With the beginning of the second quarter at Episcopal, and the fits and starts of the early weeks behind us, it’s a time in which the campus begins to harmonize and the business of the school year is in full form. Our 9th graders have found their footing in Upper School life, our 10th and 11th graders are going full-throttle, and our Seniors are immersed in our most advanced classes, their final sports seasons, and the rituals of college applications. It’s also a time when the voices of our Seniors have begun to emerge with a distinctiveness that can only be found through years of very hard work and reflection—and it’s a beautiful sound to behold!
In just the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of attending the defenses of three different Seniors’ Honors Theses. By any measure, these projects are impressive: each spans more than 20 pages, includes thorough scholarly research, and tackles a societal issue of immediate importance. In short, they pass what one of my professors called “The Rocking Chair Test,” explaining: “If you’re going to write about the history of the rocking chair, you better do it well and you’d better make me care.” These are theses that definitely accomplish both tasks. But what has struck me the most in these defenses has been the original voice each student has shown in their thesis. On paper and in the question and answer periods of the defenses, these Seniors have given nuanced reflections on their projects that reflect a deep level of scholarly and personal maturity. They speak of them with voices that can only be developed through very long hours of questioning, searching, and revision.
While our Seniors’ individual voices have been on full display in such advanced projects, they have also come together to lead the rest of campus in every arena, from organizing pep rallies and Homecoming tailgates to sharing homilies in Chapel and leading service projects. Amidst the array of ways in which Seniors have stepped forward to lend their voices to campus initiatives this fall, one recent video particularly caught many people’s attention on campus. Titled, “It’s Gonna Be OK Juniors,” the video was produced by Senior Kaylin Chauvin, in cooperation with a number of her classmates, out of the simple desire to help our Juniors see beyond the stresses inherent in the rigorous Junior year. Eleventh grade is typically very hard at any school. Many of the core skills and knowledge developed in the first couple years of high school have started to culminate in a gamut of advanced courses, students have shifted into key roles on sports teams and creative productions, they are working and driving, and they are beginning to feel the weight of college looming, most tangibly through the PSAT/ACT/SAT exams they’re taking.
But, of course, our Seniors have passed through this crucible and know what a transformative process it is. In their compassion and maturity, this video shows what a wonderful sound it is when Episcopal students work through their struggles, begin to “sound like themselves,” and then share this with the rest the school. Enjoy!
Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald
Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald, Head of Upper School
Spree has joined us from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where, over five years, he helped lead the start-up of its academic program (the “Academic Studio”), serving as the Co-Chair of the Academic Studio, Chair of the Humanities Department, and Co-Chair of the campus-wide Faculty Leadership Team. For his work at NOCCA, Spree was recognized as a Finalist for the 2015 New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award, and three times received NOCCA’s Spotlight Award for “exceptional efforts” in leadership.
A lifelong educator, Spree originally attended college to become a high school English teacher, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary English Education from Northern Michigan University, and working with the America Reads and Upward Bound programs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After subsequently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, he went on to earn an M.A. in International Affairs/African Studies and a Ph.D. in African Arts and Literatures from Ohio University. Since relocating to Louisiana in 2011, Spree has taught and mentored students at all levels, including with the Country Day Creative Arts Program, NOCCA, and Nunez Community College. As a poet, Spree has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was a finalist for the Anhinga Press Rick Campbell Chapbook prize, and was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. He’s also published poems and essays in journals throughout the world, and performed his poetry in venues such as Snug Harbor and the U.S. Mint in New Orleans.