By Michael Wirtz, Head of School, Hackley School
Adapted from the Convocation 2019 remarks to the K-12 student body.
Before school started, I did a bit of back-to-school shopping. It was not for me, however; I was shopping for a back-to-school gift for each Hackley student. Let me explain.
I believe a new school year is very much like a blank piece of paper. Facing a blank piece of paper, many questions spring to mind. Where do I start? What will I do with this clean slate? What pathway will I take?
Why does a blank piece of paper — or a flashing cursor on a screen — present such a challenge? The difficulty lies in seeing all that it could become, yet not quite seeing how to get there. Should I sketch a picture? Or cut it up and reform it in a collage? Or fold it into a paper airplane or even origami birds that hang in the Johnson Center? What will I create?
Each year — facing a blank page of the school year and in writing my Convocation talk — I draw inspiration from a children’s book, and this year, I chose Linus, The Little Yellow Pencil by Scott Magoon.
Throughout the story, Linus, the little yellow pencil, is in conversation with Ernie, his eraser. Linus wants to create art to enter into an art show, predicting that “…only the art with the most heart would win the grand prize.”
As a pencil, Linus is unphased by the challenge of a blank piece of paper. He gives his best effort, unworried by what others think. That is, until Ernie speaks up. “What if everyone laughs at you when they see these dreadful drawings?” Linus’s drawings embarrass Ernie, and that embarrassment quickly turns to frustration. Ernie begins to erase whatever Linus draws, returning both of them to face a blank page.
Linus looks around and sees others creating “proudly, freely, and happily.” Seeing the work that others create and listening too much to Ernie, Linus begins to doubt himself.
“Maybe Ernie’s right. I’m not an artist. I should stop drawing.” And at this point, Ernie doesn’t feel much better about the situation.
“Maybe Linus is right after all. What if I’m ruining everything?”
“Frustrated, Linus and Ernie were drawn to the very edge.”
At the edge of the paper, Lunus sees a “cave” — actually, a pencil sharpener — and enters. There he meets Smudge, a collection of pencil shavings. Smudge, in his infinite wisdom, tells Linus to “Let the eraser erase. It is no matter. Find your path by drawing it.”
You can imagine where the story goes from there. Inspired, Linus emerges with an idea, one that allows both of them to create art together. Linus draws lines, and squiggles, and smudges. Ernie erases patterns to make something that is more complex and beautiful. Together, they create something that neither of them could do alone. And of course, in the story, they went on to win the admiration of everyone at the art show.
Smudge’s advice is the central message of the story and the one I want all of you to take into this year: “Find your path by drawing it.”
We all start 2019–2020 facing the blank page of the school year. And that is true, whether it is our first year or our fortieth year at Hackley, whether we are a student, a teacher, a staff member, or an administrator. Even for our families, this is a new year. A blank page — a fresh start — is a good thing, even as it presents each of us with a challenge.
What will this year bring? Well…the answer is in your hands. Find your path by drawing it.
If you look at the Hilltop, you see the paths that help us navigate campus. Very few of these paths are straight, and even when they are, they intersect other pathways. Beyond what is visible, each of us travels invisible paths of our own creation: participating in class is a pathway to new understanding; trying a new sport is a pathway to learning about sportsmanship and being a teammate; auditioning for a play is a pathway to expressing yourself; participating in clubs and activities is a pathway to experiencing more of Hackley; welcoming a new member of the community is a pathway to friendship. We — all of us — are finding our paths through Hackley by drawing them on a daily basis.
And as you draw your path, take your inspiration from Linus and his bold strokes. In fact, my back-to-school shopping was to provide each of you your own version of Linus, the little yellow pencil. This small gift will help you remember that a pencil holds two very important parts simultaneously: the writing end and the eraser. Linus and Ernie.
On the blank page of this year, use Linus to unlock those parts of yourself that create and build and make. Like Linus, you are talented, inspired, creative, hopeful, adventurous, optimistic, kind, and hard working. Apply these traits to your work and your relationships. And as the story shows, there is value in erasing and trying a new approach. Free in the knowledge that Ernie can help, try new things, make mistakes, take risks.
I can’t wait to see the masterpieces that each of you will create on the blank page of the 2019–2020 school year. Leave your mark on Hackley: “Find your path by drawing it.”