Good Morning PCS!
Ms. Evanoff greeted new and returning students with the following remarks at this year's Opening Assembly on September 10th. She talks about her own memories of being a newcomer, and the power of words to shape ourselves and others.
I've had the time of my life welcoming everyone back to school. It has been so incredibly nice to catch up with those of you who are returning to PCS this year, and it’s been equally exciting meeting those of you who are new to school. I’ve been watching with admiration as you boldly brave all kinds of unfamiliar people, programs, and policies with smiling faces and outstretched hands. As many of you know, this time last year I, too, was new to PCS. I remember getting up to speak at last year’s Opening Assembly, feeling just about as scared and nervous as I’ve ever felt before, telling myself to just have faith in this welcoming place filled with welcoming people, to be myself, and to make the words that I’d written down on paper come out of my mouth in some way, shape, or form. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I was right to trust in the friendliness of the PCS community back then, and I’m very grateful and proud to count myself a member of that same community as I stand here today, at Opening Assembly, year two. New people--students, faculty, and staff-- I promise that those nervous feelings will be replaced by nice, homey ones sooner than you think.
Since I’m hoping that you will all come by at some point and tell me about yourselves, I also wanted to take a couple of minutes to tell you a little bit about MYself, and to share with you some of the things that are on my mind as we get started with the new school year.
Starting from the top, my name is Ms. Evanoff, and my official title is Head of Upper School. Before coming to PCS last year, I’d been living in Brooklyn and working in Brooklyn schools for 14, 15 years or so. I live there still, with my husband Raphe and our daughter, Etta, who is 3.5.
I had a great summer. Somehow, I managed to read way more books that I usually get through, and while doing so, I thought a lot about the power of words, and of language. How as readers and just as people in general, we can be so drawn to or turned off by another person’s choice of words, the tone or inflection they’ve used to relay them, the color or music or landscape called to our minds and remembered in our bodies when we experience them.
I could provide many examples from things I’ve read, songs that have changed my life, conversations I’ve had, an endless array of things. But (and nobody here will be surprised that I’m about to talk about my kid again) nothing blows this phenomenon out of the water more clearly than watching a toddler acquire language, begin to collect words and phrases, and start to hold on to associations.
"there was a pretty startling moment at the beginning of the summer that actually prompted my whole idea for this talk..."
So this has been true about the way she holds on to little things I’ve told her in passing, lines from books and songs, and of course things she hears from other kids at school, at the playground, etc. But there was a pretty startling moment at the beginning of the summer that actually prompted my whole idea for this talk, and it had to do with something she took away from a movie. Etta isn’t allowed to watch a whole slew of TV shows or anything, but we do let her watch some things, and there are a couple of things she really, really likes. Anyone familiar with the movie “Leap”? It’s basically a feel-good movie about a young woman who becomes an unlikely hero in the ballet world--listen, there are plenty of problems with the plot, but it’s actually very inspiring in the end. Anyway, there’s this one part early on where the underdog protagonist, Felicie, meets the exquisitely trained and long practiced Camille, who has her sights set on the lead role in the Nutcracker and a highly sought after spot in the Parisian Ballet School. (You can see where this is going.) So in this scene where the two first meet, Camille stands with Felicie in front of a mirror, and says to her, “Don’t you see? You’re Nothing. Nothing. I’m the star, and you revolve around me,” or something to that effect. Anyway, I was talking to Etta after the first time she watched the movie and when I said something about how incredible Felicie was, Etta said, “No mom, she’s nothing. That other kid said she was nothing so she’s nothing.” Just like that. She heard it said one time, and she TOTALLY BELIEVED IT. That really broke my heart and, of course, made me worry-- I mean, she’s totally come around now and understands that Felicie’s heart is to dance, and that she can be anything, but it really struck me how instantaneously she had assimilated this one invective, this one person’s negative comment--as pure truth. Now the whole point of the movie is that Felicie didn’t let that comment stop her and instead went on to show that darn Camille how it’s done. But one of my major takeaways--our words can be so powerful that they can even become, or change, our beliefs.
"the words we use, and the way we use them, can truly be powerful enough to change our outcomes in pretty serious ways..."
Happily, this power works in the other direction, as well. Later in the summer, Etta also fell in love with the movie “Finding Dory.” Now, this is a movie about a little fish who suffers from short term memory loss, and who loses her parents early on in her little fish life and then spends the rest of her little and mid-fish life trying to remember her way back to them. Near the end of the film, Dory finds herself in a tight spot and remembers something her father used to say to her when she was young--he would say “Dory, just remember, there’s ALWAYS another way.” This comes in very handy because Dory the fish is indeed caught in a seemingly hopeless situation right at that very moment--she’s locked in a truck and cannot budge the door-- when the vivid memory of her father’s voice and meaningful adage inspires her to look around for another way, resulting in her eventual escape via the sun-roof! Rest assured, Etta has also taken up this phrase, and often uses it in ways that surprise, inspire, and delight me. She also uses it to undermine my logical reasons for why some things are not allowed, because she is a very clever little child. But again, my point is -- the words we use, and the way we use them, can truly be powerful enough to change our outcomes in pretty serious ways. By repeating words and phrases to ourselves, we can change our thinking--and make way for alternative moods and actions.
Food for thought, mostly. But also, perhaps, an invitation for you and for us this year--to think deeply about the words we choose when speaking to or about one another in our community and beyond its walls. To think deeply about the words we choose and the way we use them when speaking to ourselves. Whether you’ve been here a long time or are just beginning to chart your path here at PCS, in your profession, in life-- try to recognize the way that words and tone can inspire and create-- or dismantle and even destroy a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. I challenge you to talk up to yourself, and to put some enthusiasm into encouraging others. I think that the more we practice this kind of positivity, and the more we work to foster gratitude, appreciate passion, and inspire hard work-- the more joyful and successful we can all be.
"I challenge you to talk up to yourself, and to put some enthusiasm into encouraging others."
I’ll end with one final, and sort of funny, example of Etta’s profound integration of words and phrases that teach her about the world. Recently, she became the last toddler in the world to experience and fall in love with the movie “Frozen.” I’m not going to lie, I had never seen it before last month either, so there you go. There’s a small and somewhat inconsequential line in the film, delivered by Christophe when he’s talking to Anna for the first time and lamenting the sudden and magical manifestation of winter that has uprooted his ice business. It’s just this-- he says, “Ice is my life.” I want you to know that for some reason, Etta has clung to this phrase with all of her heart. Anything she wants these days, becomes “is my life.” For example, “Macaroni and cheese is my life, mom,” and so on. Thankfully, she’s also taken on Olaf’s sweet and heartfelt line, “Some people are worth melting for,” which I appreciate on an entirely different level.
In closing, PCS’ers-- for the 2019-2020 school year, I wish you passion in your hearts-- that you will allow some thing or some central philosophy or value to be “your life,” (and that you will also let that thing change as frequently as a 3 year old might, if necessary). For our part, our mission here at PCS is to make clear to each and every one of you that you and your dreams are totally worth melting for--and in order to back that up, I’ll go ahead and say, at the risk of really taking this whole thing too far now-- I truly believe that when things get tricky, there’s almost always another way, especially here. Here’s to a great year, with positive thinking, talking up, and lots of learning.