Dear Whitfield families, friends and alumni,
Have you ever felt restricted by other people’s expectations of you? Maybe you wished to try something new, but worried about the possibility of social stigmas or cultural barriers getting in the way.
Life certainly has its limits; but what a shame if a young person’s unique and wonderful talents go undeveloped, or completely undiscovered, merely because of the natural desire we all have to feel accepted and, accordingly, to avoid making waves.
I have witnessed countless personal triumphs in the last three decades that have arisen from the willingness of Whitfield students to take risks and put themselves out there. For the rare student, this comes naturally. Most of us, however, need some major encouragement and support, especially when our dreams run up against long-held assumptions about what we “should” be doing.
Author and educator Rosalind Wiseman offers a poignant case of what can happen when risk meets rejection in her January 27, 2012 blog entry, “Why Don’t Boys Want To Dance?” You may remember Wiseman from her 2002 bestselling book, “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” which became the basis for the 2004 hit comedy film, “Mean Girls.” Though she has spent her career empowering girls, Wiseman recalls her son’s clash with the cultural wall:
My third-grade son has always loved to dance, and his enthusiasm for the activity has always been just as important if not more so, than his actual talent. However, his zeal was recently thwarted when we enrolled him in a hip-hop class where he ended up being the only boy in sea of twenty girls in sparkly Converse shoes demanding to dance to the latest Katie Perry song. Feeling out of place, he left in tears and has not wanted to go back since.
I immediately thought of 2011 Whitfield graduate Reybren Fitch, who for two years was the only boy on our Varsity Dance squad. This year he is at Vanderbilt studying biomedical engineering, but I know that he experienced great joy performing with his dance teammates at Whitfield, and that he enriched our community along the way. As another counter-example, girls have played on our Varsity Ice Hockey team for quite a few years, and there has never been room to doubt their passion and commitment for the sport.
Wiseman continues to describe how the limited views of adults can tread upon young people’s dreams:
I simply couldn’t believe my eyes as he was excluded and ignored by the teacher and not surprisingly, therefore, the students. He sat by himself fighting back tears. When I talked to the staff, they informed me that they have problems with boys all the time. When I asked if they even think about why they are having problems retaining boys, the person shrugged and said, “Boys don’t like to dance.” Well mine did. That is until he took that class.
This is not ultimately a gender issue. This is about the culture within organizations. At Whitfield, students are not merely allowed to be themselves; they are encouraged and empowered to pursue their dreams and to shine. Our school’s Latin motto, “In Propria Persona,” translates as true to one’s self. From this statement flow the watchwords that have long guided our efforts, including ideas like student-centered, mutual respect and high expectations.
At Whitfield, you will find athletes hunkered down in the art studio, artists committed to charitable work, and emerging scientists who can sing and dance with the best. While students at Whitfield must immerse themselves in the rigorous academic core-curriculum, we offer both the freedom and the support that provides all students the opportunity to be true to one’s self.
When our seniors cross the stage at graduation in a few months, I know that each one of them will be academically prepared for college in math, science, social studies, English and another language, in addition to the other skills and talents they have chosen to develop. Even more important to me is what those graduates will think about themselves and their options heading into adulthood.
Will they believe that their talents are set in stone, that nothing can be done about the problems in our world, or that boys don’t like to dance? Our mission is to help them discover during their time at Whitfield that their talents will grow and flourish with hard work and determination, that they can make a difference in the world, and that it is absolutely okay that all of us can love to dance.