Music and cheers echoed outside the Red Doors as seniors––in matching Class of 2022 t-shirts and holding handmade welcome signs––lined up to welcome Spence students and faculty to the first day of Middle and Upper School. This joyful tradition was made all the more celebratory by the in-person return of all grades back at their home bases at East 91st and 93rd Streets. Fresh from their own two-day class retreat, seniors helped signal the joy of making community and celebrating important milestones.
The new school year at Spence has now begun for 776 K-12 students, and in each corner of 91st and 93rd Street, students, teachers and staff are fully immersed in the life of school with new and renewed routines. The first day at Lower School was both a welcome back to students and a parent reunion, fulfilling the community’s great desire to be back together. “There is a deep excitement of being back and being together––from everyone waving to each other everywhere we go, to shrieking with joy when the full grade is on the terrace,” shared Elizabeth Causey, Head of Lower School. “This is their home, they have the incredible ability to go right back to it, and they are already fully immersed in learning, which is extraordinary.”
At the opening Upper School Assembly, Head of School Bodie Brizendine spoke to seniors and juniors in the Theater while Grade 9 and 10 Zoomed in from their advisories. The energy of having half the Upper School in one location and the entire division in school was palpable.
Brizendine encouraged students to approach their learning with enthusiasm and an open mind. “Your engagement in the classroom, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, everywhere, is up to you,” Brizendine said. “What you bring is almost more important than what’s already here, and each and every one of us are counting on you bringing that to us.”
Brizendine, sharing words of praise for the Class of 2022, noted that the seniors’ “positive force for good is palpable, and throughout this year we’re going to be turning to them for their leadership.”
A day later, Brizendine shared a special message for Grade 8 at the first Middle School assembly of the year about leadership and being kind to themselves and to others. “Remember who you are, yourself in the school, and those around you,” Brizendine emphasized. “Take care of yourself, love yourself, and love the others around you.”
The new school year also marked the return of the in-person senior retreat, with an overnight trip to the Catskills, connecting seniors, advisors and teachers with each other as they reflected on the coming year. As part of each year’s retreat, seniors respond to a quote selected by Brizendine, writing personal reflections on what it means to them.
This year’s quotation, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, was “be patient towards all that is unsound in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” Brizendine chose to read aloud two of these reflections at the opening assembly.
The first reflection was a poignant and thoughtful meditation on finding meaning in uncertainty. “When I first think of patience...I see myself pushing a gargantuan and overfilled Costco grocery cart behind my 88-year-old grandma and praying that the other shoppers don’t get frustrated when she slowly inches down the aisles,” the student began. “Everything in our future will be unsound until it turns into the present, and that is why we consider life to be meaningful.”
“As I write this, I have the luxury of being alive, of attending this school, of getting to ponder questions like this one… and I return to Costco, and instead of hoping my grandmother moves quicker because I am tired of being yelled at by others, I am grateful, very grateful, that I have the luxury of being there.”
The second writer, Brizendine shared, “wrote a page and a half, then crossed all of it off and said, ‘see the back.’ Here’s what she wrote: ‘Love the process of becoming who you are as much as you love the person you become.’”
In the weeks leading to the opening of school, Spence faculty and staff returned to campus in preparation for the new School year. The entire Spence professional community––teachers and staff––came together in-person to celebrate the start of the school year and each other. In a touching and heartfelt welcome back message, Brizendine prompted teachers and staff to turn to those around them and “tell them how good it is to see them,” eliciting a chorus of “awws” as they exchanged greetings.
“The fact that we’re all here together is a moment to be celebrated,” said Brizendine.
The gathering, which took place at the gymnasium of the new 412 Athletic and Educational facility also included a warm welcome to the nearly 40 new faculty and staff members, with division and department heads offering personal introductions of each one.
For her part, Brizendine commended the incredible educators and staff members who “keep School” through their exceptional work and commitment to Spence.
“It was a brand new land for us, and everyone was in it together,” said Brizendine. “On behalf of the full community, I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of our collective hearts for what you’re doing and what you’re going to be doing.”
“There’s a new year ahead,” said Brizendine. “We can taste it.”