As a young and aspiring school leader, I was very fortunate to have a great mentor. He was the head of my previous school for 31 years–a remarkable tenure by any measure. Through that time, he always preserved the key ingredients in pre-k to grade eight leadership: the energy of a child and the ability to see possibility in each and every student. Among the many things I have taken from the years of working with him, I hope that I have managed to instill those key ingredients in my work at Belmont Day.
Once a year, I have my own quiet opportunity to pay homage to his lessons by reading a story to kindergarten that he loved to read as well: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Miss Rumphius has been around for a while, first published in 1982. The story, for those who may not know it, begins with the ‘Lupine Lady,’ who we quickly learn is the elderly Miss Rumphius herself, telling her great niece the story of her life. In the story, a young Miss Rumphius (Alice is her name), explains to her grandfather that she wants to do two things when she grows up: travel to far away places and live beside the sea. Her grandfather thoughtfully adds one more thing to her list: “Do something to make the world more beautiful.”
As the story unfolds, the elderly Miss Rumphius tells her story of visiting far away places and meeting the Bapa Raja, the king of a fishing village on a tropical island, and climbing tall mountains where the snow never melts. She ultimately comes to rest in a home by the sea, just as she had hoped. But soon, she realizes that she has not yet made the world more beautiful (though one might argue that in her cultural exchanges she made both herself and others a bit more beautiful for their connection), and so she decides to plant lupines outside her window. Soon, she notices that the seeds of the lupine have blown throughout the town and before long there are lupines everywhere. Miss Rumphius is then known only as the ‘Lupine Lady’ who carries seeds of lupine in her pockets and spreads their beauty everywhere, thus completing the third task put to her by her grandfather those many years ago.
I love reading this story to the kindergartners. I love the students’ quick inclination to advise me of all of the flowers that they, too, have seen or planted. And with the help of Mrs. Pryor and Mrs. Hartvigsen, our two kindergarten teachers, and Ms. Metta and Ms. Vitale, their teaching associate and assistant, I get to have my first real conversation with our kindergarten students. As I do each year, I ask them a simple question: how would you make the world a more beautiful place?
Here, in no particular order, are a few of their answers:
- “Drag all the cars into my garage and destroy them. Make them into electric cars to stop pollution.”
- “Take care of the rainforest and all of the animals that live there.”
- “I would destroy all non-electric cars and motorcycles, then get all electric cars, then plant a lot of seeds, maybe in a garden. I love lettuce!”
- “I would plant tulips and lily flowers.”
- “Make some more fields, plant some lupines.”
And, of course, with BDS students I should know to expect as much, one boy had his hand raised high and as I called on him to ask how he would make the world more beautiful, he answered, “I want to know how you would make the world more beautiful?”
[Can we all take a moment to appreciate this student and his question. How BDS can you get?]
My answer: I get to make the world more beautiful every day with your teachers. Because I get to work with you. That’s my answer. I get to work with you, and you are certainly going to make this world a more beautiful place. You already have.
I am so grateful to my mentor for inspiring me to bring Miss Rumphius into my annual routine with kindergarten, and I am equally grateful to the class of 2029 and their teachers for inviting me to be a Mystery Reader again this year.