August 2020My Dear Colleagues, Students, Parents/Guardians of the Morris Hills High School Community,
I come to this correspondence with mixed emotions, not my usual posture when welcoming you all to a new school year. In the past, one overwhelming emotion has anchored my opening message to you. That emotion has been unwavering enthusiasm to begin anew. I would be less than honest if I claimed that unwavering enthusiasm anchors me today. It does not. Yes, I am eager and anxious to launch the 2020 - 2021 school year and incredibly excited to see you all again personally - on campus, in this building, in our classrooms, and on our playing fields. But, like all of you, whether teacher, student, or parent/guardian, I too struggle with “the new normal” triggered by COVID-19. I too feel anxiety. I too feel uncertainty. I too wish we were all greeting September 2020 in a healthier place as a member of the world community. Therefore, I come to this opening letter, just as I came to our virtual graduation ceremony with the Class of 2020, complete with conflicting emotions, all speaking to me at the same time with equal voice. I shared three of those emotions with the class that virtual morning.
The first - sadness; the second - gratitude; the third - hopefulness. Yes, I was sad then and I am sad now that we will not have the pleasure of greeting each other as a full school community. Yes, I am sad, most profoundly, for the tremendous loss of life caused by the virus, coupled with the overwhelming disruption to every aspect of our land. I am sad that the spring days, the memories, the rites of passage, and the experiences will never be re-captured on any level. Those days are lost. At the same time, however, I am grateful that this high school immediately kicked into high gear in mid-March and delivered a program and a support system worthy of the highest respect, making every effort to respond responsibly, reaching out whenever and wherever possible, and standing firm in the notion that, together, we would ride out the storm; and we did so. I am hopeful, above all else, that we will come together now, as we came together last spring, to be the best participants possible at a time when hopefulness just may be our best friend. This feeling of hopefulness is what keeps me afloat and gives me the confidence that with caution, commitment, and prayer, we will eventually return to order and once more know the joy that a new academic year beckons. I ask you to join me in that hope.
Toward that end, once again I offer a school theme to anchor our initiatives. This year, I select a theme that directly connects to the landscape now defining our days. I offer it as an invitation to continue to reach for the high road, for the better angels of our nature, and for the acknowledgement once suggested by author Vivian Greene: “Life is not waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” The theme is this: Family * Spirit * Partnership * - WE ARE MORRIS HILLS STRONG. Why this theme?
First, if I had to identify how or why I believe our high school reached the finish line last June in the style it did, I would attribute it to a sense of FAMILY - family on all levels - colleague to colleague, teacher to student, student to student, teacher to parent/guardian, parent/guardian to parent/guardian. In simple terms, the community demonstrated a sense of togetherness, a unity, a cohesive mandate to get the job done in spite
of the frightening circumstances. We looked out for one another. We supported one another. We worked in tandem to deliver instruction in a new way, apart but still together. We forged new ground, not without trepidation, but with vision, responsibility, and seriousness. If family life represents the core of culture, never before now have we more needed its strength. So may the Morris Hills High School family we create here in school this year, the family to which we connect within our community, and the family which anchors our days and our months ahead, be stronger than ever, helping COVID-19 to see a most formidable foe on the other side of the horizon.
Second, no one can win an argument or a contest against the Morris Hills SPIRIT. It is palpable and it is real. I watch it every day, and I feel it in every dimension that defines us. Without it, schools lack color and often direction; but with it, the possibilities for creative, successful action are limitless. If anything shall help us meet COVID-19 circumstances this September, our spirit may lead the list. It is imperative that we not only keep it intact, but build on it as well. Mindset and attitude are powerful weapons to adversity and uncertainty. A healthy spirit often heals an unhealthy set of circumstances. Let’s help each other to keep our spirit strong and hopeful.
Finally, PARTNERSHIP is core to my belief system. Doing this school journey with all of you – colleagues, students, parents, guardians – helps to confirm my belief that partnership is equally important to you. I believe that. While having the privilege of serving as your Principal, I have learned with utmost clarity that joined hands are always stronger than any hands working alone. Common understanding, collaboration, and working as a team represent the true forces of healthy progress and, most importantly, of happier people. I once again pledge to all of you a fountainhead of partnership as we begin a very different kind of school year, different, yes, in its complexion, but steady in its values. Please join me and the entire administrative team of your high school in forging the 2020 – 2021 partnership that we have come to expect, steadfast in one unyielding standard: Family * Spirit * Partnership * – WE ARE MORRIS HILLS STRONG.
In your remaining days of summer, may you and your loved ones stay well, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay smart. On days when you see or hear only darkness as this very real pandemic continues to rear its ugly head, consider the optimism and the hope of the philosopher Chavang Tzu: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”In the Spirit of Partnership,Todd M. Toriello