Letter from Dr. James Dawson
It never ceases to amaze me as to both how quickly and how deeply we settle into the rhythm of the school year, and 2018-2019 is no exception. It seemed just a short time ago that we were celebrating our annual PCS cruise around lower Manhattan, worried about the possibility of rain that evening after what had been a hot, muggy day. More amazing than the change in weather we have now come to experience - as fall finally and quite abruptly settles in - is that now, as I write, we find ourselves at the beginning of November and, with that, we must further acknowledge that 20% of the academic year has already slipped away from us, morphing from the expectant “what will be” to the already traversed “what was.” In total, how quickly it goes; how silently the days melt away into months, how much the natural cycle endemic to schools falls into place in a way that allows a simultaneous blend of predictability and novelty. How often I hear individuals wishing for the next break, the next vacation, the next weekend, the next marker of a completed project or class or grade or school. How much we can fall into the trap of giving away one of our most precious and cherished commodities: time. I’m one who never wants to wish time away; I’m loathe to seek an upcoming weekend sooner than it should come to us and I find no solace in searching the calendar for shorter weeks or upcoming breaks. I know that time should be cherished, that moments are the welcome companions of our existence, that each day is a cause and a reason to celebrate, to learn, to move forward, to push onward, to seek to know that which we do not and to understand that which eludes us, whether due to acquiring new facts or, through experience, validating a heretofore uncertain feeling.
School is, for me, a chance to take a frequent, welcome pause from the seeming ubiquitous wish to give away our time, often propelled by some hope to skip the mundane and predictable in search of something more grand. Instead, in the face of this desire to jump ahead, school is an opportunity to hold fast to the time we have to study, to create, to engage, to cradle the comforting notion of a predictable schedule, to adhere to a certain meter, to respect a natural rhythm that provides context, balance and cause for the work that we do and the lives that we touch. Each new day, and each new year, is an extraordinary gift – both predictable and elusive at the same time – a reminder that the passing of the days is as central to our lives as the myriad assignments, papers, quizzes and tests are to the foundation of learning. Whether in the throes of a new school or a new year or the anxiety producing maze of applying to college or conservatory; whether working on the next paper or the next quiz or the upcoming test; whether pressed by the need to learn new choreography or a new etude; whether to learn the text of a new script or a passage from Shakespeare; whether to understand the dynamics of physical law or to achieve a more noteworthy athletic record; school for the students at PCS is navigated by a series of decisions, most of them marked more by the consistent need for dedication and more often enhanced by clinging to, cherishing, savoring, and holding fast the very time that that others often seek or wish to give away.
What’s the rush? Where are we seeking to get to that much sooner? Why do so many people work so hard to give up the very essence of what we all, later in life, will seek so desperately to hold on to: time? Let’s slow down. Let’s take the time to read and to think and to contemplate; let’s make certain to absorb each and every moment’s worth of life and learning; let’s celebrate the arc of the school year – but do it slowly and deliberately. Let’s take the time to do good and to do well. Let’s allow the young people entrusted to us to cling to the moment, to cherish the minutes, to savor the hours, to recognize the extraordinary potential of a single day.
So, perhaps, rather than lament how much time has passed this year, let’s celebrate the day which is today; rather than wish away a day or a week, hold tight the minute which is now; rather than be saddened by the loss of the summer day as it falls to the past, embrace today’s cold winds, the stunning streetscape, the kaleidoscope of leaves turning brilliant hues of orange and red and yellow all amidst the darker afternoons of autumn, cognizant of an earlier setting sun and the quicker arrival of yet another night; rather than wish away this week’s schoolwork, engage in its every moment of learning and celebrate our ability to know. If we can truly celebrate the process and act of learning; if we can come to know that the rhythm of a school year as a series of cherished days, days marked by predictability mixed with novelty, then perhaps we will come to realize that the school year allows us a profound gift of certain time which further enables us to pause, frequently, to learn daily, and to cherish the moment which is now.