Dear Flint Hill School Families,

To some degree, our annual All-School Gathering marks the official start of our school year. It is one of those great moments when we gather the entire student body from all three divisions and the entire faculty and staff. It is a chance to reflect on who we are as a school, why we do what we do, and to wish every student the best as the school year gets underway. The program is part ritual and part tradition, but solely focused on the students. It is always an amazing moment for me to stand there, look around the gym on the Lower and Middle School Campus, and see the mass of students who proudly call themselves Huskies!

To begin the ceremony, our Seniors enter the gym hand-in-hand with students from Lower School. This year, we honored 22 students who joined us in Junior Kindergarten or Kindergarten. They walked in with current students in Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten, and were followed by the rest of the Senior Class, hand-in-hand with students from the Lower School. If you want a wake up call for how time seems to race by, realize that this year’s Junior Kindergarten is the Class of 2029!  It was also special to recognize one of our Junior Kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Leslie Viente, who began teaching at Flint Hill when eight of our Lifers started their journey at Flint Hill in Junior Kindergarten. She has now worked with an entire generation of students who have come through 14 years of their secondary education.

A key part of the gathering is to remind the students of the importance of their relationships with each other and with their faculty, the balance of our program and the innovation that they are able to achieve. These three aspects of our Flint Hill experience bring life and spirit to our great School. It is one of those moments when we are reminded that while we have three divisions and two campuses, we are one school.

This gathering also allows us time to reflect upon our history. In fact, this year marks the 60th anniversary of our original founding. It is hard to imagine what it was like 60 years ago when our first students used rooms in the Miller House as classrooms. The house was once located on the site of the Bob Evans Restaurant, on Chain Bridge Road, before it was moved to its current location, in 1986. Nationally, it was a time that now seems like ancient history. President Eisenhower had just won his second term and Richard Nixon was his vice president. Fidel Castro had landed in Cuba and started his revolution. On television, “Gunsmoke” was one of the top TV shows. Elvis Presley was in the midst of his great career. Top movies of the year were the “The King and I” and “The Ten Commandments.” Gasoline sold for 22 cents, and stamps were only 3 cents. The average cost of a new house was $12,000, while the average household income was $4,500 a year. Things have changed, not only in the world, but clearly at Flint Hill.

On this day, we also reflect on leadership and the role we all can play in making our School great. Student leaders throughout the Upper School were recognized and honored. The Seniors were asked to stand because they will be “standing up” all year long to set an example for the rest of the student body. They lead us in setting the tone, spirit and the sense of responsibility for the entire school. Above all, they serve as role models for our four core values. Each division director spoke, and students from each of the divisions shared their best wishes for the school year. Many thanks go to the Upper School Concert Choir for singing the Star Spangled-Banner and to the Upper School Dance Team for a wonderful performance.

This annual gathering always ends with the lighting of our School lantern. This ritual dates back to the great story of the Iditarod race in Alaska. In 1925, due to a major diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska, serum had to be raced 15,000 miles from Anchorage to help save the children in Nome. In 1973, a dog sled race was created in Alaska as a way of celebrating that moment in their history. And every year since then, dog sled teams race across the tundra, taking weeks to traverse that amazing distance. We have always used the Iditarod as a metaphor for our educational journey. There are always going to be moments of tremendous success, beauty and joy in looking out at the amazing vista of our learning experience. At the same time, there will also be frustrations and challenges along the way. In the original tradition of the Iditarod, contestants would light a lamp that looked very much like the lamp we have here at School. The lamp was lit at the beginning of the race and was kept burning until the last dog sled team finished the race. No matter how far behind they might be from the winner, the idea was to celebrate the courage, determination, perseverance and grit that they had by just being a part of the journey.

As part of our tradition, our Lifers are called upon to light the lamp. In the spirit of inclusion, we also included one student who was here in JK, left us for a number of years, and eventually returned. The lamp will remain lit throughout the year until the last Senior has graduated. While we light a candle at the ceremony, the candle is converted into a light bulb when the lamp is moved to my office, to keep our students safe. It sits proudly by my office window, so everyone can see it when they visit the Upper School Campus. The 22 students who joined us in JK are:

  • Arman Azad
  • Gregory Benn
  • Alex Chiarolanzio
  • Alexander Gupta
  • Brittany Hendrix
  • Kate Herlihy
  • Jared Levin
  • Josh Lisker

And the students who started in Kindergarten are:

  • Christine Becker
  • Janie Braunfeld
  • Brett Briglia
  • Mahima Chaudhary
  • Josh Cohen
  • Becky Harrington
  • Ramsey Johnson
  • Abby Magner
  • Conner McBride
  • Sky McBride
  • Megan Milner
  • Nathaniel Okoth
  • Justin Saleh
  • Varvara Troitski

We salute these students’ successes and the impact they have had on their class and the school during their individual and collective journeys.

All of our students have unbelievable potential, and our vision for them is the same whether they are in JK or in their Senior year looking ahead to college. We ask them to take meaningful risks by trying new classes, learning new skills, and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones to learn; to be themselves by developing the confidence to be who they are meant to be; and above all, to make a difference in the world. It has been an exciting start to the year. We are honored and pleased to have this great student body helping us move forward into a most exciting 2015-2016 experience.

Best wishes to you!

John M. Thomas