Despite the Labor Day heat wave, the 2023-24 academic year got off to a cool start. On Sept. 4, as carloads of families reached the top of Williams Hill, they were welcomed by a crowd of cheering Sixth Formers donning cowboy hats and ringing cowbells.
“Everybody is soaking up the heat today,” said Sydney Courtmanche ’24, who was wearing a Martlet mascot suit. “So, we’re taking turns in the hot suit,” she added cheerfully. While Sixth Formers greeted incoming families with a chorus of whoops and hollers, faculty members and students stood ready in front of dorms, poised to help move students into their rooms.
“Wow, I wasn’t prepared for all this help,” beamed Steve Pleau ’92 as he popped open his trunk in front of Squibb House and a crew of students rushed to unload it.
Pleau arrived on campus with his son, Jake, a new Fourth Former, after driving more than two hours from New Hampshire. “This is so nice, I don’t have to do a thing — unfortunately, I don’t have tip money,” he joked.
By early afternoon, most of the students had unpacked and settled into their dorms, reconnected with their classmates and were introduced to new ones. In the afternoon, students met with their advisors and afterward participated in an all-school team-building activity on Hovey Field, followed by a cook-out dinner and an evening carnival.
With the start of the 136th school year, Westminster officially welcomed 430 students, hailing from 22 states and 20 countries, including Vietnam, Uganda, Hong Kong and Slovakia, to campus. This year, the student body is 76% boarding, 24% day, 30% students of color and 11% international students. There are a total of 116 Sixth Formers, 112 Fifth Formers, 114 Fourth Formers and 88 Third Formers. Across all forms, 140 new students joined the community.
On Sept. 5, the first official day of school, Head of School Elaine White, briefly welcomed the entire community in an all-school assembly in Armstrong Atrium of Armour Academic Center. She urged students to play an active role in the community before turning the podium over to Head Prefect Robert Yalda ’24, who delivered the first address of the year to the entire community.
In his remarks, Yalda said the hardest part of his application process to Westminster was answering the question, “What is one saying you live by?”
“For a while I didn’t know how to answer. I was hesitant. I was confused because frankly I didn’t have one,” he said. Ultimately, he realized he was too comfortable in the life he was leading. “I knew it needed to change. So, my response: Seek discomfort,” he said.
After being admitted to Westminster, Yalda expected a measure of discomfort would accompany him on his journey. Once at school, he truly realized the environment Westminster cultivates. “With endless possibilities at my disposal, it allowed me to take more risks, try new things and ultimately be uncomfortable. Before enrolling, I’d been one to say ‘no’ numerous times because I was scared. But now, I’ve learned to change that ‘no’ into ‘yes,’” he said.
Yalda challenged everyone in attendance to step out of their comfort zone. “Try and find something that causes discomfort. It doesn’t matter the magnitude, just do it. Engage, seek discomfort. Do whatever it is that makes you uncomfortable,” he said. “Join a club, try a new sport or instrument, join the chorale, try out for the musical, write for the newspaper. It doesn’t matter the activity, just get out there. Be fearless rather than fearful.”
Following his address, Sixth Formers led a procession toward the Sixth Form Lawn for the Pin Ceremony, a tradition started by Former Head of School Graham Cole. Each Sixth Former receives a pin, which they wear throughout the school year that signifies their responsibility as leaders to uphold the school’s core values of character, community, involvement and balance. Both the pin and the Sixth Form flag are designed by Sixth Formers during their fifth form spring.
Next, in the Sign-In Ceremony, another school tradition begun by Cole, under formers and new students commit to adhering to school values by signing their names into the school leger, marking the final event of Opening Days.