“A vibrant, ethical community that embraces diversity, the Academy prepares students for leadership in a rapidly changing world that requires global understanding, environmental stewardship, and dedication to service.”
These are the words used to describe the Deerfield community in Deerfield’s mission statement. This is the environment each student is supposed to uphold both at Deerfield and in the real world. Traditions, such as the dress code and Evensong, play an equally important role in forming the Deerfield community, many of which have been in place years before this mission statement. So, the question remains: does Deerfield truly hold the values of its mission statement as highly as its traditional culture?
In the past, Deerfield has struggled to resolve the debate over which ideal it holds in higher esteem, understanding that there may be conflicting visions. But, as seen through debates with the current administration, it seems as though Deerfield tends to resort to its tradition over the more progressive ideals of its mission.
In previous years, students cited the use of “amen” at sit-down meals as an example of Deerfield’s religion-based traditions. Debates over this controversy were answered with the simple words, “It’s tradition.” This simply isn’t enough to resolve the concern.
We must better explain the reasoning behind our choices and values. If we cannot support them, maybe they’re not worth keeping. A better response might have been, “The word Amen is used as an instrument for global thanks. It also allows for Deerfield students to have a moment of reflection before their meal.” Tradition should never be used as the lone justification for an act.
Last year, Deerfield faced the tough discussion concerning a new or revised dress code. This process began after Dr. Curtis sent an email to the female student body, addressing the concerns voiced by a family over the outfits many female students wore.
Through weeks of debating over the re-invention of a dress code, many external community members began to respond with the now-predictable words: “It’s tradition.” Many students felt that this response was ill-satisfying. They called for a school wide discussion with Dr. Curtis, Ms. Creagh, and other members of the Board of Trustees. However, with the finalized dress code and the new addition of blazers, the campus feels even more traditional than before.
Before moving forward to the solution, it is necessary to note that not all Deerfield traditions are bad. In a community such as Deerfield’s, it is important to keep tradition alive. There are many examples that come to mind when thinking of positive traditions, including touching the D, knocking the Horses’ Head, Choate Day, and the Deerfield Seal.
But grey areas begin to form when traditions interfere with the beliefs and expressions of others (these may include celebrating Christmas over other important national holidays, ill-representation of other beliefs’ celebrations, and holding baccalaureate in a church despite the fact that it has no religious ties).
The solution I deem appropriate, as we march into a new school year with a new Head of School at the reins, is to realign our mission statement to both reflect upon our cherished traditional values and promote the inclusivity needed for a supportive community.
By having community discussions between students and faculty members, we can begin to shape a new definition of Deerfield, one that all students feel proud to represent. This change could be as simple as adding the phrase: “implementing positive traditions into everyday community life” to the Deerfield motto. Looking forward, we need to evolve as a community so that we might reconcile our longtime traditions with our hopes for the road ahead.