'Let's get started': Opening Assembly rings in new year

Principal Bill Rawson '71; P'08 delivers welcome remarks as Exeter's 241st academic year commences.

Patrick Garrity
September 10, 2021

The enduring custom of Opening Assembly formally ushered in the 241st year of Phillips Exeter Academy on Friday morning, highlighted by the simple but powerful sight of the full school community gathered together as one.

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 commemorated the occasion with an address to an audience of students and current and emeriti faculty in Love Gymnasium, noting how a year ago he stood before just 10 students on a campus quad and delivered his remarks virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What a difference a year makes,” Rawson said. “How wonderful it is to see all of you gathered together, even if we are not able to be in the Assembly Hall, as is our tradition, and even if we must wear masks indoors, at least for now.”

>> Read Principal Rawson's full remarks

The challenges of the pandemic linger, but with the Exeter community vaccinated and other safety precautions in place, Friday’s event was a warmer, more familiar version of the time-honored rite. The student body welcomed their faculty with a rousing cheer as the instructors made their way into the gym, two by two. Music Instructor Radmila Repczynski played Gaudeamus Igitur on piano as the faculty took their places near the dais. In the front rows, traditionally reserved for Exeter seniors, sat the members of the class of 2022. Behind them came the uppers, then the lowers and finally the ninth-graders — the preps.

"We should realize and recognize all that is offered to us at Exeter, and all the opportunities that we enjoy by being members of this community. We should recognize the privileges that we all enjoy by being here."

Rawson greeted each class individually.

“Seniors, it is very special to see you in the front section!” he said. “Your leadership across all aspects of school life will be important to the success of our school this year, and as we seek to be in community in ways that were not possible last year.

“Uppers, in the spring, you will move into leadership positions in your own right, and your drive will push us all forward. Lowers, this is the first time any of you have attended an indoor, in-person, all-school assembly. I welcome you to the full Exeter experience this year, and applaud you for your adaptability last year.         

“Preps, 197 strong! Welcome to Exeter! Your eager delight to be here and begin your high school journey will be an inspiration to us all, and we welcome you warmly.”

Dean of Faculty Ellen Wolff and Gayatri Ramesh, the assistant director of faculty, introduced the newest members of the faculty, a group of 45 first- and second-year instructors and counselors. Then Russell Weatherspoon, the newly appointed Dean of Students, asked the audience to recognize some of the Academy’s longest-serving faculty. Together, instructors Stephanie Girard, Paul Langford, Evelyn Christoph, Kitty Fair, Ahri Hall, Eric Bergofsky and Peter Vorkink have a combined 265 years of service to the Academy, he noted. Weatherspoon also welcomed an assemblage of emeriti faculty.

Rawson spoke to the students about Exeter’s mission “to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives,” and the Academy’s core values of non sibi and academic excellence. He also lent them three pieces of advice: Seek a reasonable balance in their academic and non-academic endeavors; take full advantage of the many kinds of support the Academy affords; and “always keep in mind that a big part of the fun and joy of learning at Exeter is learning from one another, with positive, open-minded curiosity.”

He closed his remarks with a message about gratitude.

“Particularly in a year when we will work to reconnect our community amidst an ongoing global pandemic, and when we see so much in the world that we would like to change, we should realize and recognize all that is offered to us at Exeter, and all the opportunities that we enjoy by being members of this community,” Rawson said.

“We should recognize the privileges that we all enjoy by being here, and appreciate the sacrifices of others that have made our time and experiences here possible.”

And, as tradition dictates, the principal ended assembly with the dismissal: “Senior class.”