172nd Convocation Focuses on Connection, Courage & Being ‘All In’
Brittany Rockenfeller

The Blair community came together on a beautiful September evening to celebrate the School’s 172nd Convocation with a bagpiper-led procession through the Arch and across campus that included students carrying the flags of the 22 countries from which they hail. As is tradition, students entered Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts as faculty members lined the sidewalk and applauded them. (To watch the Convocation ceremony in full, please click "play" below).

School officially opened when Blair’s chaplain, The Rev. Lisa Durkee, welcomed the audience, said a prayer, and remarked how much Convocation emphasizes both the Blair community’s diversity and unity. Two student speakers then took the stage: Alex Kirby ’20, talked about the concept of “home” and how its meaning has changed over the course of her Blair career as she evolved from a homesick freshman to a senior who feels connected and loved, while Corey Downey ’20 advised underclassmen to be present, appreciate their time at Blair, build relationships, and seek new experiences and interests before they graduate.

The talent of Blair musicians then took center stage as the Chamber Choir performed “Siyahamba” and students and faculty joined together to sing “The Blair Love Song.” For the seventh year, Head of School Chris Fortunato marked the official opening of school by addressing students and faculty with his thoughts on Blair’s culture and community.

Set to the backdrop of a slideshow of inspirational quotes shared by more than 100 students and faculty, Mr. Fortunato called the new school year a “new chapter” and a “blank page” that gives us an opportunity to approach each day with courage, vulnerability, an open mind and a willingness to learn. “As we stare at tomorrow’s blank page of each of our Blair stories, let’s commit to writing good ones,” he said. “True to who we are, true to who we aspire to be, stories that will not only make us proud but honor our families and friends and the thousands of Blair Buccaneers who sat in our seats across this campus since 1848.”

The story each of us will write, he added, has a lot to do with how you would answer this question: “How will you show up?” Noting that it applies to situations of great triumph and challenge, Mr. Fortunato offered students a piece of advice: “Be all in,” he said. “There is a community on this hilltop to be forged anew, as it has every year for 172 years. And, together, we can achieve more than we thought possible in each of us, when we show up tomorrow and every day, when we choose or dare to be all in.” 

Citing Teddy Roosevelt, Mr. Fortunato likened Blair to an “arena” where students can “dare greatly” and step outside of their comfort zones. “It is the courage to continue that counts,” he said. “You are surrounded by inspiration on this campus...all around this room are reservoirs of love to fuel your courageous willingness to get into the arena. To wear vulnerability as a badge of honor and not a weakness and to help others.”

There are a lot of people in the world, he concluded, who are not brave enough to “get in the arena with us.” Encouraging students and teachers to take risks and to not shy away from disagreement, Mr. Fortunato connected his remarks on courage and vulnerability to his own experience when he became Blair’s 16th Head of School in 2013, having held several positions in academia but never before having worked in a boarding school. 

“Whether you are a freshman or a new headmaster, we are all trying to figure out this amazing community and our role in it,” he said. “We live in a time where facts, news, science, humanity and kindness are under attack. We must embrace and not flee from disagreement. Kindness is not the absence of disagreement; kindness is the willingness to ask ‘why.’ Just because we stand for different things doesn’t mean we stand apart.”

Concluding his address, he gifted each member of the community a Blair hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “All In” and “All Together,” as well as Blair’s name and seal. “I am so excited to start this year together,” he said. “It is going to be an amazing year.”

News Headlines