A Perspective from the Head of Upper School, Dr. Spree MacDonald
I had the opportunity to lead a professional development session this summer for all Episcopal faculty and staff in which we shared memories of our best experiences at Episcopal. In the wake of the summer’s shootings in Baton Rouge and across the country, these stories moved many to tears as we considered those moments of human connection and transformation that make this place so special.
Two days later, our region began to experience unprecedented floods. I sat in my office that Saturday calling people who were already displaced. I spoke on the phone with Episcopal families as they drove out of their neighborhoods on the backs of National Guard trucks, and as they tried to locate friends and family. I could hear in people’s voices the simple desire to return, to be back to their normal lives together. As the floods spread and more community members evacuated, dawn broke Sunday with tremendous uncertainty about the welfare of our community and our school.
In the midst of this tragedy and the community’s momentous response to the flood relief efforts, I often remembered an observation one teacher made in the previous week’s professional development session: that her most memorable experiences at Episcopal followed tragedies. She said that the community’s response to such events highlighted the strong bonds that define us. Indeed, as a newcomer to this community in the midst of this unforeseen flood, I felt fortunate to get to know all of you during this time, as our essential goodness has been on full display.
I have also watched people struggle for words in response to the unguarded selflessness of those around them during these times. As bewildering as the storm and its aftermath have been, the rapid and powerful response of so many to the needs of those in our community has posed its own sort of question: What does one say when an acquaintance reaches out with clothing, a home, meals, or hours of labor in response to a need of yours they heard about through social media?
The phrase that came to my mind in these times is one I picked up while serving in the Peace Corps in South Africa many years ago: “Thank you for making me a human.” This phrase is usually uttered by someone who has received an act of great kindness from someone else. It’s a startling statement, acknowledging a vulnerability not typically considered in our American society that so heavily values self-determination. Yet, I’ve always believed the point behind this phrase isn’t that we should all wait for charity, or that others are more human than us. Rather, I’ve understood it as expressing the same values that has allowed the Episcopal community to face our recent hardships with such solidarity and compassion: the belief that we do not entirely determine our own destiny or our own human potential without a healthy, supportive community.
In that sense, this phrase can be understood to mean: “thank you for recognizing that my humanity and your humanity are intertwined.” It’s this graciousness I feel towards those in the community that I have spent time with throughout these challenging days, and it’s what I think of when I consider what it means to be #StrongerUknighted.
Dr. Spree McDonald
Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald, Head of Upper School