Finding A Point on the Horizon: Sailing as a Metaphor for Fall 2020

Brendan Largay, Head of School
Post Date: June 5th, 2020
Brendan Largay

My uncles were great sailors. My dad is one of eight siblings, and two of his brothers were born of the sea and at greatest peace on the water. In particular, my uncles loved sailboat racing, were fiercely competitive, and often they would recruit their own children or their nieces and nephews to serve as crew or, in my case, as ballast. Summer brings me back to them and the lessons they taught me on the water.

This summer, of course, will be different; the way everything is different these days. But as I find myself answering an appropriately increasing number of questions from families curious about how we are thinking about fall and the safe return to classes, I turn back to one of my earliest memories on my uncle’s boat. I was green, and he saw it before things took an ugly gastronomic turn.

“Find a point on the horizon,” my uncle said; “Keep your focus on that, and only that, until your head stops spinning.” Little did I know, my journey on the leeward side of my uncle’s boat at the age of eight would come back around all these years later as we all get a bit green trying to wrap our collective heads around what life might look like in September. But the advice remains sound: find a point on the horizon and keep your focus clear.

That notion has been at the heart of the work happening under the leadership of Deborah Brissenden, in concert with a handful of administrators, faculty, and parents from a variety of different walks of life: infectious disease doctors, contact tracing technologists working with the state, biotechnologists, and campus planners. As everyone has learned by now, there are very few certainties to plan for. However, what guides us now is not a single plan or scenario. In fact, we are doing away with the language of scenario planning altogether because that, in itself, suggests that we know what at least one scenario might look like when, in truth, even that remains unclear. What guides us now is a point on the horizon. We aspire to return our students and teachers safely to campus in the fall with a plan that honors our commitment to inspiring and challenging every child while honoring their health, safety, and security as we do so.

That’s the thing about a point on the horizon—it stabilizes and is not itself a singular destination. The point is a goal and to get there—wherever ‘there’ may actually be—requires different courses. The work we are doing now is mapping those courses and establishing the proper coordinates to guide us and embracing the comfort that comes from such an exercise. The first set of these coordinates will be published early next week as we finalize our working groups, and begin to raise the sail.

I always envied my uncles’ ability to celebrate the journey of it all; that somehow the point on the horizon was enough to bring him back to center. As we plan for a future that can, at times, make us feel a bit green, there is great comfort in knowing that the destination is in view, our goal is true, the paths, while multiple, do move us in the right direction, and the wind is starting to blow our way.

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