A Letter from the Headmaster
“[A poem] begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love.” 

- Robert Frost

Dear Upper School Families,

Beginnings fill us with anticipation, with lofty hopes, with dreams of ideals. “Perhaps,” we think, “this new beginning will allow me to fulfill my potential, to realize all of my dreams, to achieve something truly great.” Because our eyes are set on such high goals, we often neglect the stubbornly difficult little things that face us in the moment of beginning any worthy project. This year, in particular, has its own stubborn difficulties: finding the right zoom link, navigating Google Classroom, learning how to submit an assignment, finding a quiet space to work in one’s house, just to name a few. Yet if we don’t enjoy those little things and gracefully rise to the challenges they bring us, then we will be off on the wrong path.

Robert Frost, the great American poet, writes about this with respect to poetry in his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Here he exhorts poets to buck conventional advice about saving the best for last. Instead, he urges, save the best for first by being attentive to the inspiration of the moment. He warns poets against ignoring the difficult and messy work of making a good beginning by focusing exclusively on the end. To produce a beautiful work of art, one must hold the end in mind while somehow also attending entirely to the present moment of creation. By taking delight in our beginning, he writes, we will end in wisdom.

Frost’s words do not simply apply to the poet on the edge of inspiration; they apply to our teachers, to our students, and to our community. The teacher must be attentive to the present moment during a lesson; they cannot tune out the struggles of the students in order to reach the objective they had in mind when preparing the lesson. And paradoxically, it is often by paying attention to a student’s unexpected misunderstanding of the text, or her alternative solution to a math problem, that the end and purpose of the lesson can be fully realized.

Similarly, we all must attend to the present moment of this new school year. While we may long for a traditional year full of in-person classes, sports, and clubs, our end and our purpose remains the same: to form our students’ hearts and minds toward the true, the good, and the beautiful. This fall, this new beginning of another school year, let us all--administration, faculty, students, parents--attend faithfully to the present moment in which we find ourselves, however unusual it might be. Let us view our unexpected challenges as situations worthy of our careful attention, for it is important to get our beginning right. Let us see them all as working toward our greater good: toward the formation of our scholars in character and thought. And above all, let us begin in delight, so that we end in wisdom.

Yours in Partnership,
Michael Cowan
Headmaster, Upper School
Great Hearts Irving