy company. And we consider how lucky we are to have found ourselves in this place, at this time. We have reason to be glad."
Dr. Rebecca Bushnell '70, Chair of the Board of Trustees, noted the excitement that accompanies the beginning of a new school year and how she always enjoyed this eventful time as a student, parent and a teacher. She also paused to recognize the constants. "In the midst of all this change and all this newness, let's remember what stays true day after day, year after year: the spirit of this community that is Princeton Day School." Dr. Bushnell noted that the first time she spoke at the School's Convocation, "I asked you all to take the time to listen to and respect each other as faculty, students and staff," adding that since then, she has seen countless examples of these qualities on and off this campus. "Here, we share the values of tolerance and compassion as well as those of hard work and achievement," Dr. Bushnell observed. "So on this fresh new morning, I share with you this thrill of a new year and the confidence that at Princeton Day School we always have, and always will, be here for each other."
The three student speakers also expressed ways in which the Princeton Day School community upholds essential shared values, based on their own experiences as Upper, Middle and Lower School students.
Fourth grader Ekaansh Singh could not have opened his speech better, saying, "Welcome, welcome. Yes, that is how I first felt when I came to PDS, feeling welcomed." Explaining that he had attended several schools before coming here two years ago, Ekaansh shared that "some schools were nice and some were just OK, but PDS I liked from the very first day." Among the things that set PDS apart from his previous schools: "how the teachers here make learning fun for us kids," and how, "at PDS, we learn to love beauty when we see it." The beauty he experiences in the PDS Garden was obvious as he described classroom Garden visits where "we graze on ground cherries, stevia and lemon sorrel." True to fourth grade form, Ekaansh shared that the happiest part of his day is recess because of the friendships and camaraderie during play. "I made some of my best friends here at PDS. One rule we always follow is to always play fair and to never exclude. If three of us are playing a game and a fourth person wants to join, we make it a game for four," he explained. "So what PDS means to me is friends, learning, and happiness. What else is there?"
Kingsley Hughes, in Eighth Grade, offered encouragement to new community members. "The faculty and the students are extremely welcoming. I am sure you will make many new memories and friendships that will last forever." Kingsley also reflected on her sense of belonging here. "PDS has been a home away from home. A place where you can be yourself, meet new people, try new things, make new memories and be challenged." Caring friends and classmates make a big difference in her life. "My favorite times at PDS have always been with my friends, from the Operetta, to Cape Cod Mini Week to just a simple day at school." These friends "have pulled me up when I am feeling down, and have always been supportive of whatever I do." Acknowledging that community participation comes with responsibilities, she explained that she is eager to help shape the school community that has been so welcoming to her. "Being a leader in the Middle School will test me and push me to be a better person."
Senior and Student Council President George Ma opened his remarks with his characteristic sense of humor. Having gone to a public elementary school, George explained, he assumed that private school would be incredibly serious and that everyone would act differently than he did. After a memorable school visit that included an entire classroom breaking into applause for a student who accomplished a goal to break a pencil "using only his bare forehead," George realized that "the people here are fun. They are humorous. And they are extraordinary." Since arriving here in Sixth Grade he has found that they are also "genuine, kind and selfless" and "every day I know I can count on each and every" classmate. George reflected that he has come to realize "this community is amazing, and oftentimes I think many of us take this supportive and accepting community for granted." He noted the ways in which "the teachers and administration are always there for you," doing so much more than helping students learn; "they will also counsel, encourage, and believe in you." Admitting that he truly hates to think about leaving PDS, George declared that he would not take a moment for granted so that his last year here would be "my best year here. I am going to cherish the moments, the people, and the incredible PDS atmosphere!" George concluded with a challenge for each student, regardless of age. "Go through this year as if it were your last. We need to make the most out of everything, keep a positive mindset, and if possible find ways to give back to this community because this community always finds a way to give back to us all."
Following all of the speakers' remarks and musical performances, Mr. Freedholm took to the podium once again. With a final request that "we each share with someone else today a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. May we greet one another with a wish for a good day and a good school year," he brought this year's Convocation to a fitting close.
Photos: at top, a view of Convocation from inside the Colross Building; above, Convocation speakers included, from left to right, Ekaansh Singh '28, Head of School Paul Stellato, Board Chair Dr. Rebecca Bushnell '70, George Ma '20, US Faculty David Freedholm and Kingsley Hughes '24; below, a closer look at the PDS students and teachers listening to fellow community members during Convocation.
To see more photos from Convocation, check out our Flickr album!