Finding joy

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
November 1, 2021

When I ask our students about their experiences at Exeter, they consistently express joy in being here, joy in their friendships, and joy in their sense of personal growth and accomplishment. And, of course, they express joy in being part of a school community blessed with an extraordinary range of opportunities. This feeling has been particularly palpable this fall term, as we have been able to be together on campus in ways not possible a year ago.

Our students also have a strong sense of purpose. They pursue excellence in their studies and all else that they do here. They are willing to work hard, and seek to be challenged. They do all this with the same purpose that our school has had since its founding: to prepare students to lead purposeful lives. It is with this sense of purpose, and in the spirit of non sibi, that we want our students to go forward in life.

As prior generations of Exonians know well, much of the joy and sense of purpose at Exeter also come from the way students learn from one another, through Harkness, inside and outside the classroom, and from the lifelong friendships that are formed in the process. We teach our students to listen and think critically, with open-minded curiosity about why others might think differently, and to engage across differences with empathy and respect. These are skills that our communities and the larger world need today. Learning in this way is challenging, yet fun, and a major component of the joy at Exeter.

Together with purpose and joy also comes gratitude, expressed powerfully by Dr. Emery Brown, class of 1974, last year when he accepted the John and Elizabeth Phillips Award for his extraordinary contributions in the fields of science and medicine. Speaking with considerable emotion, Dr. Brown said, “Exeter helped me become basically who I am.” Students share this sense of gratitude while they are here; some will tell you they spend their entire summers waiting to come back. But my experience is that the sense of gratitude students have when they leave Exeter deepens with the passage of time, as they understand more fully the impact on their lives of their time here.

As you read through this issue of The Bulletin, you will see purpose and joy in all that our students are accomplishing, and in the impact Exonians are having in the larger world. I hope you will read these stories with pride and gratitude, and be inspired by all that it means to be part of the Exeter community.  

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the fall 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.