Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

A mere 300 years ago it would have been a grave insult, perhaps enough even to initiate a duel, if one were called an “enthusiast.” In the years following the “Glorious Revolution” (the overthrow of King James II of England) displays of enthusiasm were simply not acceptable. It was believed that any such exuberance would lead to further anarchy. My how things have changed!

Any regular reader of his column knows that I am a champion of enthusiasts, so it’s a very good thing I’m not in the British Isles in the years following the Revolution of 1688! Enthusiasm, it seems to me, is a bright light in a society that often prefers a more shadowy existence. Nowhere is this shadowy existence more evident than in the years of late middle school and early high school. So very often we see the painful duality of a student trying her best to remain invisible while at the same time begging to be noticed. I used the feminine pronoun, but this is not gender specific.

Subfusc clothing. Head down. Bored expression. But maybe I’ll put just a bit of highlight in my hair and see if it’s okay with my very critical peers. And the anxiety meter hits the red line during the trial run.

Once in a while, however, there’s that student who has bright eyes. He has good bearing. She radiates confidence. A smile is often poised to form at a moment’s notice. These, alas, are rare. They are clearly the product of some fertile ground that nurtured a spirit within them that is readily evident to everyone else. They are enthusiastic about living. These are the leaders of tomorrow who say “Life is great today! Tomorrow is going to be even better!”

In addition to teaching the Three R’s, schools have a tremendous impact, perhaps second only to family, in the formation of a child’s demeanor. In many cases they may be the primary impact. Over and over again we hear from adults who, when recounting their schooling years, don’t remember precisely when they learned the classification of organisms or the definition of situational irony. They can, however, recall in precise detail a moment of keen embarrassment or praise. For better or for worse, the relationships among students and teachers are powerful as we proceed to adulthood.

The word “enthusiasm” comes to us from the Greek. It originally meant that a soul was stirred by God. Its meaning is akin to inspiration. I’m not so sure that our current understanding is very far removed from the original. Recognize it. Celebrate it. Live it.

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN