Every year since my daughter Rose was a freshman in the fall of 2007, she has bought me a colorful shirt and matching tie to celebrate the opening of school. Originally a statement about the blandness of my usual attire of white shirts and repeat-pattern ties, this tradition has now gained me an impressive array of blue, teal, green, yellow, and (of course) rose-colored shirts. This year’s addition was mint green. For the past few years, I have worn them all in succession, creating what I call Rainbow Week to start the school year.
Rainbow week celebrates the opening of school—the energy, optimism, and excitement of students from 28 countries, 17 states, and 54 towns coming together for the first time. Even more, Rainbow Week celebrates our diversity of not only nationality and ethnicity, but also spirit and personality.
We celebrated this diversity during our first Dorm Chapel on Sunday night. Students, faculty, and proctors broke into groups according to their birthdays and explored their similarities and differences. I discovered that I share a birthday with a young man named Caleb. We decided that the fact that I have five grandchildren and he doesn’t was our most significant difference; we also discovered that we share a common favorite place: the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library in the Mayo Center. Both avid readers, we love the light, space, and quiet of the library. As different pairs shared what united and divided them, the diversity of interests and experiences in our community helped us move beyond tolerating or simply understanding those differences, toward empathizing with those who are different from us.
I was reminded of a passage that I talk about in Chapel every year from Roxbury Latin Headmaster Tony Jarvis. He speaks of how difficult but important it is to move beyond being “packages relating to other packages” and treating other people as things. Jarvis encourages his audience to engage with each person as a full, rich human being to experience true joy. He writes:
Many people are fearful of risking their whole being. They hide behind their function: They remain a teacher or a student. They remain a doctor or a priest. They remain a husband or a father. They may be very good in these functions (and it is often appropriate that we remain in our functions), but some never dare go beyond them….
Only those who find the courage to risk themselves will come to those occasional moments in which we suddenly find ourselves in full relationship with another… Such moments are beyond sensual feeling and physical expression… In such moments we are surprised by joy. For a fleeting moment we relate fully with our whole being to another person. We are no longer categorizing, we are no longer standing aside and observing, we are no longer using others or seeing them in terms of their function. We actually meet, we actually enter one of the gates t o what Martin Buber calls “true life” by entering into relationship with something beyond ourselves.
We promise every year that we will do everything we can to help our students become the best people they can be, the best learners they can be, and to become part of something bigger than themselves. One of the first steps toward living out these promises is to invite students to enter into full relationships with their peers and teachers, for only in such relationships can we become our best selves.
For my part, wearing Rose’s colored shirts reminds me to go out of my way to meet someone new, or to learn something new about someone, every day, and to fight against the temptation to see others as things and to refuse to be treated as a thing by others. We have enjoyed an excellent start of school with one of the largest and most diverse school communities in our history. If we allow the spirit of Rainbow Week to remain strong, we will also enjoy an excellent year.