The annual opening assembly at Wheeler is a coming together—of colors and cheers and, most notably, of community. Last Friday, members of the senior class, all wearing white, walked with the youngest students on our Providence campus behind purple and gold flags into Miller Quad, where fellow students, faculty, and staff welcomed them in this Wheeler tradition that celebrates our connections.
In her comments to the crowd, Head of School Allison Gaines Pell likened those connections to “Building Bridges,” which is this year’s Unity and Diversity theme. She spoke of the significant challenges and collaboration involved in raising the Brooklyn Bridge, “a masterpiece of art and engineering,” that she marveled at as a child. The bridge’s architect, John Roebling, died just before its construction, and numerous laborers, many of them immigrants, lost their lives due to the dangerous working conditions. But the project team was guided forward, first by Roebling’s son, Washington, and later by Washington’s wife, Emily.
“We ask that you think about these hundreds of people (who built the Brooklyn Bridge) when you take on seemingly impossible problems and unresolvable issues,” Gaines Pell said. “For too often, the world seems to be impatient with us, to demand judgment from us before we’ve had time to think, let alone to be curious. We want you to start and stay with curiosity, stave off easy answers, forswear the binary black and white positions we’re too often asked to assume. We want you to seek out complexity, find the perspective that isn’t yet on the table, pursue knowledge and understanding wherever you go. Ask questions about what you’re learning, like ‘What is the evidence? Whose perspective is this idea coming from? How does this challenge my own thinking?’ That’s what building bridges means this year—staying with conflict or curiosity, staying with care and concern; staying in conversation until you really see each other.
“So this year, make new friends, maybe even with people who disagree with you,” Gaines Pell continued. “Don’t settle for simple. Change your mind, maybe more than once. And, be wary of the easy answer. Building bridges means taking risks, being vulnerable, and accepting the possibility of failure. But working together to untie knotty problems is what it takes to make a better world or a Brooklyn Bridge, something beautiful, useful, and strong enough to last for generations.”
You can watch Allison Gaines Pell’s speech in the video below, and see images from Convocation in the gallery that follows.