Icy Cool Start to School Year at Welcome Assembly

“Are you happy????” is the question Head of School Dr. Rodney De Jarnett asked the entire Dwight-Englewood (D-E) school body at the start of the 2014-2015 Welcome Assembly, an annual tradition where all three divisions gather in the Large Gym of D-E’s Modell’s Sports Complex to kick off the school year. Happiness and well-being will be a prevalent theme throughout the academic year, as “happiness comes first,” according to Dr. De Jarnett.

“If you’re really happy, then everything else follows,” he continued, adding that “happy students retain 30-40% more information!”

After giving some suggestions on how to be happy, such as snacking on mixed nuts and faking a smile to yourself, Dr. De Jarnett provided the number one way to becoming happy: “Being kind and grateful.”

This, in turn, creates a Ripple Effect: “Behavior (good and bad) is contagious. Walk away from unhappy. Walk towards happy. And don’t forget your responsibility to our community – you too are responsible for helping others be happy.”

Dr. De Jarnett also reflected on D-E’s Mission Statement, emphasizing the words “embrace diversity” – something that actually drew him to our school in the first place. He then urged everyone to “continue to be authentic about our diversity, willing to tell people who we are.”

Circling back to happiness and wellness, Dr. De Jarnett then suggested to all that a Planned Time Out (PTO) should be scheduled throughout the day “to regenerate and recharge,” following the questions proposed by psychologist Karen Horneffer-Ginter: “Why are so many of us so awful at taking breaks? What is it about our culture and conditioning as adults that prevents us from stepping away from our seemingly important tasks in order to briefly recharge?”

At the halfway mark of the assembly, which happened to fall on the 13th anniversary of September 11, 2001, a moment was taken to remember 9/11.

He then offered two suggestions – firstly, the 20-second rule to do smaller tasks: “Do little things at a time. Take a 20-second break, work on it, take a break.”

His second is a simple, albeit difficult, one to do: sleep! Adding a half-hour of sleep to your routine or using your alarm clock in reverse can help in a multitude of ways.

Student Council President Spencer Papay ‘15 then addressed the school, urging his fellow Dwightees big and small to acknowledge just how much D-E teachers want to help their students and help them succeed. “They care so much and are willing to help every step of the way,” said Spencer, adding, “Express your gratitude; thank them on a regular basis.”

Several performances were interspersed with Dr. De Jarnett’s remarks, including dance by The Boyz, a group of seven Middle and Upper School dancers including Ryan Drobner ‘18, Peter Kang ‘17, Ehren Layne ‘19, David Lysenko ‘15 and Jalen Watson ‘18; Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” by pianist Ajay Sachdev ‘21; a duet featuring singers Maggie Colquitt ‘20 and Scarlett Diaz ‘19, “Anything You Can Do” from the musical Annie Get Your Gun; and finally new sophomore Lawrence Chiang ‘17 on the violin, performing a so-called “impossible to play” caprice by famed violinist Niccolo Paganini, “Caprice No. 5 in A minor.”

Before the grand finale, Dr. De Jarnett showed renderings of the Hajjar STEM Center that is currently being constructed and is set to open Fall 2015 – and with the addition of this new building, reminding everyone to “be grateful for what we have, as gratefulness is a way to happiness.” Then came his challenge for all “to be happy… to accept the responsibility to help our community be happy… to take care of yourself and others… to treasure all we have here… and live your life with empathy and caring for others. The world needs that now more than ever!”

And, if you haven’t guessed by now – having been challenged “by many” and even though he had already made his donation – our very own Head of School had not one but two large coolers of ice water dumped over him simultaneously, in the spirit of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that became a social media phenomenon over the summer.

Despite being soaking wet, Dr. De Jarnett was able to still wrap up the assembly aptly, as follows:  “Have a great year everyone!”

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