Letter from the Head of School

November 1, 2018

Dear Grace Community:

This past weekend I was fortunate to have time with my college daughter at her Parents’ Weekend. Amidst the joy of seeing her in her new school, I was heartbroken to read about the horrific shooting in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Simultaneously, a shooting by a white man at a Kroger in Kentucky killed two victims who were black. It deeply pains me that these events are feeling regular and persistent. My first instinct is to try to put it aside as it can be too much to take in if I really sit with it. I imagine it was the same for all of you as you were immersed in your time with family and friends while hearing of yet another act of hate unleashed so senselessly in a place of worship and a grocery store — places that are meant to be safe.

I also took some time on Sunday to listen to an NPR story about the service for Matthew Shepard that occurred at the National Cathedral on Friday. I was moved to tears hearing Bishop Gene Robinson welcome Matthew “home.” Matthew’s parents have waited 20 years to find a final resting place for their son who was so senselessly killed. Though we have evolved as a society in our acceptance of those who are LGBTQ, we are continuing to witness ignorance, fear, and hate and its tragic outcomes for those who are considered “other.”

And so began another week at Grace on Monday morning. Before I left my office to go and welcome our joyous students, I came across a quote from the Mayor of Pittsburgh. In a recent interview, he said, “We will defeat hate with love. We will be a city of compassion and we will be welcoming to all people.”

The Mayor’s words and the love that surrounds Grace brought me back to our theme for the year: practice compassion. In the end, this is the heart of our work and what we must continue to focus on as a community. Learning to truly understand the heart of another is the best way we can face the hate and violence unfolding in the world. We teach this in small and big ways. I see it underway in classrooms with compassion boards, stories being read about kindness, and conversations about behaviors in children where teachers lean in with compassionate curiosity. We model compassion each day in the hopes that we are helping our students grow into adults who truly care for others.

This latest mass shooting in a place of worship took me back to the speech President Obama gave in 2015 following the shooting at an AME Church in Charleston:

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancour and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other – but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

President Obama’s vision of grace spoke to me so powerfully back then. It has been a guiding beacon to me in our work here at Grace School; we can always have God’s love in our midst and with grace we can lean into fear with courage and a commitment to be and do better.

On Wednesday morning, I greeted Chaplain Susan Thon (Nana Susan) before chapel. She had attended the service for Matthew Shepard on Friday, and shared with me the story recounted by Bishop Robinson of the police officer who came upon Matthew on the road in Wyoming back in 1998. Standing beside Matthew was a deer that had been with him through the night. The police officer said of the deer, ‘“That was the good Lord, no doubt in my mind.” Robinson shared, “And there’s no doubt in my mind either. God has always loved Matt.”

Where there is dark, there is also light; and in our school, God is always present. And so is grace. May we welcome the light and continue to show our students how to love and be compassionate.

Jen Danish

For some additional words of wisdom, I offer you a letter from Peter Baily, the Executive Director of AIMS; and one from Nicole Lee, who was with us last year, that includes tips on how to have courageous conversations with children.