Julia Mills ’22
For all but 65 Mercersburg students, the 2021-22 school year will be like no other. The 65 are the only students of the current 445 that have experienced a full, COVID-free school year. As a result, the community this year is also like no other: a work in progress, continuously evolving into something entirely new, while simultaneously harkening back to the past. Thankfully, however, the new school year unfolded with some beloved traditions from previous, more “normal” years.
Kicking off the year were the annual Leadership Labs for prefects, peer group and mentor group leaders, and student government members. The weekend before registration bustled with activities designed to prepare leaders for their responsibilities in the community. Students participated in rotations geared towards community values, such as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, letter-writing, role-playing, and a review of the Blue Book. Assistant Dean of Students Coleman Weibley said, “I think the most important thing for starting the school year with everyone back is building community. One of the most important goals of the week, from inbound to PGAs, to dorm and class activities, was building a sense of community and belonging for all of our students.”
A new aspect of the school’s traditional Inbound was Culture Clinics. Required for all students, both new and returning, and led by student leaders, Culture Clinics focused on school traditions, values, and, more mundanely, dining hall procedures. Assistant Head of School for Student Life and Culture Chris Howes said, “Our goal for the Culture Clinics was to reconnect to the traditions and experiences that are important to us and our community. More importantly, they were to clearly state what matters to us and to share what we value.”
Perhaps the most adored day of opening week is the Sunday of the Convocation. While the ceremony wasn’t held in the stunning Irvine Chapel, students and faculty were able to join together and celebrate in the Hale Field House. Student Body President Avo Reid ’22 delivered a speech to open the ceremony. Reid said, “Honestly, [it] was a weird juxtaposition wearing formal dress but being in the perpetually sweaty field house. The mic hit me in the nose once. It felt good to speak, though. It didn’t feel obligatory; I actually had something to say.”
Esteemed faculty member Jim Malone delivered the Convocation address. His unique speech listed the accomplishments of past and current students that have strongly impacted him. Chris Jetter ‘22, one of the students mentioned, said, “It felt unreal being shouted out by someone so respected in the community.” Malone said, “To me, Mercersburg means quality relationships between students and their peers and students and the faculty. It also means being committed to learning to understand the world and how it works, and developing a desire to help others less fortunate than we are here.”
Although some key aspects of Mercersburg may still be missing, the community is striving to bring them back. All in all, many students and faculty are content just to be back together. Howes said, “While the core of who we are remains strong, we still have some ways to go in terms of really connecting and caring for each other, but I know we will get there.”