Letter from the Headmaster
Dear Flint Hill School Families,
Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make last weekend’s Winterfest such a success. We especially thank parents Crisi Akhtar and Patti Wilcox, and Director of Constituent Relations Samantha Eustace, for leading the way. The spirit, tone, and energy made it a super day for our School Family. Events really do have an impact on our experiences.
On a related note, several weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Christopher Howard, the 24th President of Hampden-Sydney College, come to speak to our Upper School students. He is one of the youngest college presidents in the United States and has a remarkable background.
He is a distinguished graduate of the US Air Force Academy, where he got a degree in political science, and was also an Academic All-American football player. He was a Rhodes scholar, got his doctorate in politics at Oxford University, and an MBA with distinction from the Harvard Business School. He has been actively involved in a number of organizations around the country, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, the National Council of Advisors of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and was Senior Advisor for African Affairs at Stonebridge International. He is also the Founder and Chairman of the “Impact Young Lives” Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers scholarships and travel opportunities for South African university students of color. This is a man who clearly is making a difference in the world. So when he came to our campus, his message didn’t just have to do with Hampden-Sydney; it was in fact a message about life, and it had an impact on everyone in the room.
Many people have visited our School and made outstanding presentations. Many either stand behind the podium or venture a bit away from it. Dr. Howard refused the podium; he was doing theater in the round. He stood in the middle of the gym floor, students on all sides, and gave one of the most inspiring presentations I have ever had the good fortune to experience. His command of the room, his passion for his topic, and the way he wove his personal story into his presentation, was remarkable.
What he had to say makes sense for all of us, at every age. It was thoughtful, sincere, simple, direct, and thought provoking. I am sure that, like me, many students and faculty have reflected back on his theme over the past few weeks. I am going to take the liberty of paraphrasing the key factors he challenged us to consider. The retelling cannot match hearing him speak in earnest, but the quality of his message is powerful and worthy of our consideration.
His focus was on what he called “The Five Be’s.”
• Be yourself. He spoke about not trying to be someone else, or play a game with your personality. There are times when we are unsure, nervous, and anxious; but ultimately, we have to be ourselves. We have to be genuine and sincere, open and honest about who we are and who we want to be, what we are passionate about, and how we want to live our lives.
• Be humble. He spoke about not taking credit for things others have done. There is no reason to be a braggart. At the same time, we need to work hard and we need to be able to accept praise when it is appropriate. The ability to be humble is a most endearing trait to others, reflects our focus on getting the task at hand completed, and then allows us to feel the joy of being part of a team. Doing it all alone is just that—alone. As Huskies, we know the value of a team, and how important being humble can be to the team effort.
• Be accountable. This is one that truly resonated with me. We all need to be accountable—to each other, to our Mission as a school, to ourselves as individuals. We need to set high standards for ourselves and others, and then work like crazy to live up to them. This means being realistic in our expectations, which at times is a challenge. But it’s important in everything we do in life.
• Be courageous. First and foremost, we need to do what is right, and to challenge ourselves and others to be courageous. Sometimes that means telling our friends, “That’s not the right thing to do; we shouldn’t do it.” Stepping up and standing up takes courage, which is what we need to confront the challenges and temptations life puts before us.
• Be the change in the world you want to see. We all want a better life, a better world, a better experience. We talk about it, but often don’t do anything to make certain it happens. We need to be the change. I often use the quote, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.” Well, we need to be the ones who create the change we can live with, that we know we need, and that is critical to our future, whether in our personal lives or on our educational journey.
Dr. Howard’s approach to helping students find their individual success in life is tied to those five “Be’s” in a way that makes each of us develop effective relationships with others, as well as the critical relationship we have with ourselves. As he spoke, his message made perfect sense, particularly in our “Driving Spirit” environment. So many of his points certainly sound as if they are derived from that philosophy, which is why I wanted to share them with you. Enjoy them, reflect on them as I have, and look forward to whatever the future holds for all of us.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas