Being On Mission: Convocation 2019

Phil Peck
At Holderness we deliberately build community through the people we bring in and programs we support. Today I want to share one story about people who showed us what it means to be a mission-centered community and talk about one unique program that is hitting a milestone. 
A dear friend, parent of two alumni, and our former Board Chair Bob Hall would constantly say, “Holderness is on mission.”  What does that mean? First, let me read you the mission, and then let me give you some examples that support Bob’s belief in Holderness. Our mission: 

Holderness School fosters equally in each of us the resources of the mind, body, and spirit in the creation of a caring community, inspiring all to work for the betterment of humankind and God’s creation. 

Let me read it again -- but slower -- and I want you to think about it being a bold call to action.

Holderness School fosters equally in each of us the resources of the mind, body, and spirit in the creation of a caring community, inspiring all to work for the betterment of humankind and God’s creation. 

That call to action is certainly aligned with the goals our seniors have for us this year. While they don’t have the details of their SMART -- Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely -- goals yet, we know their goals are ultimately relational in nature and ask us to actively be empathetic to make our community stronger. 

Our mission statement’s call to action is evident in each of our lives every single hour of every single day.  Do our actions help create a caring community? Are we working for the betterment of others? 

What does it look like?  It is simple things like what Mr. Lin referenced when he said, “ Put down our phones, slow down, open our eyes and ears to people and places around us.” Say hello on the path, be fully present for your job, pick up the plate somebody left on the table, or a piece of trash on the walkway. Be fully present in the small moments. 

It is also evident in our community in big moments, and one of those happened this summer.

This summer we received several torrential rainstorms. Around midnight on Saturday, June 29, the internet server shut down. Early Sunday morning, Ms. Currie drove into school and went into the Alfond Library basement where the server is located. She was shocked to find almost a foot of water surrounding all our electronics.  During the construction, a drain had gotten blocked and water was diverted into the Alfond Basement.

The basement of Alfond is also where our archives are kept as well as many valuable paintings stored. About a third of the archival material was either underwater or seriously damaged by the water. 

Within hours of discovering the accident, the mission’s call to action kicked in.  Although the school’s internet was down, text messages and phone calls resulted in over 30 members of the Holderness family coming to the rescue, complete with rain boots and flashlights.

Members of the maintenance and housekeeping teams came in to pump out the water, set up battery-powered lights, carry damaged goods from the basement, and put down plastic to protect the upstairs carpet from water. Teachers, administrators, and students on and off campus came over to help, including a very pregnant Ms. Berry. Family members of colleagues came over, including Macy's and Mr. Arsenault’s parents, Mr. Eccleston’s son Michael, and Rob Bushaw’s wife, Nicole. 

Ms. Riley, our Chief Operating Officer, was on the phone with a restorationist, who just by chance took a cold call from an unknown number on a Sunday morning.  He told us what to do to ensure our best hope of saving the archives. These steps included having all the paper material put in plastic or garbage bags and froze -- Immediately! The kitchen team made space in the walk-in freezer and hundreds of bags of paper materials were transported to the freezer before being sent to a facility in Boston a few days later.  

The library was abuzz with an army of Holderness folks being directed by archivist Joanne Wernig. People hauling wet materials from the basement, taking picture frames apart from valuable art, pulling thousands of wet slides out of their plastic sleeves, spreading out hundreds of damaged photos to dry out, hanging up clothing to start the drying process, opening letters and spreading them all around the tables in the library and on the floor. Every inch of the upstairs of Alfond was covered with material. 

In the end, almost one-third of the school’s invaluable archives were damaged or lost, but the Holderness family rallied to literally save the history of our school.  Talk about a moment of living the motto and mission of Holderness, of an example of being other-centered and displaying true servant leadership. 

The beauty of the people at Holderness is that we see the call to action of our mission in big and little ways every day.

When Bob Hall says Holderness is on mission, he also means the programs, many of which are unique to Holderness, like our leadership process or the Job Program, or the Outdoor Chapel, or the Special Programs, or Senior Thesis. This year we are celebrating the 50th year of a truly remarkable Holderness program, Out Back.

Out Back was established in 1969 by English teacher and alumnus Bill Clough ‘57 with the support of then-Head of School Don Hagerman to try and give our students a meaningful, even transformative, experience that would tap into this glorious region where we live.  Talk about a school and leadership responding to the mission’s bold call to action -- my goodness! Eleven days and ten nights in winter in the White Mountains, with a three-day solo, and equipment and training and safety protocols that were primitive relative to what we do today. Talk about bold! Rick Carey, a long time-Holderness writer, is finishing a history of OB, and the story he shares is captivating, alarming, and compelling all at once.   

Here is what Bill Clough’ 57 said in 1969 about the founding of the program: “The Project at Holderness is not intended as a period during which boys will drop out of school to do ‘he-man things'. Rather it is intended to enhance the total educational effort of the school. Through shared experiences under extremely difficult conditions, teachers and students will come to know each other more intimately than is likely in other situations. By facing and overcoming anxiety-producing conditions both as individuals and as groups, students develop a better appreciation of their own abilities and problems and an appreciation of the needs of others.”

The OB story is also one that goes right to the mission of our school and our core values of community, curiosity, and character. I will share three quotations from alumni that link to each of these core values. 


"Teamwork at its best; our crew's diverse talents, or non-talents, made relying on others when needed much easier when necessary. Everyone carried a piece to our puzzle and were at the ready. Friendships grew on this adventure that may never have happened without it." -- Class of 1976

At Holderness we are called to be there for each other, to deliberately build a community the same way Out Back asks us. 


"Out Back changed my life; it’s that simple. I was terrified of it, but I never questioned whether I would go. I knew to not go would close off the possibility of growth or learning, and I didn’t want that."   -- Class of 2000

This quotation reveals a deep curiosity that this student did not want to close off the possibility of learning, even if it was uncomfortable.  That defines the type of learning we need to embrace every day at Holderness because we are curious and don’t want to miss out on the possibility to learn. 

“I realized that I could accomplish something that was daunting, and that I wasn't sure I could complete. Every time I face hurdles in my life that seem insurmountable, I draw upon the strength and revelation that was bestowed upon me during my OB experience.” -- Class of 1976

This final quotation for me summarizes the essence of Holderness. I believe the difference between arrogance and confidence is that arrogance is ultimately grounded in insecurity. Confidence on the other hand is grounded in humility. You are supremely confident because you thrived or at least survived these ten days. On the other hand, you are deeply humbled by the awesomeness of this environment we live in, and also know that you could not have made it through without the support of your OB teammates. 

Holderness graduates are humbly confident alumni. No question, the Holderness experience can be challenging, just as there are challenges in Out Back, but the people and programs support a rich experience that is unique in the independent school world. 

Finally, there are many exciting physical developments occurring at Holderness right now, and we will talk about even more developments in the future.  These exciting facilities are only important in how they support us all in living the motto, mission, and core values that make Holderness who we are. As we begin this new year and this exciting moment in Holderness history, my challenge to all of us is to never get distracted from the sacred part of Holderess, the remarkable people and programs, because that is what makes Holderness, Holderness. 

List of 3 news stories.

  • Sound Mind, Sound Body: Holderness Begins Sports Psychology Initiative

    Greg Kwasnik
    Speed, strength, and agility are all key components to athletic success. But when the shot clock winds down or a game goes into overtime, it’s the athlete’s mind that truly matters.
    Read More
  • Nikki Kimball '89 Receives Distinguished Alumni Award

    Andrew Herring
    Holderness School took the first step of its Mountain Day journey at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, which sits in the shadow of the mountains and rock faces that students would climb that day. The granite and wood beam architecture of the chapel creates a deep sense of sanctity while the stained glass softens the space with radiant natural light.  It’s the perfect place to gather for a brief moment of meditation before entering an equally sacred and wonderful wilderness.
    Read More
  • 5 Things to Pack for a Mountain Day Adventure

    Greg Kwasnik
    We recently sat down with Director of Outdoor Programs Erik Thatcher ’08 and asked: “What should we pack for Mountain Day?” Erik, an experienced outdoor guide, told us how to prepare for a day in the White Mountains – from how much water to bring to why hiking Mount Washington is like visiting the high arctic. Here’s what he told us to bring:
    Read More
Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257