On September 10, 2021, opening day traditions resumed in person for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19. Click here to see the video of the day's events and read below for opening day remarks from Student Body President and Sixth Former Mitav Nayak and Head of School Tyler Casertano.
Student Body President and Sixth Former Mitav Nayak's Opening Remarks
Good morning. Before we go any further today, I would like to say a few words about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Tomorrow, we observe the 20th anniversary of this horrific event. On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by terrorists. Two were flown into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane also headed towards Washington D.C. was crashed in a Pennsylvania field by the brave passengers on board. Countless other American heroes stepped up that day to save people from the burning buildings, willing to sacrifice their own lives. Please join me in a moment of silence for the almost 3000 lives lost, more than 6000 people injured, and for all those families affected by the event.
Thank you. Please rise for the singing of our national anthem. Thank you, Notables.
To everyone starting at Haverford this fall—students, faculty, and staff—welcome! And to everyone returning for another year, welcome back!
I’ve never been more excited for a school year. Normally, when school ends in June, I look forward to a much-needed break from classes. But this June was different. From day one of summer, I couldn’t wait to get back. In fact, I was so excited that I started a countdown on my phone for September 9, so each time I looked at my lock screen I knew we were another day closer to coming back. Back to school. Back to Haverford. And hopefully, back to some sense of normal.
So the fact that we have the whole school gathered here today, in person, for the first time in almost two years, is remarkable. On behalf of each and every student, thank you to everyone who made today possible.
I first came to Haverford for a visit on February 1, 2018. I walked through the doors of Wilson Hall and was warmly greeted by Mr. McBride, along with a few students I already knew. I headed up to the upper school office, grabbed my red visitor folder and a copy of the school schedule, and met my host for the day.
As I went through several classes—math, physics, Spanish, theater—ate tacos with the students in the cafeteria, and spoke with members of the community, I remember being struck by the atmosphere—a new type of culture of education and schooling.
I experienced a place that day where everyone truly cares for each other: students and teachers alike. It was a place where people want each other to succeed and are willing to go above and beyond to help others reach their goals.
I knew immediately that I wanted to come to Haverford.
Now, where does everything I experienced that day come from? Where do we get this sense of togetherness and brotherhood?
I think it comes from several aspects of the School: daily interactions we have with each other, assemblies like we have today, and events—sports, competitions, club events, concerts, plays where we see our support for each other come to fruition. It comes from finding mentors: leaders you respect and admire in grades above you. And it comes from recognizing the importance of serving as a mentor: working with younger students to support them.
When I thought about this last spring, I realized that the pandemic caused us to miss out on many of these moments over the past two years—the moments where we come together to rally around our brothers: spirit week, the opening day assembly, reflections in Centennial. Even moments like watching Mr. Myers destroy everyone in the wing eating competition, or watching the teachers get amped up for the student vs. faculty basketball game. And of course, watching us defeat EA and bringing the sweater home.
All of these moments that we’ve missed out on, some small and some large, are significant. They all in some way gel together to create the amazingly supportive community that is so fundamental to Haverford.
So this summer, when I sat down with Mr. Casertano to discuss the virtue of the year, he asked me what I thought Haverford needs most: something that encapsulates our goals and visions for the year. A virtue that we can all strive to better understand this year in a new way—a virtue we can examine with a new lens.
We decided that that virtue is “support.”
Support is what makes this school so special. Support is what I experienced that day three and a half years ago that fundamentally altered my view of education and schooling.
We are sitting at such a wonderful moment in our school’s history. Over the course of this year, all of the small things we’ve missed out on and may have previously taken for granted, will be coming back: eating in the cafeteria with our friends, coming together for the Thanksgiving assembly, cheering on our brothers at events, and yes—even something as simple as eventually being able to take off our masks and see each other’s faces [when safe to do so].
Support drives all of this.
Competing in a sport or robotics, running a club event, performing in a play or concert—those are all fun. But when you can have a crowd or your friends there to encourage and support you—that is what makes the experience truly special. That is what makes an experience unforgettable.
No matter what grade you are in, you can find ways to consciously exercise support this year.
If your friend has a new interest in school—maybe you notice he is fascinated by ancient civilizations as he works on a project in class—support can be as simple as encouraging this interest. It is as simple as complimenting his project.
When a classmate gives a reflection in Centennial, support is going up to him after and telling him how much you enjoyed it.
I know, support is not always easy. We all have our own lives. We’re all super busy with our own classes, practices, workouts, rehearsals, and activities. Especially after the last two years, when you’ve spent so much time alone, it is tempting to fall into a routine where you unintentionally start to think only about yourself.
Personally, I think that this was me at the beginning of ninth grade. I was busy, new to high school, and focused on doing well in classes, clubs, and sports, and I didn’t think enough about how I could support my friends or this school. But I soon realized that supporting my friends and my friends in turn supporting me precipitated some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, from watching one of our teams as they win an Inter-Ac championship to watching the cast at the spring musical. I started to make conscious efforts to be there to encourage my peers.
In that sense, support is about finding time to be there for your friends.
For you younger guys, it’s about kneeling down to check on a hurt teammate during a game of recess soccer. It’s about being happy with someone when they are succeeding and being there to help them when they are down. It’s about having empathy. It’s about acting as a big brother for a kid in a younger grade. For some of us older guys, it’s thinking about how you can contribute to the School: leadership, being a friend and mentor, and giving back and staying involved even after you graduate.
At its core, support is anything that extends beyond yourself and has a positive influence on someone else’s life.
So this year, let’s work to support each other in everything we do. Let’s constantly seek out opportunities to be there for someone. Let’s go out of our way to help each other.
If we do this, we’ll make this year extraordinary. We’ll use our boundless energy and excitement for this year for good. We’ll leave our mark, having a positive impact on our friends and on this school. We’ll come back from the pandemic strong and make this a year we won’t forget for the rest of our lives.
Thank you, go Fords, and remember: support each other.
Head of School Tyler Casertano's Opening Remarks
Good morning students, faculty, and staff, and welcome to the 2021-2022 school year. A special welcome to our 157 new students and to our 18 new members of the faculty and staff. We are so fortunate to have you in our community.
Thank you to all of those who played a role in the planning and execution of this opening ceremony, especially the Notables, Mr. Hengst, Mr. Woodward, Mr. Hightower, and the faculty band. And thank you, Mitav for your inspiring words.
I would like to begin by turning our attention to Mrs. Rebecca Davis. As many of you know, for nearly two decades, Mrs. Davis taught Upper School English here, served as our Dean of Faculty, and was a dear friend to many. Mrs. Davis passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer earlier this week. She will be remembered for her compassion, authenticity, humanity, and relentless commitment to her students and to this community. She will be deeply missed. I would like to share a moment of quiet together for Mrs. Davis and her family.
I have two quick stories that I would like to share with you this morning.
Story #1. When I was 10, I had a moment of epiphany. I was at summer camp, and other than the weekly letter that arrived from my parents and the occasional letter from my grandparents, I had not received much mail. I would run every day from my last morning activity to the lodge where the mailboxes lived, hoping to see a letter waiting for me, only to find an empty box. One of my friends, Marcus always seemed to have a letter in his mailbox, and after a few weeks of discouragement, I finally asked him how it was that he received so many letters. Sensing my embarrassment and sadness, he said “well, do you write many letters?” I asked him what he meant. “I write a letter every day to a different person. Maybe you could try that?” For the next two weeks, I gave Marcus’s suggestion a try. Each day I picked a different friend or family member and at rest hour wrote them a letter. The two weeks passed, and nothing arrived. I was ready to give up. And then it happened; letter after letter came in. Every day after my last morning activity, I would run to the lodge, hop up the steps, and there was not just one, but sometimes two and even three letters. My epiphany was simple but profound; through giving we receive.
Story #2. One of the joys of this summer was listening to people share their Haverford School stories with me. Alumni, faculty, students, and parents have taken the time to tell me what they experienced here, what they love about the community, and what they think will make us better. In July, I was having one of these conversations over dinner with an alum. He talked enthusiastically about how terrific his time as a student was; the great teachers he had, the lifelong friendships he made, all that he learned, how much he grew. He then stopped and took a deep breath. “My only regret,” he said “is that…I’m not sure I made anyone’s life better at Haverford while I was there. I’m not sure anyone’s experience was better because of something I did for them.”
Mitav just beautifully articulated why support is so important; how it creates our culture of community and togetherness. And he provided some outstanding examples of what support can look like here at Haverford School. I share these stories with you to provide you with a broader understanding of what exactly support is. Support is giving yourself to others to help them become better. It is sending figurative letters out to other people to help them grow.
We all have busy days here. Dr. Greenblatt, Dr. Greytok, and Mr. Fifer keep our schedules packed. And we all have our personal ambitions; to achieve good grades, to make certain teams, to earn lead roles in performances, to matriculate to a great college. These outcomes are noble, and I encourage you to pursue them. But as you pursue them, remember always to balance those individual ambitions with giving. Give your presence; attend performances and games. Give your kindness; when you see someone in need, reach out to them with a helping hand. Give your expertise; when you see someone struggling, provide them with guidance. And perhaps most importantly, give your courage; when you sense hesitancy or insecurity, provide encouragement. Remember that the root of the word encourage is “courage” and to encourage is therefore literally to give courage. Another way to give courage is to speak up when you see unkindness, insensitivity, bigotry, or hate. Do so with compassion but also with conviction. When we have the courage to hold each other accountable it makes that courage infectious, giving others the courage to do the same, and helping us be our best as individuals and as a community. Implicit in all of these examples is giving others your time. Especially with our busy schedules, time is often our most valuable resource. Don’t let your busy daily routine prevent you from making time for those around you.
If we give ourselves to others – our presence, our kindness, our expertise, our courage, and our time – just as with my letters at summer camp many years ago, that giving will come back to us tenfold, filling our figurative mailboxes with the time, courage, kindness, presence, and expertise of others that will in turn help us become our best selves and accomplish our goals. As Mitav said, it will create the sense of togetherness, community, and belonging that will fill our days with joy, and will allow us all to go deeper, to work harder, and to grow more.
Here is to an outstanding 2021-2022 school year filled with support. I cannot wait to experience all that it entails.
Please now stand as the Notables lead us in singing the Alma Mater.
Thank you, Notables. Mitav, please prepare to sound the gong, which opens our new year together. It is my great honor and joy to declare the One Hundred Thirty Eighth session of The Haverford School open.