I was recently having a good conversation with an alum from the Class of 1956 about what was “The Posture Honor Roll,” which acknowledged standing up straight as an important and measurable value. As with all things Spence, I quickly realized that this honor roll had living behind it much more than good posture pins: it was all about projecting a stance and attitude that suggests strength and assurance. These very pins, then, marked from the beginning what Spence has always held as perhaps its most cherished and important value: confidence. In today’s vernacular, this means letting the world know in your own way: “I’ve got this.”
At the center of it all is the understanding that this external marking or posture actually has more to do with the internal than anything else. The stance reflects the landscape within, and that holds true no matter our age. Confidence, married to integrity, is rooted into the everyday and has to be fully homemade; it may be one of the few things remaining that you can’t order on Amazon. And that’s a good thing because if it is coming just from you, then it is truly all about you and how you walk through this world, the quiet, the boisterous, the shy and the outgoing alike. It’s personal, it’s individual and it’s important, with or without that signature posture pin.
Building confidence, then, is the work of all parents and schools, and the nexus of our commitment may be the strongest piece of our partnership. Naming confidence and describing what it looks like in all of its everyday variations is a good start. You don’t have to be class president, you don’t have to be the impact player on the team and you don’t have to be a published poet to have confidence. You do have to have a strong sense of self and an understanding, even if imperfect, of inward honoring. Simply put, confidence comes from knowing and liking yourself. Confidence has much more to do with how you feel you are, rather than what you are, something that is never too young to cultivate. And, as adults, we know well the wisdom of what writer Lorrie Moore describes as “the girl written forever within the woman.”
Remember, too, that confidence, much like its partner, integrity, is always a work in progress; sometimes losing it can make its return even stronger. Mistakes along the way and dips in self-assurance and doubts are inevitable, natural and welcomed. Confidence is something that lives more deeply than any single performance, any single moment. It’s about the way you walk and talk, rather than where you are going and what you are saying. Confidence, larger than one thing, is built on the many and never the singular. Not earning that A, not getting that role in the play or not beating the current athletic record can actually build better confidence if we never let any one thing become a permanent U-turn.
And there is a huge difference between confidence and arrogance, and it can be dangerous to conflate the two. Arrogance is positioned in context to others: more powerful than she is, more intellectual than he is, more accomplished than they are, smarter, stronger, bigger, brighter. Arrogance has to have a sparring partner, while confidence is really only in relationship to self. It’s about you and what you project as you work, compete, engage and live. More often than not, confidence’s faithful companions are kindness and generosity, while arrogance holds hands with irony and pride. Arrogance is defensive, and confidence is self-possession. Only one of these is truly worthy of the posture honor roll.
As many of you know, during the senior retreat I ask the students to respond to a quotation I’ve selected that allows them to reflect on who they are on the very cusp of their final year at Spence. This year, the quotation, coming from the Talmud, was, “We don’t see things the way they are. We see them as we are.” One senior wrote about confidence without even using the word. From my humble point of view, she’s already on the posture honor roll, wearing that now metaphoric pin of strength and stance.
As a Spence girl, the phrase “enter the conversation prepared to be changed by it” will forever be embedded in our minds and hearts wherever the next step takes us. I hope as a senior class, we will continue to cherish all the threads making up all the blankets and encourage the underclassmen to do so as well through example. I strongly believe life is a mirror for my identity, and I am determined to like what I see.