Darrow’s last four faculty meetings of the school year are focused on those students who have been nominated by their teachers for academic and leadership awards. The award criteria are shared in advance and teachers are encouraged to nominate students who they believe are most deserving. At the meetings, they are invited to speak in support of their nominees.
Each year, this springtime process leaves me feeling energized and amazed. My amazement comes from hearing dozens of anecdotes about students who are so much more in possession of their voices and bodies as athletes, scholars, and leaders than I ever was in high school; but overshadowing that amazement is realizing how far they have come in just a few short years.
This year’s crop of nominees included a number of students who, when they first arrived at Darrow, did not remotely seem like the people they would become:
- the intellectually gifted but deeply self-conscious student who found her voice and confidence on the stage and in the classroom;
- the reticent freshman who could barely make eye contact in her first weeks on the Mountainside, yet became an admired core leader, team captain, and familiar community presence;
- the student with a significant learning difference who, by force of will, set the standard at the top of her class (and is known to never grub a grade);
- the resentful boy who seemed lost in his first days and now models tolerance, openness, and a sense of self that shines through in every conversation.
Serving a school that truly transforms lives so deeply and consistently is, of course, thrilling [and frequently exhausting]. As the school year rolls on, it sometimes becomes easy to take those transformations for granted as they are happening. Then, as the lilacs and tulips are blossoming and we start thinking about Commencement, this gratifying tradition comes along.
There is a sense of joy in watching a specific combination of ingredients—academic challenge, genuine caring, leadership opportunities, and a healthy community culture—coalesce to build confident, engaged, young adults, no matter the challenges or odds they faced when they enrolled. Get the right adults, the right pedagogy, and the right culture and you take students beyond what they or their parents had imagined possible.