Hunting for Joy–and Finding It–at Opening Assembly

September 11, 2023


There was a pair of processions that highlighted Wheeler’s Opening Assembly this year: the traditional march of seniors walking hand-in-hand with kindergarteners and 1st-graders to start the event, and an unexpected conga line that joyfully ended it. 

In welcoming everyone to the 2023-24 school year–Wheeler’s 135th–Head of School Allison Gaines Pell told the crowd, “To those of you who are just beginning at Wheeler, know that one day, you too will be sitting here as you embark on your last year at Wheeler! To those who are our seniors, I’m sure you feel in some ways it was just yesterday that you were the age of those who sit by your sides.

“I don’t know if you feel this way, but life seems to move pretty quickly,” she continued. “We are running from one place to the next, from home to school, and school to practice or lessons or other hobbies or preoccupations. It’s easy to be thinking about what comes next or what just happened, and to just be on a train that never stops.

“As it happens, we know that in all that busy-ness, we humans are wired to remember and focus on the more negative experiences, and because of this, we can very easily slip into a negative place. Has anyone ever gone home to their family and only reported the negative aspects of your day? Or skipped over some of the pleasure or success of an activity to describe what went wrong?”


Allison Gaines Pell delivering the Opening Assembly speech.
AGP delivering the Opening Assembly speech.


In response, AGP encouraged the assembled students, faculty, and staff to hunt for joy this year. “I challenge us to find joyful moments and stretch them out, savor them, and build them up in your memory,” she said. In sharing a new poem that Poet Laureate (and one of AGP’s favorite poets) Ada Limon wrote about NASA’s Europa Clipper space mission entitled “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa,” she asked, “Did you notice how her words changed this scientific act into a slow and thoughtful focus on the elements of the world around us? Can you see how she savored, through her words, human curiosity and wonder, the natural world, the beauty of stars and the sky? For me, it slowed time down, and put images of the dark sky, the rain, the moon, and the seas to contemplate. Can you see how her words are a kind of hunting for joy?”

“When you build a memory like this, when you take stock of something delightful or joyful, you are hunting for joy and spending some time with it, and you will find that if you practice, you might just notice some more of the positive and you might let go of some of the negative. Just like Ada Limon, in her poem, took the fact of a spaceship, a scientific feat to be sure, and savored it. You can do that too with whatever your memories or experiences might be.”

Speaking of memorable moments, as AGP concluded her remarks, the members of the Class of 2024 launched a flash mob dance party and soon invited the rest of the community to join them. The aforementioned conga line quickly ensued while The O’Jays’ song “Love Train”–and lots of laughter–radiated throughout Miller Quad.


Moments after the senior flash mob, an unplanned dance party erupted.
Moments after the senior flash mob, an unplanned dance party erupted.


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