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Back to School Week 2020: Head of School Remarks

By: Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden

September 8, 2020

Good evening,

I’m sad that we cannot gather tonight in the Pratt Performing Arts Center to celebrate the start of the school year in typical fashion — with personal introductions of the incredible faculty and staff who care for your children each day and our annual slideshow that features each of your one-of-a-kind children enjoying their everyday moments at school. This is certainly not a typical year, there will be nothing ordinary about it. From global shifts to personal adjustments, the coronavirus pandemic has caused myriad worldwide changes and imposed on nearly all aspects of our lives, but it has also unlocked creativity, resourcefulness, delight and newfound appreciation for simple things often overlooked in our pre-COVID lives.

Throughout this summer, our first few days of school and especially tonight, my heart is full of gratitude. Without a doubt we have experienced great loss and hardship, but with a shift of perspective, and if we squint, we can make out in the distance something beautiful that is being born in us, both individually and collectively, during this difficult pandemic season. 

I love beautiful architecture and one of my most favorite buildings is in Paris — Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful holy chapel that took nearly a decade to build. It sits in the shadow and steps away from the astonishing cathedral of Notre Dame, which took 182 years to build. I’ve been reflecting on beauty that is formed over time as I navigate our current circumstances and wonder if the formation of architectural greatness is at all similar to the formation of character and virtue that is taking root now in us and our children. So often we talk about developing resilience, which is likened to an elasticity of spirit and will that bears hardship but then returns to its original shape after compression. Resilience is often associated with “bouncing back” after adversity or trauma. 

But similar to the slow, intentional, relentless build of a great cathedral is the cultivation of the virtue of patience, formed over time, shaped by incremental change. The Old French meaning of the word patience is “to suffer.” It is the quality of being willing to bear adversity with calm endurance. In today’s hurried culture, some may associate patience with waiting for something to pass. But true patience suggests a defiance to break, like resilience, but is softened by a tenderness to allow oneself to be refined by hardship, not returning to our original shape, but made new, changed. 

Arguably, asking us to return to the persons we were before this life changing pandemic is simply shallow. What kind of people do we want to be as we rebuild our lives, our families, our community when we emerge from this long suffering season of pandemic? And how have we been shaped in ways that have made us stronger and kinder and more patient? This worldwide, life defining year has forced our 60-mile-an-hour lives to screech to what a Japanese theologian calls the speed that love walks, three miles an hour. We have been slowed down, we have had to live small, walk slowly and endure calmly. 

I’m certain that we feel the same daily weariness. I’m ready to enter a post-COVID world with the virus as a speck in my rear view mirror, but I’m not willing to hurry back to what was, what we recall as our normal. Rushing backwards fails to take into account who we’ve become in these hard days, how we’ve been shaped by patience, how we’ve endured while faithfully and calmly moving forward. 

We now have a new perspective. A crisis has provided clarity. Hardship has become a powerful teacher. Loss has taught us what we take for granted. COVID has exposed much about us and our community. It has also heralded a call to assume responsibility for rebuilding our lives with great intention and hope.

As we rebuild, let us consider that we are architects, not of great cathedrals, but of greatness in our children. Like beautiful, holy chapels, our children’s hearts are worth our enduring commitment to a work that will define our lives, will never be finished, will require great sacrifice and will receive little recognition. It is walking the speed of love with patience. 

Over the next couple nights, you have the great honor to meet with your children’s homeroom teachers and hear recorded messages from all our specialist teachers and the counseling team. These men and women have all dedicated their lives to encouraging greatness in the lives of their students. Consider yourselves incredibly blessed that your children spend their days with these extraordinary teachers. 

Just these past few days of school have revealed what I too often take for granted, our teachers are heart-driven and wholly dedicated in their service to Rossman and your family. If we were gathered together tonight, I’d ask them to stand and I’d ask you to join me in thanking them with a round of applause. As we celebrate this start of a very unique and historic year at Rossman, please find some creative way to applaud and thank your children’s teachers. They are so deserving. 

Enjoy the opportunity to connect with teachers and each other. I look forward to the year ahead and our partnership together as the Rossman community.


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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