The power of 'youth from every quarter'

Principal Bill Rawson '71; P'08
October 31, 2023

Our Deed of Gift, signed by John and Elizabeth Phillips in 1781, states that Exeter “shall ever be equally open to youth of requisite qualifications from every quarter.” 

Since the decision to become a coeducational school in the fall of 1970, my senior year, Exeter has been a leader among secondary schools in building a more diverse and inclusive community. We seek students of promising academic ability and strong character from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and identities, and we admit students without regard to their family’s ability to pay tuition. The rich diversity of students that results creates a powerful learning environment and is one of the defining strengths of our school.

This year we have 1,078 students from 39 countries and 45 states and territories. Almost half are recipients of financial aid. They bring an impressive diversity of talents and interests. Students drive their learning at Exeter, inside and outside the classroom, and we look forward to seeing all that they will accomplish this year in academics, the arts, athletics, extracurricular activities, student leadership roles, community service, and in so many other ways. It will be exciting to see them grow in ways they never could have imagined before coming here. It has been nothing short of wonderful the first few days of the fall term to see how excited all our students, new and returning alike, are to be here, and how quickly new friendships form at the beginning of each year.

At Opening Assembly, I reminded our students that to realize fully the promise of our diverse community of learners, and to make the most of the opportunities through Harkness to learn with and from each other, we must be fully committed to diversity of thought and free expression. Robust debate and free intellectual inquiry are fundamental to our educational method and mission, just as freedom of expression is a pillar of a healthy democracy. I told our students we must learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and understand that we should expect a diversity of viewpoints on almost every subject worth exploring. Learning in this way propels our growth as individuals and as a community. It is how we prepare our students to be the citizens and leaders that our world needs.  

I also spoke to our students about the gratitude we all should feel for the privileges we enjoy as members of this very special school community. Our gratitude extends to prior generations of Exonians who have helped make Exeter what it is today, and to all adults here and at home who will support our students and our school this year. We show our gratitude by how we make the most of the opportunities that are given to us, by how we strive for excellence in all that we do, and by how we incorporate the spirit of non sibi in our daily lives.

So, as we begin the 243rd year in the history of our school, I express gratitude to all alumni, families and friends of the Academy for your belief in the mission of our school and for your steadfast support. 

This story was originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.