Vital Words – June 12th, 2015

Dear Friends,
New York City is chock full of glorious sights and the challenge is to find the time to make the most of what is available. Last month the Whitney Museum opened its new building in the far West Village in Manhattan. My wife pushed us to visit but I was reluctant to agree, dreading the crowds and feeling rushed at the close of the school year, but in the end I was glad she persevered.

The new building, designed by the internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano, is an incredible achievement, a collection of wide, long, open galleries, with a jumble of exterior terraces and staircases, made from concrete, steel, and reclaimed wood. Having done several building projects at Berkeley Carroll, in the challenging (read that as maddening) construction environment of New York City, I am astounded by the complexity and size of this building.

The Whitney has assembled a show it calls, “America is Hard to See”, highlighting pieces from their permanent collection from the beginning of the 20th century up to the present. As my wife and I made our way through the galleries my attention wandered to a guard standing in the midst of a large group of visitors, looking unusually calm. I struck up a conversation and asked him how he was holding up with the crush of the crowds. He replied, ” Oh no, the people and the art energize me and make me feel inspired.” Valuable lesson: remember to be open to what is happening around you.

The title of the Whitney show comes from a Robert Frost poem about Columbus’s failed attempt to find a route to India. Frost views the explorer first through the eyes of a child and then as an adult.

America is hard to see.
Less partial witnesses than he
In book on book have testified
They could not see it from outside-
Or inside either for that matter.

This year we have had a hard time seeing an America that we could believe in, or embrace. The school year began with us being shaken by Ferguson and we end it meditating on how we can learn from the lessons of Baltimore.

Can we see an America we want? We are all fortunate to be a part of the Berkeley Carroll school community. Through our Weekly Updates we have shared the news of the academic, athletic, and artistic awards and achievements that our students have earned by national organizations. Two weeks ago we sent our graduating seniors to some of the most selective colleges and universities in the world. And if we look even closer we can be heartened by the work in the Lower School with the Changemakers curriculum, by the efforts of our sixth graders to address world problems, by the interest of Middle and Upper School students in world affairs and by the job done by our students to aid victims in Nepal and tackling tough issues with BC Talks.

The ideal America may be hard to see but sometimes you need to know where to look for it. I extend my deepest appreciation to our teachers and students who are leading the way for us to have a brighter future. Thank you also to the guard at the Whitney for reinforcing an important lesson.

Best wishes for the summer and we look forward to continuing to energize and inspire all in September.

Robert D. Vitalo