It started just as families turned onto Williams Hill Sept. 1. They were greeted by the smiling faces of Dean of Admissions Miles Bailey and Dean of Student Life A-men Rasheed, as well as members of the security team. From there, at the top of the Hill, the Prefect Board added more smiles — and cheers that could be heard throughout campus.
It was a seamless start to Westminster School’s 135th school year. The campus welcomed 435 students, a 5% increase from last year. Of the 435, 161 are new students. Students hail from 26 states including California, Idaho, Missouri, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming; and 19 countries including Australia, Bermuda, Columbia, Liberia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Ten new faculty members include an economics teacher and a Mental Health Programming Coordinator, as well as an additional architecture teacher, among others.
The student body is roughly 77% boarding, 23% day, 25% students of color and 14% international students. There are a total of 120 Sixth Formers, 112 in the Fifth Form, 111 Fourth Formers and 92 in the Third Form.
Move-in was done in stages but by about 1 p.m. on Sept. 2, almost all the new and returning boarders had hung up their clothes, made their beds, and greeted new and returning day students. There was time for a hike at nearby Penwood State Park or maybe a snack at Brockelman Grill.
Then it was time to meet with advisors and eventually attend a cookout and prepare for the all-school event which took place Friday night and included kickball and an ice cream social. Saturday’s activities included trips to the local stores, games on the quad and a test of knowledge with school-wide trivia.
On Saturday, Sept. 3, Head of School Elaine White welcomed everyone to the assembly in Armstrong Atrium of Armour Academic Center. White explained that “Westminster taps a student to give the first address of the year to the entire school community. Not a faculty member, not the head of school. Students are at the core of our community, and your voices are powerful and strong. Use them well.”
Head Prefect Kade Smith welcomed students and said: “Attending Westminster isn’t like attending any other school. When you applied for a spot here, the admissions team reviewed your application and they saw your potential. Something captured the admissions office’s attention, and they knew you would improve our community in some measurable way.”
He continued saying: “This year, we will hear a great deal about belonging. One small idea with an enormous impact. Belonging is important, for many reasons. Seniors it’s our job to pave the way and make sure every student on campus feels like they belong in our community. I know when I arrived at Westy as a freshman, which seems like eons ago, I was petrified as anyone would be. Being new is uncomfortable, it’s nerve-wracking, it can be overwhelming. I was feeling exactly the same way so many of you are feeling right now — but fear not, we got you!”
Kade then relayed a story about how in his Third Form year then Head Prefect Scott Wilson ’19 would check up on him and a few other day students in the Gitterman Family Student Lounge. It was a simple, “Hey, what’s up?” or asking about classes or how the students were doing, but it made a big difference.
“Someone was checking in on me. Scoobi [Scott] extended himself. And with his small gesture I knew that someone genuinely cared about me,” said Kade. “Now let’s multiply that gesture by five-hundred plus — including faculty — and imagine what we can create at Westminster. In the end, we are the sum of our parts, and I hope that returning students and faculty will ALL extend themselves. Kindness, gratitude, and empathy are simply immeasurable and invaluable qualities we all contribute here. Be kind, be inclusive, help everyone belong in our community.”
After Kade made his remarks it was time for the pin ceremony, which celebrates the Sixth Form. Head of School Graham Cole began the practice as a way of recognizing the Sixth Form and emphasizing their responsibility as leaders to uphold the core values of character, community, involvement and balance. Sixth Formers wear their pin all year as a physical reminder of that responsibility.
Underformers are expected to commit themselves to do their best to live up to the community standards, and embrace that commitment when they sign the school ledger, another tradition begun by Graham Cole, at the new student sign in ceremony, which occurs in the chapel immediately following the pin ceremony.
The Sixth Form class designs its unique pin in the spring of their Fifth Form year. That design is also emblazoned on their Sixth Form flag, a practice begun by former Head of School Bill Philip. The flag then resides in the head of school’s office for the year, unless, of course, it needed to call a Hill Holiday.
Classes began officially Monday, Sept. 5.