The Latin derivation of our English word “tradition” is a felicitous one: something that is given (“donum”) across (“trans”). How inspiring it is to view traditions through this etymological lens, as activities or rituals bequeathed to us by our forebears across years or even generations of human experience and endeavor.
Traditions are frequently referenced at MICDS, and I am often asked to cite my own favorites. Of course, I have not been here long enough to witness them all (as I compose this letter to you, we are 20 days out from this year’s Thanksgiving Turkey Train!), but several leap immediately to mind: the Middle School Honor Assembly at the outset of the year; our all-school gathering in September; the Homecoming week boat race, pep rallies, bonfire, Fun Run, family carnival and games against Burroughs; roller skating in Beasley; and the Lower School Halloween Parade and Upper School Halloween Assembly.
These are all obvious examples, but the word “tradition” at MICDS also brings to mind more quotidian instances of “giving across”: our custom of honoring our past by not stepping on the School seal as we go about our daily routines on campus; our habit of greeting one another with words and eyes and smiles of welcome as we cross one another’s paths; and our attendance at arts exhibitions and performances, athletics contests and other School events in constant support of one another. These patterns of our lives at MICDS are traditions in their own right. They are manifestations of the depth and strength of community spirit that distinguished Mary Institute, Saint Louis Country Day School and MICDS through the many years that have preceded us, and they are guarantees of their own preservation in the lives of MICDS students and families in the many years to come.
A friend and former colleague of mine used to joke that at independent schools, any given event or activity is someone’s absurd new idea in its first year but a hallowed tradition every year thereafter. He is not far off the mark, but I like to think that his observation reflects an essential and healthy tension within institutions like MICDS between our commitment to innovation and progress (ergo our “absurd new ideas”) and our pride in our past (ergo our “hallowed traditions”).
“New tradition” might be my favorite oxymoron, and in this my inaugural year I am introducing a few of my own: Saturday pancake brunches with students at the campus residence; “ZIP code field trip dinners” with MICDS families in the many locales around St. Louis that our students call home; and hand-written notes to randomly chosen students to let them know I am cheering them on. The sentiment behind each is the sentiment that sustains all of our precedent traditions at MICDS: an overwhelming love of and gratitude for this special school.
Channel your best Tevye or Golde from Fiddler on the Roof and sing it with me: “Tradition!” My best wishes to you and your loved ones this winter season.
Head of School