Upper School Opening Assembly: Celebrating the New School Year and the Spence Community

“What you bring to the table, to the classrooms, to the athletic field, to the art room, to the campus, to the stage, is actually that willingness to be changed by what you’re learning, by your fellow colleagues and scholars,” Head of School Bodie Brizendine shared with Upper School students and faculty and staff gathered at the opening assembly to start the new academic year. 
 
The Class of 2020 had already given the entire Middle and Upper School community a rousing start that day. Dressed in tee-shirts adorned with the phrase “End 20ne,” they lined up outside East 91st Street early in the morning to greet students, teachers and staff back to school with cheers and ovations. 
 
During her remarks, Brizendine commended seniors for their “optimism” and “clarity of purpose,” which sets the tone for the entire Middle and Upper School. 
 
“I never, in all of my good strong schools, have seen the kind of academic rigor, work, love that you all put in, in every single one of your classrooms,” she noted, saluting students and teachers alike for “the way they show up for teaching and learning.” 
 
Brizendine also shared her hopes for the year, noting that the school year is an opportunity, not just for students to become better scholars, but for them to act on their compassion. She shared a quote from Susan Sontag: “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action or it withers.” Brizendine then noted: “Our job is to make the word compassion somehow into action that makes sense for us as a community. Don’t let it just be a word that stands on a list of protocols that wither. And we’ll all be working on that together.”
 
Upper School Dean of Students Anna Wronsky shared similar sentiments, applauding the senior class and emphasizing the many ways students can make a difference at Spence.
 
“Coming back through the Red Doors this morning, greeted by seniors in a loud and joyful welcome at the front of the school, shows how Spence is an intentional community,” Wronsky began. 
 
“At Spence, each of us—each of you—has an impact,” she continued. “As members of the Upper School, you shape our community, from the teams and clubs that you attend and lead, the questions you bring to the classroom commons and hallways, the art you create, performances you share and music that you play in the lunchroom.” “This year there will be countless opportunities to engage with life and learning at Spence, and I invite you to be intentional.”
 
In another start-of-the-year tradition, Brizendine shared excerpts of a reflection from the senior retreat, when she asks the class to respond to a statement. This year’s prompt was a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “I think somehow we learn to know who we are.”
 
Brizendine chose one senior’s response to read aloud, noting that she was “quite taken with it because of its strength of what I want everybody in the school to feel.”
 
“I think the phrases ‘learn who you are,’ find myself’ etc. are used a lot because I think a lot of people spend their entire lives trying to figure out who they are and never really get there,” the quote began. 
 
“Personally, I’ve known who I am since seventh grade. Is that a bad thing to say? … I don’t know.” 

“Obviously, who I am has changed over time, but at any given moment since seventh grade, I’ve known exactly who I am. I’ve always had a strong sense of self and that’s a point of pride for me. And I’m not ashamed of any part of my identity.” “I decided that when I went into high school…that I was going to spend every day being nothing more or less than myself….I found that only by being 100% myself, open to the things I love and the things that make me happy, can make me feel peace in my own world.”
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