Happy Holidays from Head of School Jen Danish

It is a few days before we all depart for the Christmas holiday, and I am in my office watching two young deer with full antlers walk across the rainy soccer field. As they walk slowly, I am wondering if any students can see them out their classroom windows. It is almost a magical thing to see them in full view in the middle of the day. I relish the stillness they bring, especially amidst all of the chatter and excitement just beyond my office door at this moment. Even with all the wild activity that happens at schools in the lead-up to Christmas, we can always find a little space to stop, breathe, and reflect. Sometimes we need a reminder to take that moment.

Yesterday, that moment came for me when I was leaving school after dark. As I emerged from the building, there was our tree all lit up with lights. It took me back to the Christmas Tree lighting of last week and made me remember one of my very favorite things about this tradition: Santa Claus.

In December 2016, after three short months as Head and a steep but joyful learning curve in getting to know our community, we decided to bring back an old Grace tradition: the Christmas Tree Lighting. It was a pivotal moment for the community and for my leadership — our Student Council members had lobbied hard to bring this tradition back, and, wanting to create a culture of student-centered service, I agreed somewhat reluctantly. I had heard what a big undertaking this event had been in the past, and also knew that we would need someone to play the pivotal role of Santa. And so, in a moment of inspiration, I approached Craig Kirby to ask him to be our Santa. He did not even hesitate but, with his trademark enthusiasm, agreed to suit up.

A man of faith, Craig is a believer that good will come if we are persistent and steadfast in our commitment. He talks with passion about the power of inclusion and diversity in our community. In all the time I have worked with him, he has brought that enthusiasm and joy to his work as a trustee. Craig exudes gratitude for the ways in which his daughter Hannah (GEDS Class of 2015) was able to be seen and loved at Grace, and credits her years here with her current success as a high school student at St. John’s College High School. And he has cheerfully served as our Santa Claus for the last 4 years.

I cannot express just how moving it is to see the looks on our students’ faces when Craig makes his entrance every year. The joy and the thrill comes from the way that he is so authentic and loving, but also because he doesn’t look like the Santa they see in movies, in picture books, or on TV. That first year, a student came up to me and asked, “Are you sure that’s Santa? Isn’t he supposed to be white?” When I answered back that I wasn’t sure but that this Santa — our Santa — was black, this student looked back up to me and said, “Okay, cool.”

One of the best ways for our students to feel a sense of belonging is to see themselves reflected in the classmates and adults in our community who look like them. It is a powerful thing to have many classmates and not just a few who look like you. While we continue to strive towards even greater diversity amongst our faculty, we make conscious daily choices to incorporate black artists into our assemblies, to choose books with characters who are black and brown, and to center people in our community who look like the very diverse student body we are.

It is no accident that Craig agreed to be our Santa, because he possesses so many of the qualities we associate with St. Nick: kindness, charity, magic, optimism, and love. And also, because he looks like the majority of our students here at Grace. His ebullient entrance at the Tree Lighting interrupts their thinking about what this famous figure is supposed to look like. It’s a small but perhaps critical moment of inclusion for our students and our wider community.

From all of us Grace, a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for an auspicious beginning to 2020. May you have ample time with family and friends in the weeks ahead.