After listening to another musician play, Miles Davis reportedly once remarked, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” Anyone who has ever spent years learning a craft can relate. It can take years to move beyond technique and find your own creative voice. As a writer, I remember a similar sentiment expressed by my mentor, the novelist Zakes Mda, who urged my classmates and I onward in our writing by insisting that, “novels aren’t written, they’re rewritten.” It’s in the long, difficult revisions that the contours of an original voice begin to emerge.
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