adaptability

The Journey Ahead

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“Look Further” by Spence Whitman ’21 is a water color and colored pencil on 8 x 11 inch paper. It appears in the Spring 2018 issue of The Talon.

The following is the Opening of School Address to the Woodberry Community in St. Andrew’s Chapel on Sunday, August 26, 2018

This summer my family and I made the trek to New Zealand and Australia and on one unforgettable day we journeyed three hours into the waters of the Pacific onto the Great Barrier Reef for a magical afternoon of snorkeling in the company of dozens of species of fish and spectacular coral formations. Though I’ve never owned a boat or been on a cruise or even spent the night on a seafaring vessel, I’ve always been drawn to the water and the beauty and magnificence of the open seas.  

And I’ve begun to believe that the start of any school year at Woodberry Forest is not unlike a great ship embarking upon yet another voyage across the oceans. Over the summer months the ship has been restored and renewed by our extraordinary staff whose work is often unseen but whose devotion to our school knows no bounds. Dorms have been cleaned and made ready for your arrival; Hanes Hall has been renovated into a magnificent dormitory for sixth formers; the post office and and student store are open for business. Each of us is on his or her own adventure, a journey or a quest into the vast unknown.

As we prepare to push off from the dock, we’re aware that some of the faces from previous journeys have changed. The class of 2018 has graduated, the class of 2019 is now leading the school, and we’ve welcomed 127 new boys on board. We mourn the death of twenty-year veteran Jim Robertson in the dining hall, just as we celebrate his life and give thanks for the gift he has been for us. Two long-term members of our faculty retired at the end of last year; several others left to take on opportunities beyond the school; new teachers and coaches have joined our community for the journey ahead. As we greet old friends and meet new ones, we’re a cauldron of swirling emotion: excited, anxious, scared, overwhelmed, and, in some cases, already missing the lazy days of summer. I love the start of a new school year: the anticipation is thick with possibility and the canvasis blank for each of us to leave our mark on the moment that we have, fleeting though it may be, to leave a legacy for the next voyage a year from now.

The anticipatory excitement I have about the school year is tempered by an awareness that uncertainty, disappointment, and difficulty are inevitable. We’ll travel together through the hottest days of August through the bleakest and darkest days of January and back again. You’ll have tests, quizzes, and papers that might feel overwhelming. Friday night study hall and Saturday morning classes may cause you to question why you’re here. Sixth formers may not be accepted into your first choice college. New boys will surely struggle through bouts of homesickness. Very few of you are likely to play on an undefeated team, and some of you may suffer through a very difficult loss or endure an injury that you never wanted and certainly didn’t deserve. The seas ahead will be rough and stormy, and you may on occasion wonder why you ever stepped on the ship.

Given the perilous uncertainties of the journey ahead, what sustains us? How do we know that we will prevail? Each of us will answer those questions differently, and for many it will be some combination of faith, family, and friends. Part of becoming a man is wrestling with the demons that exist in each of us so that we might come to know, as Lincoln famously offered in his first inaugural, “the better angels of our nature.” It’s important for each of you to know that even though you may on occasion feel lonely, you are never alone here. Every boy in the Tiger Nation has a team around him who wants each of you to make the most of the journey. But for us as a larger community, I want to focus this evening on the power of culture and the resonance and constancy of what we know as the Woodberry Way.

The most important and most distinctive gift for the journey ahead is the trust that has been freely extended to each and every one of us here at Woodberry by those who’ve come before. Mr J. Carter Walker, Woodberry’s first headmaster, was unwavering in this belief, making clear that the “Honor System rests upon the conviction that boys want to be honorable andwant to be trusted.” He went even further and stated, quite radically in my opinion, that “it is a fundamental right of every boy to demand that he be trusted and that his word be accepted at all times and by all persons.”

I want us to reflect briefly on the essence of trust and to consider how rare it is in the world beyond and therefore how even more extraordinary it is to us at Woodberry. The trust that we enjoy is an undeserved gift from every alumnus who cherishes his journey here as the most formative of his life. Trust is akin to a kind of secular covenant between us and the alumni and former faculty and previous headmasters on whose shoulders we stand today. When it is real and more than mere rhetoric, trust makes the school unique as we aspire to a kind of oneness that binds us all together.

I urge you to care for and nurture the gift of trust as one of the most most precious and priceless that you will likely ever receive. Now that you have received the gift of trust, you are responsible for exercising it thoughtfully and judiciously, understanding that it is the foundation of your character and the bond that ties you to your brothers and to us on the faculty. With trust in ourselves and each other, greatness is within our reach. Without it, we are doomed and our community will be cheapened. Trust is the engine that makes us far greater than the mere sum of our parts.

Trust is the essence of the brotherhood that connects each of you to one another in equality as a Woodberry boy. Earlier today I shared with the parents of our new boys that we on the faculty have renewed our annual pledge that every boy under our care will be known, challenged, and loved. Trust makes that goal attainable, and that goal becomes actionable when you have the courage to trust us enough to allow yourselves to be known, challenged and loved. Old boys know that we call on you to work hard, build your character, and take care of each other. When you trust and are trusted, working hard, building your character, and taking care of each other become more natural and the school gets stronger and the brotherhood thickens for the journey ahead.

I thought a lot about trust when I read Beartown and assigned it as the headmaster’s book for summer reading. Throughout the book I was asking myself a question that I’ll pose to you: What kind of community do you want to live in? Like the residents of Beartown, we all know the comfort and belonging that we feel when we’re connected to friends and family we know and with whom we’re bonded. We know the thrill that comes from rivalry games and a tribal belief that it’s us against them and we’re David battling against Goliath. Many old boys and veteran faculty know the positive power of community expressed through the help we draw from one another when we’re down and the support we can give each other in a time of need.

But a healthy community can turn rotten at its core when it calcifies into an impenetrable inner ring that won’t allow for difference, that can’t have itself questioned, that demands loyalty over truth, that champions worldly success and material riches over character and integrity and that demeans the courage that Amat summoned in Beartown to act on the hard right over the easy wrong. Beartown captures the best and worst of who we are as individuals and as communities, and I call on all of us to be mindful what we’re doing this year to be a vibrant and open brotherhood of all and for all, shaped and forged by values like truth, integrity, grace, empathy, and curiosity.

To all 127 new boys who come from all over the nation and the world, as well as to our new faculty, a heartfelt welcome. A special word of welcome in St. Andrew’s chapel to our new chaplain, the Reverend Tyler Montgomery. I hope that each of you comes to know Woodberry as a second home, a community shaped by place and defined by values that are bigger than we’ll ever be, a culture that empowers us to trust one another, gifts us with the grace to be trusted, and provides foundational beliefs that call on us to be bigger and more noble together than we would have been on our own.  

As we look to the horizon, we don’t know what the future holds, but we’re fortified for the work ahead by the 129 years at our back and the culture that we’ve inherited. We’re the beneficiaries of more than we could ever count or even completely understand. And we’re humbled by the fact that for the journey ahead we’ll have our chance, our moment, to leave a legacy and shape a message for those whose names we’ll never know but who will benefit from the oneness of our brotherhood in the coming years.

We have pushed off the dock and the open seas lay ahead. Our journey will be ours and ours alone. The values and ideals of Woodberry Forest, however, are constant and they are timeless. And the mission remains the same: embrace intellectual thoroughness, live into moral integrity, practice good sportsmanship, hold dear a reverence for things sacred, and, on the voyage, take down St. Christophers and beat Episcopal.

Institutional Adaptability

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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.

A Moment to Remember

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Not long ago I was walking through the beautiful William H. White, Jr. Library late on a Friday evening before the St. Christopher’s football game the following day. I came across a senior defensive back deeply immersed in a paper for his philosophy class. I was intrigued by his title: “What Is the Truth and How Do You Know?” We visited for several minutes and I walked away, reminded that the rhythm and routine of Woodberry matters in ways that help boys grow into young men, prepared for the challenges and opportunities of a changing world.

Boys have never needed Woodberry more than they do today, and Woodberry has never been more relevant to the world than it is today. This may sound like headmaster hyperbole, but let’s be honest: adolescent boys are engines of distractibility, and in a culture that celebrates the latest iteration of the iPhone, 24-7 gaming, and the latest social media app, boys are struggling to find their footing and make good choices. Biologists and brain researchers remind us that in these adolescent years the amygdala, which governs our desire for immediate gratification, our emotions, and our fight/flight/flee instincts, often overwhelms the prefrontal cortex, the portion of our brains that governs executive function and self-regulation.

I’m occasionally asked why would Woodberry remains one of the very few all boys and all boarding schools. The quick and easy answer is that we’ve always been so. But a better answer is that in an environment of swirling mass distraction, boys need to learn how to manage their affairs, make good choices, and hold themselves accountable. At Woodberry, we provide them with the environment and the support to establish healthy patterns for a successful life, exactly at the time when the plasticity of the brain is at one of its most formative peaks. For third and fourth formers, the structure of the schedule and our clear expectations help boys understand what they need to do in order to succeed. For fifth and sixth formers, we offer more freedom within the structure so that they can exercise increased independence, autonomy, and self-awareness.

The school’s first headmaster, J. Carter Walker, never talked about “executive function,” but he and his faculty, as well as succeeding generations of teachers and coaches, knew intuitively what boys need. Much of what we do here is designed to help a boy build the discipline to regulate himself and make good choices. He has to get himself out of bed and to class on time without the hounding of his mother. Seated meal three nights a week starts at exactly 6:15, not when you want to roll off the couch and peek in the fridge. Study hall is two hours a night, six nights a week. We’re one of the few places left where boys go to class on Saturday morning, even on the second Saturday of November before The Game against Episcopal High School.

In the zero tolerance, single sanction world of the Woodberry honor system, boys learn how regulate themselves by protecting their integrity when they don’t know an answer on a test. They have to respect what belongs to their classmates, even when they’re tempted to take it, and they are charged with telling the truth, even when they know they’ll be held accountable. Without the luxury of a second chance, Woodberry boys learn to make good choices every day when it comes to drugs and alcohol, a long-held school policy that builds the grooves of healthy decision-making. In short, just about everything we do helps a boy learn how to learn and how to take care of himself. Here he builds the neurological musculature of a better developed pre-frontal cortex, and here he learns to stay focused on the signal in a noisy world of increasing distraction.

The patterns we establish often stay with a boy for life. I remember a gathering in Charlotte when the parent of an alumnus referred to his friend Hooper Hardison ’79 and said, “I learned from Hooper that you’ll get ahead in life if you work every Saturday morning.” Hooper was quick to say, “I learned that at Woodberry.” Another alumnus told me that he goes to church every week with his family, not because he did when he was a boy at home, but because that’s what we do at Woodberry.

Graduating seniors tell me the same kinds of stories. In small group conversations every year, they tell me what they value most about the Woodberry experience. One of the prominent threads, coming from every sector of the class, is an enduring self-confidence in knowing how to make good decisions and manage time effectively. This kind of independence, established through the structure of the Woodberry experience and then exercised through a pattern of good decisions that a boy learns over time, is exactly what we mean when we say that in a world of extraordinary and mindless distraction, Woodberry has never mattered more.  And given the challenges we see, it’s clear to me that boys have never needed a Woodberry experience more than they do today.

Wrestling with Why

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The following is a sermon given by Dr. Hulsey in St. Andrew’s Chapel on Sunday, May 21, ahead of the annual “Senior Shake.”

Deep in the winter of 1985, I was limping my way through John Reimers’ trimester course on the novel. I can’t say that I ever fully understood Mr. Reimers or his methods, but I did enjoy the class. Like those of you who have had his class or have it now, I knew that I was in the presence of a well-read, deeply interesting, sometimes frustrating, and occasionally mercurial man. I don’t remember many details, but I have never forgotten one encounter that I wish to share with you tonight. We were reading Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, and when we came to class one day, Mr. Reimers announced that we would have a quiz. We closed our books, took out some paper, and awaited his instructions. Nothing happened. And then he walked over to the board and wrote one question that we were to answer. “Why?” We moaned and groaned to no avail. He completely ignored our pleading inquiries about how we should answer the question. So we began to write. Many of my classmates wrote several paragraphs and learned later that they’d failed the quiz. I had no idea what Mr. Reimers wanted, so in a fit of frustration, I answered the question “why?” with “because,” and got a “C.” One boy in my class answered, “why not?” and earned an “A.”

At the time I chalked up this Woodberry memory of John Reimers to what I believed to be his arbitrary and capricious methods of instruction. But over the years I’ve come to understand that there was method to the madness—that John wanted us to understand that there are occasions in life when we will never be able to answer the question “why?” Please don’t misunderstand me. Your eagerness and willingness to ask “why?” and to search for the truth is essential to what it means to be an educated citizen in our democracy. Critical thinking is learning how to ask the right question at the right time and then building a case based on facts to solve a problem that needs to be addressed. Those who never ask “why?” typically follow the herd and fall short of their potential, but those who take time to ask put themselves in a position to lead and to serve in communities larger than we will ever be.

But there are undoubtedly times in life when we’ll never be able to answer the question “why?”, and “why not” comes about as close as we may ever get to the truth. Like many of you, I’ve wrestled with one question I’ll never be able to answer: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Why are some children afflicted with a terrible illness when most of us are healthy? Why would God stand idly by and allow six million Jews to be killed in the concentration camps? Why are some born into privilege and comfort when others are born into miserable poverty and social chaos? Why do some die in an earthquake or tornado when others are spared? Why does a boy lose his father in the blink of an eye just four years after the death of his mother?

Such questions rattle us to the core and have theological, moral, and psychological implications for how we come to see the world and our place in the human community. As you wrestle with “why?” I want to offer one more story that’s personal to me. After my first semester in college, my parents bought me a car from a friend of a family friend in Dallas. I was back at UVa at the start of the second semester, so a friend of my dad’s drove a navy blue, two-door Honda Prelude to Nashville, where a fraternity brother and I met him one weekend in late January. After the hand-off we set out on the trek to Charlottesville on a cold Sunday night, and all felt right with the world. Near the town of Bristol, snow started to fall. It had not accumulated on the highway, so I felt like I could safely continue the trip back to UVa. Several miles later an 18-wheeler in front of me braked, and when I followed suit, I lost control of the car as we spun around the interstate on a sheet of black ice. The last thing I remember is seeing from the rearview mirror another 18-wheeler coming straight at us. I have no memory of the collision that ensued, but do have a vague recollection of the Tennessee state trooper who woke us up as he came upon the accident and drove us to the hospital to be checked. Fortunately my friend suffered only a sprained thumb. I thought I was fine, but it turns out that I’d fractured my skull (Jennifer, by the way, wonders occasionally if I’ve ever fully recovered!) and stayed for several days in the Bristol hospital before heading home to Texas to restore my health.

Several weeks later the insurance adjuster sent us a harrowing photograph of the two-door Honda Prelude after the accident. It was, for me, the single moment in my life that cemented my understanding of the world and my tiny place in it. The car was absolutely crushed. It’s almost unfathomable that anyone could have survived or not been maimed for life. I was tempted to believe that God had reached out and spared my friend and me in that moment of peril and that He had big plans for my life. But that view of God does not account for the undeserved suffering in the world, those who lose their lives in tornadoes and tsunamis, those who perish at the hands of evil tyrants, those who get sick when others are healthy. We’re left with that vexing question, “Why?”

“Why not?” may be about the best answer that we can offer in the wake of terrible loss and undeserved suffering. If we hold to the belief that God gives people what they deserve, we come to see ourselves as righteous if we’ve not yet been afflicted. But then we come to blame ourselves unfairly when tragedy strikes. Our God of love can quite quickly turn into a God of spite and vengeance, and that does not work for me. Instead, I have come to see life as an undeserved gift from God who created all and knows all but does not control all. After seeing that photograph of my pancaked Honda Prelude and putting that single moment in the context of the suffering in the world, I know there’s no good reason for me to have been spared while others perish.

Even though “Why?” is a good question to ask, I hope that we don’t stop with “Why not?” as an answer. It can, after all, be a little too blasé, a little too indifferent, a little too uncaring and fatalistic. In the face of suffering, I hope you’ll be brave enough and courageous enough to ask deeper and more penetrating questions, like “Given what has happened, what am I called to do?” or as the Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?” Kushner makes clear that “the God I believe in does not send us the problem.” Instead, through prayer, “He gives us the strength to cope with the problem.” You will get the answers through your faith, through careful conversation with your conscience, through your best relationships, and through, I hope, the foundational beliefs that you’ve learned here at Woodberry.

Many, like the Old Testament’s Job and the Apostle Paul from tonight’s readings, find solace and strength and bravery in prayer. Paul understands suffering to be an opportunity to build endurance which yields character and finally hope for troubled times. Those who have suffered and lean into their suffering seem hard-wired to serve their fellow man, much like we call on you here to take care of each other. A man I’ve long admired is the deceased Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived three years in Jewish concentration camps in World War II and then wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946. Frankl had every reason to be bitter and resentful. His wife, parents, and brother all died in the camps, and yet he somehow rose above the evil depravity he’d witnessed and found meaning and actually freedom through the experience. In the face of the cruel capriciousness of his captors, Frankl looked inward to his moral being and outward to his fellow inmates for the strength he needed to survive and prove worthy of his suffering.

Frankl came to understand that “the salvation of man is through love and in love.” Frankl had been separated from his wife and family and knew he’d likely never see them again, but that brutal fact did not erase the power of love that sustained him. He reminds me that nothing can take away the love we have for our family and friends and for our Woodberry brothers. It was also in the camps that Frankl embraced the freedom of his existence. The ideal of freedom and the reality of a concentration camp seem like a woefully misaligned paradox, and I understand that many of you feel far from free at Woodberry with study hall on Friday nights, classes on Saturday, demerit hall on Saturday night, the many rules in the Blue Book, and our high standards for your behavior that run counter to the ways of the world. I’m reminded of the former board chair, Sion Boney, who said jokingly many years ago when a family friend visited our campus for the first time and compared it to a country club that Woodberry might be better understood as a “country club run by Nazis.”

Freedom in the midst of a concentration camp or freedom and Woodberry Forest don’t make sense on the surface. But listen carefully to what Frankl means, and listen for the ways his message connects to our charge that you take care of each other and wade bravely into the suffering rather than stand idly by. “We who lived in concentration camps,” Frankl wrote, “can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”

Choice is the essence of freedom, and while there is much in life that we cannot control, times in life that leave us reeling with no way to answer “why,” each of us has the freedom to make a choice about how we handle the unexpected twists and turns that lie ahead. In the days and weeks and years to come, each of us should spend a little less time seeking success or happiness or searching for meaning. We should, instead, understand that success and happiness and meaning come from our moral beliefs, a dedication to noble causes greater than we will ever be, and to an unconditional commitment to relationships secured by a transcendent love that knows no bounds and sustains us through the best and worst of times. That’s what I hope you’ve gotten here from your teachers and your coaches and the best of your friends, and I hope that’s what you’ll take from here to make the world better as proud and humble alumni of Woodberry Forest.

A Vision for Woodberry Forest

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We’re coming to the close of one of my favorite times in the school year at Woodberry Forest—the three-week stint between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cold nights signal the onset of winter and also generate majestic sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains as we make our way to seated dinner. Trimester exams are complete, and the start of any new academic term generates hope and breaks the fever of acute academic pressure. We’ve started the winter athletic season, and boys are excited about their new teams and the contests that lie ahead. And all of us look forward to a restorative break with friends and family as we part ways for Christmas and New Year’s.

The annual candlelight service of lessons and carols in St. Andrew’s Chapel is a highlight of the year, and always reminds me that here we are part of a community and culture so much larger than any of us on our own will ever be. It’s a natural time to take stock in the year, to acknowledge the challenges and difficulties, the twists and turns, and the enduring resonance of why Woodberry matters.

This past summer I re-read Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek makes clear that most of us are more comfortable in the realm of what we do and how we do it, routinely losing sight of the bigger picture of why we do what we do in the first place. Sinek’s challenge is a clarion call to individuals, and also to institutions. I’ve often pondered Sinek’s challenge in the context of Woodberry Forest, the one community that means more to me than any other. Put simply, why does Woodberry exist? What is our purpose?

I’m an historian by training, and more often than not find comfort and solace and direction in the past. And when it comes to Woodberry Forest, there’s no better place to go than the school’s first headmaster, J. Carter Walker, who served for fifty-one years. Mr. Walker was very clear as to why Woodberry existed, and his words of wisdom inspire us today. In 1955, he looked out on the grandeur of the campus and wondered, “How is it possible that a school could begin without experience, without money, without any material resources, and acquire the plant it now has, and the reputation it has achieved during these years?” The answer, Mr. Walker understood, was the unbroken commitment to excellence that has shaped the school since the beginning: “Woodberry Forest,” he noted, “was founded upon two principles that are charged with force. From these principles there has been no deviation during the years that lie behind us, and I venture to say there will be none in the years to come. There are tremendously important principles: absolute intellectual thoroughness and moral integrity.”

Intellectual thoroughness and moral integrity are emblazoned on the plaque just to the left of the front door through the Walker Building, and these beliefs are the values by which we live as we construct our academic program and build character and integrity through the Honor System and residential life community. Mr. Walker went further, though, as he reckoned with the question: why? In one of his more inspirational and challenging statements, he noted that “We try to teach that education is training for service to others rather than success for one’s self; to give rather than to get; for sacrifice rather than gratification.” Most teachers and coaches I know are idealists at heart, and we pour ourselves into our students to make the world better through their lives after they leave the school. Mr. Walker knew this, and his charge remains our challenge today. When I scan the world beyond the school, I see communities that need better men of character who are willing, able, and committed to serve as leaders, learners, and citizens.

Presented to the board of trustees this past September, the current vision remains rooted in the school’s past and renews our dedication to graduate boys who understand that they must have a moral purpose larger than themselves. We also make clear, however, that we are evolving, too. We understand that to prepare boys for their future means that we must be more purposeful about developing their ability to adapt and to express the curiosity of life-long learning grounded in humility and poised to make the most of a world increasingly marked by accelerated and occasionally bewildering change.

No one knows what the future will hold. Uncertainty and anxiety seem more prevalent today than ever before. We do know, however, that in the midst of change, moral character will always prevail in the end. And we know that life-long learners who adapt to change will make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. And so it’s with eagerness and anticipation that we present a vision for Woodberry Forest—true to our past and freshened by the opportunity and responsibility to play a transformative role in the lives of boys who’ve never needed Woodberry more than they do today.

Vision for Woodberry Forest

Since the school’s founding in 1889, Woodberry Forest has sought to develop young men of intellectual thoroughness and principled integrity equipped with the capacity and eagerness to serve as leaders, learners, and citizens. Consistent with the historical founding of the school on Christian principles, we aspire to instill in every boy a deep sense of empathy, an enduring self-confidence buttressed by genuine humility, and an enthusiastic pursuit of life-long learning marked by curiosity and adaptability. Above all, we aim for every boy to enjoy a meaningful life by nurturing his commitment to act upon moral beliefs and ethical values in service to others.