This summer, I hope that you were able to do something that restored you. Restoration looks different for each of us, and one of the things I do to recharge is go home to the Jersey Shore, where I have deep family ties and lifelong friends. Recently, stand-up paddle boarding has become one of my favorite activities for restoration. I relish my time out on the water. There is no mobile phone, and nowhere else to be. There is a meditative quality to the oar circling in and out of the water, and the need to remain present to stay balanced and upright on the board. One late afternoon, I checked the weather forecast–sunny and clear–and headed out onto the water. I felt relaxed and awake as I glided along the smooth surface of the water. Long-legged egrets waded slowly in search of fish. The whistle of the New Jersey Transit train to New York City blew.
I was quite a long distance from shore when I heard the sound of thunder. Incredulous, I turned my board around and there it was–a dark, menacing, storm cloud approaching. There was nowhere for me to go. As the wind picked up, I paddled faster and with more intensity. Whitecaps formed, and then came the rain. After some time, I realized that in spite of my best efforts the wind was carrying me further away from shore. So again, I increased my effort and pace, just to maintain my current position and not go backwards. Drenched, out of breath, and paddling with all my might, I eventually began to lose steam. Mental exhaustion soon set in, and I started to doubt my ability to fight something that seemed so much bigger and stronger than me. But what were my alternatives? I decided the only thing to do was stay calm, fix my gaze on what was in front of me, and keep paddling with what waning strength I had left.
After some time, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the sun came out. Seconds later, my oar sliced through the water and propelled me forward. Suddenly, seeing that my efforts were making a visible difference, I experienced a great rush of joyful energy, which stayed with me not only as I paddled back to shore, but also for the rest of that evening, and even now as I recall the experience.
As we begin the school year–and with it the promise of a fresh start–I have been reflecting on the moral of this story. In some respects, whether in school or in life, the previous two and a half years of the pandemic have felt a bit like my afternoon out on the water, as we have all been working harder than ever to navigate in some very choppy waters and strong headwinds. But if we are to take just one lesson from this story, let it be what New York musician Billy Joel had to share back in the 1980s when he sang these words:
Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll feel that momentum kick in
Out on the water, when I felt I had nothing left to give, where did my sudden surge of energy come from, exactly? A “second wind” describes the phenomenon of suddenly gaining great energy or strength during distance running at a stage when the runner feels out of breath and unable to continue. Reflecting on the course of the pandemic, I think we can all relate to the experience of working with unprecedented effort but finding it harder to see clear progress or forward momentum. It can feel fruitless to sustain great effort for an extended period of time when we cannot see the difference it is making. While it is essential for us to acknowledge and process the negative emotions associated with the pandemic, those negative emotions do not mean we are helpless. Because while we may not have control over some things in life any more than we control the weather, we have a lot more power than we think to shape what happens next. And though it might not be possible for us to just “move on” from all that has happened these last two and a half years, we certainly can–and we must–“move forward.”
As we begin this school year, may we all have faith that we will catch our second wind. We will do this, in large part, by helping others catch theirs. Since March 2020, every member of this community has worked harder than ever before to ensure that Hewitt students continued to learn, grow, and feel supported through a global pandemic. May the year ahead be one in which each of us is able to tap into our intrinsic drive for growth and progress as we continue to advance our school’s bold mission: To inspire girls and young women to become game changers and ethical leaders who forge an equitable, sustainable, and joyous future.
So how will we know we caught our second wind? Well, together we will write that story through our good work this year. But here are a few snapshots. We will know we caught our second wind when…
…our faculty and staff feel renewed inspiration to reach every student through engaging and challenging growth-oriented learning experiences.
…our students feel increasingly motivated and supported to rise to challenges, overcome barriers, and reach new levels of academic progress.
…our parents and guardians see their daughters becoming more confident and competent through personalized, performance-enhancing feedback.
…we hear laughter again in the bistro during Community Breakfasts at “Big Hewitt” each morning.
Speaking of joy, we will welcome the happy return of pre-pandemic experiences such as gradewide gatherings for students and families, community events in our newly renovated library and classrooms, and the simple joys of being together again to learn from one another, form authentic connections, and engage in honest conversations to support the girls and young women for whom our school is built. Meanwhile, students from kindergarten through twelfth grade will rise to new growth-oriented learning challenges, such as in our expanded lower school leadership program that includes a sustainability focus in line with our school's mission; our extended eighth grade capstone project, in which students develop prototypes and action plans to address thorny, real-world STEM challenges; or in our new upper school real-world intensive exploring the relationship between upstate New York’s watershed and the Union Square Greenmarket. We truly have so much to look forward to this year!
We have been paddling hard in choppy waters for a long time now. But the storm is passing over, and we are emerging stronger and clearer about what really matters as we prepare for the joys of forward momentum. As long as we have faith, work together, and give it time, “sooner or later” we will “feel that momentum kick in.” Now is the time once more to delight in seeing how very capable we are of making great progress toward goals that matter. And now is the time to have more fun, because there is almost nothing so rewarding as when we see that we are growing in the right direction.
Not long after that day out on the water, I found in a shop a green trucker hat that read Keep It Movin’. I put the hat on and turned to my daughter. She looked at me and broke into a smile: “Oh, Mom, that’s you all right!” You can bet I bought that hat. And of course, my daughter is spot on: that is me, all right. And it is you too.
So keep it movin’, Hewitt. And don’t forget your second wind. Sooner or later, that momentum will kick in. And when it does, don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Let’s have a great year!