After its first day of school on Wednesday, Battle Ground Academy held their annual convocation Friday morning, where they introduced new students, and faculty members gave a charge for the new school year.
Because BGA is split into two locations — the Harpeth Campus for kindergarten–fourth grade and the Glen Echo Campus for five–12 — this ceremony provides the lower-school students an opportunity to meet the upper-school students and hear an invocation for the year.
Head of School Will Kesler said BGA has held this start-of-school congregation of students for the last few years.
“It’s supposed to be a really nice combination of fun, energy but also kind of a serious tone of ‘what do we want to be as a community for the year?’” he said.
As the returning students found their seats in the gymnasium at the Glen Echo Campus, BGA faculty danced in along to “ABC” by The Jackson 5. Then, in came the fifth-graders, new this year to the upper school, followed by the kindergarteners — class of 2032, can you believe it? — eyes bright with excitement and nervous tears.
Kesler stepped up to the podium to welcome the students, beginning with the Native American proverb, “You never step in the same river twice,” explaining that BGA is like a river, with incoming students constantly changing the body, though the structure of the institution stays the same. He explained the choices students and faculty make every day define what BGA is, challenging those in the room to be thoughtful and kind.
“What you think about is what you become, and the idea that you can actually control your own thoughtfulness, that you can think before you speak, that you can think before you act is critically important to how we make decisions … and the way we’re going to treat other people,” he said.
Kesler then welcomed this year’s speaker, selected by the senior class, Chair of the English Department Leah Handelsman, who started her speech with a story from her childhood.
She said, when she was 6 years old and playing on the sidewalk, her mother told her in Spanish to step aside to let a man walk by. As Handelsman hopped off the sidewalk, the man turned to her mother and told her to “speak American.”
Handelsman explained how these harsh words stuck with her, making her insecure about her first language and driving her to swear off speaking Spanish, even to her Ecuadorian mother and Spanish-teaching father.
“I became aware for the first time in my life that I was different from almost everyone I knew and that, somehow, there was something wrong with that,” Handelsman said.
After running away from home — three houses down the road before trailing back — she gave up this vow, but the insecurity remained years later until she realized that being different was a good thing, and these unique pieces made up her identity.
She explained that this journey of figuring out where she belonged and how she fit in is a lot like the experience of a new student. She encouraged students to learn from those who are different from them and to reach out and encourage those who may not yet feel like they belong.
“It took me a long time to be able to recognize my own differences as important pieces of who I am and to realize that being bilingual and bicultural has been the greatest blessing of my life,” Handelsman said. “My hope for you is that you realize that all of us, with all of our differences, belong here. Whether you’re in kindergarten or fifth grade or ninth grade or 12th grade, or even already a grownup, I challenge you to make a commitment this year to learning about, from and with people who are different from you.”
With that, each grade went its own way for another day of learning about the world and the people around them.
To learn more about Battle Ground Academy, visit battlegroundacademy.org.