While hundreds of students played games on the greens and sat outside to enjoy the momentary sunshine and sign yearbooks, a group of artists were busy inside the Morse Center for the Arts sharing their gifts with groups of students from area middle schools. This annual event, which coincides with the Academy’s Spring Day, is the Jeanette Genius McKean Day—JGM Day for short—and it has become the source of inspiration for young artists for nearly two decades.
The fact that it coincides with Spring Day is somewhat of a happy accident. Spring Day, established as a tradition in the mid-90’s by then Student Government President Kate Daloz, is an annual celebration of community and friendship on the day after Senior Breakfast and before the start of Exam Week. On that day, the Lamp (the Academy yearbook) is distributed, and Student Government and faculty members design and run various events and activities all over campus—except in the Morse Center for the Arts. In that space, we have taken advantage of the freer daily schedule to invite area seventh graders to get a taste of a wide array of artistic opportunities.
By providing experiences in both the performing and visual arts, our arts faculty and student volunteers have carried on the legacy of Jeanette Genius McKean, the artist and philanthropist for whom the day was named and whose grandfather Charles Hosmer Morse is the namesake of the Morse Center. Mrs. McKean was known widely for the beauty of her artwork and for her commitment to perpetuate excellence in the arts through education and sponsorship. She believed in the goodness of life, was known to have “an infinite capacity to write the most beautiful thank you notes,” and generously shared her time, treasure, and talents to celebrate the arts.
Over the past few days, I have been moved by the generosity of the artists among us, including those who touched the lives of young artists on JGM Day. The day before, as a way to announce the yearbook dedication, seniors Sam Bulpin and Maggie Roach sang a song they dedicated to Chef Gerry Prevost: “God Only Knows What I’d Be without You.” As if the lyrics and the moment were not poignant enough, Sam and Maggie’s performance was heartfelt and moving. The gift of live performance sparked the beginning of a great day.
Sam and Maggie are part of another gift our artists have given us this week, as Academy Theatre performed Amelie: The Musical. This performance was especially significant because it was the first student-directed spring musical in school history (another historic first for the Class of 2019!). Seniors Rebecca Robertson and Maggie Roach co-directed the performance, senior Kaci Cochran directed the music, senior Fiona Sweeney directed the choreography, and senior Matt Bader directed the technical crew. Seniors Sam Bulpin, Jimmy Rust, and Lizzie Gilmartin helped lead a stand out cast in a touching performance of a very difficult show.
Lizzie’s character Amelie provides a symbol of what we experienced this week. Amelie, after some early difficulties, finds joy in making people’s lives better. Many of the people she befriends and/or helps are artists who have been beaten down by life. However, through her generosity and imagination, she makes their lives more beautiful. In the end (spoiler alert), she finds affirmation and love herself and begins a new and beautiful relationship with—you guessed it—an artist. In the spirit of Spring Day, in the spirit of Jeanette Genius McKean, in the spirit of the numerous talented artists among us who shared their gifts powerfully and freely, this image of a young woman who found joy in giving and love in sharing is good reminder as we end another successful year and head off into summer.
The lyrics of the last song in Amelie, I think, are especially appropriate at this time of year. As Amelie sits in the photo booth with her new love Nino, they sing,
Where do we go from here?
Now that we are sitting side by side
After all there's more to life than we can see
Will there be troubles?
I don't know.
Will there be sweet things?
I hope so.
Will there be time to keep on dreaming once this dream is over?
What happens when the booth goes bright?
What happens when you're out of view?
What happens when you can't hold on
or when I can't hold on to you?
What happens when tomorrow comes and there's nothing that we can do?
Questions like these are asked this time of year by seniors, friends, teachers, and maybe especially parents. One possible answer, one that I hope we all experience in these last weeks before graduation—as friends and family—is the one Nino and Amelie provide:
Just pull the curtain tight
And adjust the seat
Lean into the light and hold me.
From JGM Day, to Maggie and Sam’s yearbook dedication to Gerry Prevost, to Amelie, I think we have all felt the impact of the arts in our community particularly strongly this week. I hope we never forget the power of the arts to move, inspire, and uplift us, and I hope we continue to appreciate, celebrate, and support the arts in our communities, leaning into their light and admiring the gifts and generosity of those who share them with us.