Spirit, courage, and a sense of home.
Those are the characteristics Head of School Jess Hill hopes each Harpeth Hall student carries with her this school year, along with much laughter, creativity, and willingness to forge a new path in a year like no other.
The spirit she called for emerged the moment this year's senior class lined the school drive to dance and cheer for students as they arrived. It continued through the afternoon when the cowgirl hat-wearing crew sprinted down the center of Souby Lawn to celebrate their moment in the sun.
"There is a special sense of optimism placed on this school year," Senior Spencer Robbins, president of the Upper School Student Council, said as she spoke during two of the four convocation ceremonies held on Wednesday to celebrate the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
This is the year to shine for the senior class, who – guided by their theme "Riding into the Sun" – will be an example for all Harpeth Hall students about what it looks like to be a leader.
Displaying courage and confidence
It's not just the seniors. All students at Harpeth Hall are called on to lead. The energy they bring to that role this year will channel another type of school spirit. One, Mrs. Hill said, "that will keep us safe" during continued health uncertainties.
Through leadership will also come courage. In a tumultuous time focused on the need for social justice and for healing, Mrs. Hill joined other school leaders in challenging students to be kind to each other and listen to everyone's voice.
"We need to feel that solidarity as a school and as a community as we work together to be a force for good. Even a force to be reckoned with," Mrs. Hill said. "I feel that I am looking at girls who are ready to lead confidently into this school year."
This year, those girls are 719 students strong. It is the biggest student body Harpeth Hall has ever welcomed. Among them are 116 new students, including 61 members of the Class of 2028.
Each girl holds a special place among her peers and will contribute in unique and important ways.
"The fact is, there is no one quite like you," Judi O'Brien, Director of the Middle School said, "and our experience today is special."
A beautiful way forward
It felt exceptional as Harpeth Hall students went through the day, their eyes smiling above their colorful face coverings. More than five months have passed since most of the students were last on campus, and the convocation experience – with two for Upper School students and two more for Middle School students to help keep everyone safely distanced outside – was different than years past.
Still, the strong feeling of connection that convocation brings remained the same.
"Whether we are wearing face shields and masks, whether we are learning on campus or learning remotely – there are ties that bind us and that remain core about the Harpeth Hall experience," Armistead Lemon, Director of the Upper School, said in her convocation remarks.
Ms. Lemon offered students three truths to hold on to "in joyful times and in tough times," noting that every school year brings some of both.
In those moments, students can turn to the strong relationships they form with their teachers. They can lean into the possibilities of making the school greater, better and more beautiful for everyone. And they can channel the strength of the school community, "being intentional about lifting the minds and the spirits of others."
That is a beautiful way forward, Ms. Lemon said, especially amid uncertainty.
Harpeth Hall, a place that feels like home
Lillian Yarbrough, a member of the Class of 2025 who represented the Middle School as a speaker, echoed that message. She reminded her classmates to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, to be confident and ask for help, and to always use their platform in a positive way.
As the students prepared to depart convocation and embark on the school year, Ms. O'Brien encouraged everyone to pause and send a silent thank you to someone who helped them get there.
"I want to welcome all of you back to a place that I hope feels like home," Mrs. Hill said. "If you are new this year, I hope it will soon feel that way.
"Home is the place where someone is always glad to see you when you walk in the door, where you are seen and heard and accepted for who you are and where you can feel comfortable making mistakes, because it is all part of your journey to learn new things.
"Home is that place where we all feel that we are worthy, and we are."
Welcome home, Mrs. Hill said.
Harpeth Hall has missed you.