bds sixth ny burn 2 01.10.20hero
Brendan Largay, Head of School

The Lessons I?m Carrying Into 2021

There is a tradition that carries with it a delightful bit of mysterious folklore in our sixth grade at the turn of each year. Since arriving at Belmont Day fourteen years ago, sixth grade teachers Dean Spencer and Kaleen Moriarty encourage their students to think about the things from the past year that they would like to leave in the past and to then symbolically move on from them. The practice involves students writing their memories down on small pieces of paper, and then, in a highly controlled and entirely safe manner, they build a small bonfire into which they throw those papers. The result is a clean slate for the new year and a reminder that not everything ended up in the fire—there are some lessons, ideas, friendships, new interests, and moments to be carried forward into the new year.

Folks may well be concerned about the size of this year’s bonfire as there is so much from which we’d like to move on. However, even as I have my fair share of pieces of paper ready for ignition, I believe that it is often the years that are the most disruptive, the most frustrating, infuriating, or sad that carry with them the most salient lessons.

So what then will be spared the bonfire? What moments might I hold onto with the hopeful confidence that the new year has to be better than its predecessor? Here are three lessons I am eager to take from 2020 and apply to 2021:

  1. Innovation never rests, and to see the way the world responded to the pandemic has likely changed the way we think about the pace and process of innovation forever. The development, authorization, and distribution of vaccines worldwide is more than just a great emotional and psychological relief; it is a marvel. The pace of that particular innovation across so many different domains—medicine, science, supply chains, and distribution strategies—speaks to the power of urgency as a critical element of the innovative process. While we may not be designing vaccines in our IMPACT lab (at least, not yet!), 2020 showcased the extraordinary power of innovation.
  2. Heroism has long been the stuff of Marvel superheroes and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In 2020, our definition of heroism came down to earth. Heroism, we learned, lives in character, not in accomplishment. I know I frequently turn back to our core values, but have you ever seen them more visibly or universally displayed than in the past ten months by so many of the everyday folks with whom we interact?
  3. 2020 reminded us of the power and importance of simplicity. Each in our own way, we have yearned for what was missed—the birthday party, night out at a restaurant, or live performance—yet we gained something essential: the chance to reconnect with those closest to us. Family dinners, game nights, and even holiday Zoom gatherings provided simple joys and reassurance that there is hope in connection.

Rest assured, I am most eager to bid 2020 adieu. Truly, my pockets are full of pieces of paper ready for a bonfire. May there never be another year like it. Yet, given all that 2020 has taken from us, I still encourage you to see if there is a little something for you to carry along as we welcome a brand new year. Happy New Year, Belmont Day! Here’s to an inspiring 2021!

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On Tuesday, we will gather for our annual Thanksgiving assembly—an opportunity to express gratitude as a community.

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