In the first All-School Meeting (ASM) of the new year, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Assistant Head for Residential Life, proposed a challenge to Andover students. In the upcoming weeks, where the days are still short and the ground can be frozen with snow, Elliott challenged students to find three campus crushes: one real crush, one inspirational crush, and one mystery crush. In doing so, Elliot hopes to plant seeds for connection between students, as she references her own highschool friends as the best gift Andover could have given her.
After returning from winter break and a week of online classes, Andover students gathered virtually for ASM on January 7. In addition to reminders about masking and in-person protocols, the thematic message of the ASM speakers was the shared emphasis on students finding connections with one another while still amidst an outlasting global pandemic.
Following a welcome from Head of School Dr. Kington, Student Body Co-Presidents Mary Muromcew ’22 and Sean Meng ’22 offered advice to students on how to build a family at Andover. Comparing love to flowers, Muromcew and Sean reminded students that just as some flowers bloom in the winter, opportunities for love also bloom in the winter. Co-Presidents encouraged students to embrace and cultivate this possibility.
“Find time to connect with your loved ones at school, in the library or over FaceTime. Make quality time with your peers a priority in your day. Even more importantly, we hope that you will take this term as an opportunity to expand your support networks here. I personally, though inadvertently, have become family with my peers. My favorite [Juniors,] friends I’ve met at the Nine Square net, the amazing people I’ve met through new classes who I also now comfortably share moments of my day with. Family is everywhere. And we hope you can make an effort to find your people,” said Meng.
Echoing Muromcew and Sean’s words, Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director at Sykes Wellness Center, encouraged students to prioritize their well-being by, among other practices, reaching out to people on and off campus. Dr. Patel also spoke on the importance of masking conscientiously and abiding by other public health guidelines.
Finally, Elliott, who will be departing Andover in July to serve as Head of Student Life at Choate Rosemary Hall, also emphasized the theme of finding joy through connection and friendship. Sharing several personal anecdotes, Elliott reflected on how the people she met and the relationships she built have been the “greatest gift” of her years at Andover.
Elliott’s reflections resonated with many students, including Gabby Edokpa ’24 and Chenault Ellis ’22. Ellis appreciated Elliott’s storytelling, as he believed it was heartfelt and authentic. Edokpa similarly, found Elliott’s personal stories to be unique and compelling.
“[Dean Elliott’s speech] was one of the more realistic things I’ve heard a faculty member say when it comes to finding connections at Andover. People always say ‘find your people’ here. But I feel like when she talked about wanting to fit in with a group of people, and the whole process of getting to know people, it carried more weight than when faculty members just say ‘find your people’ and leave it at that,” said Edokpa.
Edokpa also shared her own experiences with some of the challenges and opportunities for finding connections at Andover. As a new student, Edokpa made friends with those around her, almost reflexively, before she had even figured out who exactly she wanted to be friends with.
“I came to the school during [Covid-19] times. I feel like a lot of the relationships that I had were based off of proximity, like dorms and classes, because there was a pandemic going on, and the school can’t let you go hang out with whoever,” said Edokpa.
Reflecting on his past friendships, Ellis shared advice he would give himself about navigating his social lives at school. Ellis admitted that as a freshman he also found himself spending time with people who were familiar to him and in close proximity. Ellis would encourage students to think carefully about what they want in a friendship, rather than what might be familiar or easy.
“There are some people I’m not fond of, and I think I’ve grown most as a person interacting with these people and realizing what I want from my friendships. And I think learning who I wanted to be friends with, I think that’s maybe made me a better friend, because I know why I’m friends with who I’m friends with, and I really value those friendships. And so I do feel a sense of connection,” said Ellis.
In a similar sense, Edokpa encouraged students to focus on creating relationships with those who might not necessarily be in close proximity to them.
“[My advice is] to be more intentional. I know, everyone says that, but especially because when you come to Andover, a lot of the opportunities [for connection] they give you are based on proximity, so if you don’t want to be friends with solely the people in your dorm, if you don’t want to have to rely on, for lack of a better term, the bare minimum that they’ve given you, you have to be intentional with the connections you make. You have to actually make an effort to talk to people outside of your classes, outside of your dorms, etc. Because other than that, it’s not really going to happen, if you don’t put effort into it,” said Edokpa.
Concluding the ASM, Elliott affirmed that the people she found at Andover helped raise her, and she wished for students to spend more time with the friends who bring you joy and inspire you to be better. Urging students to find joy in love and connection, Elliott remarked that the people at Andover are what matter most.
“As [Ed Sheeran] describes the eventual paths of his closest friends [in his song, ‘Castle on the Hill’], he sings ‘but these people raised me, and I can’t wait to go home.’ I was struck by this idea of my peers raising me. But this line absolutely rings true. The people here at Andover raised me in so many essential ways, and I feel so lucky to have shared this world with them,” said Elliott.