This past month, we were fortunate to welcome more than 226 parents to campus for Family Weekend, and while many families were able to join us, we know that it is not always possible for all families to make the journey to Natick. During the weekend filled with parent-teacher conferences, performances, class visits, and events, I was personally excited to have an opportunity to speak with families in Boswell Hall. This year, my Head’s talk was centered on the recent inclusion of Walnut Hill School for the Arts in the October 4th issue of The Boston Globe Magazine. The article we were featured in focused on nine innovative ideas that can transform education, and Walnut Hill was one of only two area independent schools selected for this coverage, the other being Phillips Academy Andover.
The article’s inclusion of Walnut Hill stemmed from the idea that as a school for the arts, we are uniquely capable of teaching students how to learn from their mistakes and embrace failure as a learning opportunity. On the surface, many would question how or why a school would emphasize failure as an important aspect of its program; yet when one steps back and looks at the larger life lessons and skills students gain from being in an environment where everyone sees growth as a key core value, it begins to make much more sense. If you speak to anyone who has achieved a high level of success, that individual will be the first to tell you that success is not linear. It comes from adapting, being flexible, learning to pivot and regroup from each experience, and seeing each challenge as a unique growth opportunity.
There are many examples of this throughout history. Charles Schulz had every cartoon he submitted to his high school yearbook rejected and Walt Disney refused to hire him. When Lucille Ball began studying to be an actress in 1927, she was told by the head instructor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, “Try any other profession.” The message she received was that she had no talent and should go home, and after failing to get into any Broadway chorus lines, she worked as a waitress. Yet, despite those challenges and failures, it never prevented her from becoming one of the greatest comedic actresses of our time. Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime, and this was to the sister of one of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50). This didn't stop him from completing over 800 paintings, with one of his portraits of Dr. Gachet eventually fetching over $75 million. Countless others faced rejection, failure, and challenge to reach their goals, from James Joyce to Sidney Poitier, and most recently Misty Copeland, principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. Each example reflects the core belief that some of the greatest learning comes from seeing your mistakes and failures as motivators for trying harder, improving, and pushing yourself toward achieving success.
Ultimately what we know is that not every student at Walnut Hill will find success immediately out of the gate. The road to success must be traveled with a commitment to working beyond each obstacle before you. We know that graduates from Walnut Hill are uniquely equipped to go on and find success regardless of where their journeys may take them. As I noted in the Boston Globe Magazine article, at Walnut Hill “we teach kids to fail upward. To take each challenge we present to them and learn something from it that will make them better, stronger, more prepared next time.” It’s a life lesson for us all.
Walnut Hill’s alumni are in many ways the best evidence that success comes in every field, whether dance, visual art, music, or stage and screen, but also medicine, technology, culinary arts, law, business, design, and beyond. It remains one of my core beliefs that our graduates represent our greatest hope for a world that is fundamentally more tolerant, more mindful, and more beautiful because of the impact our graduates have on it.