July 1, 2020
Dear Kent community,
For years Liesbeth and I have been telling our children, Hannah and Gus, we would take them to Kent to show them where we met, began our careers, and were married, so our first stop on Saturday was to visit St. Joseph’s Chapel. As we recalled the day, Hannah asked, “What do you remember feeling?” Ever the romantic, I answered, “It was unbearably hot.” Thankfully, Liesbeth said, “Dad is right.” The heat was an obvious truth on that August day nearly 28 years ago.
I am grateful that my physical arrival at Kent was preceded by engagement with the School throughout the spring. I was kept abreast of the skillful and successful transition to an online program in the spring term, which served as a very real manifestation of the faculty’s deep commitment to the mission of Kent School and its students. The faculty and staff at Kent deserve our thanks and praise for their remarkable work in less-than-ideal circumstances. I also had the privilege of meeting students, faculty, and many staff via Zoom under the guise of them having the opportunity to learn more about me, when, in fact, I learned a great deal about the people of Kent and the community. I learned much, but one universal lesson is worth noting: a Kent education depends on relationships constructed in community in real time and space. Another obvious truth.
I also watched Kent and other schools struggle and continue to struggle to make sense of the killing of George Floyd as further evidence of the endurance of racism in the United States and throughout the world. I am very hopeful that this teachable moment is not actually a moment, but a launching point for a sustained dialogue about race. For me, the Black Lives Matter movement offers us, the Kent community, a moment to re-affirm, re-articulate, and re-commit to the School’s responsibility to its students and to its purpose in the world.
When I was the Rector at St. Paul’s School, I led that community through two difficult crises: the sexual assault of a student and the discovery of a legacy of adult abuse of students. I learned a great deal through these crises, and chief among those lessons was the importance of giving voice to students and listening to those voices. The assumption that all students are seen, valued, and heard for who they are is just that—an assumption. When everyone has a voice, we are stronger. This moment provides Kent with an opportunity to re-commit to this truth.
Giving students appropriate avenues to participate in the maintenance of a healthy culture, and practice for standing up for the School’s values is perhaps the best training for life beyond Kent. The related acts of deeply listening to and learning from each other are the foundations of empathy. No doubt, empathy is a noble virtue, but it is not enough to simply understand one another, to feel another’s pain. Our calling as a school, so faithfully lived by its founder, Fr. Sill, is to act. The role of Kent in the world is not to simply replicate society, but to improve it. This has been and will continue to be its purpose.
I am deeply honored to have been entrusted with the stewardship of this great School. For my own continued learning, I look forward to engaging the Kent community in conversations about the School’s strengths to the end of building on those strengths. I hope to connect with alumni and parents in the coming months to learn from their Kent stories. I am especially eager to get to know students and learn from them about their School.
Finally, stating the most obvious truth, as we prepare to re-open the School in the fall and welcome back students, the School needs your patience, support, and prayers. Thank you for this and for the opportunity to return to this most special community.