A Tragic Lesson from Rutgers University
Ask any MA teacher why they teach and the number one reason they offer, without any hesitation, is their relationship with students. I believe the passage below resonates with any adult who has the privilege to work directly with young people:
We are thankful for the blessings that children bring into this world: for their energy and spontaneity, for their giggles and laughter, for their creative imagination, for their sense of freedom and playfulness, for their love so openly given, for their ability to make us feel needed, for their gift of hope for the future.
Amen to that! But we also know that working with young people can be, in rare cases, heart-breaking and devastating. We’ve all followed the webcam spying case at Rutgers University that led to the suicide of Tyler Clementi. We recently learned that the defendant, Dharrun Ravi, was found guilty of all 15 charges against him and now faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India.
Mr. Ravi’s lawyers believed that this was a case of youthful indiscretion. They argued that Mr. Ravi was an immature 18-year-old boy who was uncomfortable with his roommate’s sexual orientation and didn’t quite know how to deal with it. So the jury was faced with the question: was this a stupid adolescent prank or a crime? The jurors gave a clear answer by concluding that “young people who are sophisticated enough to spy on, insult and embarrass one another electronically are sophisticated enough to be held accountable.” (Associated Press) The final result: one 18-year-old boy dead, another who will spend much of his adult life in prison, and two devastated families.
As a head of school and educator, this case was particularly painful for me to follow and made me thankful that we have a healthy student culture at the Academy. I’m in the midst of meeting with small groups of seniors where I ask them to reflect on their MA experience. When I ask them what they love most about the Academy, they all talk about the strong sense of community and the importance of relationships with each other and their teachers.
While these student reflections are affirming, I realize that no community is perfect and that our faculty must be purposeful in cultivating and educating ethical, kind, and humble young adults. I shared the points below with all of our students on the first day of school and thought it was appropriate to dust them off as we finish up the last two months of school.
1. Students—know that you are loved. Our teachers thrive on your energy, your enthusiasm and your appetite for learning. You are the reason they teach. You need to know that you are loved.
2. Tied to my first point, is a word of advice: Never worry alone. As you navigate the choppy waters of your social life and school life, know that you can turn to your advisor, teacher, coach, administrator and me for counsel. As I just said, we care deeply about you as students and people so share your burdens with us.
3. My final point is very simple. Be kind to each other. William James, a brilliant American psychologist and philosopher was a prolific writer during his lifetime but offered the following on his deathbed: “There are only three important things in life: kindness, kindness, kindness.”
Whether you have a Kindergartner or Senior or some combination thereof in your home, I ask that you share with them the following at dinner tonight: Know that you are loved, never worry alone, and be kind.
Head of School
Wednesday April, 11, 2012 at 11:31AM