The single guiding principle for Woodberry Forest should be wide-ranging and thoughtful answers to a meta-question: What do boys need for their future? Of course boys today need much of what we’ve always needed: discipline, rigor, high standards, decency, respect, and an overriding commitment to character and integrity above all.
And yet we know that the world has changed rapidly and irreversibly since the turn of the century with the consolidation of the Information Age and ubiquity of technology in every area of life. Simply put, boys need the timeless values and the structure of the Woodberry community to stay grounded in the midst of accelerating change; at the very same time, however, they need to hone skills like curiosity and adaptability if they’re to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.
Every boy who thrives at Woodberry has learned to adapt to the challenges of living on his own: he gets himself up in the morning and makes it to class on time; he takes responsibility for completing his work and fulfilling the expectations of his teachers and coaches; and he learns to live with a roommate and hallmates who may be very different than he is. This elemental form of adaptability is basic, yet it shouldn’t be overlooked. Thousands of Woodberry boys have graduated with confidence that they can achieve on their own when they make their way to college and beyond.
Athletics and the arts often emphasize the importance of adaptability. Winning teams make half-time adjustments in response to what they hadn’t anticipated. The boys on the winter climbing team model curiosity at the highest level. They’re problem solvers who fall from a climb, stand back, reassess, and then change their strategy to make it higher on the next attempt. The boys in this year’s winter musical are embracing adaptability. In “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a musical murder mystery based on Charles Dickens’ last novel, the ending changes each night, depending on the vote of the audience.
We’re becoming more adaptive in our academic curriculum as well. Engineering, an elective for sixth formers, is applied math and science that demands novel strategies for problem solving as boys create Halloween costumes for faculty children and build cardboard boats for a spring regatta in the Ruffin Natatorium. This is the third year that we’ve offered senior distinction projects for sixth formers. In their final marking period at the school, boys take on their own big projects like building a car, constructing a mandolin from scratch, or producing short movies on a common theme.
Finally, I’d like to salute the faculty who model adaptability, curiosity, and life-long learning for the boys. When we offer a new course in response to changing times, it makes a difference. When we coach a boy to see a problem through a different angle, we help him develop the cognitive musculature to take a risk he might not have taken. And when a boy is consumed with an audacious dream and we look for a solution, we change a life forever.
I’m thinking of Efose Oriaifo ’17, a young man who is legally blind and wanted to join the mountain biking team before he graduated. Nolan LaVoie got special permission from league authorities and the pair competed together on a two-man bike, with Coach LaVoie calling out turns while Efose helped pedal. Like any thriving species, the Woodberry culture must evolve or be passed by. We know, and we celebrate, the myriad ways we stay rooted to tradition that generates meaning and, at the same time, we live into a future that demands adaptability both for the school and the boys.