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Forward thinking

By
Interim Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
July 30, 2018
William Rawson

The legendary Hammy Bissell ’29; P’58 said to me many years ago, “Exeter isn’t what it used to be, and thank God it never was.” Hammy was quoting an alum who had said the same to him many years before. Apparently, we have been reminding ourselves for quite some time that Exeter’s future does not lie in the past, that Exeter has never stayed strong by staying the same.

Lewis Perry, toward the end of his astonishing 32-year tenure as principal, stated, “There is no fundamental incongruity between tradition and development.”

Principal William Saltonstall ’24; P’55, P’59 used a rowing metaphor to describe Dr. Perry’s administration as a “bright beacon” astern, by which the school might keep a “steady course” while “we bend our oars toward the future.” In a speech given at Andover, he stated, “Faculty and students at Andover and Exeter must, it seems to me, be constantly re-examining what we are about.”

This effort to re-examine constantly “what we are about” will continue in the coming academic year. Through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges reaccreditation process and our own strategic planning, we will examine critical issues such as our pursuit of academic excellence; the quality of experiences we provide to students outside the classroom; our financial aid practices and policies; our commitment to building and supporting a diverse, equitable and inclusive community; our progress addressing student wellness and support; and our responsibilities as strong environmental stewards.

These are weighty subjects, and every member of the community has a role to play. The focus will be on the school as a whole and directed always toward the best interests of our students. We will ask hard questions and embrace the challenge inherent in our aspiration to live up to the Deed of Gift. We will value our historic strengths and explore new ideas and new approaches that build on those strengths. In the spirit of a Harkness discussion, we will come to the table keenly interested in hearing what others have to say. Through discussion and collaboration, we will produce collectively the best thinking of our community.

That is where the readers of this column will come in. As our thinking coalesces around specific proposals that we believe will advance the mission of the school, we will share our thinking with you, and ask for your best thoughts in return. And as the need arises, we will ask for your support.

The Deed of Gift states at the end of the first paragraph, “[T]he time of youth is the important period, on the improvement or neglect of which depend the most weighty consequences, to individuals themselves and the community.” At Exeter, we act on that belief every day.

I would like to conclude by expressing on behalf of my family our deep gratitude for the support we have received from the Exeter community since the death of my beloved wife, Mary Rawson, on June 14, 2018. Mary knew Exeter well and believed in the mission of the school. My family and I have been moved by the notes and letters that have recognized Mary’s remarkable qualities and the role she played in the lives of so many. 

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.