It was exactly one year ago and a day—September 7 of last year—that I was waiting for a plane to take me from London to New York City so that I could have my very first visit with members of the Hewitt community. Waiting in London’s Heathrow airport, I decided that I would take advantage of the time I had to learn just a little bit more about the school I was about to visit. I went to Google and searched for “The Hewitt School.”
What surprised me then was that I was directed—not to this “Hewitt School” but rather to another “Hewett School”—Hewitt ending with an “ett” not an “itt”—in Norwich, England. Curious, I poked around a bit and discovered that Norwich was not too far from the birthplace of our school’s founder, Miss Caroline Hewitt. This, of course, made me curious to learn who Caroline Hewitt was.
Now, I suspect that some of you—especially the newest members of our school— may not know much about Caroline Hewitt. But she was an amazing woman, so let me tell you just a bit about her. An Englishwoman born near Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Caroline Hewitt had a dream of becoming an educator and waved goodbye to her family on a pier in Southampton to travel all alone at the young age of 23 from England to America by steamship. She had very little money and just a single trunk for all of her possessions. When she arrived in New York, the customs official recorded her arrival with a brief description: “Caroline Danella Hewitt, spinster; 5’6” tall, regular features, eyes grey, hair brown.” Remember, there were no credit cards, no computers, no cell phones, and no FaceTime, so Caroline Hewitt really was on her own.
Knowing this, it is easy to see why our school motto is “by faith and courage.” Think about the faith and courage of Caroline Hewitt founding a school for girls in the fall of 1920 in the immediate wake of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, a historic watershed moment in which women earned the right to vote.
Waiting in the airport last year and realizing that I was about to make the same journey from England to America, I felt an immediate connection with Caroline Hewitt, and I was curious about her and wanted to learn more.
Now, as an English teacher, I am often asked what my favorite book is. And I must admit, although it may confuse some of you to hear it, that my favorite book is the dictionary. Yes, the dictionary! The Oxford English Dictionary to be precise. I love words. I am fascinated by them. I am in awe of them. I am inspired by what words do to us when we hear them, speak them, sing them, write them, or read them.
And so I went on a journey to figure out where the word “Hewitt” came from. The study of where words come from is called “etymology.” I went on an etymological adventure to find the origin of the word “Hewitt.”
What I found amazed me.
The word “Hewitt” comes from the Middle English and Old English words meaning to chop and to clear the land. Hewitt is the topographic name for someone who lived in a newly made clearing in a wood. To “hew” means to “make or shape” or chop or carve something, as if with an axe or some other instrument. To “hew a path through the underbrush.” To “hew out a path in the rock.” To “cut down” and make way for something new. To hew something—in other words, to “hew it”—is to carve, make, form, shape, and sculpt something into being. To hew is to trail blaze, literally and metaphorically—a making way for making new. Etymologically speaking, “hew it” means “make it.” How extraordinary is that?
The other day I noticed that one of our Twitter hashtags is #HewittMakes, and I smiled to think of the linguistic redundancy of that hashtag. Here at Hewitt, we clear the way for you to realize your personal best. Here at Hewitt, you take advantage of the clearing in the wood, this little haven in a big city, which our faculty and staff work tirelessly to provide so that you can become the best version of yourself. In that clearing, you are empowered to make things and make your world better than you found it. And ultimately what we hope is that you will make Hewitt just as Hewitt will make you.
“Hewitt,” such an amazing little word—true to our founder, true to the mission of our school, and true to each and every one of us.
One of the more recent traditions of the school is the “word of the year.” This year, as you might well have guessed by now, the word of the year is simply “Hewitt.” This year, I will be asking our community to continue exploring this word, and to explore how the word applies to us, so that when we say “I am a Hewitt girl,” we have a better sense of what that means to us.
“I am a Hewitt girl.” (And I should mention: I am glad to say that I am a Hewitt girl!) At the end of this event, we will all be returning to school—some of us will go to our homeroom teachers and others will go to our advisory groups. Every single one of you will receive a t-shirt which reads, “I am a Hewitt girl.” Today you will be invited to think about and discuss what being a “Hewitt girl” means. What does it mean to you? Why did you decide to become a Hewitt girl?
Behind today’s exploration of what it means to be a “Hewitt girl” is the attempt to better understand, accept, and celebrate both what unites us as a school community and what differentiates us as individuals within that community.
At Hewitt, we chop down stereotypes and archetypes like trees all around us to empower and celebrate girls in all of their variousness. And what it comes down to is this: there is no one type of “Hewitt girl” because there is no one way to be a girl. And thank goodness for that! Hewitt girls can be bakers, bankers, breakdancers. Hewitt girls can be magicians, musicians, mathematicians. And everything in between.
We are fortunate to live in a country where a girl can be whatever she wants to be. And we are fortunate to be at a school where a girl can be whatever she wants to be.
So, let’s make it a great year and, with a nod to Nike “JUST HEW IT!”
Dr. Kinsey delivered these remarks at Hewitt’s 2015 convocation ceremony.