As I sit at my desk on the first Sunday of the 2017-2018 school year, watching my 3D-printer busily sculpting a scale model of a medieval church font, I can’t help but reflect on the beginning of my first year at MSSM, now twelve years distant. As both an institution and a community, MSSM has grown enormously over the past decade, especially in the last six years. Our expansion hasn’t just been one of numbers (although the population of MSSM has grown significantly, both in terms of students and staff). We have changed how we think of ourselves, each other, and our place in the wider world – while staying true to ourselves. I’ve blundered around trying to find a metaphor for what has changed about MSSM the most since I started and, unfortunately, all I can think of is a line from the theme song to Mr. Belvedere (of all things), a show that was popular when I was growing up: “Life is more than mere survival.”
Ultimately, what has changed at MSSM is that, thanks to the work of countless people, our every decision is no longer governed by the question of whether or not the school will exist tomorrow. Believe it or not, this is a pretty cosmic shift from when I arrived. And while the doomsayers may keep saying their thing, the reality is that a Maine without MSSM as part of its educational landscape is pretty hard to envision in the near future. I guess the question that comment generates is, why?
The answer, like so many answers that I find myself giving, requires looking backwards, forwards, and inwards.
Now, when we look forward as a school, we imagine what we would like to do better, not just what isn’t getting done. In 2006, my students would have been very pleasantly and profoundly stunned to hear conversations in which staff members are heard wondering how many MORE hours we might add to our walk-in-counselors’ office or using phrases like “preventative team meetings” – yet here we are! In a world of snug rooming situations, it is important to remember that we have barely begun to spread our wings in the new study lounge in the library or shoot hoops in the Limestone Rec Center. Providing those spaces to the approximately 100 students that my three fellow RIs and I watched out for in 2006 was nothing but a pipe dream. Now, slowly but surely, we are growing.
This summer, thanks to the kindliness of many MSSM friends, I was able to attend Space Academy for Educators at the Huntsville Space and Rocketry Center in Alabama. I met teachers from all over the world and, while we learned about rocket fuel and Martian atmospheric composition, what truly excited us was, in spite of everything, the future that our students will be inheriting. It isn’t just one of bitterly divisive national politics, but one in which human beings will, I have confidently been told, be walking on the surface of Mars by 2032. It is our job at MSSM to look and work towards that moment with confident hope. This is absolutely part of the dream that started this school long before I ever stumbled upon it.
Ultimately, though, the force that drives me to my classroom on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon is the same one that brings students here from around Maine (and the world): our community. What has sustained us before is what will sustain us into the future: each other. Whether we have contemplated friends graduating or moving on, facilities growing or needing repairs, curriculum shifting or expanding, we have always been sustained by the personal relationships that we have developed here, the ones that exist in classrooms and dorm rooms and playing fields, the ones that exist long after diplomas are given and received, the ones that remind us why, despite so many people talk about “surviving” their time here, we end up forever thinking of this place as a home, too.