Public education creates vital links in communities

The following start address was given to Exeter High School’s class of 2022 on June 11.

Alumni, parents, families, teachers, administrators and distinguished guests:

Thank you to the Exeter High School 2022 senior class for inviting me to give a keynote address. It is both an honor and a lesson in humility, as well as daunting to find the right words for such an important occasion in your life. And I am painfully aware that if I continue too long, I will delay your long-awaited graduation and the wonderful celebration that follows.

As a local business owner and active member of the community, my constant goal is to “build community”. As Principal Monahan mentioned, our mission at Water Street Bookstore is to “build a diverse and vibrant community around the written word.” Therefore, talking about your place in building a community should naturally be my topic. But giving advice is always a slippery slope. I think it would be best to tell a few stories, one from one of my natural world readings and one from here in our coastal communities, and then end with some hopes and wishes for all of you senior graduates .

Daniel Chartrand

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All in five (or more) minutes.

If that sounds good, let me continue.

There have been several books over the past few years that have influenced my thinking about community. One of the best I’ve read is “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. Here is a short story I adapted from that book:

In an old-growth forest, the roots of individual trees are interconnected by growing together (over many years) either directly or often indirectly through fungal networks between the root systems of individual trees. These direct and indirect connections carry nutrients from tree to tree. It’s amazing to realize that all of the individual trees in a healthy forest are actually one giant super organism. Each individual tree gives and receives nutrients from each other depending on whether the tree is relatively healthy or more difficult, and thus all the trees maintain themselves and the whole forest is more vital and alive. All of these trees connected by an underground root system are a massive organization of growth, connection and affection.

So many things happening that we couldn’t see, but the key to a vital forest all the same.

When I think of local communities, I often think of this ancient forest from my readings. All of the thousands of people who make up our local communities are connected, but how do these connections form, grow and take shape? How do the roots grow? Of course, there are our families. There are also workplaces, retail stores and community places. There are our quarters. All of this is important to building community in our six towns of Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham. But it turns out that one of the biggest sources of creating these connections is our local school systems.

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You senior graduates are the beneficiaries of this education system, but through your education, you are all in a very real way the means by which we create a more vibrant community. So, I want to thank you all for supporting our community development exercise while you were studying. It hasn’t always been easy, especially during the Covid pandemic. You could say that we have put our community development skills to the test over the past few years.

Again, make no mistake, the goal of these schools is to provide universal access to a public school education for every child in these six communities. But an amazing ancillary by-product of these schools is the creation of a community super-organism. That’s right, the six elementary schools in our six different communities, along with Cooperative Middle School and our Exeter High School are a massive organization of growth, connection and affection. Just like this ancient forest.

So let me tell you another story – this one from one of our local schools that illustrates how well it works:

There is a teacher retiring from Kensington Primary School this month who has taught Year Two there for 39 years. Her name is Wendy Lawler. Not only did Wendy teach there throughout this time, but she also attended primary school there and graduated from Exeter High School in 1976. In addition to this long-standing relationship and affection for KES, the Wendy’s father, Richard Drew, served on the Kensington School Board. for 31 years and was recognized by former Governor John Sununu for his service to the city. He also served on the Joint School Board for School Administrative Unit 16, the ancestor of the Cooperative School Board.

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So between a father and a daughter, that’s 70 years of service to the city of Kensington. But it’s not just the length of service, but the quality of Wendy’s service. She was one of the first to adopt the “Kindness Circle” in her class. Many mornings his students gathered in a circle and practiced good community building by saying kind things to each other. Wendy was an expert in teaching second graders to read. She was passionate about all of her students leaving her second grade class with a foundation for a lifelong love of reading. Wendy or Mrs. Lawler for her students is one of those teachers her students remember for a long time!

Now take this story of Ms Lawler and her family in Kensington and multiply it literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the years. How many teachers, parents, volunteers, administrators and citizens/taxpayers (never forget local taxpayers for God’s sake) have created how much growth, connection and affection we call community ? It’s breathtaking how much community is created by our joint public education effort. Breathtaking and remarkable. Just like this ancient forest.

Simply remarkable.

Now, back to this ancient forest one last time.

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Sometimes in this ancient forest there is a tree that is so important in the network of connection of the whole super-organism that even after the death of this tree, the forest cannot give up the place of this dead tree in the world. root system. Thus, the stump of this tree continues to live. Nutrients are pumped to the trunk of this dead tree so that the root system can be kept alive. You literally can’t let this strain die. Without this tree’s unique root system, the greatest forest superorganism simply cannot thrive. Years after the death of this most important tree, you will find a stump still green and growing. The forest refuses to give up this stump and its root system because literally the degree of connection – or better yet – the degree of affection is so high.

So what does this have to do with all of you senior graduates? This is the purpose of my stories. Here are my hopes and wishes for you:

First of all, I would like and hope that you will take a moment now to remember those teachers who have had a profoundly positive impact on your life over the past 13 years or so. Quietly, let your good thoughts and good wishes towards them flow through. I want you to send nourishment to your still green and growing memory of these most important teachers and your connection to them.

And finally, as you all graduated today, I wish you all great adventures. I hope you will wander off and see so much of this great good world. But when you find the place where you call home, I hope you find your place in the great common enterprise we call public education. Whether as a parent, or teacher, or volunteer, or even as a supportive taxpayer, I wish you all find a place in a stable community where the web of connection and community through public education is strong, and dynamic and fair. You all deserve the blessing and benefits of living in vibrant, educated communities. It really is one of the most precious things in the world.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today!

Dan Chartrand is the owner of Water Street bookshop in Exeter.