September 8, 2022 Opening Day Remarks
Head of School Tyler Casertano's Opening Remarks
Good morning! And welcome to the 2022–2023 school year. A special welcome to our new students and to our new faculty and staff. Thank you very much to the faculty band for that entrance music, to the Notables for the National Anthem, and to everyone who played a role in the planning of this ceremony, especially Mr. Woodward and Mx. Gill-Gomez.
I have two quick stories for you all this morning.
A few weeks ago, I sat next to a man I had not previously met at a dinner I was invited to. He did not attend Haverford, but he did grow up in this area and had great admiration for our School. At one point in the conversation, he said, “I can always tell when someone went to Haverford. They seem to carry themselves differently. They look you in the eye when they talk to you. They express a genuine interest in who you are. They seem to work hard. They are confident but also humble and polite.”
Story number two:
Earlier this summer, a member of the class of 2022 stopped by my office to catch up and say goodbye before he left for college. We spent time talking about his summer, about his hopes for the year ahead, and about his Haverford experience. He expressed his gratitude for the faculty and staff who nurtured, challenged, and supported him, for his friends who sustained and cared for him, and for the program here that stretched him. But after expressing that gratitude, he stopped. “I do have a few regrets, though,” he said. “I wish I had given a reflection. I wish that I had been able to spend more time with my classmates who I wasn’t super close with. And I wish I had been able to spend more time with younger students to pass along the wisdom and information that older students passed along to me.”
Here at The Haverford School, we hold ourselves to high standards. In the classroom, on the stage, in the studios, on the fields, your teachers, coaches, and advisors set ambitious goals for the education that they work tirelessly to provide you with, demanding a great deal from themselves. And, in turn, they ask that you not only set ambitious goals for yourselves academically, artistically, and athletically, but also that you act and live in accordance with a set of virtues—virtues like courage, honesty, respect, and support.
The result, we hope, of those high standards, is that you learn not only what to do—to read, to write, to think critically and creatively, to problem solve—but also how to do those things—with courage, with honesty, with respect, with integrity. That is the true measure of our success—not just what we do, but how we do it. That, I believe, is what the man at dinner that night meant. When we are at our best, we do things a certain way here. We do them with virtue.
Our virtue of the year this year is “integrity,” which we are defining as “dedication to the virtues.” The word integrity stems from the Latin word “integer,” which means “whole” or “complete.” You might remember from your math classes that integers are whole numbers. In this respect, integrity means that you and we are “whole” or “complete” in that we are living in accordance with our virtues. We have learned not just what to do, but how to do it. We are meeting our high standards and in doing so are becoming our best selves as individuals and as a community.
While the adults in your life are always here to help you set those standards and meet them, ultimately, our ability as a community to meet them—to be whole—is up to you. The standards you set for each other, the culture of integrity that you reinforce, the ways you support each other and hold each other accountable—that is ultimately what will determine whether or not we are our best selves. And doing that will require work. As that recent graduate so thoughtfully articulated in my office, the pandemic prevented us from engaging as broadly and deeply as we would have liked. There were fewer opportunities to give a Reflection, fewer opportunities to connect with other students. And because of that, in the words of that graduate, “Haverford’s chain of collective learning was damaged.”
Your task this year is not simply to reestablish that chain but to strengthen it in a manner that is consistent with who we aspire to be—in a manner that makes us “whole.” My advice for how to accomplish that is to reach. Reach inward. Ask a lot of yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. We believe in each and every one of you, and you should believe in yourselves. Reach up; to older students, to alumni, to your teachers, coaches, and advisors. Ask them for help. Seek their guidance. Reach down; to younger students. Don’t wait for them to come to you, but rather embrace your role as a leader and provide them with support, encouragement, and guidance. Reach out; to your classmates, and not just the people in your immediate friend group. We often say that the true measure of our community is not the quality of our relationships with people we are close with, but rather the quality of our relationships with people we aren’t particularly close with. Sit next to different people at lunch and assembly. Give a Reflection. Go to games or performances even if you don’t have a close friend playing or performing. One of the great traditions of this school—and one that we embraced last year through our virtue of the year, “Support”—is that we are not merely responsible for our own success, but also for the success of others. There is perhaps no more important aspect of our culture than pursuing both your best self and the greater good.
As you push yourself and your peers to live with integrity—to live in accordance with our virtues—keep one final thing in mind. There is a sign outside of our locker rooms that states, “Champions Are Made When No One is Watching.” That is most certainly true. Your ability to hold yourselves accountable to our virtues when no one is there to do that for you is fundamental to our ability to be complete. But it is also true that champions are made when people are watching. And as a member of this community, you need to know that people are watching. Younger students are watching. Other students in your grade are watching. And their understanding of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate is shaped by what they see you doing. And, off this campus, people like the gentleman I sat next to at dinner are also watching. Their perceptions of who we are and what we stand for are also shaped by what they see you doing.
So yes, when you are alone, when nobody is there to hold you accountable, be sure to reach. But when you aren’t alone, when you are with others, when you’re on stage literally or figuratively, be sure to also reach. Because if you can, you will align your actions with our virtues in a way that makes you and us whole.
Here’s to an outstanding school year. I now welcome Student Body President, Luka Sekulic to the podium.
Student Body President and Sixth Former Luka Sekulic's Opening Remarks
Thank you Notables and Mr. Casertano.
Welcome students, faculty, and staff to Haverford's 2022-23 school year. As Mr. Casertano said, my name is Luka Sekulic and I hope you’ve had a peaceful and relaxing summer full of memories that you shared and cherished with your friends and family.
Now the time has come again to turn in your slides for your school shoes, your swim trunks for your khakis, and late-night Wawa runs to complete your homework assignments.
This summer was by far the most memorable summer that I have ever had. I got to go to the beach, I went out to dinners with my friends in my downtime, and most importantly I got to visit my family in Serbia.
For those of you who don’t know, Serbia is a small country, about the size of Pennsylvania, located in Eastern Europe, and I immigrated to the United States from Serbia when I was in 4th grade. When I was younger and would go back to visit Serbia, I took everything I saw for granted.
I didn’t think about how people acted, the history behind the buildings I saw, and most importantly I didn’t fully appreciate the culture and environment that I was in, a culture that was so very important to my identity. All I ever cared about when I lived in Serbia was going from school to music school and from music school to water polo practice.
Before I visited Serbia this summer, I got to sit down with Mr. Casertano and have a talk about the virtues for this school year. One word that stuck out to me was Integrity. Integrity felt like another word for honesty and honor—it was a word without a solid definition to wrap my head around. I decided to go to Serbia without fully forming my ideas on the concept of integrity given that I had a month left of summer when I returned.
This summer I realized that I would not be able to return to Serbia for a while and I decided to take photos and start paying attention to the little things that made this place so special to me.
When I started looking for little moments in my day I noticed the buildings that surrounded me. It might sound odd, but some buildings in the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, have been there for hundreds of years. And looking at each of these very old buildings, I came to the realization that every building had its own story. And after days of focusing on the buildings I had seen a thousand times growing up, they seemed different.
This time I realized that these buildings have their own stories to tell, and it has been the will of the people for hundreds of years to hold them up. It has been the will of the people to hold these institutions, and these buildings became an important part of Serbian culture.
I immediately understood what this sense of belonging was—what it felt like to be part of something bigger than myself. It was clear that I was in a supportive environment because everyone else identified as Serbian and had a shared culture, shared values, shared commitment to one another. This environment gave me a sense of comfort that I only felt at one other place throughout my entire life—Haverford.
Just as the people cared for these really old buildings full of history and culture, we as a community have to care for what our buildings stand for. Going through the walk of virtues, you will find words that will guide you into a man of integrity. It is our integrity—the way in which we act in service of these virtues that keep Haverford a space of brotherhood and love.
Integrity, in simplest terms, is when a person upholds their core values throughout any and every situation throughout their life. No matter how happy, sad or upset, a man of integrity upholds and acts upon his moral values. Making the unpopular right decision when you’re with your friends, and making a community where kids are comfortable being vulnerable and bringing their full self to school each and every day.
We learned about honesty and integrity in the past—that truth matters. That you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square. As Mr. Casertano said, at Haverford, we measure our integrity by the dedication that we put into all of our virtues. Integrity includes accepting but doing the hard things, such as having the hard conversations when necessary.
For the lower schoolers, if you see a friend that is getting picked on, an action of integrity would be to stand up for him and explain why making fun of others is not something that a boy of integrity does.
For you middle schoolers, as you are maturing, your integrity will follow you—you have more freedom ahead of you and bigger decisions to make, the things you tolerate and accept will set the stage for your high school experience. You are in the process of building a concept of what is right and what is wrong; this process will establish a strong foundation that will follow you into the upper school and beyond. A wise man once told me that the way you do anything is the way you do everything.
For the upper schoolers, we are in our final years of our high school experience and we have a duty to lead the younger students in a positive direction. It is our responsibility to watch out for our brothers and let them know when they are not being men of integrity. For example, cleaning trash in the cafeteria, how we treat our community spaces, and what we say in the halls, on the fields, and in the classroom.
By looking out for each other, not only are we helping each other preserve our individual integrity, but if we are not holding each other accountable, who else will? Holding each other accountable is what sets our community apart from others.
The way you treat your teammates, your classmates, your coaches, and your teachers is a reflection of how you practice, how you do on a test, or how your school year goes in general. This year the things that we tolerate will create a culture that we want. If we start accepting a culture lacking in integrity, if we let dishonorable and rude actions go unnoticed, a toxic culture will form.
As Mr. Casertano said, when you think no one is watching outside of school, what you do and how you act can define our collective integrity and our reputation.
Integrity isn’t something that comes overnight, it is not something that we can not turn on and off with a snap of fingers. It is something that is formed by our daily, in many cases, small and unnoticed deeds.
Integrity means action. So as you mature from lower school to middle school, and as you mature from middle school to high school, the integrity you build in each building will follow you. As these Haverford walls have stood here solid for the past decades, it is our integrity that gives these buildings History, Culture and Reputation.
We strive for integrity our entire lives, and if we follow this natural process, we will create something that no one can take away from us. Let’s make this H mean something. Let's live the H!