This article originally appeared in the fall 2011 Harker Quarterly
Good morning. I’d like to welcome the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff, and the classes of 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012 to the Matriculation Ceremony. For those of you who are new to the school, and some of you who are not new, my name is Christopher Nikoloff, head of school at Harker. I oversee operations on all three campuses, but my office is located on this campus, where I really enjoy getting to know you. Please say hello when we see each other in the hallways, and feel free to stop by my office for cookies anytime. It is better for me if you eat them – otherwise, I will!
I am honored to have the opportunity to open the new academic year with this Matriculation address. Also, I am sure you will be relieved to hear that I am continuing the tradition of brevity, confining my talk to one page of single-spaced, size-twelve font. So far I have received no complaints about this tradition.
As many of you know, this year The Harker School will be up for re-accreditation by its member organizations, the California Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For those of you who love acronyms, these organizations are known as CAIS and WASC. Joining these organizations creates a pool of professionals who can share resources and promote standards and growth.
Our full six-year term of accreditation expires this year, which is the reason for the re-accreditation. The entire school community participated in a self-study last year, the results of which are shared with the visiting accreditation committee. Some of your fellow students participated in that self-study. My committee, which focused on the school’s mission and philosophy, enjoyed invaluable contributions from two students, for instance. As you know, our mission and philosophy statements emphasize love of learning, kindness, well-roundedness and community. The Matriculation Ceremony today is about committing ourselves to these values.
The accreditation team will take a good look at our mission statement. Some of you may have noticed that this statement is inside every classroom. Please nudge your teacher if his or her classroom is missing one. Tell them that I sent you. One of the critical areas the visiting committee assesses is whether or not we do what we say we do in our mission and philosophy statements. If they grant a full six-year term they are essentially saying three things: we have a sound mission, we do what we say we do in the mission, and we can monitor our own growth as a community.
Our mission and philosophy statements look very much like other independent schools, so we do not anticipate many surprises there. The essence of any school is how it lives up to its mission. Schools are like thumb prints: each different, each special. I believe that we live up to our mission in unique ways. I also believe that the life of our mission is in the often small, unheralded actions that together create the delicate and unmistakable ecosystem we call Harker.
When a student picks up a piece of trash that is not his or holds a door for a stranger, then we are living up to our mission. When students are inspired to help those who are less fortunate, we are living up to our mission. When students choose not to bully or tease, or stand up against bullying or teasing, then our mission is alive and well. When students choose academic integrity, hard work and good cheer, then we are living up to our mission. When students push themselves to learn and grow, then we are reflecting our mission. When students choose cooperation over competition, then we are living our mission. When students tell me that their favorite class is also their most difficult, then I see a sign of our mission.
Accreditation is a lot like the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz.” If you remember the movie, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion and Dorothy all look for the Wizard of Oz to find for themselves, respectively, a brain, a heart, courage and a way home. Well, we learn throughout the movie that the Scarecrow has smarts, the Tin Man has heart, the Lion courage and Dorothy a way home all along. None of them need the Wizard for any of these things. Sure, he can give them a piece of paper, but that paper could not bestow on them what they already have. Similarly, if our mission is alive and well, accreditation cannot give us what we already have.
Visitors to the Harker campus usually say that the students are the most impressive, engaging part of their visit. The faculty and staff say that the students are the best part of their day. I believe that is because of the little things you do every day for their own sake, not for some result, that reflect the spirit of our mission statement. The values of love of learning, kindness, well-roundedness and community are alive and well because of the work you, the faculty and staff do each day.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the administration, I wish you a great year living up to the spirit of our mission. Thank you.