Damp and dreary weather in Blairstown did not keep the Blair community from celebrating the official opening of school at Convocation on September 10. Led by the class of 2019, the ceremony began with a student procession across campus, made more colorful by the flags of the 27 countries represented by the student body. (To watch the ceremony in full, please click “play” below).
As is tradition and despite the rain, faculty members lined the entrance to Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, clapping and cheering as students filed past into DuBois Theatre, where flag bearers gathered on stage as Blair’s Chaplain Lisa Durkee welcomed the community, noting that Blair students and faculty are “unique because of the unity in our diversity.” She then introduced two student speakers: Senior Class Council members Jake Mantegna ’19 and Esther Pasternak ’19.
Embracing the Journey & Taking Risks
Jake talked about the meaning of convocation, a “ceremonial voyage from Blair Commons to Armstrong-Hipkins” that has been a School tradition since the first convocation that took place during Blair’s founding year in 1848. “It is important to remember the things that Blair has given us,” he said. “It is because of Blair that many of you may have met your best friends. It is because of Blair that you all get great opportunities after high school and, especially, after college. It is because of Blair you have made memories that will last a lifetime. Blair will give you back way more than you put in.”
“Blair is more than just a pretty campus,” added Esther. “It is the people who shape the community. Each day, I learn something new about my peers, and they inspire me to be a better person. Push your limits. When you open yourself up to try something new, you will be rewarded. Take the risk. Your time at Blair is limited, so don’t waste it looking down.”
A Hero’s Journey
Following their remarks and the Blair Academy Singers’ performance of “We Will Rock You,” Mr. Fortunato officially opened Blair’s 171st school year with his keynote address. “Today, we all start a new journey,” he said. “Questions more than answers drive our journeys. They challenge us to find our moral compass so we may truly find our way.”
He then posed a philosophical question to the audience: “When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we treat each other as we have made in technology?” He invited the community to embark on a “hero’s journey” to do just that. “I offer to you that the kind of heroes we need now are not born of greatness, but instead of goodness. They are ones who certainly rise to the occasion when circumstances or crises require them to do so, but much, much more often, and often more importantly, they are first and foremost good citizens.”
Sharing a personal story about a mentor who brought him to his life’s work with adolescents, Mr. Fortunato pondered what it means to be a good citizen, a citizen hero. “That’s the journey I invite you to navigate together this year,” he said. “Moments of goodness, not just greatness, are truly heroic. In all we do, we are offered the opportunity to be good citizens at Blair and well beyond Blair. To learn, to do a right and just thing, for the good of the order, even without personal reward.”
Every choice, Mr. Fortunato said, should lead us to a better Blair. “Every day, we are called and tested not only with the question of ‘what do I stand for?’ but ‘will we stand for each other?’ Who you are will be revealed through your friendships and relationships with your teachers. Traveling the world. Considering ideas you never knew you never knew. And serving the world beyond this hilltop.”
“We have the power and the duty to show our way to others,” he concluded. “To pass on what we have learned, to model what we have chosen. Treating other people with dignity and empathy and kindness and friendship, doing that here in the way that we do is a model for the rest of the world, wherever your travels or trials may take you.”
Encouraging the community to come together in this journey over the coming year, Mr. Fortunato introduced a Blair challenge coin that he personally designed, and shared his hope that the community will embrace his call to be citizen heroes who will make Blair’s 171st year productive and joyful and heroic.