A Rising Symbol

Year in and year out, students locked in the throes of Winter Term have eagerly gathered in Lower Right to await the announcement of Head of School Day. Last Thursday, Barbara Chase gave those students a reason to stop waiting; carrying her blue field hockey stick, she relieved the looming stress of another approaching day of classes. Regardless of the time of its arrival, the Field Hockey Stick, a beacon in winter term, has heralded an imminent day of freedom and embodied the long-standing anticipation and desire for the announcement.

Yet concurrent to the awaited appearance of the Field Hockey Stick in 2012 was a palpable sense that this year’s winter respite was more than just Mrs. Chase’s day off for the community. As she does every year, Mrs. Chase rekindled her connection between the campus population and the Head of School. While the nominal purpose of Head of School Day is to surprise Andover with an unexpected break, the event’s sentimentality symbolizes that Head of School Day embodies not only 24 hours of freedom, but 24 hours of special connection to Mrs. Chase.

The elaborate staging and planning of her announcement, the theatrics and the student body’s explosive response, however, all frame a subtext of this year’s Head of School Day: 2012 could be the last time the blue Field Hockey Stick will ever be hoisted in Paresky Commons. The dramatic staging and a tangible sense of denouement modified the typical “reveal” in which Mrs. Chase walks into Commons through the front doors. Head of School Day celebrated the legacy of Mrs. Chase’s stewardship as much as it granted the student body a needed respite.

This year, the novelty of Head of School Day demonstrates the power to change decades-old rituals. The subtle variation in Mrs. Chase’s delivery reflects the uncertainties lying in wait for Andover’s long-standing traditions.

When John G. Palfrey, Jr. begins to lead Andover in the fall, he will have many opportunities to adapt Andover traditions and mold the school’s future. Nonetheless, Mr. Palfrey’s alterations will reflect his personality and the nuances in his vision for Andover.

Though some aspects of Andover may evolve, Andover’s values and central practices will remain the same. That fact manifests itself in Head of School Day. This tradition, and its malleability, will allow Mr. Palfrey to make his own mark on the history of the Head of School’s winter gift. The underlying purpose of the day will not change: the Head of School will still connect himself to the campus community in a collective sigh of relief. Rather than reforging that connection, however, Mr. Palfrey will be building it anew.

Eighteen years ago, Mrs. Chase defined her rendition of the Head of School Day tradition. As Head of School Day has shifted, the holiday’s natural pliability has preserved the day’s legacy and will shape the future of the Head of School Day celebration.

Soon, Mr. Palfrey will have his own opportunity and obligation to define his model of Head of School Day–and the rest of the school. As the Blue Field Hockey Stick enters the school archives as an artifact of the Chase era, Mr. Palfrey will search for his own rising icon.

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXV.