Mr. Zemsky delivered the following remarks upon accepting the charge from Board of Trustees Chair Robert Brown at his Installation on September 10, 2016.
I am sincerely honored by the charge I receive today from Mr. Brown and from the Moravian Academy community. I accept this charge with gratitude, humility, and awe.
I am especially grateful to the members of the selection committee for their dedication throughout the past year and for their confidence in me. On behalf of Courtney and our children, Elijah and Josephine, I want to thank the entire Moravian community for welcoming us with open arms and generous hearts. You have helped us see that Moravian Academy is the caring, passionate, and intellectually vigorous place that we have been searching for and that we are now happy to call our home.
Years ago, Maya Angelou spoke to a room packed full of eager college students in Minnesota, and she looked at us and seemed to see right inside of me when she said, “We have all been paid for.” And she implored us, as young adults, not only to honor the sacrifices of those who shaped us and made it possible for us to be there, but also to see our purpose as paying a deposit forward for future generations. Today I am so deeply grateful to be in the presence of those family and friends who have guided, shaped, and paid for me. Thank you to the members of my family’s Thanksgiving Crew, to my former students, and to my forever colleagues for being here today. Thank you, Mom and Dad, and to my sister, for guiding me with hands that were firm but flexible, thoughtful and playful, and always loving. Thank you to Eli and Jo, for reminding me why we do what we do. And special thanks to Courtney for your strength and your faith in me throughout our days on this trail together.
We, as a community, have also been paid for by the sacrifices of those who have come before. And today we are all standing on the shoulders of these giants. For 275 years, Moravian has received inspired leadership and in turn has inspired leadership in others. We gather here today as a strong, enduring community, united in purpose. For it is these leaders who have built our strength, endurance and unity: Mr. David Davey, Dr. Peter Sipple, Mr. Barnaby Roberts, and Mr. George King. As headmasters, we seek to carry on the legacy of 275 years of visionary and principled leadership that began with a 16-year-old girl who saw a need and made it her purpose in life to meet that need for as many people as possible. It seems fitting, I think, that the largest shoulders we stand on as headmasters belong to the smallest of bodily frames in Benigna von Zinzendorf.
Today does mark a new chapter in our history, but I want to begin it with a sentiment that has been spoken in this room before, and even by people who are sitting here today: Our name is who we are. In the faith and practice of the Moravian tradition, we find the essence of who we are as a school. The Moravian Church, in pursuing its mission to connect humans to God’s love and compassion, has responded to the challenges and the opportunities of this world for over 500 years by staying focused on its purpose. In the Church’s foundations, we see the divine inspirations from liturgy and from music, we see the strength in a theology forged by inclusivity, and we see the unwavering commitment to the human spirit that unites the faithful across a wide diaspora. These ecumenical ideals are beautifully expressed in the Church’s credo: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.
When we apply this framework to our purpose as a school, we see clearly what has sustained our educational mission and community for so long and what will sustain us into the future: we know what is essential, we trust the judgment of others, and we believe in love.
Our school’s mission reminds us directly of two truths that we know are essential to our educational purpose: only an atmosphere of love and understanding can lead students to fully reach their potential, and a young person’s full development requires the tending of the mind, the body, and the spirit. These truths lead us to our focus on student-centered instruction, where we elevate the needs and the sensitivities of the student. We, as educators, at times talk as if this is a new initiative, but Moravian has been uniquely aware and adaptable to the needs of students from its earliest days as a school in Bethlehem. Mr. Paul Peucker, director and archivist for the Moravian Archives, recently reminded our faculty, staff, and administration of this when he read us a previous era’s teaching guidelines. The school’s leaders instructed teachers to rethink how they themselves had been taught and to learn new methods in order to better see and adapt to the needs of their learners, and that was in the 1740s and 1750s. And while not new, this is a truth we must always see with fresh eyes so that we are correctly noticing the needs and passions of our students today.
Something else that has been in our core from the beginning but that we see anew in today’s contemporary context is our duty to steward our collective resources. I suspect this is different at Moravian because our long history is tied also to this particular place. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about taking a long view both of the environment and of human communities. We see learning to use resources wisely, with regard for those who came before and those who come next, as a virtue. In learning sustainability, our students are learning how to see the impacts of decisions beyond the here and now. Sustainable practices teach us to give and to take, to harvest and then return energies back into a cycle. We save seeds from this year to begin next year’s garden. We take nutrients from our lunch and we return it to the soil through composting. We harness light into solar power and return it to the grid to light other people’s lights. We talk with our students about being in the moment, so they can return energy to their bodies, in order to better sustain their incredible efforts. Building newly sustainable practices will be a defining challenge in our contemporary world, and stewardship of humans and of the earth is now re-emerging as a unifying principle across our school.
Now the nonessentials are clearly not unimportant, but they are matters in which we understand there to be more than one acceptable answer. As educators, we love open-ended dialogues, because they induce multiple perspectives, they encourage creative thinking, and they spark critical problem solving. A key benefit of the Moravian approach to independent schooling is that we eschew one answer and collectively we assemble multiple ideas that can co-exist.
This Moravian approach has the potential to put to rest what has been a central instructional challenge of our time at schools across the world: paper or digital, face to face or mediated online, traditional or technological. In truth, these are false dichotomies for it is no longer all one or all the other. In the age we enter now, the most sought-after classrooms will be ones that value multiple paths to understanding and that encourage teachers and learners to choose from a targeted range of tools and techniques. We can lead the way because we have dedicated teachers and inspired students who together value a wide set of tools and we have classrooms that reflect the diversity of those who come into them each day. These are the hybrid, the blended, the flipped classrooms, but they are also the socratic, the personal, and the discovery classrooms. These are classrooms where there is trust in the process of teaching and learning, where there is liberty in instructional choices, and where that liberty generates knowledge creation, not just knowledge retention.
And, finally, in understanding the difference that Moravian makes, we come to love. Across the country and the world, our top school leaders, curriculum designers, and educational researchers are paying special attention to how personal connection can unlock human potential, or inhibit it, but the list of critical priorities is long: character education, grit, non-cognitive skills, pro-social habits, growth mindsets, social emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and cultural competency. At Moravian, we can sum up all this critical research with one word: love. Why are so many people intimidated by talking about love? It is love, after all, that connects us, that makes us want to help strangers, that drives us to drop everything when a loved one needs us. In the life of the mind, love also sharpens teaching and deepens learning when we make it a priority to connect students with their passions, when we connect learning with the problems of the real world, and when we give young people the permission to imagine how they can change the world. We are blessed that ours is a community that proclaims love in our mission statement, that knows we must talk about love and all its forms and its shapes and its purposes, and that ours is a community that sees the glorious possibilities in each child.
These are the reasons I am humbled and grateful to accept the charge from Moravian Academy and why I feel so inspired to serve as headmaster at our school. Thank you.