The following is a letter from Rev. James R. Van Dyke, S.J., president of Georgetown Preparatory School, to the School community.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
To our Families and Friends, Students and Alumni:
Brothers and Sisters,
It is just about two months now since I arrived here at Georgetown Prep, and only a few weeks since my official start. People from all across the Prep Community as well as friends from all over the globe have asked me, "How do you like Prep?" and "How's it going?" and "What do you think?" And it seems to me like it's a very good time for me to respond to those questions.
Prep is a wonderful place, a wonderful school, a wonderful community. There is no denying that this is a challenging time for a lot of reasons. But it is a wonderful place, a wonderful school, a wonderful community.
I don't say this because I have to; I say it because of what I see happening day after day: committed faculty and staff laboring hard and long hours to help a diverse group of young men from all over the world learn, and grow, to become "men of conscience, competence, courage, and compassion; men of faith and men for others." And why do they do it? Because they believe that their good efforts for these young men and their families will help our students to go forward beyond college to become agents of good in our world as professionals and public servants, as teachers and pastors, as fathers and spouses and friends. We see in our students the enormous potential they have to build a better, gentler, more just world. And it is not an idle dream: we watch our students work in our Christian Service Program, giving up vacations and breaks to travel far and wide, into neighborhoods a few miles away and to far continents, to tutor, to build, to repair, to live in solidarity with the poorest people on our globe, putting faith into action. We see our teams pick up the ethic of service as well, working with the Special Olympics, the Challenger programs, and countless other unsung service projects. We see it in the students who spend tireless hours doing in-house tutoring, the guys who volunteer for set-up and break-down and hosting duties at on-campus events. We see it in the guys who look out in the South Room to make sure that no one is sitting alone at lunch.
It is not that our students are perfect; they are still learning, and we hope that they will continue to learn, not only at the intellectual level, but at the spiritual, moral, psychological, social and interpersonal levels as well. For every stage of their life will require that of them, both personally and professionally. And our dedicated faculty and staff, our coaches and moderators work to help them prepare for that, to become men who will embrace the hard lessons and learn from them. Our own efforts are not always perfect nor do we always get it right, mind you, but they are good—deeply good, and I am so pleased to be part of a community of professionals who labor so hard to get it right and for the right reasons.
I mentioned above that it is a challenging time for Prep, and indeed it is. But in this time too there is a grace, and I am proud of the way our faculty and staff are responding. It is a time for us to continue to evaluate our school culture, as we do each day, and to think deeply and long about what it means to be "men for others," what the vaunted Prep "brotherhood" is really about. It is a time to continue our ongoing work with the guys on developing a proper sense of self and a healthy understanding of masculinity, in contrast to many of the cultural models and caricatures that they see. And it is a time to talk with them honestly and even bluntly about what respect for others, especially respect for women and other marginalized people means in very practical terms—in actions and in words. We are keenly aware that they are young men—adolescents—and that these lessons are often hard to learn because they ask young men to move beyond their natural insecurities and self-concern and to push beyond what is presumed in so much of popular culture. But we know it is vital and that it will take time and effort and great adult role models. I am proud that our faculty and staff are embracing this work with all their heart.
It's also been tough to see the caricature that we have been painted with by some: that we are somehow elitist, privileged, uncaring. That we are elite, we cannot deny; every student who comes here is chosen for his personal potential regardless of financial need, and every member of the faculty and staff is chosen precisely because we think they will help to build a good and responsible and caring community for our students. There is no one here by default. That we are privileged, we also cannot deny; generations of visionary Prep alumni and friends have helped to build excellent facilities for classes and for athletics and have underwritten our retreat and service and arts programs; our students have families who love and care about them and want the best for them; our faculty and staff are educated far above the norm, many with multiple graduate degrees, and are allowed to work with students beyond a rigid curriculum that constrains many institutions. But we are not entitled, and one of the most important lessons we strive to live and to teach our students is an ethic of service and compassion and solidarity with those in need. The challenge of these days does not mitigate the need for those qualities; in fact, it asks us to renew our commitment to them, both for ourselves and for our students and their families.
And contrary to the caricature as well, the wider school community is not uncaring; I ponder with gratitude the many calls I have received offering help for our needier students and their families, the willingness of our alumni to finance scholarships for applicants from the poorest families in our area, the parents who offer to put in a little extra or to give a little more time so that the families who can't afford something or can't give rides can be included. And I look to the community of parents who long ago formed and continue to pilot to the Community of Concern to help our new parents deal with and educate their sons about the false allure of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other destructive habits.
Yes, it is a challenging time, even a tough time. But I reflect on these gifts—the gifts of conscience, competence, courage, and compassion that I see in our faculty and staff, in our parents, in our wider community—and though I may have to face difficult phone calls and emails, I know that our school and its community is well prepared to and committed to help these young men to become most truly men of faith and men for others. And I am grateful.
Yes, it is a tough and challenging time. But I remember the words of the wedding vows that I have heard so many of my family and friends profess over the years: "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health." And I would not want to be anywhere else. Not for a moment.
Sincerely in Christ,
Rev. James R. Van Dyke, S.J.