Flipping the Sequence

Today, on the day of Gann Academy’s Open House, I’m thinking back to my opening-of-school remarks at the start of September. I believe they speak authentically to our community culture and our aspirations. I’m proud to share them.

Gann exterior

I’m flipping the sequence today – I’m going to do something that I am not supposed to do. You see, when you go to “Assistant Head of School” School, you learn what you are supposed to say at the start of the year, and what you are supposed to say at the end of the year. At the start of the year, I am supposed to tell you that are supposed to study hard, to put the pedal to the metal, to hunch over your desk and burn the midnight oil. At the end of the year, I’m supposed to tell you that you are now ready to go out to change the world, to make a difference, to do things.

But I’m going to flip the sequence today, because we’re Gann and that’s not how we work. I’m going to tell you, right now, that your job is to take action now – to make change now. It’s not to say that Gann students do not study hard. We do! But we do so with an immediate purpose.

The words in the lobby read “ready for tomorrow.” They don’t say “ready in four years.” They don’t say “ready after college and when I’ve got my first real job.” They say “ready for tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow is in 24 hours. (But don’t worry: it’s Friday, and tomorrow is Shabbat, and this is Gann, so you get an extra 24 hours’ reprieve!). That means that the change we need must start now, here, in this place, in this room.

Now, I have no question but that the Gann students of 2018-2019 are up to the task. After all, you win soccer games, climb mountains (literally), perform magnificent music, and publish op/ed pieces in the New York Times. And that, my friends, was in the first week of school. Mic drop!

But we also know that what’s facing us is something very serious. There’s a lot going on outside these walls. We can’t escape the headlines: climate change, divisive politics and fundamental failure of trust. When violence, hatred, racism in our world are hard reality, we know that there’s a lot of work to do.

So we better be sure that we know what it is about Gann Academy that is so special, because we need to keep it going; we need to keep drawing from that well of strength. In short, what makes this place tick?

When I ask a question like this one, I think of our four core values. These are so important to us that we post them in giant letters in the dining hall: Care. Connect. Strive. Create. Today I’m going to zoom in on “Connect.”

At Gann, we practice connection and collaboration and we never stand alone. We win games – as a team. We climb mountains – each looking after the other. We perform music together. And I dare you to find any recent New York Times op/ed piece with five co-authors. That’s how we do things at Gann.

As Rabbi Berkman said, we are imperfect and we grow, and we change, and we build our strengths – and we do so as a community. And, as our student presenters just pointed out, it is through community that we discover our individual passions.

Connecting with others starts right here, right now, at the start of the year.

So I offer you three challenges – I know that you know these things, but I am going to name them anyway!

First – a message not just to new students but to those who think they know this place … I challenge you to find someone you don’t know at all and establish a connection before the end of the day today.

Second – remember that the deeper connections are the ones in which you are asking at least as many questions as you are offering answers. Not judgment in the guise of a question. Not snarky questions. Open, honest, wondering, vulnerable questions. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, you’re up to it.

And “Level Three Connection” —  focus on listening. Good, hard, reflective listening. If you don’t know how to do it, don’t worry – you’ll learn here. It takes practice. It’s not just using your ears. You have to open up your eyes. You have to open up your heart. You have to open your spirit. I think the listening is actually the hard part, a lot of the time.

BUT you know this. You the striving artist, the caring athlete, the creative robotics leader, the hard-working scholar – you know this. We connect at the deepest level, we strengthen each other, and that’s how we create art that changes lives, we win league and state championships, we conduct the research that matters, and, I promise you, we bring human dignity to a world that desperately needs it. And yes, we might even build a national museum.

The change starts here. In this room. ALL OF US.

Happy New Year. Shana Tova.