The Les Miserables production a few weeks ago brought pleasure and joy to packed houses over its four-night run. For the last few weeks, those of us on campus have been humming the inspiring and memorable music. Before we have to trade in those tunes for the examination schedule, I wanted to share a few thoughts.
The Episcopal production of Les Miserables is a grand illustration of what students learn from striving for excellence, particularly the striving that occurs in a group working on a project. In short, students involved in projects such as Les Mis learn through personal experience what it takes for a group to do something with excellence and the demands excellence makes through fine tuning of their individual contributions. They absorb how people who love their work --Ms. Gagliano and Mr. Smith, for example—create an environment for excellence. Students become a part of a small group that becomes excellent. When they are faced, just a little further down the road, with opportunities to lead daunting and meaningful projects themselves, their memories of the “Les Mis miracle” at Episcopal in 2016 will instruct and guide them.
Students bore witness to the humble beginnings of the production. They held themselves back at the start, but were coached to the realization that they could trust themselves, their colleagues, and their directors. They gained an understanding of how leaders provide a framework for openness to the initiatives of all participants. They felt the pressure of being in the right place at the right time and delivered their lines and songs that grew toward perfection in performance. They strived with their colleagues and gave their best toward the communal effort. They saw how it all came together and resulted in standing ovations.
Perhaps the life lesson that excellence, success, and achievement do not come without focused effort is the ultimate, durable and lasting take away from projects like Les Mis. Alongside the physical act of doing are equally important lessons in emotional maturity that only come from the cycle of trying, failing, correcting, improving, and polishing under the empathetic and loving guidance of mentors with relevant experience who care for them deeply.
Episcopal students apply what they have learned in projects supervised and guided by well-qualified faculty. They leave here knowing the hard work that goes into a life of high standards. They pick up on the “know-how” from directors like Ms. Paige Gagliano, who set the stage for excellence and transmit, by example, leadership toward the high altitudes where real excellence can be found.
At Episcopal, the official mix includes spirituality, academics, arts, and physical education---the four points of our Mission & Ministry---and we model striving toward excellence in every area. We give our students opportunities to bring everything they have to the stage, field, court, competition or table. When the final curtain came down on Les Mis that Saturday night, the actors, musicians and directors left nothing on the stage; we all know that’s what excellence demands in life.
From the audience, I enjoyed the lovely performances and, more importantly, saw a cast and supporting crew learn that they can be excellent, that they can have a direct role in making something great. That knowledge is now firmly seated in their minds, instilling a hunger for more. The next time, whether tomorrow or a decade from now, when one of the cast is challenged to do something complex and meaningful, they will draw strength from the excellence experienced in the unforgettable 2016 production of Les Miserables.
Hugh M. McIntosh
Head of School